Taking the plunge
Far from her home in the US, a young reporter ticks the Bloukrans bungee jump off her bucket list travel2013
ISPREAD my arms high, bend my knees – and nosedive 216m towards the ground at 120km/h. For many adrenalin junkies, bungee jumping off Bloukrans Bridge in Tsitsikamma is high on their bucket list. I had a limited time in South Africa before returning to the States and had decided to cross this one off.
My heart races, my blood pumps and I glimpse a flash of death – yet I feel more alive than ever.
I had bought my bungee jumping ticket weeks in advance but refused to think about it until the night before the jump, scared I’d back out. At a hostel in Knysna, I have butterflies the whole night.
I wake up, look at my sister in the bed next to me. “So, I guess it’s time,” I chuckle. Her look says, “Thanks for making me do this, sis.” Palms sweaty, we pack up, leave the hostel and head to our doom.
The only way to the bridge is to drive over it. If you weren’t scared before you sure as heck are when you look down as you travel across it. I keep saying to myself, “It is only five seconds – you got this.”
We reach our destination, sign in, get weighed and assigned jump numbers. The staff scribble these digits on our palms and shuffle us out of the office, like cattle being branded. After our harnesses are fitted, we wait awkwardly with the 15 other people in our group. They are either over- excited, quietly keeping to themselves or wearing an expression of pure fear.
Our guide, Ryan, tries to ease the tension asking us where we are from, what we think of South Africa and why we are here. He explains he has done this jump countless times and that in the summer over 200 people do it every day. Celebrities such as Prince Harry, Jack Osbourne, members of the Zuma family and former President Thabo Mbeki have taken the plunge here, he says. Then it’s time.
We feed off other people’s energy as we walk the plank to the bridge, cracking jokes and laughing at the absurdity of willingly jumping off a 200m bridge. We march to our fate, taking in the ground below, jagged rocks and cliffs. Fellow jumpers’ eyes widen and mouths drop. You realise you’re not the only one struggling with this.
At the jump site, the crew blast music and prepare the equipment. They bounce around, dance and sing to the music, trying to lighten the mood. We awkwardly dance too, pretending not to be terrified. Then Ryan gathers us together. He explains how they randomly select the order and for all of us to check our hands. He starts to read the list: “J26 and J27 will jump first.” With utter shock, I look down at my hand to discover that J27 is me. Panic races through my veins; I am to jump in a matter of minutes.
J26 honourably volunteers to jump first and we became instant friends. We hug before we’re ushered to the ledge and strapped in. It all happens so fast. J26 is on the ledge, arms spread and knees bent ready to take the plunge. The crew in unison begin chanting, “five, four, three, two, one, bungeeeeee,” and J26 launches off the bridge – feet first. Oops, he breaks the one rule Ryan warns us about.
“Don’t jump feet first, you will get whiplashed.”
I’m escorted to the ledge. I have a mantra, “It’s only five seconds.” A camera points in your face and the feed broadcasts to everyone behind you. I try to remain cool. “You got this,” I tell myself. Then a crew member says, “Okay, you ready?” and I joke, “So, I just jump off this? Can you push me?” Then everyone shouts the countdown, “five, four, three, two, one, bungeeee!”
I dive. My hands rush to cover my face as I race towards the ground. Halfway through the fall, I manage to build the courage to open my eyes. I soak in the view of the ocean, the surrounding cliffs and the winding river below. As I bounce up and down the blood rushes to my face. I feel a rush of adrenalin. I feel I can fly.
ON THE EDGE: Paige Sutherland gathers her courage while she gets harnessed for the jump.