My Chicagoland Skydive Center Experience

About 15 years ago (holy shit, has it been that long?), sitting in the cafeteria in Jr. High, me and my friend P made a pact that when we were 18 we were going to jump out of a plane with a strange dude strapped to our backs. Well considering I’m just now writing this post and that pact was made 15 years ago, you can guess that we didn’t really follow through on the idea when we were 18. I’m not even sure why we didn’t do it after high school, but it may have been something to do with how expensive it was and how I didn’t really want to die before going away to college, who knows. Needless to say we never got around to it when we turned 18 and our lives continued as normal.

Fast forward to age 21-22 (?) and the idea came up again, but this time it was because the girl P was dating at the time gave him a gift certificate for one free tandem skydive at Chicagoland Skydive Center out in Hinckley, IL. So of course P asked me if I wanted to go and brought up the pact we had made years earlier. Again money was a little bit of an issue as it was about $200 to jump and I was still in school paying for a lot of it myself, well at least that’s the excuse I gave P. Honestly I was kinda freaked out by the idea of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, but I didn’t want to look like a giant pussy so I blamed it on money.

P went and did it that year and had a blast, I was definitely jealous and kind of regretted not sucking it up and doing it, but nothing I could do about it then. P then went on to travel the world doing all sorts of other “extreme” activities one of which was bungee jumping the 2nd highest bungee jump in the world in Australia (something like 450 ft) and doing some big swing things, I was now very jealous, but luckily after he got back from Australia he was itching to jump out of a plane again.

P got back from Australia sometime in early 2009 and immediately wanted to go skydiving again and asked me and our friend N if we wanted to go. As much as I wanted to do it I was still a little nervous about it and didn’t give him a straight answer, but N was all about it and agreed. Well 2 days later I got an email from P saying that we were all booked and paid for… So even without giving him an answer I was already booked so while I could pussy out, I decided I should just suck it up and jump. P booked us at the same place he jumped from which is Chicagoland Skydive Center and is about an hour away from the Chicago burbs we live in. I had never heard of this place so I didn’t know what sort of reputation it had, but I did know that there was another one in Chicago that had built up sort of a bad reputation over the years so I didn’t really want to go to that one.

I spent the next couple days reading the website and watching videos and it seemed like they had a perfect “no-fatality” record, which was a good thing, but then my brother got wind that we were going to do this and decided he was going to look up all the fatalities related to skydiving over the last year and show them to me. Then he started showing them to my mom who was freaked out by the idea anyways, so needless to say it was making me a little nervous, but I was still going to go through with it.

We had a big weekend planned the weekend of our jump. That Friday we all took off work and went down to one of the Wrigleyville rooftops near Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play… it poured and the game was canceled so we just hung out at my brothers place and drank all day, we still had a good time and according to the forecast the next day was supposed to be clear skies all day, which was the day of our jump. We woke up the next morning pretty hungover and headed down to Hinckley to jump out of a plane and hopefully not puke on the instructors. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and we were all getting pretty excited and slightly nervous, but more so excited. We got down there at 11am and signed our lives away and got ready to jump. They then informed us that it was a little windy out and we had to wait for the wind to die down a bit before they could let anyone jump, for safety reasons. That was fine by us, we would rather be safe than dead obviously, so we had no problem waiting for a bit until the wind died down…

Yeah, the wind never died down. We sat in the hanger watching movies from 11am to 3pm and the wind never changed. It was just us 3 and one other woman that were going to jump that day and none of us got to. We left after they told us that they probably weren’t going to jump all day as the wind wasn’t supposed to die down to reasonable levels. Hungry and dejected with rain checks in hand we left and drove the hour back home. What was supposed to be this amazing weekend turned out to be a huge bust, but we were determined to skydive this summer.

Fast forward to yesterday, July 5th, we were rescheduled to jump at noon. I made sure I wasn’t hungover this time, but still woke up feeling a little “off”, I chalked it up to nerves. We jumped in the car and made it down there at about a quarter to noon, checked in and began waiting. Now when we were there the first time and ended up leaving they told us that when we came back we would move to the head of the pack since we were rainchecks, however apparently everyone with rainchecks decided they were going to reschedule for July 5th, so we were definitely not at the front of the line. They informed us that it would probably be about 45 minutes to an hour and a half before we were up to jump. Ok, no problem, we waited 4 hours last time and didn’t even see a plane so 45 minutes or so wasn’t going to kill us.

That 45 minutes slowly grew to 4 hours before we go suited up and ready to jump. And the 4 of us (P brought a friend that wasn’t with us the first time) couldn’t even go up in the same plane because there weren’t enough tandem instructors or something, even though there were definitely 4 tandem jumpers on our plane when we went up. So P and his girl jumped first and then there was a plane in between when me and N got to jump. So while we did have to wait 4 hours again this time, at least we got to jump. We headed into the plane, which looked a lot bigger from the outside. There were about 20 of us crammed into this thing and at this point I was not connected to my tandem partner/instructor. At about 9,000 feet he started attaching himself to me which was a little awkward as he’s tightening the harness ridiculously tight, but it’s all in the name of safety, so whatever. We then slid towards the back of the plane, the camera guy exited first and hung out the side as we inched towards the door, my head looking straight up as the instructor rocked back and forth 3 times and then pushed us out of the plane. And I don’t even know how to describe the feeling, it was incredible. The first 2 or 3 seconds feel very strange as your body reaches terminal velocity and it is a little hard to breath, but not impossible. It is definitely something I would recommend doing if you’re thinking about doing it. Jumping out of a plane at 14,000 feet and dropping at 120mph towards the ground is an intense experience.

The free fall aspect of the jump lasts about 60 seconds and while you may think it’d feel like forever when you’re up there, I was actually disappointed and wanted more. Unlike P’s girl, I enjoyed the free fall much more than the parachute ride down to the ground. And while there is a definite “jerk” when your parachute opens and your harness smashes your man-berries up into your body, it was just another crazy feeling that you have to experience (the parachute opening not the smashing of my nuts). Then as you float down to the ground, which takes about 3-5 minutes, the instructor gave me the ability to turn the chute left and right, which I honestly could have done without. Out of everything that comes with skydiving, the spinning around while floating in the parachute was the worst, I started getting really nauseous and dizzy, but held it together for the slide into the ground. There was a dude from the Navy who definitely could not hold it together and puked all over his shirt, which is a great story in itself. Let’s just say the whole time they were waiting to jump, him and his buddy were showing off doing one handed push-ups, running around, just acting like they were tough shit cause they were in the Navy, and to see the one dude covered in puke when he got down was priceless.

So that was it, I can cross another thing off my list. Chicagoland Skydive Center is a great place to go skydiving. The instructors are all very nice, the staff is very nice, the facilities are clean and very professional. My only complaint is the wait times. I understand if the weather isn’t cooperating and you don’t want to risk the safety of the jumpers, but when we make a reservation for noon and don’t jump until 4 it’s a little annoying, especially since had other plans for that day which we missed out on. And also a tip to those guys that are jumping, make sure to adjust your nuts so they are nowhere near the leg straps in the harness, you’ll thank me later.