Living in Canada tends to limit our skydiving season with all but one dropzone closed for the winter.
Although it’s not my regular DZ, I have done a few jumps there and was pretty excited they were jumping last weekend. I officially did my first February jump!
As luck would have it, it also was my first time “landing off.” A nice way of saying I screwed up, got lost in a cloud and could not get back to the dropzone.
Spotting is a skill that skydivers better than me have perfected, but mine apparently could use some help. It involves reading the wind conditions and making a decision on where to leave the plane to get back to the landing area. On this particular day, I was the last of four out of the plane. There were patchy clouds, but we were careful to be clear of them before jumping. As luck would have it (or not), this also put us farther from the dropzone.
As I climbed out onto the strut of the plane, a quick look down told me I was getting long, but still within the range to get back.
The cold wind whipped my face, as I slid down the strut. One step back and I was flying as the plane disappeared in front of me. After nearly two months, the feeling of being back in the sky was amazing.
Pull time was coming, as I started to approach white fluffy clouds. Where did they come from? With a whoosh I was under canopy and gliding towards them. I was engulfed in whiteness and focused on flying straight while I waited for the clouds to break. Just under 2000 feet I emerged to a foreign landscape. After a few tense seconds I located the dropzone on the horizon. Much too far away to make it back. Obviously I had been heading in the complete wrong direction through the clouds.
Next was the task of deciding where I could safely land. As I was flying over a housing development, my next best option was a plowed farm field or a large fenced in rural property. With my sights set on a soft grassing landing, I headed in that direction. It has been drilled into my mind to avoid power lines, trees, roads and houses. It looked clear, so with a sigh of relief, I turned into the wind and prepared for landing.
I had a beautiful landing, unfortunately no one was there to see it. I swung my parachute over my shoulder and started hiking towards the main road. It took a bit of work to climb the fence out of the field with my parachute, but I got on my way. I gave many people a laugh as they drove by my sad-self lugging a helmet and parachute towards the main road. As luck would have it, I saw my fellow jumper in the muddy farmers field across the road.
I had hiked enough, so I plopped myself down on the guard rail and waited for my friend and/or a car from the dropzone to come for us. Not long later the cavalry arrived and took us back to the dropzone.
I learned I can land off and make good, safe decisions. And hey, I did my first February jump and was not even cold!