Falling For Travel

20 03 2008


My Siamese-twin and I before the operation 


Having been short all of my life, I have surprisingly never really had any particular fear of heights.

Not that I have been prone to tightrope walking over Niagara Falls or dating supermodels, but whenever I have been in vertiginous surroundings, I’ve never been especially worried. At least not until I stared straight down beyond my feet to the Australian earth 14,000 feet below, and found my palms sweating, my stomach rolling and my head spinning!

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to try skydiving. There seemed to me a great romance in heroically throwing oneself out of a perfectly good aircraft and plummeting senselessly towards the hard, merciless, unforgiving ground.

In Cairns, the temptation of taking that first plunge over lush jungle-clad mountains within view of the Great Barrier Reef was just too much to deny. Within moments I had signed my life away and donned a rather dapper one-piece zippered overall and matching goggles that would have been the envy of Richard Simmons. I emptied my pockets of anything that could fall to earth and kill an unsuspecting passerby and then went through the basic routine associated with courting certain death.

At the airstrip I saw my aircraft: a small, green, converted crop-duster that looked vulnerable to most insect repellents. We clambered in, sat on the floor and within seconds were taxiing for take-off. We climbed quickly, in steep circles. Through the small window I could see the horizon dropping away. The roads disappeared into pencil lines and the mountains became green smudges.

My skydive instructor strapped us together in a manner that would have caused a spinster to blush, and the door slid open with a blast of blustery air and a deafening roar. We crawled down the aircraft on our backs on all fours (see Kama Sutra, chapter 4) until we reached the gaping void. As instructed, I swung my legs out and sat on the edge, my feet dangling helplessly. I could see the rich blue of the Coral Sea stretching away to the horizon and the dark shadows of the Barrier Reef. It was a spectacular view – so what on earth possessed me to look straight down?

I had long had a theory that such a great height would not feel like a great height at all. I was convinced that the view would be surreal, and that standing on your kitchen table screwing in a light bulb would be more frightening.

Well, I was wrong.

As I stared straight down, I felt I could see every single one of the 168,000 inches that separated me from the cruel cruel earth below. My stomach did a magnificent roll and I felt a sort of sheer terror that I had never before experienced. This was not “I’m scared to death”, this was “I’m so scared I wish I was dead.” Fortunately, before I could pass out or embarrass myself, I was hurtled into the blueness and found myself falling loudly and violently towards Australia.

Having accepted death, I felt calmer and began to look around and actually relish the last moments of my life. The view was truly magnificent and I soared about, spinning and turning by moving my arms. I gazed down at the scenery and myriad colours and upwards at the darkness of the sky. Eventually, after what seemed just a few seconds but was actually more than a minute, the parachute opened with a smack and a jolt and we drifted silently and effortlessly, banking to the left and the right. The fear was gone and replaced by adrenalin-fuelled awe and wonder. We landed with a bump, I was untethered and cautiously wobbled to my feet.

There are some things in life that you only need to do once. There are others that you can’t wait to do again and again. For me, skydiving is definitely the latter, but next time I think I’ll skip the bit in which I stare straight down before I make the big jump.


Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: