I wasn’t intending to jump off this bridge. Even though lots of other people were doing it.
I could hear my mom’s voice in my head: “Just because other people jump off a bridge doesn’t mean you have to do it too, now does it?”
Um…no, Mom, I guess not.
As you probably know, bungee jumping is a high-adrenaline recreational activity designed to prove to yourself that you are fearless and to prove to your friends that you’re crazy. The idea is to pretend for an instant that you’re one of those brave, graceful Acapulco cliff divers, without ever having to actually master the skill.
You dive off a bridge (or cliff, or whatever), usually over water, and before you splatter like a ripe guava on the rocks below, or sink like a granite tombstone into the icy depths, an elastic cord slows you to a stop, then gently bounces you around for awhile as you scream with ecstasy in the realization that you’re still alive.
The whole thing lasts about 20 seconds: five for the fall and another 15 for the bouncing and screaming. So it’s not any kind of extended thrill like, say, skydiving. Or paragliding. Or being on the Jamaican bobsled team. Or watching Kellyanne Conway being sucked into the Bardo.
But the idea of voluntarily launching yourself off a (perfectly good) bridge and trusting that somehow these wise-cracking guys taking your money and strapping you into a harness actually know what they’re doing, that they have in fact tested the bungee cord and not purchased it that morning at the New Zealand Walmart, that they have calculated the exact physics of this jump – your own personal leap of faith and brush with eternity – carefully enough that you won’t somehow get maimed or killed and wind up on youtube as a Darwin award, is a bit scary for most of us.
Well the truth is, I wasn’t as scared as I could have been. Once I got up there on the bridge, they kept putting people in front of me. They say they do this so the bungee guys don’t have to keep adjusting the weights too much from jumper to jumper. But they don’t tell you beforehand that this could happen, or that you might be waiting as much as AN HOUR up there in your harness in the hot sun.
So by the time it was finally MY TURN, I was a little cranky, which probably distracted me from being scared. Also they make you take off your glasses. And without ‘em, I couldn’t clearly see how far down it was (pretty far) which also mitigated my fear somewhat. In addition, by this time I had witnessed a dozen or so jumps, and it becomes obvious that these guys pretty much have this down to a science.
So one part of your brain is telling you it’s not all that risky.
Still, when you’re standing up there on the edge of time and space, looking down at a rushing turquoise river about a mile or so below you, and it’s time to surrender, head-first, to the unrelenting Newtonian forces of gravity and momentum, you realize that – just like sometimes people actually do win the lottery – there is in fact a chance something could go horribly wrong. Then another part of your brain pipes up in a loud voice: This might be a bad decision. This might be the last one you’ll ever make.
For a moment there, your hormones are in full fight or flight. You can’t help it.
But you know you can’t back out. Not like the girl in front of you who stood on the edge for five minutes, trembling in fear, and who finally retreated in tears. Not when your group of travel friends (and especially the other male in the group – Mark Lofgren) have ponied up the juice for you to do this, and they have been waiting over an hour in the hot sun to watch and film you.*
* And besides, Mark has jumped already. Half an hour ago!
So you look out, you look around, you look down. You notice it’s all extraordinarily beautiful. You think:
This valley, this river, these onlookers: are they the last sights I’ll ever see?
I wish I had my glasses on so I could take it all in a little better.
Then again, maybe it’s better I don’t.
What’s the name of that movie where they keep saying, ‘Today is a good day to die’?
At this point you know there’s nothing you can do but fall forward, arms out wide like Jesus on the cross. Hopefully a graceful swan dive, just like when you were a kid on the diving team. Over the edge you go. So easy. Just fall forward.
There’s a rush of adrenaline as your brain and body process the fact that you are actually falling toward a river 150 feet below you. There’s a brief feeling of wow, this is cool!
It lasts exactly three seconds.
Just about the time you’re getting into full pleasure mode, you feel the brakes come on. The bungee grabs your feet.
Already? So fast? That’s it?
You’re still diving toward the water, but slower now. And as you reach the river your hands – now over your head in dive position – briefly enter the water (but not your whole head like they promised).
Then you bounce back up like a human yo yo, a human pogo stick, a human trampoline. A human metaphor, returning from the valley of doom.
And you realize the bouncing is really the best part, because it lasts longer than the fall, and you’re actually bouncing fairly high. Also because you’re relatively certain that you’re not going to die anymore.
That’s a good feeling.
VIDEO: More fun in full-screen.
NOTES: I want to thank Mark Lofgren and my merry group of travelers for donating the bungee fee, which is not cheap. I am reasonably confident they were honestly trying to give me a thrill, and not kill me or anything. Also thanks to the lovely Shirley Smith for purchasing the company’s video of my jump for me. Much gratitude also to my fabulous, long-time friend Marya Corneli for the great slo-mo footage in the video above, shot on her phone, and my favorite part of the vid because you really see the perspective.
I cannot in good conscience recommend the A.J. Hackett Bungy Jump near Queenstown, NZ. The people there are nice, friendly, and they do seem competent. But the jump is way overpriced, should include the video in the price, and they should do a better job of letting you know there could be a long wait at the top.
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