Perhaps make peace with the big guy upstairs (not you Mr Johnson, and I still haven’t forgiven you for stealing my favourite pulling pants from the communal washing line)? Me, I decided the nine hours before my first tandem skydive would be best served pouring as much alcohol down my throat as possible, talking crap and staggering home at 1am through my own personal earthquake. I guess you could say I’m a maverick.
Nine hours later I’m in the back of a van with a mouth as dry as our driver’s sense of humour (“So, any last words?”), trying to figure out if it’s fear or the beer gripping away at my insides. My dark, brooding demure has nothing to do with acting cool, but everything to do with the thought of whether I would fall faster than my own vomit.
“Hi, I’m Scott and you’ll be jumping out of a perfectly good plane at 12,000 feet strapped to me today,” says a blond, surfer-type ushering me through to a tiny runway hangar. “It’s my first jump, so I might be a bit edgy,” he says deadpan. My goldfish expression has the desired effect and he breaks into a smile before sniggering, “Just kidding.” Great, I’m skydiving with the guys who write the jokes found in Christmas crackers.
The briefing is anything but brief as I’m hackled with safety harnesses and ropes from every single orifice. Like David Banner, Scott suddenly turns into a professional monster, making sure I’m comfortable and aware of what part I will play in the death- defying feat. Just as I give him the thumbs up, my name is called out and we make our way to the tiny plane at the edge of an equally tiny runway. Around this time a voice pops into my head and reminds me that this is my very last opportunity to call the whole thing off, head back to the hostel and tell the crew it was cancelled because of the weather. Now, this plan could have worked had there been a cloud in the sky, but unlike my underpants, the sky was clear.
Being one of the last to enter the plane, Scott and I are seated near the door (I say door, but a flimsy piece of plastic would be a better description). Scott clips himself to me and for once, I’ve never been so pleased to have a man’s warm breath on the back of my neck. The tiny engine of the tiny plane roars for all it’s worth and we gather speed along the tiny runway. I let out a tiny scream.
As the plane gains altitude, it becomes increasingly harder to distinguish the sound of the flapping door and the noise coming from my trousers. The crew signal each other and Scott says something that I can’t make out because of the noise of the plane. It’s only when he begins shifting his weight towards the door that I know it’s time to take the leap of faith. Edging my way one bum cheek at a time, the door is removed and Scott insists I dangle my legs out from the plane. My first reaction is to tell him where to go, but then I remember the small thing about my life being in his hands and more importantly, the parachute on his back.
I remember back to when I first decided to do this jump, surrounded by all that peer pressure, and how I secretly relished the chance to emulate Patrick Swayze in the film Point Break. But looking down at the gaping earth below, I feel more like Patrick Swayze in Ghost… dead. I just hope I don’t Whoopie Goldberg all over poor Scott.
“Okay, three… two…”
For some reason I don’t quite hear “one”. Just the roar of the air rushing past me, spinning cartwheels in the air and catching glimpses of the disappearing plane. I had prepared for the breathless sensation you sometimes experience on fairground rides, but it never came. So I scream with delight (well, more relief) and my mouth is filled with the kind of pressure one could only experience snogging Aretha Franklin mid “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” We level out and the sensation of freefall totally consumes me. It’s 100 per cent pure adrenalin. I’m totally pumped. I’m flying. I hope the feeling lasts for… Doh! Scott enables the parachute and I’m pulled to the heavens… by my crotch. Safety harness? More like sperm destroyer.
It’s deadly quiet now, except for the beating of my heart, and the tranquility is overwhelming. It’s true what they say about the view from the top: Lake Taupo shimmers quite magnificently and the volcanic peaks of Tongariro can easily be taken in with a simple turn of the head.
Still desperately trying to take it all in, I’m brought back to my senses by Scott, who tells me to prepare for landing. The ground rushes in below me and, remembering the briefing, I lift up my legs as Scott takes the impact.
“Enjoy that?” yells Scott, smiling from ear to ear. “Amazing,” I yell back. “But it would have been much better without a fat Kiwi on my back.”
Like I said, I’m a bit of a maverick. LT
I’d always considered bungy jumping a bloody silly thing to do. And I’d said so – loudly – whenever the topic came up. But when you’re in New Zealand, where people eagerly leap off anything high-up in the name of entertainment, somehow the whole concept becomes more acceptable. And after a while I became curious. And my boyfriend (BF) agreed to jump with me. This marginally lowered the terror factor and enabled me to convince myself that this might be, in some twisted way, romantic.
In an ill-judged attempt to ease my nerves, BF didn’t tell me when we were going to do the jump, until the last minute. So I had a large greasy fry-up for breakfast. I’d barely finished digesting it when we pulled up outside a big gate with a sign saying “Taupo Bungy”. And I was informed, “Err, we’re going to do the jump now, hun.” I gulped. And marched in not wanting the sadistic guys who run these things to smell my fear. “Are you scared then?” said the man behind the counter with an annoyingly big grin. Though I assured him I was not, he was still able to humiliate me by insisting I had to be weighed before the jump.
With my confidence rapidly diminishing, I walked to the end of the platform, which jutted out over the edge of a cliff 47 metres up, desperately trying not to look down. I tried hard to pretend I was in a nice, cosy shed somewhere. It became harder and harder to keep up this fantasy as BF and I stood face to face while our feet were tied together, with some contraption, which wasn’t much more than a fancy elastic band.
We shuffled over to the edge of the platform. It was terrifying. My legs were tingling horribly. I probably would’ve cracked BF’s ribs if I’d held onto him any tighter. Err, why was I doing this? I stood with my heels off the edge and grimaced for the camera. And that was it – we were over the edge and off…
The blood rushed to my head. But my breakfast stayed put – just about – as the air whistled past my ears. I opened my eyes to see us being twanged up away from the surface of a beautiful river in the nick of time. A few more energetic bounces of the elastic and we were down, sitting in the boat sailing back to dry land. It was over – I’d just done that ridiculously petrifying thing I always swore I’d never do. It was both awful and amazing. I think I deserved a round of applause, frankly. AR
Rock ‘n’ ropes
I read somewhere that Hollywood’s elite pay something close to $US50,000 to have toxins flushed from their toned bodies through colonic irrigation. During four hours of sheer terror at Rock n’ Ropes adventure ropes course, I paid only $65 for the same result. Regarded as one of the top adventure activities available in New Zealand, Rock ‘n Ropes is a series of high rope challenges guaranteed to make you scream every swear word known to man. And boy did I go through them.
Assigned to The Half Day challenge, I was once again equipped with a safety harness and a random stranger named Chris, who would have my worthless life in his hands. I was then told to tuck my trousers into my socks, not for safety reasons, but to stop the excrement from falling on Chris below. And when the guide pointed out the first “warm-up challenge”– the Two Wire Bridge – I understood why.
A mere 10 metres up, I had to traverse along two wires – one above me, one below – until I reached the other side (or died of a heart attack, whichever happened first). Climbing the wooden poles to the wire wasn’t a problem, it was trying to make my body and the wire stop shaking at the top that really got me. I knew Chris on the ground below – attached to the other end of my safety rope – would prevent me from falling, but I was urging my body to go against all the things it had learnt not to do since childhood.
I made my way across, shaking like a junkie going cold turkey, the adrenalin gushing through my body like a watefall. With my clenched muscles easing only briefly to carry out the tiniest of movement, it took well over 25 minutes to complete the “warm-up”. My legs giving way when I was finally brought back to earth signified that I was, indeed, warm. Standing 11 metres up on one side of the Rickety Bridge, the next hurdle to overcome, I actually felt much braver after losing the initial fear – and most of my breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, my stomach still turned cartwheels whenever the wooden, uneven bridge tilted under my weight. But it appeared my adrenal gland had surpassed its daily, no, make that yearly, amount.
The next few obstacles – the Heebie Jeebie, an asortment of out of control foot cables and diagonal ropes; the High Log, a thin log that must be crossed first forward and then backwards; and the Burma Bridge – were again heart-stopping, but achievable, once I knew what to expect. That was until I faced… the Giant Trapeze.
Billed as “The ultimate head trip and a true leap of faith”, my mission was simple: scale the 13 metre pole, stand on top (with nothing to hold on to) before leaping forward to grab a trapeze two metres out in front of me. I felt quietly confident and determined to reach the trapeze, even though our guide had explained that it didn’t matter whether we reached it or not – it was taking the leap that counted. Still, having completed all the challenges thrown at me so far, I would accept nothing but total success.
Reaching the summit of the thin pole was no problem, and I confidently placed one foot on top, ready to pull the rest of my body to join it. That was until everything decided to shut down and cease to conform. I was stuck, elegantly poised like a rabbit caught in headlights, with my arse in the air. A few encouraging words from below did nothing to persuade my rather comatose state, as I contemplated staying up there all day. There were a few conversations going on in my head. Well I say conversations but they were more like arguments. Evil Lee was telling me that I could do it and to stop acting like a pussy, while Good Lee was muttering the Lord’s Prayer, and to stop fantasising about Natalie Imbruglia while I was at it.
Summoning every ounce of strength, courage, and fingernails I had, I managed a half crouch and then a full stance, as if balancing on a pinhead. Great. Now what? Staring out at the trapeze, which felt as though it was in Australia rather than two metres away, I began to suck in as much air as possible. It was around this time that Chris and the rest of the crowd below hit upon the master stroke of counting down from three to one, to help encourge the leap. But this was soon deemed a waste of time having repeated the exercise at least five times, only to still find me impersonating Crouching Tiger. I could tell the audience was growing restless, and being the entertainer that I am, decided on a three count of my own.
“Three… Two… One.” With all the elegance of a mountain goat being flung through the air by a catapult, I grasped the trapeze. As my body jerked with the momentum, I opened my eyes and found myself dangling precariously over the delighted spectators, who rewarded the courageous mountain goat with a round of applause.
Now who’s going to clean all that mess up? LT
Photos: Getty, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rock-n-Ropes