Taking my biggest leap

“Those who don’t jump will never fly.”

If you have clicked on this post hoping that the title was a metaphorical play on words and that I’ll be writing some lengthy esoteric essay on how I took a leap of faith and changed my life for the better I’m afraid you will be sadly disappointed. (I’ll save that for another post)

The title of this post is far more literal and concerns my visit to South Africa and more specifically my experience of jumping off Bloukrans Bridge with a large piece of elastic attached to my legs.

I’m sure most people have Bungee jumping somewhere on their bucket list and I’m no exception. Having never done a bungee jump I figured why not do the biggest one of all at Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa.

Bloukrans Bridge is an arch shaped bridge in South Africa’s Western Cape. At the highest point of the arch the bridge is 216m above the river below and is the highest bridge in the country. At 451m in length it’s an impressive site as it stretches between the valley walls carrying vehicles across the areas main highway. Bloukrans Bridge is the site of the world’s highest commercial bungee jumping and it has been operated by Face Adrenalin since 1997.

The bungee jump itself is set up on the lower arch below the road. The advantage of this is that you never come into contact with the traffic above, the disadvantage is that you have to get to the archway below. There are two options for this but since you’re there for an adrenaline fuelled activity it makes sense to choose option one, a zipline that send you whizzing between the giant stone pillars towards the central arch.

If this isn’t to your fancy there is a metal walkway but in all honesty, I found this scarier than the jump itself as you can see through the grating all the way to the valley floor.

Only a small group of people are allowed on the archway at any one time so it never feels to crowded and as soon as you arrive you are greeted by members of the jump team who are always laughing and singing. They even have a professional DJ in a booth playing upbeat music to keep your adrenaline pumping.

I’d been looking forward to this ever since I had entered South Africa and I’d spent the last few days getting myself worked up worrying that I wouldn’t have the guts to jump. I don’t think getting horrendously drunk the night before and having only a few hours’ sleep helped either. It was a busy day so we spent the first 3 hours in the restaurant watching from a distance as tiny specks fell from the middle of the bridge accompanied by the screams echoing though the valley. By the time our group were called I was really feeling the nerves. Even the walk down to the zip line was extreme as there were signs everywhere warning of loose rock, sheer cliffs and snakes. I conquered my fear the only way I know how and that was to get myself to the front and be the first to take on the zipline.

I’ll never forget flying in between those stone pillars towards the archway, unlike all the other ziplines there’s no barrier at the end to stop you. Instead you hurtle towards the arched platform spinning around and with luck you are caught by the team and pulled to safety higher up on the sloped archway.

As the music played and everyone danced around we were all strapped into our full body harnesses. Once again, I got myself to the front of the queue so I couldn’t chicken out but there was nothing to worry about. The two guys who took me forward to the metal platform fitted a padded loop around my ankles and joked with me the whole time, they told me that hardly anyone fails to jump and I can see why. The adrenaline started pumping with the music and continued as I shuffled to the edge assisted all the way. A quick pep talk that consisted of hold our arms out and jump on three gave way to clapping and chanting alongside the music and the next thing I knew I opened my eyes to see the water rushing towards me. The strangest things happened at this point. First I noticed there was no sound at all, everything had gone completely silent. I expected to hear the wind rushing past me but it was faint, almost non-existent blending in with the noise from above. Afterwards some people told me they heard screaming only to realise shortly after that the screaming was coming from them.

The second thing that surprised me was the lack of fear, first I felt surprise as I didn’t recall jumping (falling is probably more precise) then there was momentary panic. Would the bungee cord hold, could my feet slip through the loop that didn’t feel tight at all? All this was quickly overtaken by a realisation that I couldn’t do anything, I was past the point of no return all I could do was accept it. The next few moments were completely insane. I was hurtling towards the river at the valleys floor at god knows what speed, not caring if the bungee would work. I was laughing so loud I could barely catch my breath. It was absolute perfection, nothing else mattered at that moment until…  my journey ended. I was expecting a sharp tug and to be thrown around with the impact but instead I felt my descent slow down and the recoil was a slow soft process. What affected me more was the sudden drop after that first recoil, the feeling was so different to that blissful first drop. The recoil bounces were a reminded that you were attached to the bridge above. I was no longer sailing through the air with my arms outstretched, the wind was now rushing in my ears and I found my hands gripped to the harness straps across my chest. Once the bouncing stopped I found myself hanging in the middle of the canyon with the river still far below me. This bit I didn’t like, just hanging upside down praying my feet didn’t slip through the strappings. I was replaying the opening scene of ‘Cliffhanger’ where the buckles snap on a climber’s harness and she falls to her death. I was ready to go back up now and realised no one had mentioned how that was going to happen. Using every muscle in stomach and lower back I managed to sit myself up and I grabbed hold off the rope just in time to see a smiling face abseiling down towards me. I’m pretty sure I invited my new friend to hurry up which he obviously didn’t but we were soon on our way back up.

Now you are probably thinking that the worst part is over but not in my story. You see I had made the mistake of taking someone I love with me, the woman I would later marry. Watching someone you love fall off a bridge screaming and waving her arms around like she was trying to swim through the air is utterly terrifying.  It didn’t help that I was still buzzing from adrenaline when she jumped but as soon as she was out of sight my giggles turned to panic. You can’t get close to the edge so the only way to see what is happening to the jumper is by watching a small TV screen which helpfully went blank. I recall hugging a giant Scotsman with tears in my eyes when I finally saw her being winched back up.

Did I enjoy it? Was it a great experience? Yes, to both. Would I do it again? That I’m not so sure. It does however make me want to experience that feeling of freefall again. The question is Where’s the most amazing place I can go skydiving?

*If you fancy giving it a go you can find the Face Adrenaline Team here.

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