Free falling at 120 mph

I’ve always wanted to jump. I think it’s the part of me that wants to experience all that there is and draws me to live life to its fullest. Before moving to Truckee, I lived in an ashram in a small town in Florida, where amidst the thick groves of live oaks laden with Spanish moss, there was a small skydive center across the street.


Mike Swanson | Skydive Truckee Tahoe

The occasional skydiver drifted off course and found him or herself face to face with a life-size image of a Hindu deity or needing to be fished out of a tree while hanging precariously over the alligator-infested Sebastian River. For one reason or another, I never did jump while in Florida.

“It took a moment to stand. My body vibrated.
I felt like a thousand volts of electricity
was coursing through my veins.” 


A few years later, while happily living in Truckee, I met Jules Drew at a holiday dinner. Jules, her sister, Jen Drew, and Jen’s husband, Mike Swanson, are all skydivers. The trio own Skydive Truckee Tahoe, which opened in May.

“Skydiving has been our life. We’ve traveled the world and realized Truckee is the perfect place for a drop zone,” said Jen.

081116-Skydive_Instruction_0289Mike Swanson | Skydive Truckee Tahoe

It was a bit of mind blower to move 3,000 miles across the country and meet people who had spent time in my tiny town: Jen and Swanson had lived and jumped across the street from me in Sebastian for many years. Swanson has more than 22,000 jumps under his belt, he’s a four-time world champion in free-fly skydiving (he competes in wing-suit proximity flying) and is a member of the Red Bull Air Force team.


It was a Wednesday morning at 8:30 when Jules texted me. If I wanted to jump, I’d need to be at their office in an hour. I raced to get dressed, made a cup coffee and jumped in the car. Once at their office, I met tandem instructor, Ellis Bourbonnais, a former cage fighter, who spent years in Dubai skydiving. He eventually moved to Sebastian before arriving in Truckee to climb and work for the skydive center. He has made 9,000 jumps. Instructor Rio “Drago” Mackey is from Steamboat Springs, Colo., where he skis in the winter. He moved to Truckee to work as tandem instructor and has done 1,500 jumps.

081116-Skydive_Priya&Rio-in-Plane_0292Mike Swanson | Skydive Truckee Tahoe

Both men were delightful, engaging and knowledgeable. I was at ease and felt safe. Also jumping for her first time was Shannon Leinert, who had just rolled in from Eugene Ore., after finishing the Olympics trials in the 800 meters.

The instructors gave us a tandem safety briefing and then strapped us into our harnesses. We walked outside where a tiny plane awaited us.


Mike Swanson | Skydive Truckee Tahoe


“When we exit the plane, you’ll arch your back, keep your arms crossed over your chest and your feet and knees together,” Mackey explained.

The pilot greeted us as we hopped on board. I slid between Mackey’s legs and he clipped us together. The engines roared and we started rolling. As the plane ascended, the lupine and sage fields gave way to the beauty and vastness that is Tahoe. Donner Lake and Stampede, and Boca reservoirs came into view, as did Castle Peak, Tinker Knob, Northstar, Mount Rose and Verdi Peak. We climbed to 10,000 feet as the plane soared, putting us at 16,000 feet above sea level.


Mike Swanson | Skydive Truckee Tahoe

Swanson rolled up the door of the plane and cold air whooshed in. Bourbonnais and Leinert moved to the edge of the door and disappeared.

“Ok, you ready?” Mackey asked. I scooched to the edge of the door and looked out. “Wow, I’m high,” was all I could muster.

He positioned us and the next thing I knew we were falling 120 mph through the Tahoe sky. I leaned against him as instructed. Air pressure filled my mouth and realized I best shut my mouth.

A rush of energy filled my body as we fell toward earth. Mackey pulled the chute. I opened my arms and we gently sailed through the air. He handed me the reins to feel what it was like to steer.

As the landing area came into view, Mackey explained that I’d need to get my legs up in a pike position. We slid in on our butts. It took a moment to stand. My body vibrated. I felt like a thousand volts of electricity was coursing through my veins.

I thanked Mackey and looked at Jules and said, “I want to do that again.”

She laughed. “That’s what everyone says afterwards.”

This adventure is one of those must-do-at-least-once-in-a-lifetime and with the beauty of Tahoe, there’s no better place to fall from the sky.


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