When I was ten or eleven years old, I saw a film where the two main characters bungy jumped off a bridge into a river. While the film’s name, the characters’ names or even the resolution of the plot have entirely escaped my memory, the idea of bungy jumping off a bridge into a river has remained in my mind.
Aged ten this seemed like the most amazing concept. It involved two of my greatest passions at the time: Climbing up things to jump off them and trampolining. Surely if there was any adrenaline junkie activity designed especially for me, bungy jumping was it.
Only bungy jumping isn’t something you can do over any old river, or at least not in the UK, so it wasn’t until I was 24 and found my self in New Zealand where most small towns seem to offer not only bungy jumping but also skydiving over spectacular scenery that I thought about my adrenaline fuelled dream again.
The AJ Hackett bungy jumping company in Queenstown started the first commercial bungy in the world: The Kawarau bridge bungy, so finding myself in Queenstown surely this was the place to do it.
The jump itself is 43m which, while not being the tallest in the world did fulfil my ten year old ruling that the bungy jump I took would have to be over a river.
I didn’t think I was nervous, in fact as the instructors tied my feet together and asked me whether I wanted to hit the water or not – I opted for not as I was wearing contact lenses and didn’t think river water would be good for them (ten year old me would be so disappointed) – I felt quite cheerful. Until I had to stand at the edge of the bridge that is…
It was at the point that the instructor said “Go on then, jump” that the instinct part of my brain decided to take over. A survival mechanism in my mind delivered the very clear message “Don’t jump off a bridge!” and automatically I stepped away from the edge.
But the instructor was still behind me and told me “Don’t look down, look up”.
I had been staring straight down towards what my instincts told me was certain doom and instead I moved my gaze to straight ahead down the river.
In doing so the instinct part of my brain settled down again and I was able to think rationally about what I was doing, the thought process that went through my head was “I am tied to a bungy cord, I have paid to do this…”
However, my instincts were not letting go that easy, they had delivered the message “Don’t jump off a bridge” and while my conscious mind could rationalise my decision, my instincts could not, so my conscious mind came up with a compromise: Get as close to the floor as you can before you jump.
I crouched down so my knees were almost resting on the floor of the platform as my body moved forward and then I was bungy jumping – or at least bungy falling as I had sort of just tipped myself off the platform.
Now I was in free fall my instincts kicked in once more, but by now there was nothing they could do so I let out a huge scream which echoed round the cliffs surrounding the river and in that scream was another simple message from my instincts: “I told you not to jump off bridges!”
And then before I hit the water and my inevitable doom was carried out, I bounced back up and my instincts calmed down “Oh this actually is alright and quite like trampolining…this is fun after all” and then it was all over.
An instructor pulled me down onto a boat where they untied my legs and complimented me on my shoes (They have flowers on), they took me ashore and then there was nothing but a long walk back up the viewing platform.
The person who went after me did not scream, clearly their instincts don’t get as angry at not being listened to as mine.
And so the adrenaline junkie dream of a ten year old was fulfilled, even if I didn’t get my head in the water as ten year old me wished – but then I didn’t wear contact lenses back then so I think this slight change of plan should be forgiven – as for the screaming, well I think she would have approved of that, if you don’t scream, how does anyone know what you’re doing is fun (or at least terrifying)?