Jumping for Joy: Checking Out the View from 14,000 Feet Up
Mike Silverman and Dave Greenbaum, who live in Lawrence, Kansas, are nothing if not adventurous. After all, they were the first out-of-state couple to be married in California in June, 2008 when the state began recognizing same-sex marriages. As pioneers, they made the national news. And as tech aficionados—Mike is a software tester and Dave owns a computer repair business--the duo are used to living on the digital cutting edge. But when Mike, 47, decided to go skydiving this month, Dave, 49, was literally not onboard. Did he plan to go on the plane when Mike jumped? ‘Oh, God, no!” Dave says, laughing. “I’m the type who doesn’t like roller coasters; I don’t like horror films; I don’t like putting myself in harm’s way for the thrill. But I know there are people like that. So if they enjoy it, go for it!”
For Mike, skydiving was “one of the things that’s always been on my bucket list,’ What’s the appeal? “It has an aura of coolness and danger about it,” he says. “It’s objectively pretty neat—you’re 14,000 feet in the air, the whole countryside is in front of you. It’s like the view you get when you’re in a plane, but you get to jump out and see it in a whole different way.” Mike, who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer and will have surgery in October, felt an additional motivation: “I know I’m not going to die of it or anything like that, but it does focus you on doing things that affirm life.” So when his friend Fonz, who was celebrating his birthday in August, invited a half dozen of his buddies to try skydiving, Mike was game: “I thought, “why not?”
So on Saturday, August 22., Mike went on a quick early morning run with Dave, then drove 90 minutes to a small rural airport. “There was just one runway, prop planes, no tower or anything like that,” says Mike. “It’s really an airport in the middle of nowhere.” He met up with his friends, and signed “a bunch of legal forms, showed my driver’s license and paid for it.” The bill was $215. (“It would have been $115 extra if I had wanted them to film me going down,’ he says, “but that was more than half the price of the flight!”) Then Mike suited up. “It’s not a full flight suit,” he explains. ‘It’s like this harness apparatus. It fits all around you, your thighs, your back, your arms, your shoulders. They test it and they cinch it tight, to make sure that everything is in place.”
If you were going to get cold feet about jumping, that would have been a good time to start. But, says Mike,, “I’m very into numbers, and I look at the statistics, and you’re more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the airport than actually in skydiving. I intellectually knew I’d be fine.” It did, however, make him reflect upon an earlier thrill-seeking trip he went on in 2016. “When I went to Antarctica, I jumped in the water down there. It was really cold—that ended up freaking me out more than skydiving.” So he and the rest of the birthday revelers piled aboard (the opposite of social distancing, but with everyone wearing a mask) a tiny plane, a Beechcraft, which would seat two or three people if it were a passenger plane. Within 10 minutes, they were at 14,000 feet.
The moment had arrived. Craig, a friendly red-headed skydiver in his late 20s, tethered himself to Mike, clipping onto the harness that Mike was wearing. Craig also wore the one parachute intended for the two of them. Then it was showtime. Says Mike, “when you actually get ready to step out of the door, you don’t have time to stand there and admire the view and look around and get scared. It’s pretty much, you get in front of the door and you just jump, because there are people behind you, and Craig was there to give me a friendly nudge if I was scared. So basically, I’m on the airplane. then all of a sudden, boom! You’re in free fall!”
There was a lot to take in below him: farm fields extending into the distance, Interstate 70 a tiny ribbon beneath him, the haze of Kansas City within view. But forget of any notion of free fall as gently bouncing from one cloud to the next. Instead, says Mike, “it sounds like you’re in a hurricane. You’re in a 120-mile-an-hour wind stream, and it’s blowing past your ears. It’s incredibly loud. It’s also really cold. It’s a 90-degree day on the ground, but up there, it’s 50 degrees. The air is pretty cold, and it’s hard to breathe for the first 20 seconds or so, both because the air is moving so fast, and because it’s thinner.” If that weren’t enough to think about, he says, “you want to maintain the right form, a C-shape, pointing down, and holding your arms out.” After about 15 seconds of this, Craig gave a reassuring thumbs-up sign, and had Mike do the same thing back. “At that point, I was able to kind of think, I’m doing okay, I can look around a bit. Then I had another 30 seconds to look around at the view, before the parachute deployed.” Mike had four minutes to luxuriate before the two men landed safely on the ground.” Mission accomplished!
That night, back at home in Lawrence, Mike reflected on his airborne day: “It was a cool experience. I’m not going to become a professional skydiver, but it’s something I’d definitely do again. Because I’d know what to expect, I’d focus less on the novelty of the experience and more on enjoying the ride. People think I’m some kind of super-adventurous warrior or something, but I’m basically just a middle-aged guy who enjoys a thrill.”
But don’t look for Dave on Mike’s next flight either. “Probably if I had been there, and I thought it through, and I had seen him falling through the sky, I’d be a little bit more freaked out. This way, it’s all abstract.” On Dave’s own personal bucket list: training for a marathon. “Ten years ago, I was tipping the scales with an extra 80 lbs. and 10 inches on my waist. I just started running two years ago, so being able to run 26.2 miles sounds pretty crazy to me. The biggest risk there is a little dehydration!”