Before I leave Australia.
In the lead up to my trip I can’t seem to stop myself from saying to people, “I’m going to New Zealand, I haven’t decided whether I’ll bungy jump or not yet.” I suppose I’m testing the water, gauging reactions. What I’m also unwittingly doing however is setting expectations, and creating my own monkey for my back. Everyone knows it is on the cards. Everyone is going to ask about it when I get back.
Three days before.
I’m in Wellington, it’s St. Patrick’s day and I’m drunk and talking to strangers. “I haven’t done it, but I think it’s overrated.” “It’s not cheap either, and it’s over in under a minute” “I did the jet-boating instead.” This is all the encouragement my already wavering commitment needs. Bugger it… I’ll save the cash.
The day before.
I arrive in Queenstown, and have only just parked my van when my new camping neighbour, a tough Aussie chippy named Lance comes over for a chat. I tell him the same thing I must have told 50 others before by now, “I feel like I would regret not bungy jumping while I’m here, but I’m not sure if I will actually do it.” “You wouldn’t catch me dead doing it… But if you reckon you should do it, I reckon you should do it.” Right, me too… We are back on. Shit.
The morning of.
A poster in town says “Feel the fear, but do it anyway”. True. If people weren’t a bit scared… If throwing yourself off a bridge with only a stretchy rope attached to your feet didn’t get your heart racing… why would anyone do it? Everyone is scared, but people do it anyway.
”You can do it man”, my internal dialogue reassures me. Yet the external me seems to be putting off going in and booking it. I get breakfast. And a coffee. I buy some more data for my phone and a souvenir for my mum. The cashier at the souvenir shop asks what I’m planning for the day. “Bungy jumping! You are brave! Have you booked it yet?” No. I haven’t. And there is nothing left to “prioritize”.
While I wait in line at AJ Hackett to book my jump some other tourists are checking in for a trip about to go. “It’ll be a rush”, one says to the other. Why am I still not that excited? Although I do notice a hint of self-reassurance too.
“I’d like to book a Kawaru bridge jump please.” I ask with false confidence. “Sure, when would you like to go?” I’d already told myself I had a few things to do before I went, so I say “ideally around 2.30, otherwise first thing tomorrow?” ” Great, we’ve got a bus leaving at 2.40.” Shit.
Killing time before the jump.
The only thing I really needed to do was put in my contact lenses. I’m pretty sure that in the moment I will be too wracked with fear to actually allow my eyes to transmit anything to my brain, but the idea of doing it visionless is somehow scarier. This task takes all of two minutes, and I still have two hours until zero hour.
Riding the Queenstown Gondola up to Bob’s Peak I tell myself I’m getting too worked up. Surely more people must die in car crashes, or from drinking alcohol. Then I remember how many more people are driving and drinking every day. I find myself wonder what the averages work out to be.
I watch the para-gliders floating gently overhead, slowly circling above Queenstown, and start to wish I was doing that instead. It’s still “extreme”, but it looks so much more placid. As I watch someone come to a safe landing on a football field below I consider wearing the cost of the bungy and booking a para-glide instead. But no, it’s not the same.
Heading towards my fate.
After talking up the maybes to so many people I make a conscious decision not to tell anyone I’m actually doing it… Just in case. While waiting for the bus I log on to Facebook and I almost tell my sister. “Just in case you don’t hear from me again I want you to know; don’t touch my stuff.” But I don’t. I do start composing my post jump status. Surely a positive step towards excitement, and more importantly my attitude about survival.
The bus arrives and as we pile I on hear a German jumper behind me muttering to himself, “Scheise scheise schesise.”
I take my seat and realize I’m actually going to do it. Sure, it’s not too late to change my mind until I’m actually over the edge, but I’m too proud/stubborn/stupid to pull the pin now. It’s like clacking up that first hill of a rollercoaster… You are in for the ride, the only way off is at the other end. Plus, I actually think I’m beginning to look forward to it.
I start to think a lot about how I’m going to jump. Do I go for the Jesus Christ pose? The Superman? A graceful swan dive? Good god, I don’t have the stones for any of that nonsense. I think an undignified stumble is probably closer to the reality of what is to come.
I’ve elected to do the bridge jump over the other local option at Nevis Canyon. The bridge is 43 meters over water rather than 134 meters over rocks. A few people I’ve spoken with claim that the bridge is scarier. The theory is the ground seems closer so you can see the details of what could go wrong. I use this to reassure myself I’ve made the scarier choice, though I feel sort of glad it’s not 130 meters. And surely, even if something went wrong, the rope would do some job of slowing my fall, enough for a non-fatal splash into the water.
The time has come.
The bus rounds a corner and I see the bridge I’m about to leap off. My heart somehow manages to sink and race at the same time. This is it.
The girl at the desk takes my weight, takes it again for safety, then somewhat embarrassingly writes the number on my left hand with a marker, that I’ll wear around all day. She checks I don’t have any of a list of symptoms and I nervously make a joke. “I don’t think I’m pregnant. ” She politely laughs, which possibly made me feel worse. “Right, you’re set, you can go right out to the bridge.”
On wobbly legs I head outside, past the viewing platform and with as much swagger as I can still muster (not much), I cross to the middle of the bridge.
At Kawaru Bridge you can choose whether you want to dip in the water at the bottom or stay dry. I feared the addition of water might throw me into sensory overload, so I had planned to ask not to get dunked. In another act of self imposed peer pressure however I changed my mind. The two guys who were jumping before me asked to be dipped, and I found myself too saying “yep, dunk my head in.”
Watching the two in front of me go. It all seemed so casual. The first, James from SA, did such a perfect dive, no hesitation. Apparently when you get dunked you have to go hands out first, chin tucked in. “Very important” they reiterate. I was suddenly filled with fear that I wouldn’t be able to dive off head first. My bus planning had settled on “no bravado, just get yourself off that platform”. A standing jump had felt like enough of a stretch.
Matt went next. They said to him, “don’t dive out so far like your mate did or you might miss the water yeah?” In hindsight I’m sure they meant if he had have jumped with that force he wouldn’t be dunked. All I heard was miss water = hit rocks. Matt dove off too, not quite a perfect ten dive, but still a very fine form. I was the only one left.
“First time boss?” they asked as I crawled off the safety of the bridge and onto the preparation platform. “Yep.” “How are you feeling?” “A little nervous but looking forward to it.” That’s usually the story bro”
They wrapped a towel tightly around my legs. A carabena attached to a bungy cord was clipped on to my legs. They said, “Right, wiggle out”. Really? That’s it? A towel, a rope and a clip?
I waddle out to the edge, my feet tied, and I looked over the edge. I could see down. I could see all the way down. I could see detail. I saw swirling rapids in the blue green water. I saw two guys floating around in a raft. I saw the definition of the rocks (which were, granted, out of my jump line). I tenderly gripped onto the one pole for balance as I stood on my 40cm x 40cm platform jutting out over the edge.
“Look over to your left there, that guy will take your photo.” Photo! I put on a brave face and give the guy a thumbs up. The tour bus load of people that just arrived cheered from the viewing platform. Fuck me, this is it.
My legs all of a sudden felt very light. I tried to look forward to keep from looking down, but I was looking down anyway. “Right, I’m going to count down from 5 then jump. 5,4,3,2,1.”
And I did it. No hesitation. Almost no fear. I bent my knees and I dived. The replay later showed that it wasn’t the best dive… I sort of jumped in a diving position and fell like that for the first 10 meters or so.
In that 10 meters I was thinking… Wow. I’m off. And it bit didn’t feel that strange. It felt like any jump, one meter, 100 meters. It almost felt peaceful and slow. Then I hit what I can only assume was terminal velocity.
It’s crazy how quickly it changed from feeling a light breeze in my face to a whooshing of everything. I can’t recall exactly how I felt in the following seconds. I knew I was falling fast. Everything outside of that shut off.
From far away my brain reminded me that it was “very important” to stretch out my arms and duck my chin before I hit the water. I added a clench of the jaw to the mix and braced for the water. Then seconds later panic hit.
I was weightless. That rushing feeling had stopped and I was floating in the air. Was the rope gone? There was no tension, had I come unclipped? I think I swore.
I’d missed the water on the way down and had already gone back up. I was at the apex. I flailed my arms wildly, still not entirely sure what was happening. On reflection, I’m not sure what effect this flailing would have had if I was in fact detached, but it’s good to know that when it came to fight or flight I chose ‘freak out’. I re-engaged my vision for the first time since I left the platform and realized I was way back up above the water and starting to go down again.
As the rope took my weight again, and possibly due to my flailing, I started to spin. I remember the beautiful blue green water swirling around and around and the sudden realization that I was having fun. I stretched out my arms and screamed. Woooooooo!
After a few seconds of swinging free, bobbing up and down (finally) with gay abandon I notice the two Maori blokes in a yellow raft. “Grab the pole bro”. I feel a sense of pride as I manage to grip hold of it on my first pass. They lower me onto my back, unclip the cord and I’m done.
As I trek back up the stairs to the top I realize a few things: I am panting like crazy, my heart is going a million miles an hour, my mouth is dryer than a camels arsehole (and tastes a bit like one too) and I can’t wipe the stupid grin off my face. I did it.
And would I do it again? You bet your camel’s arse I would.