When most of your day is spent sitting in front of a computer, it is inevitable that you will want to ‘live a little’ whenever you get the opportunity — particularly when you’re abroad. I’ve always been up for doing everything at least once and so having previously undertaken a parachute jump, tried my hand at culling rattlesnakes and even shot the rapids, it was inevitable that i would eventually get around to doing a bungee jump. The first one was from a height of 50 metres when I was in Thailand about eight years ago. The jump was over water (a fishing pond to be precise) and the fear is always greatest (in my experience anyway) when you’re doing something for the first time as you have absolutely no frame of reference to compare it to and the human mind being what it is — you invariably imagine the worst that can happen — such as the bungee cord snapping under your weight or worse still; the operatives miscalculating the length of the rope. So it was with some trepidation that I decided to have a second go when I was in South Africa some years later. What prompted me on this occasion was the fact that, at the time, the Bloukrans Gorge bungee jump is still the highest commercial bungee jump from a bridge in the world at 216 metres — more than four times higher than my previous jump. One of my sons had already done the jump about two years earlier and he was insistent that I would have to do it so there was no backing down from the challenge. One of the things that resonated with me when he related his experience was that one of their party (they were all Irish guys in their mid twenties at the time) hesitated at the last minute and aborted his attempt, notwithstanding the fact that the operators of the concession at Bloukrans were selling t-shirts that said on the front ‘Fear is temporary’ and on the reverse ‘Regret is forever’. I though it was a brilliant slogan and more or less articulated my attitude to life.
The interesting thing about undertaking such potentially dangerous activities is that your consciousness effectively splits in half with one side of your brain imagining all the things that can go wrong with the other half rationalizing to itself that you wouldn’t be allowed to do it if it was remotely dangerous in the first place so you have both thought processes fighting for supremacy inside your head. To put the height of the jump into some perspective, it is almost twice the height of the spire in Dublin’s O’Connell Street and nearly 80 feet taller than the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Standing on the very edge of that bridge, looking down at the bottom of the gorge more than 700 feet below you certainly tests your faith in the reliability of oversized elastic bands, I can assure you! Terrified? Yes, but exhilarated when, at the count, I jumped out into free space with the classic swan dive that they encourage you to execute (apparently it looks well from a photographic perspective). It’s about as close to flying as you can get, with the notable exceptions of skydiving or wing suits (and they’re just lunatics anyway!).
I subsequently got to do a third bungee jump in New Zealand a few years later where it all started at AJ Hacketts and by that time, all fear had left me as I was well on the way to becoming an old hand at this kind of thing! Was it scary? Absolutely, but I had by then learned to channel that fear in a constructive way — a bit like the way that actors or musicians channel their nerves before a performance. All fear though is relative and if you want to know what real fear feels like, then you’ll have to wait for the third and final installment of this blog when I describe what it feels like to have your heart trying to break through your rib cage!