The world’s highest bungy jump beckoned my name from the instant I heard about its towering height, 216 meters (710 feet). It’s location was far from close to anywhere, but the distance would not stop me from conquering the crown jewel of an adrenaline junkie’s resume. This past January my two friends and I set out to face adrenaline and conquer all our biggest fears; taking the ultimate leap of faith off the Bloukrans River Bridge in the heart of South Africa’s beautiful garden route.
I had first heard about the Bloukrans jump a year earlier when I was traveling in New Zealand doing death defying stunts almost daily, such as sky diving, ice climbing, abseiling and of course bungy jumping. New Zealand is home to some of the most beautiful and highest jumps in the world. Queenstown has made its reputation as the adrenaline capital of the world based on its plethora of amazing jumps. It was at Queenstown’s most famous jump, the 134 meter (440 foot) levitating monster called the Nevis that I first was notified of the Bloukrans bungy by a fellow adventure seeker. After the sheer ecstasy of the Nevis, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I would be in South Africa to try my luck at the Bloukrans Bridge.
My friends and I set out on a journey that took us through seven African countries, many wild animal encounters and tons of wonderful people. Finally, we left Jeffrey’s Bay heading west along the southern tip of South Africa on the backpacker friendly Baz Bus toward Cape Town to stop at a small resort town called Plettenburg Bay. This would be the starting point to our jump location. After several hours in the bus we were approached the actual bridge that we would be the jump. The bus stopped on top of it to show all the people who weren’t going to be jumping what they were missing. Seeing the height of the bridge beforehand did not ease our minds, in fact it got our adrenaline and our fear pumping harder than ever. We knew we would soon be standing on the ledge.
We arrived a half-hour later in “Plett”. We had already arranged transportation from our hostel back to the bridge. We just dropped off our bags, went to the bathroom for the first of five times before the jump and hopped into the van to go to the bridge. The ride to the bridge was filled with stories from our driver of how it is going to be the most amazing experience of our lives and how everyone who does it loves it. I asked him how many times he had done the jump. He replied, “Never, are you nuts?” That didn’t sit too well with us, as you might think, but nonetheless we came thousands of miles for this jump and we were doing it no matter what.
Finally, we arrived at the Face Adrenaline office to sign up for the jump and to get weighed in. We found out that we would have to wait over an hour because a flight of six people had just left for the bridge and each person takes approximately ten minutes to be completed with the whole process of being pulled up from such heights. So we had nothing to do but watch and wait.
We sat at the observation deck watching people jump and listening to their piercing screams as the knots in our stomachs grew tighter and tighter. I did push ups to stay loose and to get rid of the tension. And, of course we tried to lighten things up by trying to psych each other out. I think it worked because by the time it was our turn to go we were all pretty nervous and terrified.
In order to get out to the jump spot at the peak of the bridge’s arch, which is the largest concrete arch span bridge in the world and the highest bridge in Africa, we had to walk out on a steel grid walking bridge that was see through on the bottom. It was quite nerve racking and my friend Jake nearly had a heart attack and would say later that the walk out was the worst part of the jump experience. Finally we arrived at the apex of the arch and readied ourselves to go. We were under the impression that we would be the first three to go because we were the three heaviest of the six and, based on our other bungy experiences, that is how they worked. Not at the Bloukrans! We were the last three in the order and I was the last one to go.
In the middle of South Africa, it was absolutely frigid standing on the underbelly of the arch bridge because the roadway blocked the sun above us and the wind ripped through the canyon with a ferocious chill. I was only wearing shorts and a tank top and was slightly miserable.
We sat and watched all three of our co-jumpers; two Irish kids and a Brit jump and come back up to safety. Finally, it was my friend Mike’s turn to go. He saddled up, stood on the ledge, legs shaking and head looking up not down. Arms out, he flung himself off the great bridge with the grace of an ostrich that fell off a building. Next, Jake geared up, looked back at us as if giving his last rites to us with his eyes. He swallowed deep and looked up at the horizon. As soon as he jumped, all the jump workers were sure to make fun of his technique for the camera that was videotaping the spectacle. As he returned safely to the comforts of the cement arch I knew it was finally my turn to go. This is what I came eight thousand miles to do.
My heart was beating a thousand times a minute. Normally for a jump, it only beats about 500 times a minute but, because of the height, it was much faster. The adrenaline was pumping. I couldn’t really feel my body as the jumpmasters were securing my harnesses. As I made my way over to the ledge I kept my eyes focused out as I looked down at my feet to inch them over the edge. As I pulled my arms up to flying position I was sure to look straight at the clouds on the horizon, which momentarily I would try to jump toward. As the jumpmaster started the countdown at five, my body went numb, my ears deaf and my brain obsolete. The reality of what I was about to do had set in. A sixth sense told me when he was saying “one,” as I started to lean forward and bend my knees for the push off jump. Then there is complete silence.
During the freefall of eight whole seconds, I am unaware of anything else in the world. All I hear is the wind and air pushing in one ear and out the other, in an eerie, rapid whooshing sound. All I see is the ground 700 plus feet below getting closer by the second. It’s strange because you are so numb and out of your regular mind that you don’t even realize the ground is creeping up on you. That is until the chord starts to pull and then instantly you snap out of it and start to scream. You are no longer weightless; your eyes get bigger, practically popping out of your head. As the chord reaches its pinnacle and you are stuck in temporary limbo, there is a sense of peace and security that you are still alive. Then suddenly, the chord tears your guts out and rips you back toward where you took the crazy leap. The best part about the Bloukrans jump is that for your money you actually get to re-experience the horrors and joys of the jump over and over because it’s so ungodly high.
Finally, as the reverberations begin to slow you are just hanging upside down awaiting a little guy to come down to attach himself to you, setting you straight up again. You are almost completely content hanging upside down 300 feet above the ground. You begin to have private thoughts of ecstasy of the best feeling that is available on this planet. The feeling of the build-up, the freefall, the numbness, the ground rush, the horror and the joy is unlike anything humans were ever meant to experience in this life. For myself it was extra special because I also got to share every sweet emotion with my two best friends and we can relive it forever.