Thursday, September 13, 2012

Le Tour De Canada - Part Deux - Living Large

We awoke early Thursday morning to the smell of bacon. It didn't take long for all of us to crawl out of bed and track the smell to the table where we were served fried eggs, bacon, fruit, and juice by Coach. We inhaled the breakfast and went back for seconds. Soon after breakfast, Maman and Papa showed up with multiple cups of Tim Horton's coffee to jump start everyone with caffeine. We re-packed our bags, cleaned up, and helped Coach re-load our bikes onto the back of her vehicle.

Today was going to be a big day for me - unbeknownst to most (including my family), I booked a sky-diving trip in Toronto before I left Louisiana. I was excited and eager to experience the rush. I didn't want anyone to worry so I left it on a need-to-know basis. It's always easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.

Coach wanted to get to the cottage in Muskoka early to prepare for our afternoon arrival, so she agreed to drop me off at Sky-Dive Toronto on the way. Once I settled in to watch my "Don't Even Think About Sueing Us If You Die" video, she excused herself and left me to check off my Bucket List item alone. I sent the necessary "I Love You" text to my husband in case I crashed into the ground with my face, and then took the obligatory thumb's up picture of myself to leave time-stamped on my iPhone to prove I was not coerced by anyone.

To say I was excited would be an understatement. I've been wanting to sky dive for years, but have never had, or in truth have just never made, the opportunity. My plan to do it over my birthday weekend in June with my cousin in Virginia fell through. No one else I knew was interested in joining me, and I really wanted to do it somewhere special to make it even more memorable. I decided Canada would be the place and NOW was the time. Carpe Diem.

I was surprised that fear never came into the equation until the moment I went to exit the plane ~ and even then I wouldn't say I felt fear, it was more like extreme anticipation. Looking back at the pictures and video I look terrified. The experience was everything I had hoped it would be, except for the duration - I wish it had lasted longer. The period of adrenalin from when I arrived at Sky-Dive Toronto to the time I boarded the plane was much longer than the actual free-fall and glide to earth.

Once I was buckled into my jump suit and was given my five-minute instruction on how to grab my harness and assume the free-fall position, I realized that there was no turning back even if I had wanted to. I made nervous giggly talk with my instructor as we walked to the small Cessna that was waiting for me. I knew all would be well with this jump when my eyes came to rest upon one of my red-topped family members pumping gas. I breathed a sigh of relief. A gnome was a good omen.

I literally crawled into the side of the plane and was strapped, sitting on the floor, to the back of the pilot's seat. My instructor, "Jay-Dar", proceeded to crawl over me and have me straddle his legs as he buckled himself to the side of me, pinning me harder to the back of the pilot's seat. The videographer crawled in next to the door and then at the last minute another diver, the owner, crawled in to make his second dive of the morning. We were literally like parachute-packing sardines, squished and fighting for any room to stretch out in our flying metal can of death. I tried to push the panic button but it was disabled.

We ascended to about 4000 feet and the side door opened and I got my first view of the ground from above. It was amazing. It looked like a patchwork quilt of earth-tone fabrics stretched out for miles. It was stitched together with trees, rivers, buildings, and lakes. The wind gushed in and I felt the butterflies in my stomach going crazy. With little delay the diver smiled and jumped out the door after giving a thumbs-up to us. Before he disappeared into the clouds, the door was shut and we continued to ascend. It seemed like 10 more minutes before we started repositioning for our drop. I was unbuckled and placed with my back against Jay-Dar's chest. He re-buckled, and strapped, and cinched, and cinched again, until I could barely breathe, but the tightness felt good and secure so it didn't bother me. He yelled in my ear the last review of my instructions - "feet on platform", "grab your harness", "rock three times and GO!". The door opened and before I knew it the videographer was hanging on the wing. I inched forward and placed my feet as instructed. I'm not sure if I actively was rocking, or if I was being rocked, but the next thing I knew I was falling at a very fast rate of speed. Tumbling. Flipping. Screaming. Laughing. Trying to breathe as 120mph gusts of wind entered my lungs. The earth rushed forward but I wasn't scared. I was ALIVE.

The videographer appeared in front of me and I tried to smile. I thought I was doing all sorts of cool things with my hands but when I later saw the video I realized I was frozen and had to have my head pulled up in order to get my face on video. Well, at least I was dancing and smiling on the inside. Less then a minute passed and I heard Jay-Dar yell "PULL PULL PULL"!! It took a few seconds to comprehend what that meant, and then I reached back and grabbed the ripcord. The free-fall stopped and the parachute deployed. Suddenly the rushing sound of the air stopped and everything became quiet. I could hear Jay-Dar in my ear talking at a normal level and asking me what I thought. I was pumped.

He pointed out downtown Toronto, Muskoka, and the landing zone. We talked about the terrain, my upcoming race, my bucket list. I asked how he steered us and he showed me the handles he was holding onto. Suddenly he pulled right and we started spinning in a circle. It was awesome but I started to feel motion sick... but still didn't ask him to stop. We leveled out and then floated for a few more minutes. As we approached the landing zone he gave me the instructions to bend my legs up and then kick them out forward before landing. We slid easily into the ground and I laid there as my head grasped what I had just done.

My posse had shown up just in time to watch the jump and they gave me great mental and emotional support. It's always more fun to have people along for these kind of experiences and I was grateful they came to watch. They let me catch my breath and then we headed on towards Muskoka to check in at the cottage.

Not having eaten since early that morning we were all starving so we stopped in Bracebridge to tour the Muskoka Brewery tasting room and to get lunch at a nearby cafe. We sampled about eight different brews, learned about hops and the flavoring process of the beers, and bought some souvenirs. Lunch included my first exposure to poutine (french fries with brown gravy and cheese curds), apparently a staple of the Canadian diet. Not bad but it would take some adjusting to.

As it was getting late in the afternoon we cut our tour of Manitoba Street short and headed the final leg of the journey to the cottage. The terrain was getting hillier and we crossed over rivers and bridges and past quaint little houses. We turned onto a gravel road and within a mile or so we pulled into the driveway of the most amazing cottage house. Amazing to the tune of 1.5 million dollars.

It was exquisitely rustic, with polished wooden floors and beams, deer heads mounted tastefully in the kitchen and living areas, and beautifully decorated furnishings. There were three bedrooms on the main level as well as a living room and a kitchen that overlooked a large outdoor patio that had steps leading down to the first level and that continued to the lake via a rough cobblestone path. It was my dream home. Downstairs there were three more bedrooms, another kitchen and living area, and a patio with a hot tub. Life was good.

In true Coach Canada fashion, she not only picked a fantastic cottage, but prepared it for us as only she can. On the dining table were pairs of silly fashion sunglasses on top of folded red USA/FitBird long sleeve jerseys next to Canadian Welcome packages that included local beers, a Canada glass, a flag, and of course a Moose Mask for the boys and a Beaver Mask for the girls. As usual, no detail was missed. Next to the individual gifts were a festive assortment of Canadian wines surrounding a large bottle of Crown Royal. It was obvious this was going to be a fun trip!

It didn't take long for us to make our way to the dock to enjoy the sunset together. The water was clear and clean and I couldn't resist feeling it so I jumped in. With my clothes on. It was cold. My reasoning was I wanted to know if I would need a wetsuit for the race. In honesty the water looked so inviting I couldn't resist.

We hung out and took in the scenery until we heard the sound of car doors shutting and we knew that the next group of FitBirds had just arrived. Soon FreeBird, Layna, Boy Diva, and Lori (Linda's friend) came in to check out the house and unload. The FitBird Family was complete except for Big John and Tommy, our motorcycle-riding sherpas. They weren't scheduled to arrive until Friday.

After everyone had a chance to rest, we loaded up and ate at The Cottage, a local restaurant and afterwards celebrated Layna's birthday with a surprise cake. Everyone was tired from their travels and adventures for the day. Friday was going to be a busy day with a morning ride scheduled to test out our bikes, followed by race check-in and the expo. Tomorrow would be my first look at the bike course. I was feeling a little apprehensive.

To Be Continued...

No comments:

Post a Comment