“For the next 10 minutes,” he whispered in my ear, “I am going to be THE most important man in your life.” My body tensed with anticipation as I felt the hardness of his buckles pressed against my back, and the heat of his words lingering at the nape of my neck. It was the surety of his soft grey eyes that had got me here and now my imagination swirled into overdrive, my heart pumped with adrenalin and I surrendered to the inevitable. I was, after all, the only one in the aircraft without a parachute and my tumble to earth, some 10,500 feet below, was only seconds away.
Suddenly the cabin door opened and a roar of cold wind whooshed me into bone-chilling reality. It slapped my face with such force my mouth dried instantly and my teeth felt bitten by ice. Wisps of cumulous clouds wafted around my feet as I placed them gingerly on the aircraft wing, only to realize that the strength of the passing wind had other ideas. After a few precious seconds, I won the argument.
“Keep moving”, the voice yelled from behind, somewhat less intimately, and with a definite command of urgency – his knees knocked up against my buttocks pushing me towards the sky. “One,” we swayed forward, “two,” we swayed back, “three” and we were out, me strapped to his belly like some marsupial astronaut and free-falling through nothingness, my mouth dry, my teeth cold, and the adrenalin rush so immediate that living the moment was the only option.
Sightseeing at 125mph
Tandem skydiving is by no means the only activity in Dothan, Alabama, and although free-falling at 125 mph doesn’t give you too much time to sight see, once the ‘chute opens, the sudden calm floats you above Dothan’s beautiful Botanical Garden with its 11-themed areas, the refurbished Opera House, Maria’s Vineyard and the Robert Trent Jones Golf course, one of eight championship courses that form the Robert Trent Jones Trail around the State of Alabama.
There was a time when Dothan was a drive-through town en route to party places such as Panama City and the Florida Keys. But not so today; visitors who stay for a while won’t be disappointed.
Get into the downtown area, and the first things you’ll notice are its vast and spectacular murals, a concept which Dothan fathers actually stole from Chemainus on Vancouver Island. Like Chemainus, Dothan’s building art is helping transform the community into a tourist destination. One mural salutes Dothan aviator/instructor Sherman Rose, and the Tuskegee airman of World War II; another is a tribute to Dothan born Johnny Mack
Brown who, in his heyday, was Hollywood’s best-loved cowboy. And, lying in the heart of wiregrass country, there’s an impressive acknowledgement to the peanut featuring Dr. George Washington Carver, the genius who developed more than 300 uses for this tiny nut from oil to butter to fuel.
Talking of peanuts, well, they’re everywhere …. standing four-foot tall and themed with pride and colour. Follow the peanut trail and you’ll be rewarded with Elvis Peanut, Cheerleader Peanut, Broadcaster Peanut and many other whimsical titles. These southerners have a good sense of humour.
Which brings me back to skydiving.
“You wanna see how to really fly?” the voice from behind inquired, our legs dangling from their mutual harnesses like puppets waiting to dance. “Jes pull on this,” he instructed, placing my hand into a steering loop which, with a jerk, swept the horizon 90 degrees to one side, and then to the other, all the while my stomach lurching in the opposite direction.
By now, the landing site was fast approaching. “Walk” the voice commanded, and with two steps, I was on terra firma. In disbelief that a freefall could end that simply. The rush was of a different kind now as it flushed my cheeks and coursed through my body. I looked up at the sky from whence I had just come, caught sight of the high-flying hawk against the sunlight which only moments before I had spied, topside, thinking it was a tiny sparrow. “What a heckava way to sightsee,” I thought to myself and then, turning to the man who had promised – and actually delivered – an experience to remember. “Can we go again?” I asked.
Photos (in the order they appear):
- Peanut Broadcaster
- Mural Tuskegee Airmen
- Ray Charles Mural
- Parachuting Flight
- Peanut Paper Boy
All photos by Chris McBeath