Out of all the craziest things the human race has invented to enjoy themselves, sport or otherwise, bungy jumping has to be somewhere on top of the list. Somewhere on that list you'll also find decathlons (yeah, right, life just needs more challenges), chainsaw juggling (you miss, you lose - raise your hand if you've tried this), wife carrying (seriously, it's a sport, with an obstacle course and everything), spelling bee (seriously, it's not a sport), synchronized swimming (really!!), and root beer (it just makes no sense).
Anyway, why would anyone want to jump 150 feet from a ledge without being pushed? Well, I thought so too. So off we go to Queenstown NZ to double-check this. Let's see now, how stupid do I have to be.
As soon as you land, you realize you're not the only adventure junky here. This is, justifiably so, the adventure sport capital of the world. There is nothing that you can't experience which doesn't blow your mind. Sky-diving, Para-sailing, Jet-skiing, Zorbing, Mud-plugging, Jet-boat rafting (!) (I'm not making it up, it's crazy fast), wife- beating (OK, I made that up). And here I'm worried about jumping a few feet! What the hell. Aneurysms, here I come!
It's not too difficult to find operators for all these activities, once in town. You can't cross a hotel lobby without banging your elbow on racks holding brochures.
For bungy jumping, of course, there's no better outfit than the world famous A.J. Hackett. The man himself was responsible for starting this crazy trend in the eighties, by tying bungee cords around his legs (hence the name), and leaping off the Kawarau bridge. The bridge still exists today, solely for this activity. And that's where we'll indulge in this blood-clotting sport.
So, the bus picks you up and takes you 20 minutes outside Queenstown to the Kawarau Bridge, and while you watch a large projector screen explain the history of A.J.Hackett and his infamous jump from the Eiffel Tower after hiding inside the monument the entire night, the inevitable form-filling begins.
The lady at the counter with pencil-thin eyebrows, shows her spot-on professionalism -
"Do you have any of the following conditions - asthma, heart disease, diabetes, blood pressure, hyper-tension, arthritis?"
"Good. Any other problems?"
"Well, I have a pimple on my nose"
The eyebrows go up slightly. "Anything else?"
"Yes, I'm also really worried about this whole Ebola situation in Sudan."
The eyebrows go higher. "Anything relevant?"
I really wanted to shout "How the hell should I know what's relevant? I've never jumped off a bridge before!"
What came out was a polite "I have a teeny-weeny fear of heights."
The eyebrows finally relaxed and a smile appeared "We'll soon change all that"
Your weight is taken and then stamped on your hand. You stand in queue, with soft reggae playing across the bridge, while one by one people jump off it. It's nerve-racking - all you hear is Ahhhhh, Ohhhhhhhhhh, qashqaiiiiiiiiiiii, wait-you-forgot-to-tie-my-leeeeeeee (I didn't catch the end of that).
And then suddenly it's your turn. The rigger looks at your weight, measures the cord length accordingly, straps your harness, and says "good daye mayt, awl ryadee to jump, eh?
He's Aussie, not a kiwi. Just my luck.
"So, gaow aheed theen"
"Well, strictly speaking I am not feeling too goo-"
At the roar, you hesitate while the fight-or-flight instinct hits you. And yet you take the plunge and step off the platform. The water hurls itself at you at lightning speed, while the weightless feeling shocks your system. Your heart lumps in your throat. Your blood freezes and your stomach feels as if someone is tickling it from the inside.
Maybe I should have done this before breakfast.
And then, seconds before impact, when you are certain that you're going to be part of the scenery, your legs pull you up. Slowly you dangle upside down like a vertical pendulum. When they lower you down to the boat, there's a wide smile plastered across your face. And the hormonal surge makes sure it stays that way for a looooong time. The trembling doesn't help either. You won't be able to eat anything with a knife and fork for quite some time.
The length of time you remain suspended is impossible to fathom. But when I told Eyebrows "That drop was the longest 20 minutes of my life." She replied "yeah, those 6 seconds can be quite hair-raising."
The whole experience is such that, the only fear you feel is what's inside you - Will I scream like a little girl? Will my nerves hold up? What if the pork-chops I had last night come out through the other way they went in? More importantly, what about the bacon and eggs I had 20 minutes back? How will they look, coming out, to the 50 people standing on the bridge taking photos?
You never fear the cord snapping, the harness coming loose or a wrong weight calculation for the bungy length, which might put you straight in the drink.
So you walk back up the hill, a different person than who went down. All of a sudden, the small problems that have plagued your mind don't matter anymore. Hell, you've just done something that's death-defying. It's puts you one spot over even James Bond, who doesn't do his own stunts.
And that smile just doesn't leave your face. For hours.
When someone sitting across me on the bus got a little unnerved by my staring at him with this stupid expression, he asked me -
"What's so damned funny?"
I replied "Oh nothing, I just jumped off a bridge."
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