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Bungee Jump! – The Feeling
It’s the highest natural commercial bungee jump in the world and I’m about to jump it.1 Storms River Bridge, Tzitzikama, South Africa. It’s a cool day in August. I’ve been weighed, my weight duly noted and I’ve been put into a harness. Now I have to mill around like a half-dressed spaceman for thirty minutes while the other jumpers get organized and we are briefed at 14H00.
What is there to be briefed about, actually? Basically you are tied to a rope, you stand on the edge of a bridge and out of your own free sane will you jump off it. You get a rush, accelerate to a speed of 120km.h-1 in a few seconds after which, all going well, the rope, which has tremendous elasticity, restrains you. You bounce around a few times, come to a standstill after which they send a man down on a cable to fetch you. You are hauled back up to the other side of the bridge, recover and go back home. Not that it always goes that smoothly, mind you. Only two years ago the rope at the Victoria Falls bridge actually broke but the lass luckily landed in the water and survived.2 It’s not without risk.
Our jumping group, consisting mainly of Spanish tourists it so happens, is eventually assembled and briefed. It helps, says the guide, not to look down before jumping. Also you should not hold for dear life onto the helpers if your courage fails. You might drag them down with you. Also, when dangling in mid-air after the jump and the guy on the cable comes to get you, you shouldn’t make frantic grabs at him. You should stay calm in your upside down position, let him invert you into a seating position and gradually let yourself be hauled up. And be careful as you’re about to land on the deck – just stay nice and calm and let the staff help you back on again. Apart from that, enjoy your jump.
After being briefed, we walk along a steel walkway under the bridge to the apex of its arch. There, a whole team rigged for the jump welcomes us. They’re structured and organised. Music with a beat is playing, some staff members jive to it. All’s quite jolly. There’s a TV screen where you can watch each jump. The first jumper on the roster is called. A cushion is applied to his ankles and he is tied to a rope. He is Spanish and macho and spreads smiles and waves. He is led to the edge by two helpers who are themselves tied to ropes lest they fall. Once there, Don Quixote lets out a whoop of joy, pushes out with bent knees and over the edge he goes. Gone. We tilt our heads up and watch his fall on the screen. He falls falls falls… then bounces, bounces and comes to rest, just dangling there feet up. Not so bad, is it?
It’s then the turn of a madman. He had already jumped that morning – this was his second time. He has a demonic look about him and insists on a flying start. His blonde spikey hair, wide eyes and jerking head give him a demented mien. He is dressed in a black jumpsuit; had it been a robe he could have been Rasputin. Rasputin jogs impatiently on the spot. The helpers have to rein him in from taking off, like a horse gone wild. As soon as he gets the go-ahead, he rushes off the edge and jumps with a scream. Antics notwithstanding, Rasputin proves more Icarus than Pegasus, and plunges to gravity like the terrified rest. A few more jumpers go and then it’s my turn.
I prepare by convincing myself that this is all routine, boring. Hang-on what am I doing? The rope has been known to break. One can always opt out. Human beings weren’t designed to fly. Look, there’s no shame to opting out. Yes there is. I can’t opt out now, here, at the last moment. Yes I can. I look for salvation to Yuri who gives me an encouraging smile. It feels like a final absolution. I grin, heart pounding in my wooden chest, feigning insouciance. Then I reach the point of no return. My hangmen flank me. I mean they have a rope and all, except that it’s not around my neck but my ankles. “Come Sir, come along, look forward to it, you’re going to enjoy it!” encourages Hangman No. 1. At this, my bravado collapses. “Is the rope fastened? Please in the name of all the saints in heaven and sinners in hell tell me that the rope is properly tied! Is it?” “All’s fine sir. Come now, you have to go…” I get shuffled to the edge of the bridge in small reluctant steps. I stupidly look over my toes. It’s a crazily long drop down. I shake it off and look up to the blue. They’re still holding me. This is mad. Then again you only die once. “On the count of three Sir… one, two, three…” and at that they give me a nudge in the back and over I go. I fall and get that rush again, that exact rush I got from free-fall during the skydive. One g-force tugging at one’s body.3 You feel the wind and the rush and you have time to think, lots of time to think about when exactly it is that the rope will start restraining you.
Mercifully it does. You start to feel an elastic tug and decelerate, then you take one heck of a bounce up, then free-fall again, and so on in harmonic motion until you come to a swinging standstill after five or six bounces.4 You dangle there suspended in nothingness for eternity, relieved, sucking in air, the world upside down to you. You long for terra firma but it’s more terror than firma. After hours you hear a voice. You think it’s an angel but angels don’t have Cape accents. Neither is harp music in evidence. A figure comes into view. “Well done Sir, well jumped. I’ve come to fetch you. What is your name?” “Alex. Yours?” “I’m Spiderman.” “Spiderman? Drat, I was hoping for Batman.” “Sorry to disappoint. If you prefer we could leave you here while we go in search of him.” “Oh don’t bother. Assessing the situation, I think you’ll do just fine today thank you Spiderman.” Nervous banter this, suspended as I am upside down from a rope above hard rocks 200m below. Spiderman inverts me and the steel cable from which he is suspended hauls us up. We approach the landing platform on the other side of the bridge where a team of helpers reach out to me. They pull me over and as I’m finally feeling safe, one of them pretends to suddenly lose grip of me shouting “catch him catch him!” for a final witless fright. I mean, I could have lost it right there.
But I don’t. Instead I smile, give Yuri a high five and head straight for the lavatory, where I see a bemusing sign (see pic).
- At 216m it features in the top five highest bungee jumps in the world today, and still claims to be the highest commercial natural bungee jump in the world. For more information go to http://www.tsitsikamma.info/listing/bloukrans_bungy_35. You can make a booking with Face Adrenalin by phoning +27(0) 42 281 1458 two days before your jump. Cost per jump as at November 2014 is 790 South African rand (72 US Dollars).
- See e.g http://www.news24.com/World/News/Tourist-survives-Vic-Falls-bungee-horror-20120109.
- The earth pulls at one with a gravitational force of 9.8m.s-2, commonly known as 1 gravitational force unit or 1g. This means that with each passing second you are travelling 9.8 m.s-1 or (35.3 km per hour) faster than you were the previous second. The accelerating force experienced by a bungee jumper is therefore 2 ½ times that experienced in a commercial airplane at take-off, which is at around 0.4g. The acceleration for a F1 racing car reaches 1.45g (14.2 m.s-2) up to 200km.h-1. F1 decelerating forces under braking are around -4g (-40m.s-2). That’s quite something. I’d appreciate if someone could verify these figures please.
- “Bungee cord is made of one or more strands of an elastic material, usually rubber, bound together by a fabric covering. It is commonly used as a tie-down for luggage or equipment carried on the outside of a vehicle… Bungee cord is also used by the military to absorb the opening shock of the large cargo parachutes when dropping heavy loads such as tanks. The development of long, heavy-duty bungee cord for the military has led to the recreational sport of bungee jumping. […] The term “bungee” or “bungie” is thought to be British slang for india-rubber. Some references to the india-rubber originally used for erasing pencil marks on paper call it “india-bungie.” From: http://www.madehow.com/Volume-2/Bungee-Cord.html#ixzz3I6dXyD1m.