Finally after a long hiatus of procrastination and contemplation, I am getting a chance to write about my 2nd favorite hobby i.e. travel 🙂
Although this was one of the most awaited activities on my bucket list, it happened in a moment of utter panic, without much planning.
So it struck me 2 weeks back that I am leaving the vicinity of New York in a few weeks and with that, might miss the golden chance and easy accessibility to skydive near the Hamptons! Shock stricken, I jumped on to Groupon and booked the best deal I could find. I purchased the deal, called up the guys at 516-skydive to confirm a few details about distances and dates, and there! I was all set to go and dive the next Saturday.
I called them up once again on Friday to confirm the weather because skydiving is an activity very much dependent on the weather; if it’s very cold or windy or cloudy or hot, the dive could be postponed. Plus, I had to commute for approx. 4 hours either way to reach the point. I dint want to waste the whole ride because of weather surprises. But good for me, the team was expecting a clear sunny day with pleasant temperatures so no change in plans. I happily packed my travel pouch with just some change, one debit card, a novel (which unconsciously helped put me in a great mood before the dive, future post! ), water bottle and some snacks. Carrying my wallet with all the cards and cash would be risky so I dropped that idea .
The place was approx. 60 miles from where I stay, so I had to leave around 7:30AM in the morning to catch all the right trains and arrive with some buffer before the expected time i.e. 1PM. I looked up NJTransit and MTA LIRR for the train schedules to find my connections.
- North Jersey Coast #7212 direct train from Secaucus to New York Penn Station via NJTransit
- Long Island Railroad (LIRR) from Penn Station to SPEONK via MTA
The MTA website gave below schedule :
|9:49 AM||11:51 PM||Jamaica||10:10 AM||2 hrs. 2 mins|
In my excitement or anticipation I don’t know, I did not pay any notice to the 3rd column which says ‘Transfer – Jamaica‘.
I reached Penn much before time so took an earlier train than the one I had planned, chose a nice window seat on the above deck since this was going to be a long ride, and dived into my novel, or so I tried. The ticket collector came, punched my ticket, mumbled something which I casually ignored (later I came to know, he said ‘change at Jamaica’. Oh the signs!) and carried on. I was busy enjoying the view from my window en-route and couldn’t peel my eyes away. Jamaica came and went, my adjacent seat was getting a new traveller almost every stop. Oblivious to everything, I was in my own dreamland, already flying like a bird above the Hamptons.
2 stops after Jamaica, a new ticket collector came to verify my ticket and asked me where was I going. I told Speonk and he informed I had to change at Jamaica. F***! Seeing my extreme disoriented look, he tried to calm me down saying I can get off the next stop, take the next train back to Jamaica and then continue to Speonk. He thought he was helping when he said there are trains almost every hour. Did I hear that right? Every hour? So that’s that. I will never be able to reach on time. It was a bad idea in the first place. I should never have made such a long trip. What was I thinking! I started frantically checking the train schedules from where I was (I don’t even remember that station name now) to Jamaica and from there to Speonk. There were no connecting trains which could take me to Speonk on time. It was already 10:30AM. I checked Uber to see if I can reach Jamaica to catch the next train in time but I realised that the next train from Jamaica is only at 12:35PM which would arrive Speonk by 1:45PM. Bummer!
I decided to call the 516-skydive team and inform them about what had happened and maybe try to get a refund? Well, not really. I thought my money and time, both went to trash. I called them with no hope and narrated the whole story. The guy at the desk seemed to recognise me from the multiple calls I had made to confirm or clarify or inform this and that (‘O! So you are the one coming from Secau….or something like that in Jersey?’ – is what he actually said 🙂). Luckily, he was an awesome person and very sympathetic. He knew I was coming a really long way so agreed to try and help me out. After being on hold for about 5 mins, he informed that since I was jumping alone and not with a group, I can be accommodated but may be not immediately on reaching. They will try to squeeze me in between other bookings. I couldn’t have asked for more. Finally got some color and relief back.
So I managed to reach the station and booked an Uber to drop me at the diving point. But of course, was it going to be that simple?
The cab came and I got a really nice friendly driver. He got excited to hear that I was there for skydiving and cheered me up with his own amazing experience. On the way, I could see boards of numerous skydiving companies almost every 200 meters. I concluded I was on the right way. But was I? We reached the address as per the GPS and it made us stop right in the middle of the highway with just trees lined up on the sides. The driver being such a nice fellow, asked me to call up the company and confirm if I have the right address. He could have just dropped me there and continued.But lucky me to keep meeting such kind people all the time!
I called them up and it turned out, the address has 2 routes. Since it’s the address of a huge huge ground, the common/shorter route takes us to the backside which is the wrong side. The front-desk guy asked us to turn around and follow the other side of the highway. Unfortunately, he wasnt aware of the landmarks around the area so we were having trouble locating the right road. Finally the driver used his instincts and the guy remained on the phone guiding us along. In fact, he came and stood on the side of the highway so that we can see him from far and locate the drop point. And we did! I thanked the driver and gave him a good tip which I felt he deserved. It should be pretty smooth from here on. But wait! There’s more.
I proceeded to the front-desk to start with the formalities. They gave me a few forms to fill and asked for photo-id proof to verify. I filled the forms and reached for my bag to get the ID. Now what? Oops, I left my wallet at home and with that, all my identity proofs. Wow, speak about nervous excitement haan!
The female dealing with me saw my agony and the puppy face I had got on and could she have escaped the enchantment? I dint think so. She spoke to her Manager and he came over to speak to me. Turns out, he was the same guy I had spoken to before about the delay. He recognised me and agreed to make an exception, AGAIN! I was really running out of words to thank these people.
After the form fiasco, we continued with the next steps of watching a cautionary video which is mandatory to be shown so that we are aware of the risks involved. Trust me, this will be the most hilarious part of the whole experience. The narrator (it was Bill Booth. I just had to had to find who this person was), who was also the inventor of skydiving safety equipments back in the 80s, had the longest beard I have seen on TV and the most fearsome look, which dint bind very well together to give enough seriousness to what he was saying. I kept trying really hard to control my giggle. After witnessing all those gruesome details about why this could fail and I could just tumble to my death from 10000 ft. in the air, we had the introduction of harness, postures and safety signs etc.
About 20 mins. of briefing and we were ready to board the chopper and take off on our first skydiving experience! Wohoo!
The complete photo blog of that journey will be my next post. Stay tuned!
Again, a big shout out to the awesome team at 516-skydive and my instructor Yuri (did I get the name right?)
P.S. : For bucket list items 1 and 2, refer below posts –
Update : The photo blog is now live. Check it out here.