Sunday, June 12, 2011

Free Fallin'

The sketchy plane.
It was a warm, sunny day in Sonoma County, California. A comforting breeze blew down from the tree-covered hillside and a few rogue clouds gathered overhead, as if to witness my demise.

I stood inspecting the antiquated piece of aviation technology that would allegedly carry me into the air. It looked like something the Wright Brothers used before they solved the whole “crashing and burning” problem during the development of their first flying machine prototype.

After a crash-course in skydiving safety, I entered the aero-jalopy’s cramped cabin and took a seat next to my instructor. The plane’s hoarse engines coughed to life and a few minutes later we were, miraculously, airborne. As the plane climbed towards the heavens, a thousand “what if” questions spiraled through my mind at a hundred miles per hour.

About to jump...
What if the chute fails?

What if the plane crashes?

What if I die?

When we reached the desired altitude, the instructor slid open the door and I found myself looking 12,000 feet to the earth below. My heart began to pound so fast that I felt the friction would cause me to spontaneously combust.

I was afraid.

But then I jumped…


A year later, I found myself on a Boeing jet peering out a porthole at the sprawling metropolis below.

Bogotá, Colombia.

My new home for the next 12 months.

Overlooking Bogotá.
I had just quit my job, said goodbye to everyone I knew and loved and packed my life into two checked bags and one carry-on. I had barely ever been outside the United States, much less to a developing country. I was like a tightrope-walker who had never walked a tightrope before and doing it blindfolded.

Another whirlwind of questions swirled through my mind.

What if I get robbed?

What if I get kidnapped?

What if I die?

I was afraid.

But then we landed and I entered Bogotá.

After dropping out of the propeller plane, the next 45 seconds were straight free-fall. My body emptied its entire adrenaline reserve into my bloodstream, quadrupling my heart rate and sending my brain into sheer survival mode. My clothes rippled in the air as the wind rushed all around. Although I kept my head up and eyes open to catch a glimpse of the view, my mind’s aesthetic faculties were unable to process the flurry of the sensation.

After what seems like two and a half lifetimes of freefall, there was jerk and then a gush of wind as I shot upward.

Free fall.
And then there was peace.

The chute caught the air and the chaos transformed into tranquility as I gently floated towards the earth. Although my eyes had been open the entire time, I was finally able to appreciate the breathtaking beauty that surrounded me. From this height, the cars driving on the 101 looked like ants scurrying towards their next task. I could see the glistening waters of Lake Sonoma in the distance and the sprawling fields of wine country covering the earth like a patched quilt.

A few minutes later, I landed on a patch of grass beside the airfield. I was alive and well, yet more alive than I had ever been in my entire existence.

Since arriving in Bogotá, I’ve felt like I’ve been in a constant state of freefall. Except instead of lasting 45 seconds, it has lasted nearly sixth months. The everyday challenges of surviving in a place where few gringos have gone before have kept me from truly appreciating the gravity of where I am and what I am trying to accomplish here. Although this “saving the world” business is not so glorious during the day-to-day toil, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.

Time to pull the chute.
On December 10, 2011, I will be boarding another plane, one that will take me home.

But until then, I have a lot of work to do.

I need to stay focused and remember why I came here in the first place. If I can make it through this, then there is no limit to what I can accomplish.     

It’s time to pull my chute, let the breeze catch and appreciate the view.

I’ll be making landfall soon.


  1. Great great post! You said it perfectly here: "I need to stay focused and remember why I came here in the first place. If I can make it through this, then there is no limit to what I can accomplish".

  2. Brit in Bogota.....June 12, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    Hey Mike, fantastic comparison of "adrenalin" related life experiences. Ive followed your blog from the beginning and have total respect and admiration for your courage and determination in your quest, and hope that the youngsters you are teaching are equally as respectful for what you are striving to achieve for them and you. Keep it up and I hope you return to sky diving on your return to the States. Good luck and stay safe, best regards. Chris.