good & scared
So I’m standing on a bridge, looking down at my feet over the benighted void, as is my occasional custom. But there’s nothing on my back — no reassuring hug on my shoulders; nothing to tighten just-one-more-time across my chest; no pilot chute to touch again for no easily explicable reason. There’s just me.
“Get a good push, now,” says the guy behind me.
3. 2. 1. See ya?
The river below, quicksilver with the reflected light of the burly LED pointed down at it from four-hundred-something feet above, gets really, really big. The walls are so close, compared to any other reference I’ve ever had, that it feels like I’m wearing the canyon over my shoulders.
My brain stops its internal camera just under the point it knows was definitely time to pull.
The spring of the bungee cord at the bottom surprises me, not with the violence I was expecting but by its soundless, spongy softness. I tuck myself up into the prescribed ball, still a little baffled by how well I’m being treated, as I continue my totally uncustomary ascent. At some point, I realize I’ve been down again and I’m coming slightly up; I remember that I’m supposed to stand, however unlikely it seemed at the time; I do.
It took a couple of hours to drive here from southernmost Seattle. As we wend from interstate to suburban artery to back road to mountain access road, the sun creeps reluctantly down into the neighboring Pacific, and I start to wonder what exactly I’m doing out here. Sure, I jump out of things and off of things, but I’m no fan of heights. I like to know the gear. Getting my legs tied together and being shoved off an object — my longstanding impression of bungee jumping, having shared bridges with tourist bungee operations more than a few times — never appealed to me in the least.
But now, dear friends have invited me out to do it *their* way. *Their* way doesn’t sell t-shirts. *Their* way is to take a truck full of gear out in the dead of night to the place a remote mountain road crosses a narrow, deep river canyon. *Their* way requires you, morely or lessly, not to fuck up.
There’s enough meagre sunlight left in the canyon when we arrive to check out the Audobon-Society-posterness of the place: all evergreens; all waterfalls; all granitic formations, square as a lumberjack’s jaw. It’s the smell, however, that really transfixes me. It’s violet-candy sweet, as delightful and arbitrary as something you’d smell right before you collapse from a stroke. I breathe deep, unbelieving, as my friend’s dog whinnies nervously about the heights.
The sun is decidedly down before the gear truck rolls up. Immediately upon its arrival, the riggers pile out and begin their work. The task is absolutely methodical and staffed down to the detail; myself and the others who have come only to jump stand empty-handed and transfixed, like we’re watching wasps spackle a nest. We make nervous conversation. We wander off to pee. We wait.
As we do, we get the briefing.
Jump. Far. Slider-off-BASE-jump far. Like-the-bridge-is-coming-after-you far. Then, when you feel yourself at the bottom, ball up. This is so you don’t catch an arm or a neck on the bungee when it’s a zero-g bowl of pasta. If you feel it touch you, you must untuck just enough to swat it away, then get right back into your ball. Once you come down for your second bounce, you must make ready to grab the part of the bungee that’s closest to you and stand up in your pretty blue S&M ankle cuffs. If you miss it and fall past it again, you’ll be hanging upside down like a forgotten salmon until the retrieval rope comes down for you. Once standing — and you’ll still be swinging back and forth down the canyon, hundreds of feet below the road, mind — the crew will lower said retrieval rope down. It’s your job to grab that rope, with the bungee clenched rigorously under your arm, lest you lose it in all that swinging and grabbing and end up like the aforementioned salmon. Then, religiously keeping your clench, work the locking carabiner open with your free hand and get it onto your harness. That’ll get you into a seated orientation. You’ll still be swinging. Far. Lock your biner. Thus reclined, scream into the yawning void upwards that you’re ready for your extraction. As the winch zips you up towards the bridge, gather the hundreds of pounds of stretchy-boingy magic across your lap at a precise interval. Then watch your head, lest you clock your unhelmeted noggin on the metal span. Then pass off the bungee cord to the crew. Then climb back over. Then be amazed that you remembered all that.
“You can really get hurt doing this,” the crew chief throws at me, giving me an unconvinced once-over. I was going to wear my sparkly glitter onesie to do this. Kinda glad I didn’t.
Previously to this particular midnight on this particular bridge, I thought bungee jumping wasn’t, well, much of a sport. Is something a sport if you can participate nonconsesually? (The luge aside, I imagine.) I was, suffice it to say, wrong about that.
Once I’m back up on the bridge, the fact that it’s 3 a.m. ceases to make any impression on me. So does the cold that I’d recently been doing jumping jacks to chase off. As we wrap cable and help load the truck, I’m awash in that first-time magic again; that heady, juicy novelty; that lusty confirmation of mortality that surges when you’ve successfully managed to convince your body that it was on the way out. It’s a drug I’ll happily recommend to anyone.
And y’know what? Jumping off a bridge in the middle of the night with your feet tied to a giant rubber band ain’t a bad way to score it.