And another update ... This weekend was another productive skydiving weekend. Went up to Jumptown on Saturday - ended up doing 4 jumps. First jump was my first solo jump ... went very well - I basically treated it as though it was just another jump with an instructor/coach - even though they weren't there. I did everything the same, though. Planned the dive (wasn't going to do anything crazy without the "safety net" of having someone with me) - grabbed my student gear, did a full equipment check, got suited up, discussed my dive with one of my coaches, had them give me a gear check, went out to the mock-up door and practiced my exit a few times, then I felt ready to do it. Boarded the plane, got strapped into the seatbelt, and started envisioning the jump on our way up to jump altitude. Discussed my jump with the other jumpers on the plane, just to make sure everything was in order, and we all knew what we were doing. At this point, my nerves were a bit rattled, but not quite as much as I was expecting. We got up to 13,500', the door opened and people started jumping. After what seemed like forever, it was my turn - got in the door, dove out, arched my body and relaxed - and lo and behold, everything was going just like it did on any of my previous jumps. After doing a backflip and a few 360 turns, I decided to just relax and enjoy my first jump where I didn't have a list of tasks - kept my eye on my altimeter - everything was looking great - it was actually a very calm and peaceful jump that seemed to last a lot longer than the other jumps I had done. Waved and threw my PC at 5000', and after an uneventful flight, I landed and felt on top of the world. I was very proud of my progression and that I had done something that not a lot of people have done. Picked up my chute and now it was time to go back to work. After discussing my jump with my coach and having him sign off on my log book, we started planning for my next jump - the 5500' hop and pop. I wasn't too worried about this jump, as I had done 30 static line jumps in the Army, from a lot lower altitude than this, so I was feeling pretty good - but as I would find out, treating a jump with anything less than my full attention was a mistake. So the coach and I went over the jump - wasn't really much to go over - floater exit, arch and get stable, 3-4 seconds after leaving the plane, throw the PC, do a few new turns (had to do 4 180 turns while in deep brakes) and then fly the approach pattern in deep brakes. Okay - I thought I had it, so we geared up, loaded the plane and did the jump. What a horrible exit ... I was a bit unstable, tumbled a bit, then managed to get stable after about 3 seconds, but then, when I reached for my PC, I ended up flipping over onto my back, and at this point, I had to throw - so I tossed the PC, and the parachute deployed just fine, despite me being on my back. I had my first line twists (well, first in non-military jumps - they were a regular occurance during the static line jumps, so I wasn't concerned), so I twisted out of them, did all of my 180 turns properly, and flew an excellent pattern while in deep brakes - I actually landed right on the X that they have set up in the student landing area - so I was pretty happy about that. Picked up my chute and headed back to the hanger, feeling a bit down, knowing what I did (both right and wrong) and prepared myself for what I was sure wasn't going to be an overly positive debrief from my coach. Dropped off my chute for repacking and sat down with the coach - he pretty much echoed what I already knew - unstable exit is what caused all the trouble that I ran into - and then he gave me what I knew was coming - I would have to repeat this jump. However, he said that he was able to watch all of my turns and my approach, and those were excellent, so the repeat jump would just be an exit - nothing special was needed to pass. Picked my head up, went over the exit - and this time, he gave me 2 great bits of advice. #1 was that while I was in the door, my arms holding on to the bar were very over-extended - he said I should pull my body in, so my chest is against the top of the door. #2 was to watch the plane after I exit - as it flies away - and this proved most useful on my repeat jump. Grabbed my gear again, got suited back up, and went up and did my repeat jump - and this time, everything was perfect. I felt so stable throughout the entire thing - I felt so much better about this jump than the last. After an uneventful pull and parachute flight, I landed and knew I had done well. Met up with the coach and he agreed - I had passed the jump and could move forward. I was now given a choice - I could do my 3500' hop and pop, or I could save that for later and move on to the Category G jumps. Without any thought, I knew I wanted to start the G jumps, because I knew they were the introduction to jumping with other people and seemed like these would be a LOT of fun - and boy was I right. Got hooked up with a new coach and we went over everything for this jump. After doing a couple of practice run throughs, we suited up and up we went. I was also excited, because the coach was jumping with a GoPro and was going to film the jump for me - WOOHOO! Got up to jump altitude, got in the door (floater exit again) and we both left the plane. Another solid exit - this gave me a lot of confidence in something that I had been rattled about - now it was time to start my docking practice. Found the coach, turned towards him - he backed away some 10-15 feet and waved for me to come to him. Straightened out my legs, and amazingly, everything worked as it was supposed to - I flew very close to him, but wasn't able to grab hands, as we were spinning a little bit. S'ok - no problem. Stopped, checked altitude, and tried again - and this time, I went right towards him, grabbed hands and cracked the biggest smile - this was AWESOME! He backed away a little further this time, and was a bit lower than me - this caught me off guard, because I hadn't learned (or thought I hadn't learned) how to adjust altitude. So I extended my legs, and surprisingly, as I went towards him, I got closer to his altitude at the same time. This dock was a little more shaky - but I managed to get to him and grab hands again. Checked altitude - just about to pass 6000' - and that was our stopping point. Shook my head no, he gave me the thumbs up and waved me away, so I turned a 180 and began to track away from him. Now, I didn't feel like I had gone very far away from him, and obviously, I couldn't see him, but I tracked for the 5 seconds that we agreed on, stopped tracking, got stable, waved and pulled. Parachute deployed no problem - had to do a few reverse turns - I had actually done some of these (unknowingly) on previous jumps, so these weren't a problem - did my approach and landed. My first thought was GOD DAMN! That was a lot of fun. I felt great about the jump and knowing that I could control myself that way while freefalling was incredibly reassuring. Picked up my chute and headed back to the hanger. Dropped off my chute and took off all of my gear - I was done for the day - time to get comfortable! Met up with the coach and he was almost as thrilled as I was. Debriefed the jump, and he had nothing but positive things to say. I had done as well as I thought I had. Exchanged a few high-fives and headed home, feeling on top of the world. Oh - and for those of you interested, here is the video that he took: http://youtu.be/CiU1tvjBp9Q?hd=1 Headed back to Jumptown on Sunday morning - had to take my packing class. I won't spend too much time on this - excpet to say that I truly hate packing - it is such a pain in the ass and I will be more than happy to pay riggers to pack for me. But I have a much greater understanding of how the whole system works, which is a great thing. So - end result was that it's a pain in the ass, but a good skill to have, and I think that once I get my own gear, it will become easier - or at least that's what I'm hoping. I finished up the day (and the weekend) by completing my 3500' hop and pop jump - I remembered to look at the plane after exiting and it went as well as my 2nd 5500' hop and pop. Nothing more to really say about it ... but in the end, I had a GREAT weekend, full of new jumps and new knowledge - I am truly loving this sport.