What else to do with a high bridge and a long piece of elastic?
01.12.2007 - 01.12.2007 22 °C
New Zealand is the infamous home of bungy jumping and outside Queenstown is the bungy operation that claims to have started it all – AJ Hackett’s at Kawarau Bridge. We decided to stop and watch some brave folks leap off the 142 foot high bridge, which overlooks a particularly picturesque river ravine. With bungy elastic strapped firmly around their ankles, and loud heavy rock music pumping from the jump station, individuals nervously hobbled to the edge of the platform and plunged to the river below. A few were ‘helped’ with a gentle nudge if they were taking too long.
Even watching people jump leaves a lump in your throat. As perfect strangers stand on the platform, you feel nervous for them: everyone can imagine the all-encompassing and uncontrollable terror they’d feel standing in the jumper’s shoes. You’d have to be crazy, right? I mean, of all the adventurous pursuits, bungy is the one I said I’d never do.
I guess I lied.
I didn’t have any intention of doing it. But as Lloyd and I watched, I started to feel tempted. We’re in New Zealand, the home of bungy. The more I thought about it, it became clear that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t do it. I’d never forgive such an overt demonstration of lack of courage. Though my belly was doing triple backflips just thinking about it, I concluded that there was – in fact - no choice. It simply had to be done.
Happily, the jump crews were taking a break for the twenty minutes or so before my jump, so I didn’t have to torture myself with experiencing the agony of jumps while I waited. But before I knew it, Lloyd and I were walking towards the jump platform in the middle of the bridge. Interestingly, I no longer felt nervous. I was 100% focused on the task in hand: I wanted to get off the platform as quickly as possible and reduce the opportunity for dithering or backing out. And I wanted – needed – to do it without once looking down.
Waiting on the bridge to have my legs bound...
Lloyd, prohibited by his back from jumping, left to get to the viewing area while I was taken onto the back of the jump platform. With a thick, blue towel for padding, my ankles were strapped firmly together while the crew member made some unwelcome small talk about the weather. There were questions I wanted to ask about the science behind the jump, but I was so totally focused on getting off that platform that I mostly sat there with a steel look of determination. When the crew attached the bungy cord to my feet ‘restraints’, I knew my time had come. Still, mysteriously, no nerves.
Just seconds to go.... Focus. Focus. Focus.
I was helped to my feet and – as well as you can with your feet bound together – hobbled to the edge of the platform. I manage a pretty convincing smile for the camera and a wave over to Lloyd. The crew dude counts down from five. Five. “Just keep looking straight ahead.” Four. “This will be over in less than two minutes”. Three. “I just have to jump… the rest will take care of itself”. Two. “If I hesitate, it will just make it worse”. One. “Just do it.”
Just did it!
I’m flying, and everything goes deathly silent. No rock music, no screams from the crowd, no water, no birds. Nothing. The last thing I remember seeing is the stunning vista ahead of me: beautiful blue sky and a river ravine. I realize I’m still looking forward. And then – the sensation of falling. While I feel every inch of the drop, I don’t see any of it. My eyes are wide open, but it’s as if my brain chooses to block out the terrifying sight as I plunge towards the water. As the bungy gets to work, and I bounce back almost as high as the bridge, my sight is restored, and I can experience three or four ‘bounces’ with all of my senses.
Immediately, the ‘retrieval’ crew is coming after me, and – still hanging upside down from the bungy – I’m dragged into the dinghy. The relief is overwhelming. The achievement of having jumped feels massive. And as soon as everything stops shaking I’ll be able to confirm that I’m physically unhurt.
And of course, I’m fine. A few hours post-bungy, I still had a massive headache in the back of my eyes, but was fine after a good night's sleep. It's hard to know what's left to beat it in our last two days in New Zealand.