Bucket lists are nasty, nagging things. We scribble down these goals and aspirations on bits of lined paper to stow away in shoeboxes, or in some cases simply curate a mental checklist of tasks we must do before we die in order for our lives to be granted some sort of meaning.
Most items on our list go, and will continue to go, unchecked indefinitely. Such is the nature of a city dweller that dreams big but day-to-day is content with americanos and tequila serving as the main stimulating opus in his or her life.
The issue is when we have those brief existential crises, such as when our wealthy friends talk about how much they wish they could backpack Nepal again, or that girl we went to high school who earned an international modelling contract because she at some point became Instagram famous.
It’s in these moments we reflect and realize how pointless we are and appreciate our failings to exist as human beings properly.
However, in these situations, as oppose to dusting off that paper or accessing that flash drive of memory in our cortex containing the holy “bucket list” and acting on it, we usually do the following:
1. Observe list.
2. Affirm that the list is good.
3. Feel awful because of lack of action when compared to size of list.
4. Respond by adding more items to list.
5. Put off completing the list.
Lather, rinse, repeat and we have a vicious cycle of self-devolving and pointless list writing. Like our very own personal BuzzFeed but without the high-school humour and trolling.
I decided to put an end to this once and for all, hell as a journalist it is my duty to try and shed light on the injustices hidden in our everyday life. The bucket-list conundrum needed to be squashed and so I took it upon myself to jump out of an airplane.
Skydiving to bucket lists is what a pumpkin spice latte is to a yoga studio’s Starbucks run. It’s such a common motif in the realm of “life goals” it hurts. That basically means most of us will not feel fulfilled in our lifetime unless we at some point scream “fuck it” and jump head first out of a flying metal can hurling through the air at 120 mph. Queue Darwin.
So I did it, with the vision that if the crème de la crème of bucket lists can be dealt with, nothing would be unreachable.
Skydive Toronto is a drop zone located in the greater Barrie area, somewhere in the fields between Cookstown and Innisfil. A quick Google search led me to their website and in general the appeal was there: pictures and videos of people plummeting to the ground, all smiles and sunshine. I proceeded to book a jump with glee.
The very next moment I was hit with an overwhelming and impending sense of doom that only intensified as the day I had chosen drew nearer. When one of the staffers from the drop zone called me a few days before to politely remind me of my appointment—which kind of felt like a heart surgeon calling to remind me I was scheduled to have my aorta ripped out—I accepted fully my eminent death.
At an ungodly hour I left my bed—after a sleepless night of envisioning myself as a puddle on a farmer’s field—to make the hour-long drive to the drop zone for my 8:00 am appointment. It was better to book as early as possible, I learned, as the slightest fluctuations in the weather can delay your jump for hours, which gave me a slight bit of comfort and hope that a hurricane would pass through Ontario so I could quietly skip this assignment and go back to profiling tech startups.
Alas I arrived to a gorgeous blue sky and dawn creeping out over a mosaic of farmland. Inside I began to weep silently.
One does not simply show up and leap out of an airplane (thank god). As such upon arrival I began my ground training which begins with a 30 minute video, hilariously outdated, but accurate, and one of the most horrifying things I have ever watched.
Essentially the video goes to great lengths to remind you how dangerous jumping out of an airplane is, informing you that no parachute or plane or instructor is necessarily perfect, and that you may die. It also informs you how to “arc” in the air (back straight, legs and head bent up) so that your instructor can stop the two of you playing twister while you free fall.
Next up is the signing of the waiver which again makes it very clear that I may die and that I accept that should that happen I brought it upon myself, which everyone at the drop zone seemed to be signing with a the same shared sense of lunacy, camaraderie and bliss.
Finally, a quick 15 minute demonstration of how exactly I’d be launching myself out of the plane (all of which I missed because I had long since retreated subconsciously to a happier place) and voila, I was a certified to jump out of an airplane.
While I waited in my orange jumpsuit my instructor, Alec Thibault, a veteran with close to 3000 jumps and 8 years of experience, talked me through the situation, pointing out that despite the shock and awe and general stigma surrounding the sport skydiving was actually safer than driving.
“I haven’t had a problem yet,” said the man who would in only a few hours hold my life in his hands. He proceeded to laugh and knock on the wooden picnic table in front of us.
Needless to say, if you do decide to jump and are like me, most of your day will be spent sitting around, draped in fear and waiting for the right weather conditions while the drop zone staff calmly jokes around. It’s unsettling and you will constantly find yourself questioning your life decisions.
In the plane you will watch the ground slip away as your tightly packed sardine can of an airplane lifts into the air. You will go numb as it breaks through the clouds and your pilot levels off. When the hatch opens and your instructor begins pushing you to move towards it you won’t even realize your tightly gripping the rope to remain in your seat while trying to simultaneously shift towards the opening at the same time. You will then jump, or, in reality, be shoved out of an airplane.
It does not feel like you are falling—because you jumped out of a moving vehicle—but the ground is speeding towards you and all you can feel, despite the wind firing up your nostrils and mouth and your heart clamouring against the walls of your chest, is the single most intense shot of adrenaline you will ever experience in your life. Your nerves will melt away because, hell, you’re officially free falling; you might as well enjoy the ride.
Depending on whether or not you’re able to keep your eyes open and your head clear you’re instructor will then signal you to pull the parachute with a quick and sharp slap to the hand. You’ll do it and then pray.
Next thing you know you’re surrounded by absolute silence, arguably the most quiet you will have ever encountered in your life, especially if you’re a downtown dweller like me, and, in contrast to the blast of free falling, your 5-minute parachute down feels like a sanctuary.
Not that you will notice at the time, seeing what feels like all of southern Ontario at once is, and apologies for the cliché, breathtaking. A patch quilt of farmland is dotted with clusters of cities and to the south Toronto is seemingly the smallest one, just a blotch on the horizon.
You’ll feel almost obnoxiously big and yet so insignificantly small all at once, and as you glide down and begin to make out the specs of civilization forming below you, like a miniature display case, you’ll think to yourself it’s a shame your feet are about to be safely on the ground.
At Skydive Toronto a tandem jump will cost you $299.00 if you want to hire a trained photographer or videographer to document you shitting your pants in free fall, it will cost you $417.00 (both video and stills bring the total to $447.00).
Would I recommend it? Yes. Absolutely. Is there some greater meaning to my life now that I’ve taken that nagging first notch off my bucket list? I can’t be sure.
I do know those americanos taste a lot better on the flip side of a 10,000 foot plummet towards the earth.