Here is my entry for the letter I in the A to Z Challenge.
The Bloukrans Bridge is the tallest suspension bridge in the world and the jump takes place from a deck under the car tarmac and between the two tall pillars. Getting to the jump deck means walking along a metal cage bolted to the side and the top of the bridge, the whole walkway metal mesh offering scenic and sometimes disturbing views of the rocks and river 216 meters below. I’ve had a strange fear of bridges I could see through since the “Swinging Bridge” in Drumheller. I did not like the 200 meter walk one little bit. I told myself not to look down but you can’t help it.
When you finally reach concrete safety, smack dab in the middle of the arch over the highest drop from the bridge, you are given a safety talk about not leaning over the railings, and to stay clear of all moving wires and ropes. Then they tell you what happens.
You will freefall between 180 and 190 meters depending on your weight before the bungy cord, attached to the other side of the bridge, swings you under the bridge, between the pillars, until momentum slows you down and you bounce and spin for a few moments. Once you stop bouncing, someone is lowered down (it takes 16 seconds), he clips you into the safety wires that drag you both up, releases the cord from around your ankles so you are no longer hanging upside down, and within moments you are safely on the platform again. Sounds easy doesn’t it?
Once the safety talk is done the music comes on. They want this to be a complete sensory experience. As the first jumper is prepared, the rest of us watch the television monitor to see exactly what happens. They tell you 17 people can jump in an hour so once you leave the platform to the time you get back is roughly around 3 minutes. Believe it or not, watching the first jumper, and the heaviest member of the group, settles any nerves you might have. And then you wait again. And again. And you wait some more.
Finally someone comes over to T and clips the secondary cable to her harness and wraps foam padding around her calves. She takes a seat as a nylon strap is wrapped around her legs, then back over itself between them practically cementing the band in place and locking the legs together. We pose for a pre-jump photo (I’m jumping next) and they escort her from her seat and hop her onto the platform where the bungy is attached to the strap around her ankles and as a definitive safety measure, to the band fixed to the chest harness.
Once her toes are over the edge she is asked to smile for the camera and then, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Bungy!” She leaps forward and is gone from sight, only the camera beaming her image to the television tells me she’s still got a cable attached to her.
I’m next. The founder and most experienced hand does all final safety checks. Nothing is wrong with my equipment. I may have a few screws loose in my head but my equipment is fine. I ask him how many people close their eyes when they jump and he tells me only the really brave or the really foolish. Closing your eyes is like doing a night jump, something even the most avid of adrenaline junkies struggle with. Besides, I’m told the scenery is fantastic.
My legs are belted together, and when he pulls the strap up, officially gluing my knees together, he tells me that is what I’ll feel when my downward momentum stops. He assures me the strap is stress tested for 3 ½ tons. I tell him I’m glad I’ve been dieting then. We laugh. By now, all I want to do is jump.
I’m led on to the platform where they attach the bungy cord in two places. They explain everything in detail, including how the locks work, leaving you only one thing to worry about – backing away from the edge in shame (no refunds), screaming like a little girl on the way down, or just getting on with it. I pose for a picture, give a thumbs up for the people on the tour, and join them in the countdown. “5” I bend my knees. “4, 3” One last big breath. “2, 1” I don’t remember hearing them say “Bungy!”
I propel myself forward and almost immediately it feels like I’m falling face first towards the gorge below. During the 5 ½ second freefall I will say I do remember seeing a blur of trees and rocks. As you swing under the bridge you momentarily lose track of where you are until, suddenly, you can focus again on the canyon walls or the tiny river below you depending on how you are bouncing.
And then comes the worst part – dangling and spinning upside down as you wait for them to come and get you. Your feet start to tingle as the circulation goes, and because you’re spinning, the view on the horizon changes and you don’t know whether to look up, look down, or finally close your eyes and take a deep breath. I did all three. Plus, awkwardly, you don’t really know what to do with your hands. I just let mine hang over my head. I couldn’t think of anything cooler to do with them.
I’m not sure if it was the promised 16 seconds, but the man sent down to carry me to safety finally arrived. It felt like he would never get there. He asked me how I was doing, I said awesome, and he secured me to the top, ensured I was buckled in properly, and released the bungy from my legs so I could sit up. On the way up he asked if I would do it again and I told him, “In a second.”
Once they lower you back on to the platform they make sure all of you is several feet away from the edge before giving the all clear. Removal of the safety wires follow and is astonishing how steady your legs are after such an experience.
120 kilometers an hour doesn’t seem all that fast in a car but when you’re falling to earth at that speed I can tell you it is much faster than you want to be going – actually as fast as the top speed of a cheetah, so I have an increased respect for that big cat.
T and I shared a hug and kiss and high-fived anyone and everyone who was interested in returning the favor. And as we were the last of the 10 jumpers, we walked the suddenly not-so-awkward cage back to the mainland.