Tak­ing the plunge

Far from her home in the US, a young reporter ticks the Bloukrans bungee jump off her bucket list travel2013

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - PAIGE SUTHER­LAND

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.

PIC­TURES: FACE ADREN­A­LINE

ON THE EDGE: Paige Suther­land gath­ers her courage while she gets har­nessed for the jump.

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