Looking for an adventure between trips, I decided to try skydiving near Chicago. Here’s what it was like to jump out of an airplane.
My interest in adventure activities began years ago (most likely when I went jet skiing on Lake Michigan on my second-ever day in the USA in 1999), but didn’t fully develop until a trip to Baños, Ecuador in 2013. That’s where I tried ziplining and bridge jumping for the first time – and knew that more outdoor thrills were in the cards.
After ziplining in Wisconsin, I wanted to see what else there was to do near home. I found Chicagoland Skydiving Center (CSC) in Rochelle, Illinois – about a 1.5-hour drive west of Chicago – and made plans to jump.
It was clear I would be in good hands the moment I arrived at the CSC campus. The modern facility features an aircraft hangar, three landing areas, a spectator courtyard with picnic tables, and the Flight Deck Bar & Grill (great name). It is also home to the Freefall University Skydive School.
“We know that people are nervous about the experience,” said Douglas Smith, President and CEO of the Center, when I talked to him over roaring engines. “It’s fear of the unknown and fear of jumping out of an airplane. Our goal is to decrease fear and increase excitement by taking care of customers throughout the process.”
I was definitely excited. After signing disclaimer forms and browsing the gear store (how cool would it be to have a skydiving logbook?), I went to the hangar to gear up and wait my turn.
First-timers do tandem skydiving. I was introduced to my instructor Beau, who helped with the jumpsuit, harness, and altimeter, then explained what could be expected in the air. We would climb up to 14,000 feet (4,270 m), which takes 15-20 minutes, free-fall for about one minute at 120 mph (193 km/h), and spend five minutes under the parachute.
Before long, we were boarding.
IN THE AIR
You might say we were on a party plane! If any of the jumpers were nervous, you couldn’t tell. We chatted and joked around, while the videographer Javier got everything on camera.
I looked out the window. We seemed to be very high up, yet there were at least five more minutes left. “OK this is really happening,” I thought to myself as I felt the first butterflies in my stomach. Then the door opened and before I had a chance to process the adrenaline, we were second in line to jump.
I wasn’t scared, but I had a brief “whoa!” moment when I looked down from the edge of the plane. No turning back now… Javier indicated to smile for the camera, then off we went!
The wind. I remember the deafening wind and a blast of cold air on my ears and face. But all that mattered was that I was flying! I wanted to laugh, shout, and do flips in the air (if only I knew how).
Overwhelmed by the sensation, I almost didn’t notice when Beau tapped my arm. It was time to pull the parachute cord. One quick jolt and everything slowed down. We were suspended in mid-air.
Ah… relax, breathe, enjoy the view, do a few 360-degree turns.
Prepare for landing.
Does it have to end?
I did not want to be back on the ground. Even before my feet touched the grass, I knew that I was hooked. As I was getting out of the jumpsuit, all I could think of was, “When am I going to be back up there?”
It took a while for the adrenaline rush to subside, but I was in no hurry to drive back to Chicago. I ordered a snack at Flight Deck, found a seat in the courtyard, and stuck around to watch more jumps. Anything to prolong the experience.
Maybe I should get a 10-jump pass…?
Watch the whole action in this video, including footage from the sky and my post-skydive reaction. In a girly moment, I commented about my hair being all messed up, to which Beau replied, “You just jumped out of an airplane!” Fair point.
If you go:
- Chicagoland Skydiving Center is open April-November
- Participants must be over 18 years old and weigh no more than 240 lbs. (108 kg)
- Tandem pricing (as of August 2015): $159.99 (exit altitude 9,000 ft.), $209.99 (14,000 ft.), $259.99 (18,000 ft. with oxygen mask); optional multimedia packages start at $99.99
- Group discounts and weekly specials are available
- CSC also offers engagement packages, observation rides, and event space rentals
Getting there and links:
I was a guest of Chicagoland Skydiving Center. All opinions expressed in this post are mine.
Photos and video: Javier Ortiz Photography