LEAP OF FAITH

By Heather Joel

My heart beats its tune harder and faster as I near the bridge.  Am I really going to do this?

The wind whips my face, daring me to step closer. Then I look down, and what I see turns my legs into jelly sticks.   I can’t figure if it’s the breathtaking beauty or pure fear which is making my skin tingle and rise into plucked chicken bumps.

Native New Zealand shrubs and wildflowers cover the mountain-side, giving in to the scraggy rock face below.  The glacial waters of Queenstown’s stunning Shotover River, which in reality gush and gurgle, look like a meagre trickle of turquoise at the bottom.

As I step onto the bridge, it looks as if the mountain has parted, beckoning the adrenaline junkies to come get their fix.  As far as the eyes can see, I’m engulfed by unspeakable beauty, but I can’t take my own eyes off what is right in front of me – nothing.

The platform I’m walking along is a wobbly make-shift ‘bridge’ strung by pipe, planks and rope, 13 storeys above the bubbling water of Skippers Canyon.   That’s 102 meters and, right now, I’m feeling every millimeter of it.  I can’t work out if it’s my imagination or if the path is swaying beneath me.

Up ahead there’s a line of equally insane thrillseekers thinking the unthinkable and preparing to do it.   As I watch each person jump, I think of crazed lemmings dropping into the sea.  Madness – and I’m part of it!  My heart is jumping so hard inside my ribcage, it wants to escape too.

My husband’s next, then me. My head’s spinning and I’m about to throw up.   “OK, you’re next babe!” calls one of the guy-helpers.  He’s the epitome of cool with wild blonde locks and belly-button ring shining in the sun.

I’m led to a seat in an old barber’s chair perched ominously on a tiny platform directly opposite the jump site.  The chair looks like it’s seen better days – and so do I. Two guys work swiftly binding my ankles together, first with towels (for padding), then a heavy leather strap.  I’m buckled up so tight my blood has to fight to get to my feet.

I have one last logical thought before my brain switches into neutral:  “What drives so-called sane people to pay ridiculous amounts of money to be scared out of their minds?”  I don’t know the answer, but I can’t make sense of anything right now.

Every pore in my body is tingling like I’m on intravenous adrenaline as I’m helped out of the chair and hop into position. I feel like a captured jail escapee … no chance of escape now.

I am standing on a platform, no bigger than half a meter square.  It flexes and wobbles with the breeze, a tiny precipice on the edge of the world.   I try not to look down but it’s impossible not to.  In front and below lies a terrifying void of nothing … this is where beauty meets terror head on.

The thick elastic rope which stands between me and my death is clipped to my ankle strap. Then I hear the chant … “Five, four, three, two, one … BUNGY!”  everybody shouts.  And I jump.  Just like that.  No time to think, just do.  Momentarily, I soar forwards like a bird gliding on a stiff breeze, then I nosedive down… and down … and down.

Everything happens so fast I’m in sensory overload. Then my mind clicks into gear:  “The rope’s not going to take!  his is it! I’m going to die!”  In sheer terror I squeeze my eyes tight.

Then it happens.  My body is jerked in a whiplash jolt as the rope finallytakes.  Ten seconds that felt like forever.  I open my eyes to see fragmented, upside-down beauty way below me.

And I bounce like a rag doll on flimsy elastic as I scream my silent rejoice … “I’m alive!  I survived!  I DID IT!!”