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Who are the Experience Arizona Adventurers?

Matt Marine

Matt Marine is an Arizona resident who loves exploring Arizona's wonderful outdoor adventures. To find out more about Matt, click the link below.

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Cat-Dog

Cat-Dog is my faithful trail companion. Her real name is Cammie. Why do I call her Cat-Dog?

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Interns

Sara Harelson

I’m Sara! I’m 21, a senior in college, and a journalism major.  I love to read, write, travel, and listen to music.  I’m always on to my next adventure.

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See Intern Page for previous interns

Free Fallin’

Text and Photos by Sara Harelson

My life is in the hands of a Monkey.

Flash back one hour:

My knuckles are white from gripping the steering wheel for the entire 58-mile drive from my house to the tiny airfield in Eloy, Arizona. I know exactly how far it is because I watched each mile tick by, expecting the moment I arrived at the airfield, I would be strapped into a harness and thrown out of a plane.

Maybe ‘thrown’ is too harsh of a word; but I would definitely need to be urged to jump out of a

I arrived at Skydive Arizona at nine a.m. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the window and see the nervous grimace plastered on my face. It’s tough for me to check in and sign the piles of forms. My hands are shaking so badly I barely recognize the scribbles representing my signature.  Every box I initialed reminded me how dangerous skydiving is, including one that read, “I agree that parachuting is of little value to society.” Needless to say, the safety video and having to sign my life away didn’t makes me feel any better about inevitably plummeting to the earth from 13,000 feet in the air.


The whiteboard outside the office is updated every 20 minutes with names of students and the instructors that are tandem jumping with them. When I see my instructor’s name is ‘Monkey’ it makes my stomach twist into nervous knots. What kind of skydiving guide is named Monkey? Am I really comfortable with my life in his hands?

So here we are. Minutes from going up in the plane.

When Monkey finally comes looking for me, I timidly raise my hand and tell him I am his newest student. He introduces himself and I immediately barrage him with questions. “How many times have you jumped out of a plane? Has anyone died with you? Is this safe?”

Monkey laughs and answers my questions in succession: “About 12,500 times, no because I would be dead too, and yes I think so. Are you ready to go?”

I strap into my harness that I checked myself an extra 15 times after Monkey did just for good measure and kiss my boyfriend, who I had brought along for support, goodbye with instructions on how to divvy up my belongings if I die.

We head to the airstrip and 26 of us load into a small plane with a rollup window on one side. The pilot makes sure we are all in and then starts the engine. The minute we take off, I think I might be sick.  It’s the kind of nervous sick where you can feel your heart in your stomach. I could see us climbing on the altitude meters all the professional jumpers had strapped to their arms. First time I look we are 2,000 feet. I turn my head, look out the window, try to take a deep breath and look back. How were we already at 6,000 feet?

Monkey can see how nervous I am on my face. He asked me if I am okay and if I ate anything for breakfast. I hadn’t, but I lie and say I did. He nod and say, “Good, sometimes if you don’t eat anything you throw up.”

How comforting for me.

When we reach 12,000 feet, the people on the ground below ware invisible and the cars look like ants. Monkey straps me to him and begins his last and most thorough gear check. The five parachutists ahead of us move into ready position and throw open the sliding door. The pilot gives the O-K and the single jumpers begin to jump, dive and flip out into the open air below. That’s when I realize we are about to jump out of a plane and I seriously consider staying put. Monkey isn’t having that and inches us to the opening. I looked out the open door for about ten seconds but it felt like forever as he checked one final time to make sure the gear was all good.

I can’t focus on Monkey. I’m too busy peering out the side of the plane, praying we don’t get sucked out the side before he can finish.

I look out over the expanse of the desert below us with little squares of green and brown resembling something like a checkerboard.

“Head back, knee down and smile! Are you ready?”

I don’t even respond before he launches us out of the plane and I am free falling towards the desert floor.


Tom Petty would have been proud. I’m just ‘Free Fallin’.

I can’t find my voice to scream.

Wind whips against my face.

I feel like a dog with its head out of a car window. I gulp and gasp to get air and finally get my voice back and scream as loud as I can.

I try to take some deep breaths.

In.

Out.

Scream.

Still falling.

It is incredible. I am completely weightless falling through the chilly October sky.


Monkey gives the signal and pulled the parachute. It jerks us back so fast I lose my breath once more.

We slow down and I give him a thumbs up and am able to take off my goggles. The adrenaline is still coursing through my veins and I try to slow myself down enough to take everything in. I can see Picacho Peak and the expanse of the desert from what looked like Tucson all the way to Phoenix.

We were descending gently. Floating down through the air slowly making our way to the landing strip.

The air is crisp and cold against my face and the smell of the air up here is so clean and fresh.  

Monkey lets me steer the chute. I take a strong grip on the handles and turn us left and right, plummeting a few feet each time. When I release both handles we are pulled back and for a moment, are weightless again.

He guides us towards our landing and as we got closer I begin to see the people who jumped before us already rolling up their chutes.

A gust of wind catches us quickly as we land and Monkey instructs me to stick my legs out to support my own weight. The landing is rough and a shock goes through my body as my feet connect with the solid ground once again.

I could not wipe the smile off my face.

I had actually just gone skydiving.

I threw my arms around Monkey and thanked him for keeping me alive.


A shiver ran down my spine as I realize what I just did. How little the world seemed when you’re falling through the air, above it all.

I feel so alive.

We head back to the office and he hands me a certificate that cements the fact I am brave enough to vault out the side of a plane.

Monkey looks at me and says, “Okay, one more question and then I’ll let you go. Would you do it again?”

He knows my answer before I can even give it to him.

In case you’re inspired to jump out of a plane ...

Skydive Arizona: https://www.skydiveaz.com/

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