For those determined readers who have travelled this far with me, this is likely to be my last post from New Zealand. Tomorrow we head for Christchurch once again but that is merely a staging post on our long journey home to stormy England, Christmas decorations and hugs and licks from the Textiliste and Dog (hopefully that way round). From what I have heard standards have slipped at home. Dog has been bought a coat! I kid you not. That’s going straight in the bin. He’s just going to have to Dog Up if it is cold.
So after our sedate and very beautiful cruise on the Doubtful Sound we had a day to spare. It had always been my intention to find another tramp for us to do, somewhere around Te Anau but that was before the debacle of a few days ago when I misread my own itinerary and missed the bungee jump.
As night follows a rather black day I spoke to the bungee people, A J Hackett – he’s the guy who originally came up with the idea and found we could rebook. So we returned to Queenstown this morning for an afternoon of Icarus impressions.
I was most interested in my reaction to the understandable terror of what I was letting myself in for.
1. Would I sleep? Normally I have no problem sleeping, at least getting off to sleep. Sarah Brentyn has just posted on her technique which sounds a bit new agey and carrot and coriander and knit your own muesli for me. My recent technique is to imagine Graham Swann coming into bowl (this is a cricket allusion so skip forward if your heart is already sinking). I see him turn at the top of his mark, trot three step forward and swing his right arm in a graceful and languorous arc. No more than three of those and I’m snoring.
I did post a clip but the Beeb yanked it so you’ll need your imagination….
So I slept ok and while I woke a little early thinking about my nano book the prospects of the day didn’t intrude. A good sign.
2. Would I experience any physical manifestations of anxiety in the hours leading up to the big moment? I had one heart race, driving back to Queenstown. The road left the river delta and began to wind its way alongside Lake Wakatipu. I tranplanted the images of the gorge I’d seen on film where the bungee jump takes place onto the walls of the mountains either side of the lake and thought ‘S*%t’. And ten told myself to behave.
3. What about when I was filling in the disclaimers and signing various forms, being weighed, and meeting fellow delusionists for the first time? Actually seeing their pale faces, nervous repetitive movements, psyching up techniques involving music or motivational tapes made me feel if not relaxed, pretty ok. Having the Lawyer there helped too. I like to think I helped him by not giving him anything to worry about but who knows. He may have been as chilled as he seemed.
4. To get to the canyon we had a 30 minute coach ride. What about while stuck in one place? Would I freak? Well, my legs felt cold a sign of some sweating, but I’d brought my ipad and managed to read, only once losing my place as my mind drifted ahead.
5. And while being togged out? We had more signing and weighing. I’d added a kilo with the harness and safety straps, all very comforting, all very chubby and the Lawyer and I managed a couple of jokes.
While killing time in Queenstown before we signed in I had my hair cut (condemned man stuff, eh?). The Welsh barber talked me through each stage of our particular jump. That helped. Until you see the jumping pod which is strung out in the middle of Nevis canyon. That takes a little getting used to.
6. The journey to the pod is in a rickety basket. Knowing that made it easier and I watched others leap off the platform as we travelled across. I had an odd feeling here. I would almost certainly never do this again. They simple do not kill you; it’s not going to be good marketing. You have to embrace the adrenaline, the fear and enjoy it. And if that sounds both daft and trite it is what sports psychologists say all the time. The nerves are natural, they will enhance performance if channelled. So, I said to myself, you are a very rational man, you know you are fit enough, you have no ailments whereby you are putting yourself at risk and the oldest bungee jumper is an incredible 92 year old South African woman. In the same way that a marathon is just a series of connected steps, so is a bungee jump a series of pre-ordained movements taking you onto the that platform and accepting the exhilaration.
7. Bullshit. But it’s like any mantra, chant it long enough and it begins to have a numbing effect. As does the incessant drum and base that booms around the jumping pod. Why not some Coldplay? Here they add feet harnesses and a cord you are instructed to tug at the top of your second bounce. The bungee here has a winch which pulls you back to the pod. If you don’t pull it you will hang like a caught fish all the way back to the top.
8. For reason unspecified I had just taken on board the bit about the tugging when they called ‘Geoff’. I was ushered through the gate, and the bungee rope for my weight – there are four ropes of different elasticity – was attached to my waist and ankles. You sit in this vaguely gynaecological seat at this point while they fiddled and faddle about.
9. ‘Whatever you do, don’t jump feet first. It’s call the elevator and at the end you will flip round like a drum majorette’s baton, at a speed of some 100 kph, leaving you feeing a touch nauseous. A graceful dive please.’ So said the charming Kiwi attaching my various straps.
10. Once attached you are hobbled. All you can do is waddled forward to the edge of a very short, very narrow plank, very aware of a lot of canyon all about.
12. These last stages are going to be the worst. Behind me, getting ready and hoping to capture some of my performance was the Lawyer. Around me were mostly 20 something males, either working the pod, reliving their jumps or preparing for them. A couple of parents of my vintage were there to watch their three boys. They didn’t look at all envious.
13. Everyone says it. ‘Don’t think, just do it.’ Which is nonsense. You are overthinking everything. What I think they mean, what worked for me was to see it as a process, a dance if you like with each little element minutely choreographed leading up to the moment of the dive. It is easy – perfectly natural – to think about a whole host of what ifs. I’m old enough to remember the Late Late Breakfast Show being cancelled when a guest was killed on a bungee jump that went horribly wrong. But statistically? Crossing the road is riskier. And I was here, at the point where if I was going to do what I’d been telling myself to do for a couple of hours, ready to embrace a unique experience.
14. I’ve parascended – both as a boy scout and in Fiji. I’ve abseiled. I’ve experienced all sorts of terrifying rides at theme parks, including Disney’s Tower of Terror. But this free falling where I chose when and how – that’s new. And in those two hours, while I’m managing my emotions out onto that platform I’m thinking about my Dad. About his fear and his exhilaration when he parachuted for the first time. He’d have done this. Like a shot. Funny how he slips into my head at the oddest yet most obvious of times. I didn’t do it for him; that’s plain silly. But a little bit of me was pleased that I was going to experience something that he experienced. I suppose I might yet parachute. But if not, well, this will do.
15. I jumped. I dived. I saw the photo after and I thought. ‘Silly little tubs.’ But I was quite pleased with the attempt. When I saw the Lawyers far more graceful example the names of the two WW2 nuclear bombs came to mind: Fat Man and Little Boy. I was dead proud of his dive, his arched back; much as I was of my little attempt. And if purloining those two names is tasteless, I’m sorry but it is what came to mind.
16. Out there, in that dive, you are unconnected. In free fall you can hear nothing, not really save the wind rushing past. Maybe a bird somewhere as the elastic begins to tug and you brake. But in those moments when you are that bird it is otherworldly. You do go through a lot to get to that point but those few seconds – the drop is 134 metres – you are in a special place. Away from that god awful drum and bass for starters.
17. I remembered my second bounce. I was ready and I managed it. So I sat back as the winch jolted into place and hauled me aloft. The views were stunning, the return to terra firma, even if only onto a shaky little platform, welcome. The Lawyer was being called. As I said he performed with a natural poise and elegance. His mother through and through. And we hugged and laughed and did all those adrenaline releasing things you do in these circumstances.
Maybe it was the high; maybe I am an adrenaline junkie as feared by the Textiliste but next door to the Nevis Bungee is the Nevis swing, the biggest in the world at 300 metres. You’re dropped 70 metres before you swing. There’s this deal you see, as you’re there already…
I’ll let the pictures tell this one.
After that we set off for Queenstown. We had a coffee and cake and checked back into the B&B. But it was a glorious evening, our last full day of fun so we decided to climb the Queenstown Hill behind our accommodation and take in the spectacular views before heading into town for a final meal.
Here are some pictures of a gentler scene. Do visit if you get the chance. It’s beautiful even if you don’t want the thrills.
When Dad was 18, he did his first jump. He wrote this poem about his feelings leading up to that moment and sent it to his mother, my grandmother in 1945. I understood a little of this today.
A Paratrooper’s Prayer
While I’m waiting to emplane, God
And checking my jumping kit
Though I laugh and jeer I’m full of fear
But, God, don’t let me quit.
When the kite begins to move, God
And take off time is near
Then my heart grows cold – God, make me bold
And drive away my fear.
When I’m flying at seven hundred
And the red light flickers on
I know I’ll tremble and start to sweat
But, God, let me be strong.
When I look down through the hole, God
It’s like I’m standing by a grave
And my knees go weak and I can’t speak
Then, God, please make me brave.
And if it be Thy will, God
Part of Thine own Great Plan
That my life should stop, then on that last long drop
Oh God, let me die a man!