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Most travelers have taken trips on airplanes and gazed out the window into the peaceful calm at cruising altitude. Anne Marie Ruff recently took such a flight over the picturesque landscape of northwestern Wisconsin. And then, she did something most sensible travelers would never do: At 12,000 feet above the farms, she jumped out of the plane.

One Way Ticket

By Anne Marie Ruff 9/27/2002

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I am in this plane with 14 other people. The back door is open, and the wind is really cold.

(sound: hum of the airplane)

Now, there are 13 other people. Now, 12.

This is my sister's idea. She has done this more than a thousand times. Now, there are 11 others in the plane, and my sister, Kris, is smiling as she asks me:

Kris: "Are you scared?"

She wants me to be scared -- at least a little.

Anne Marie: "I'm not sure how I feel."

But I probably should be scared. I have no parachute, and I am about to jump out the door. There are 10, nine, eight, seven others in the plane. Luckily, I am strapped to a big guy named Karl, and he has a parachute strapped to his back.

Karl: OK, our fates are sealed; it's you and me against the world.

And, I feel sort of calm; there are six, five, four of us. Then I get scared, my survival instincts kick in, and this is definitely contrary to those good and sensible instincts. But before I can tell this to my sister, Karl pushes me out of the plane.

Anne Marie: "Oh my god."

It is a rush. We are falling toward the earth at 120 miles an hour. I have never felt so free.

(sound of Anne Marie screaming with delight)

It is pure unattachment. The desire for this feeling is why I travel. I am not tied down, I am not bound to anything, except of course for "Big and Comforting" Karl, who is strapped to my back.

My sister and her husband fly up to me and grab my arms. A kind of "ring around the rosie" at 10,000 feet. And, we fall for what seems a long time. Then, Karl pulls the rip cord and the parachute unfurls...and the world goes quiet.

It is incredibly peaceful. I can see for miles: farms, freeways, cows and cars. The sun is about to set, and I think this may be the best way to see the world. I wish we would never have to land.

But gravity makes no exceptions, and pretty soon Karl makes a hook turn and the ground of the drop zone is coming up pretty fast.

Anne Marie: "Are those people there so we don't die?"
Karl: "No, they will catch us."

And then, with a couple of steps, we make a perfect landing. We are once again attached to the earth, bound to the ground and our earthly lives.

Anne Marie: "That was fantastic."

Karl unhooks me and then I enter a really dangerous zone, a place where the desire to regain that feeling of freedom is overwhelming.

Anne Marie: "How much would it cost to make another tandem jump?"
Karl: "That's the most dangerous thing about skydiving: the addiction."

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