I come strolling into the hanger, rig over my shoulder, in the middle of the afternoon. I was planning on getting in a leisurely jump or two on my way back to south Georgia. The drop zone is between here and there so it was the only practical thing to do, really.
As I walk in I see a half dozen or so jumpers milling about in full gear. I've not gotten halfway to the manifest desk when the head packer points at me and says, "He can go on this load."
Then, over the loudspeaker comes the Booming Voice of Manifest [TM], "Thomas, we need you to make the plane go, hurry."
Understand that fuel is the single most costly element in putting jumpers in the air. In order to keep the operation profitable, each flight to altitude must take in enough money to offset the cost of petrol. That's how you get what I walked into yesterday, seven jumpers geared up and shooting shit, waiting for that critical eighth person* to tip the scales towards profitability and put the lot of them in the air.
Now, I know that a preponderance of skydiving injuries occur in precisely this situation. Someone hurries to get to the plane and misses some critical detail that later costs them a trip to the hospital. Thus, I refused to be rushed. I make a detailed gear check, by the numbers, exactly as I always do.
However, donning my jumpsuit can be a bit time consuming so I don't bother. I just throw the rig on over my regular clothes, snap my helmet on and head for the plane.
Herein lie my error.
It took me to six thousand feet to realize that I just got on a jump plane wearing a button-up shirt. I'm sure most people have ridden a bicycle while wearing a collared shirt. That same whip-whip-whip that you get against your jaw in that situation you also get in free-fall, except the wind is going 120 miles per hour.
Oh, it stings.
This morning I have a neat red triangle right up under my jawline. The sensation is something akin to the razor burn from a dirty snow shovel.
Oh, oh, it stings.
This is what Confucius meant when he talked about, "the crimson mark of life's visceral lessons."
* This depends on the type of plane in which you are flying. A Cessna 182 might only need two jumpers to make the ride worthwhile, though it maxes out around eleven thousand feet and the ride up takes half an hour. Where I go, we fly a King Air, a dual turbo-prop that climbs to 14k in under eight minutes and that needs eight brave souls to make it fly.