Ever stand near the edge of a high balcony and feel the pull of the earth beneath your feet? Have you felt that shaky weakness in your knees as you peer over the edge admiring how small everything looks on the ground? How do you control those butterflies flapping about relentlessly in your stomach? I recently had the opportunity to let go of my inhibitions, climb over the protective railing, spread my arms like wings, and leap off without a care in the world (besides the obvious fear of dying of course!).
I’ve never had a fear of heights. I was the kid in my neighbourhood infamous for climbing everything. Since childhood I’ve tried to develop interests in other forms of climbing, but nothing stuck. There’s something different about the instinctive form of climbing that you do as a child compared to the technicality of rock climbing. The biggest difference has to be the dismount – climbers abseil down in a fairly civilised manner. A true tree climbing child prodigy jumps down and hopes nothing breaks when they land!
That feeling of free falling has always appealed to me, so when I was given a gift voucher for a bungee jump at Bloukrans Bungee (http://www.faceadrenalin.com/jump/), I was thrilled. The opportunity to throw myself from Africa’s highest bridge, and the highest commercial natural bungee jump in the world sounds like an excellent weekend activity. Or does it? Doubt set in about a week after receiving the voucher.
Would I be able to follow through? Was I going to leave that bridge with my tail between my legs having failed to throw myself over the edge? Eleven months and two weeks after getting the gift voucher, with two week left before expiry, I booked my jump. I was set to come face to face with certain death at 13:00 on Sunday afternoon. Just a little after high noon. I could hear the Western theme song, smell the sweaty cowboys, squint my eyes and watch a tumbleweed roll lazily across my path. The stage was set.
You have to get there an hour before jumping, so I left PE at 10:00, with wife and kids in tow. I had temporarily forgotten about my preoccupation with the jump, because the drive is an incredibly scenic one. The rolling hills, views of the ocean, and passages of tall trees are truly wondrous. Storms River was a mandatory loo break pit stop (remember: kids and wife in tow!), besides no trip along the Garden Route is complete without stopping there. Twenty minutes later I was staring at human beings flinging themselves madly off a bridge to the techno beats of a DJ from the Netherlands most likely.
The jump staff of Face Adrenalin are fantastic. They know that you’re probably nervous, and do their best to set your mind at ease. Their standard intro is a good handshake, high five, fist bump, or any combination thereof, a word of hello followed by them asking you your name and where you’re from. Siya, our guide, was excellent and kept our spirits up as we walked along the steel grid bottomed walkway to the jump spot. Had he not been there, I reckon the thin piece of metal between me and almost certain death would have been near overwhelming.
The first impression when you get to the section of the bridge from which you jump is that we live in an absolutely beautiful country. The Bloukrans river meeting the ocean is something you have to have on your bucket list. Then you realise the intensity of what you’re about to do, because there are people in different states of bungee: just about to jump, is currently jumping, or has just jumped! And everyone has an almost euphoric look in their eyes – euphoria mixed with a little fear.
When your turn comes, they wrap cushioning around your legs, and proceed to go full Fifty Shades of Grey on you with their ropes and harnesses. Then you wait some more while your predecessor is pulled up. When you’re about to jump, you waddle from your seat to the edge while two heavily-muscled-Bond-villain-like-henchmen help you to the edge. At that point, if you’re anything like me, you realise that you haven’t really felt any tangible fear since getting to the bridge – you’ve been taken in by the experience, the views, and the impossible mechanics of it all. Then you realise that you’re on the edge and the big bullies are shouting! Cue slow motion:
I jumped off the bridge. And for the first instant realised that I was doing it! I was doing it! And then I screamed. I was flying! And falling. And screaming. I watched the earth approach at incredible speeds, and listened to air rushing past me. After the first rebound, I realised that the bungee was not done with me – I was going to be flung downwards again. It was brilliant! The fall was incredibly smooth and I’d often find myself looking for a point of reference to work out what direction I was going. When it was done, I hung in a state of near euphoria for a bit before someone pulled me up a bit, hooked me into a harness, fistbumped/high-fived/shook my hand and said, “Hi! What’s your name? Where you from?”
When I walked away from that bridge, I had a thought. I had flung myself headfirst towards certain death, survived, and it felt like I was walking away a different person. I let down my defences, stopped the involuntary shiver in my knees with an assertive whisper, stretched my arms out, and jumped. I gave in to what Kundera defined vertigo as “the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves”. Then I wondered when I should book my next jump.
Date Published: 13 August 2015