Friday, August 26, 2005

taking the plunge

Today I got to go bungee jumping. (Or "bungy jumping," as the Kiwis would have it, but to me that sounds like it should be pronounced like "bung" + y.)

In the mid-'80s a Kiwi named AJ Hackett pioneered the sport/activity (you decide) and launched the first commercial jump site at the Kawarau Bridge just outside Queenstown, NZ. That's where we went today. There are higher jump sites nearby, but it's hard to imagine a more beautiful setting.

I had been wanting to jump since we first drove past the bridge on our way into town. But surprisingly, given the nature of our sport, it was hard to find other people who wanted to go. Nick thought he might want to, and it sealed the deal when we met a Kiwi disabled skier at the race yesterday who said he had a voucher for a free jump sitting around that he could give us. We agreed we'd split the voucher so we each got to jump at half-price. (It is kind of expensive at NZ$140 a jump.) Nick made the arrangements for us to go around noon today, our second day off. I had no idea so many people would accompany us, but half the team ended up going up in a van driven by Ben, our ski tech -- and then four of them decided to jump as well: Monte, Allison, George, and Laurie. We made an afternoon out of watching & cheering on each other, and commenting on how scared each other looked.

You can watch a movie of some people (not me) jumping off the Kawarau Bridge here. As you can see, there's only a second or two of actual freefall, but man is that part crazy. It's weird to think that in 24 years of existance I had never experienced falling freely through space for more than a fraction of a second; now I have. Jumping off wasn't so terrifying for me, but those one or two seconds before the bungee started kicking in sure were. On the digital video that they took of me (and I decided not to pay $40 for), you can see me clawing at the air as I try to do... I'm not sure what. My mind was telling me that this was not what my body should be doing. Of course, as soon as I overrode that notion and the bungee began to slow my descent, exhilaration replaced terror as the dominant emotion, and goddamn it was fun.

I was the first of the wheelchair users to jump, but we had figured out a pretty good plan. In addition to the standard waist harness, I wore a chest harness instead of the standard ankle attachment, and I had them tie my legs together just so they didn't flop around too much. After the jump and subsequent bounces, they lowered me down to the crew members in an inflatable boat in the river, where they disconnected my harnesses. On shore, they helped me get up the stone stairs to the landing where my wheelchair was waiting for me. It worked out nicely.

In other news, yesterday was the slalom, the final day of racing at Cardrona. All I'm going to say is that if I was one of the best skiers on the hill in Tuesday's super G, I was definitely one of the worst yesterday! I love this sport; it keeps me humble.

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