While I wouldn’t consider myself a traditional risk-taker or adrenaline-junkie, I have engaged in several adventures in the past that would bring goosebumps to many. In 2012, as part of a team of six, I drove an auto rickshaw 1500 miles (2400km) down the west coast of India. For those who haven’t been, driving in India in any form is enough to terrify; doing so in a souped-up lawnmower-powered vehicle with one working break or no headlines at night in Rajasthan preying that trucks didn’t run you into a ditch is another matter. I’ve also been skydiving on two occasions: once in Switzerland and once in Texas. And so, a year ago, when a colleague was trying to get a group together to go bungee jumping, I thought: ‘Sure, why not?’
As the bungee jumping company only operates in the summer, and many other people were non-committal as to their availability, it took a long time before we eventually settled on a weekend and paid our deposit. In the end, there were four of us. We chose to do the jump from the Pont de l’Artuby, the highest bridge jump in Europe at 182m/597ft. For reference, that’s more than half the height of the Eiffel Tower! No wonder it is frequently listed as the best place to bungee jump in France.
For reference, here is someone else’s GoPro footage of the same jump.
As the bridge is a little more than a three hour drive away, and we were jumping in the morning, we decided to head out to the area on Saturday and camp the night before. Once we got nearby, we quickly passed by the bridge to see what we had committed to.
After a hike down into the Gorge de Verdon and a brief swim in the river, we headed back to our campsite to sleep for the night. Our slot was for 9am-noon, but within that time it is ‘first come, first jump’, so the plan was to get there at 9am on the dot.
We ended up a little late (9:15ish), but perhaps we should have aimed for 8:30 or earlier, because there was already a long line when we arrived.
So we went to the back of the line and began our long trudge toward the front.
One interesting aspect was that we saw many people jump before it was our turn. This was both slightly terrifying, as we repeatedly saw what we were about to do, but also comforting because every jump went off without a hitch in a well-oiled system. Someone jumped every five minutes: that’s the time for jump, bounce, lower, detach, raise everything back up, hook up the next person, and usher them to the edge. The mechanical nature of this juggernaut would prove useful later on.
When we finally got up to the front, we began our way through the stations, including fitting the harness and ankle ties. Also, did I mention I decided to do the jump in a banana suit?
People were very confused, as everyone working there asked me, “Why a banana?” “Why not,” I replied. I thought it added a fun levity, plus I got to joke that I hoped they wouldn’t find just a peel at the end afterwards.
Up until this point, we were all fairly calm, at least on the outside. I think, for me, despite seeing dozens of people go before me over the course of three hours in line, it didn’t feel real. Even as I was standing at the base of the step ladder getting hooked up, my mind was more concentrated on remembering to do a cool wink to the camera than what I was about to do.
They tell you that when you get to the edge, they will count to three, at which point you should look out straight and jump as far out as you can. I climbed the steps, stood at the edge, looked over at the camera, and then the countdown began.
Two. And it was at this point that reality hit. Fear came in like a tidal wave and every primal instinct told me to step back from the ledge and run away.
One. Fear intensified and I felt like I would freeze.
But interestingly, of all of the jumpers we had seen before, there was only one person who needed a second count. And I’m convinced it was the mechanical repetition of jumper after jumper that makes you feel like there is an unstoppable force behind you and there remains no choice to stay. So you jump.
The first second was terror. If you watch my video, you’ll see that I did not perform the perfect swan dive as instructed, although I can’t even really dive into a pool well under non-adrenaline circumstances. Rather, I sort of flailed my legs like a golden retrieval jumping into a lake or a cat falling off a table. Like at the beginning of a rollercoaster drop, your stomach feels like it rises up into your throat as you begin to look down at the rapidly approaching dry river bottom below.
But oddly the second and third second were peaceful. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was the part in the movie when the sound cuts out and faint classical music starts to play and the footage changes into slow motion. The terror was gone.
And then you bounce. The rebound was less violent that I feared. You get flung around a bit, so your vision is more all of the place than the zoom out view of the ground that I had in my head. And you continue to bounce for maybe ten or fifteen seconds until you start to stabilize. The one thing that worried me, though, was it felt like the ankle restraints (two of the three points where you are connected) loosened with each cycle. I’m fairly certain it was just in my head, but rather than enjoy that part of the experience, I found myself concentrating on making sure my feet were at a right angle to my legs so they wouldn’t slip out.
Once you stabilize, they tell you to pull yourself into a ‘U’ via the harness connection to minimize the amount of time your head is below your heart. I found it surprisingly difficult to pull myself up and hold myself there, particularly because there aren’t any loops on the strap for you to hold. But eventually, I was lowered all the way to the ground where the staff member ‘gives you a hug’ as he begins disconnecting the attach point. Then you stay on the ground until the bungee has been raised back up (so that you don’t get your leg caught in the rope and accidentally get brought back up unattached), and then it was over.
I was the second to go in our group of four, so I waited for the others to finish, we all had a round of high-fives, and then we began the long, sweaty trek up the path to climb out of the gorge.
The main question I’ve received since is:
“Would you do it again?”
And I think the answer is yes. But perhaps I’m not as enthusiastically anticipating it as my fellow jumpers, who are already scouting out other places around Montpellier.
The main thought that keeps coming up is that I think I wanted to be someone who HAD bungee jumped, more than I wanted to do the action of bungee jumping. To be someone that others found to be daring and cool. I think that may have been part of why it didn’t feel real until the count hit ‘two’; in my head, I knew the statistics that it was safe and so I was ‘checking out’, waiting until I had done it, to keep fear at bay.
I’ve been a semi-regular meditator for about a decade, and I try my best to remind myself to be present, especially because ‘in my head’ tends to be my default state. And while the end of the countdown certainly knocked me out of that, having already done it once it might be interesting to do it again and see how present I can be during the whole process.
I just need to figure out what the next costume is to wear.