Bungee Jumping: Do I Really Want To Be Here?

Taking the big leap is easier said than done, and then, all of a sudden, you're ready to do it again - maybe

At first sight, the resort town of Queenstown, New Zealand, looks like a sleepy haven for holiday seekers.

But in this quiet hamlet, extreme sports are de rigueur.

Here, nestled among the Remarkables and Richardson Mountain ranges on Lake Wakatipu, mountain biking, hiking, and water-skiing are eclipsed by hang gliding, white-water rafting, skydiving, river surfing, and (gulp!) bungee jumping.

Twenty minutes out of town is the Pipeline in Skipper's Canyon. At 340 feet, some 40 stories high, it is the highest year-round bungee jump in the world.

Accessible by a one-lane, glorified cow path, the canyon can be reached by four-wheel drive vehicles only. Driving here is so harrowing, in fact, that car insurance isn't even an option.

At first undaunted, four Danish women, two American friends, and I clambered into an awaiting Range Rover. Skidding around a series of dusty hair-pin turns, our driver finally halted at the precipice overlooking a gorge below.

"OK, take a look. You think you could jump off that?" he taunted.

"Oh my! I am such a coward - there's no way," stammered Trill, one of the Danes who then began mumbling incoherently in Danish.

"Well don't worry," the driver reassured, "It's six feet higher than the Pipeline."

We laughed to veil our growing concern. The mild-mannered Kiwi whipped through Hell's Gate, a passage that had taken seven years of labor to carve out of the cliff, while imparting the history of the gorge to deaf ears and chattering teeth.

After the 20-minute test of fortitude, the Land Rover ground to a halt at the top of the Pipeline.

"I can't do this," one of the Danes muttered. "There's no way I can do this."

SWALLOWING our pride, my two friends, Brian Wane and Chris Dumler, and I sheepishly moved to the back of the line where we waited with 20 other victims who shelled out $80 for this unique "opportunity."

To my friend Brian's horror, he was called to jump first.

Gingerly he made his way to the front of the line grasping the thin rail - the only thing that separated him from the three-foot deep, Shotover River far below.

Trembling on the edge of the gangplank, Brian began to doubt the wisdom of the moment. "I'm terrified," he managed to blurt out.

"Remember, you get added points for style - 3-2-1- Bungeeeeeee!" the jump master led the chorus of onlookers.

Brian leapt into space, plummeting head-first towards the river in frozen silence. Dangling at the end of the cord, he bobbed up and down in the air like a human yo-yo.

As he was lowered into the awaiting boat he stammered, "How much is it to do again?"

Meanwhile, on the bridge, I could feel a lump the size of a kiwi fruit beginning to form in my throat.

Soon my name was called, and there was no escape. Shaking with anticipation, I peered over the edge - lock-kneed with only a frayed elastic cord wrapped tightly around my ankles.

"Do you want a countdown or do you want to cut it loose?" the jump master said, offering me the option to jump at will.

I had a memorable speech rehearsed before stepping into oblivion, but now my lips could only quiver.

I leaned forward, took a deep breath while my stomach leapt into my throat, and stepped off.

In a matter of two seconds, the river came surging upward at 120 feet a second. My arms flailed in panic, I didn't breathe, and (I was told later) I went down screaming like a banshee.

After the initial plunge, the rebound bounces of 245 and 147 feet were nothing less than quiet ecstacy.

For one second I thought my brief existence was coming to a watery end, and the next I was safe in the arms of my friends all of us shouting in exhilarated joy.

After a climb back to the top, one of our Danish friends asked: "How much is it to do it again?"

"Seventy-five dollars," the jump master said. "But if you're willing to jump naked it's free."

Generous as the offer was, there were no takers and back we drove to Queenstown, clothes attached.

"So, would you do it again?" our driver queried. Energetically and unanimously we blurted out, "Any day." (Just not again today.)

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