We turned up at the A. J. Hackett store at 2:00. We sized each other up furtively at first, trying to work out who’d done this before. Eventually we all started chatting nervously, watching the video of person after person taking the leap. We were weighed, we signed paperwork. We filled out a little piece of paper endearingly called the ‘toe tag’. And then the driver came to get us.
The ride up to Nevis is gorgeous, winding through wine country and staggering alpine scenery. The sky was brilliant blue, the sun was warm, the hillsides golden brown. It took about 40 minutes, including a hair-raising 4WD climb up a very narrow, very muddy road carved into the side of the mountain. Rounding the last corner, we could see the gondola. Suspended on steel cables over the Nevis River ravine, it looked like a craft left behind from some alien expedition. It was here that things started to feel not-quite-real.
Off the bus, into the station, harnesses on and tightened. Weighed again, organized by heaviest to lightest for jumping order. I was #3. Out into the shuttle, clipped to the cable, over we go to the gondola. The gondola is divided in half, one half being a sort of watching/waiting area and the other the staging/jump/equipment zone. In the floor on the waiting area side, aligned with the jumping platform, is a pane of glass. You can watch jumpers through this as they drop. I couldn’t work out whether this was a good or a bad thing.
I sit on the ledge in the waiting area. Jack has just jumped. Tim puts the cuffs on my ankles. I say, “Is this the part where I’m supposed to get nervous?” Tim looks up at me. “Yes,” he says. “This is the part where you get as absolutely scared as you possibly can. The greater the fear, the greater the high. Simple biochemistry.” I laugh, and then I realize he’s not kidding. “Listen to the wind,” he continues. “And watch the river. Otherwise you won’t remember any of it. Your brain needs to have something to hang onto.” I nod. Listen to the wind. Right. I’m nervous now, but still not nearly as much as I’d expected to be.
I sit in The Chair. A crewman attaches the bungy cable to my harness and to my ankles. He shows me the release I need to pull after my second bounce, which will release my ankles so that I can assume a sitting position for my ascent. He tells me what I want is a big dive, that I can’t possibily overdo it, to jump out as far as I possibly can. Not to forget the release. Don’t be afraid to wiggle in the harness and get comfortable. I nod sagely as if this all makes sense. Right. I’m going to take a flying leap off a big shiny piece of metal in the middle of a ravine. I’m going to hurtle at something like 100 kmph towards a rocky river 200 meters below. I am going to do this head first. Then, around 134 meters below the alien craft, I will bounce. Somehow I will retain the presence of mind to find and pull a little yellow cord, and then I will calmly assume a sitting position and wait to be winched up. Yeah, right. Sure. “Any questions?” Nope.
Wink at the camera. Stand.
Shuffling over to the platform seems to take about an hour – I can’t move my feet because they’re clipped together and to the bungy – and on the other hand, it’s like I’ve teleported there. Suddenly there I am, toes dangling over the edge, thinking (and saying, I’m pretty sure) “Jesus Christ, what the fuck am I doing?” Smile for the camera, signal ‘OK’, then 5-4-3-2-JUMP. Freefall. The wind is whistling in my ears. The water is bright blue. I am going so fast. And then it sets in, what I have just done, and there is a moment of absolute terror. Ohgodohgodohgodohgod… And then the bounce. And the exhilaration. I am flying on the end of the bungy, almost horizontal from the force of my first bounce, then dropping again, the river and mountains swinging wildly across my perspective. I let out a whoop of triumph. I remember the rip cord. I look up/down. Where is it again? Oh yeah, all the way up there by my knee. I fold myself in half, grab it, give it a good yank. I feel the carabiner release, and catch on the heel of my right boot. Damn. I rattle and shake a bit, still bouncing, and it comes loose. Suddenly, I’m sitting up. Looking around the canyon, still bouncing slightly.
God, it’s a beautiful day. I can’t believe I just did that. I feel great, I feel like everything’s in perspective. I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I can feel my whole body shaking. I can feel the grin on my face. And they begin to winch me up.
So yeah. I went bungy jumping. And I’ve got the video to prove it. I must say it’s one of the coolest things – if not the coolest – I’ve ever done. Sorry mom, but I had to try. And I survived. And I did it. I jumped. Even now, I’m grinning.
The stats: the Nevis Highwire Jump, at 134 meters total, is the highest bungy jump in Australasia. As far as I know, there is only one jump higher, in South Africa, at 180 meters. I don’t really feel the need to do that one. But there really is nothing quite like looking fear squarely in the face and sticking out your tongue.