When I was in my twenties, I spent a couple of months in New Zealand, travelling around both the North and South Islands, and generally having the time of my life. I went over there on my own, but met lots of people and did some amazing things.
For example, one night a friend of mine was signing up to do an ‘adrenaline’ day involving a bungy jump, skydive, jet boat ride and white water rafting. As a Canadian firefighter, he had no fear and suggested that I come along too. Given that I’m not great with heights and terrified of flying, I said no. But he was very persuasive because a) I wasn’t sober, b) he wasn’t ugly, and c) he wasn’t ugly. And did I mention that he was a firefighter? I signed up.
A couple of days later, I found myself sitting unwillingly in a jeep heading up to the top of a mountain. I was doing the Nevis Highwire Bungy, where you freefall for 134m, from a cable car suspended over a valley. Just getting into the cable car would have been enough adrenaline for me. You had to climb into what was essentially a big bucket, that was pulled along a cable out to the middle of the valley, where the larger cable car was.
Helpfully, the main cable car had a glass bottom so you had the fun of being able to look down and get a clear view of your impending grave, should you wish to do so. After an eternity of waiting around trying not to look at the floor, they finally called my name.
I shuffled out to the edge of the car, my feet connected by the rope that was going to be my literal lifeline. I was then guided on to what I can only describe as a very tiny gangplank, but without the luxury of wearing a blindfold. I was told to wave at the camera, count to three and then dive off. I was witless with terror, but I managed a small ‘I’m about to die, but look how cheerful I am’ wave, then dived off the edge. Oh alright, it wasn’t a dive, like everyone else so gracefully managed. It was more of a ‘flopping reluctantly into the air’, forming the correct stance to produce a giant belly flop, and then plummeting to the ground.
I remember a friend telling me how he had laughed all the way down when he did his jump. He is clearly insane. I only remember being extremely aware of how quiet the world was, and how close the ground was getting. I don’t think I took a breath until I felt the rope stop and bounce me back up a bit, signifying my alive-ness.
At this point, you’re supposed to wait for three bounces, lean forwards to remove one of the rope loops from your foot so you turn the right way up, then they pull you back up to the cable car. That’s all fine when they’re giving you the instructions and you nod sagely to show you understand how easy it obviously is. What they don’t tell you is that you will be shaking like a leaf and unable to remember your own name, never mind how many bloody times you’ve bounced.
Eventually it dawned on me that I was supposed to do something important, and I leaned forward to get the rope loop off my foot. This is no easy task when you’re suspended upside down like a bat, and possess similar dexterity to a chopstick-wielding camel. The crew on the cable car above obviously got bored waiting for me to turn the right way up, so while my head remained pointing firmly towards the ground, and I continued to grapple with my foot in a panic, I found myself being slowly winched to a great height. Once back in the cable car, I was congratulated by the crew because they’d apparently taken bets that I wouldn’t jump, so at least my misery had made one of them slightly richer that day.
At the youth hostel that night, we got them to play our videos of the experience on the TV in the communal lounge area. One by one we watched everyone do their jump, and saw the energised and excited looks on their faces as they are lifted up with ease. In my video, the camera pans far far away to show a lovely view of the surrounding mountains, while the desperate mess being heaved up through the sky, is merely a dot in the distance. I only reappear on the screen once back in a normal position. If you can describe a trembling heap as normal.
Naturally, I declared the entire experience to be phenomenal. And by phenomenal, I mean that given the chance to do it again, I would run so quickly in the other direction that Usain Bolt wouldn’t see me for dust.
Next time, I’ll tell you about the rest of that very long day. Despite everything, I still say it was worth doing. But I think that’s only because things went well with the Canadian firefighter, who at least had a sense of humour.
To be continued…