Up until a year ago I was a skydiving virgin. But I was not a Grand Canyon virgin. Before this gets awkward, let me explain.
I’m a hiker. I love the outdoors and exploring uncharted paths and blazing new trails. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in and around the Grand Canyon. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get to know the skies above Grand Canyon. At least not freefalling from 15,000 foot and reaching speeds of over 125 mph.
After my first jump, the tandem pilot told me skydiving is like deleting your mind. If only for a few seconds, your brain and body are in total overdrive and nothing can interrupt or break through those few heart stopping moments. Whoa buddy. Deleting your mind? Can we even do that? And, if so, why haven’t I tried it before?
Since we’re not all allowed to delete our minds every day, let me explain what it was like to skydive at the Grand Canyon.
It turns out I’m hooked. I love skydiving and what is better than skydiving above one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World? That doesn’t happen every day, unless you’re the tandem pilot, then it probably does.
To skydive the Canyon, you have to drive from either Flagstaff or Williams, a 50 to 80 mile one way trip. When you arrive in Tusayan, a small gateway town of 500 people located one mile outside of Grand Canyon’s gates, you’ll find a small state run airport. Paragon Skydiving operates a modest counter and storage area inside the airport. Paragon, is an international skydiving company operating drop zones around the world.
When I arrived, Paragon had me sign my life away, followed by a very thorough safety video. I was then suited up in a jumpsuit and taken to the runway where I climbed into a Cessna 206 airplane and prepared for take-off.
By the time we lifted off the runway I started to feel the butterflies in my stomach. I promised myself I wouldn’t throw up I forgot to tell the pilot I get motion sickness so I focused on looking out the window where I got my first glimpse of the Canyon from the above. I almost entirely forget about those butterflies. For that kind of view, a few butterflies were totally worth it.
During the 15 to 20 minute flight along the South Rim, I got a spectacular view of the Canyon. I watched timeless layers of rocks, stacked in reds, browns and yellow pass by while the Colorado River snaked its way in an effortless dance through the geological wonder.
“It’s like looking at a painting,” said tandem pilot Owen Ross.
Ross has lost count of how many jumps he has. All he knows is that it’s well over 5,000. Originally from a small town outside of Melbourne, Australia, Ross has been skydiving since he was 19. He’s a seasoned pro and it shows. You know you’re with a professional when you’re ready to jump out of an airplane and the guy you’re strapped to can still make you smile. And he was right, it was like a painting. I couldn’t take my eyes off the Canyon. I didn’t want to.
Before I knew it, the plane was circling higher…staying well out of the restricted airspace over the Canyon. Paragon offers tandem only skydiving because Grand Canyon has some of the most restricted airspace in the U.S.
Suddenly it was time. The moment of truth had arrived. We sat on the floor of the plane and Ross pulled the harnesses tight. I gripped his leg trying to decide if it would be me, the adrenaline or Ross who projected us out of the plane.
“We’re going to do this together,” Ross said as he and I deliberately rolled up the canvas separating us from the open sky. “Now, cross your arms and tuck your feet under the plane. Are you ready?”
Ready? Absolutely. Paragon only hires pros and before I had time to change my mind my feet were hanging outside the airplane and we were rolling forward in a somersault before straightening out and plummeting toward Earth, freefalling at 125 mph.
I couldn’t stop screaming. Not from fear, but from sheer, uninhibited pleasure. I felt like Superman, shooting toward Earth. Death and fear didn’t even enter my mind. For those 35 seconds of freefalling I felt free and I realized I was seeing the Canyon like I had never seen it before.
Grand Canyon is a natural wonder for a reason. Seeing it from the top, with the wind screaming by your face and your heart in your throat, is the only way to go.
After pulling the rip cord for our parachute I had another five to seven minutes under canopy to take it all in.
Landing at the airport was a breeze. At least Ross made it look that way.
“Trust the landing,” he said.
Skydiving doesn’t take a lot of guts. It takes trust. Trust in your tandem pilot, trust in your equipment and trust in your sanity … you don’t want to lose it when you’re free falling from 15,000 feet. As long as everything is operating smoothly, the odds of making it back to earth in one piece are pretty good.
It’s been said you have a more likely chance of getting struck by lightning than dying in a skydiving accident. Trust me on this, skydiving plus the Grand Canyon are two opportunities that don’t come along every day and I promise you don’t want to miss it.