Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Grace Under Pressure...Sort Of"

I'm standing on a tiny metal platform, facing the majestic impossibly roaring loud Victoria Falls in front of me, and looking down at the falls pool below me. A video camera is recording my every move, every muttered prayer and curse. I am about to bungy jump 333 feet into the Victoria Falls Gorge. I have never been so scared in my entire life. My ankles are wrapped tightly together in thick towels and braces; I am harnessed to a series of iron clips and straps. I stand on the edge of the platform, trying to look at the Falls instead of the 333 feet below me. I am too scared to cry, but will later watch another bungy jumper's face crumple into tears as she says goodbye to her nervously sweating father watching her prepare for her own bungy jump.

As I stand on the edge of the platform, my toes inched over the edge of the bridge that connects Zimbabwe to Zambia, one of the African attendants of the Zambezi Adrenalin Company says to me, laughing, "Patricia, today is a good day to die! Do you have any last words for your family and friends?" He points the video camera at me, "Carpe Diem?" I say meekly, trying to hold down what might be my breakfast rising in my throat.

I am white-knuckle clutching the handlebars to save myself from the jump. The African bungy guides are used to this. They remove my clawed hands from the safety bars and shout in unison, "Five! Four! Three! Two! Bungyyyy!" And with that, they push me over the edge. I spend four seconds in freefall, falling at approximately 60 miles per hour for 333 feet into the 720-foot wide Victoria Falls gorge. I dive into and bounce in a rainbow, which is cutting across from the raging falls to the bridge from which I've jumped. I think this is the most exhilirating moment of my life. I'm wrong. That moment is about to come.

The attendants slowly hoist me back up the bridge, crank by crank. I am cradled by two large black men, yanking me quickly from the harness to the underbelly of the bridge. "What's your name? Where are you from?" I am asked over and over again, presumably to check if I have a concussion or brain injury. One of the men attaches a dog leash to my waist and slowly guides me back to the platform where I'm about to do my second jump. On my right is a railing, which I'm tightly holding. On my left is an unsecured drop-off of 333 feet. After bungy-jumping, I can't believe how afraid I am, still, of the raging rapids below me. "Insult to injury," I mutter nervously to myself as I look down to my left.

Barefoot, I cross the train tracks that run between the Zimbabwe-Zambia border. Women carrying huge sacks of grain on their heads pass me. They are carrying back food from tumultuous Zimbabwe to their homes and workplaces in Zambia. I feel frivolous spending the equivalent of several months' wages for four seconds of terror. But that won't stop me from jumping a second time. The women ignore me and go about their food-transporting business. The men high-five me, "Crazy girl, how was the jump?" they ask, smiling and congratulating me.
I walk back to the platform for what I think will be a piece of cake. I'd been told the night before by some bungy veterans that the so-called Gorge Swing is infinitely more terrifying than the bungy jump. "Doubt it," I thought. After all, what can be scarier than jumping the first time? Well, as I'm about to find out, what is scarier than the bungy is the swing. Rather than dive straight down, the swing is essentially a bungy jump, but you jump OUT rather than down, and are therefore airborne for an extended period of time. And, this is the worst part: you face your demise. The falls, the rapids, the cascading trees, and that glowing rainbow; they're all coming toward you at 60 miles per hours. And you feel as though you're attached to nothing at all. You freefall diagnonally across a 20,000 year-old crater.

I step to the edge of the platform for the second time and think I've braced myself. I haven't. I look over the edge and wimper, "Please, I don't want to go." And again, with that, two men push me over the edge. I can't remember if they counted down or not (I'll try to post the video on or here, as soon as I get a reliable internet connection). I fall, and fall, and fall. I kick and scream, and even try to swim in the air, so desperate am I to control my movements that my mind translates air for water. Finally, a jolt, and I am staring at the rapids below me. I hear cheers above me, locals and tourists alike, high-fives in the air. The exhiliration is heady, palpable, and entirely unforgettable.
My right arm is tattooed in bright blue ink with my jumper's ID number, so I am now identifiable as someone that's jumped. Noticing my arm, an older Australian man walks over to me, nervously sweating, "I don't want to lose two daughters in one day," he says emotionally. His girls are busy getting harnessed and strapped in. "Don't worry," I say, "they'll be just fine."

More later on my flight over Victoria Falls in a tw0-seater open-air lawnmower with wings!


sbritt2896 said...

Crazy like a friggin fox! I was getting nervous just reading your account!! The photos don't do justice unless you click on them. I'm constantly amazed at your bravery and sense of adventure. To think that most folks get MORE conservative and less daring the older they get (present company INCLUDED!) So when are you getting a publishing deal for this writing? It's fabulous... very reminiscent to the style of writing in Eat, Love, Pray. Can't wait for the next installment... !!! Sending some deep south love to all your critter friend in the motherland...

kchatz13 said...

Sweet Ginger. that looks awesome.. great form great form

tchaka owen said...

Awesome! Totally awesome! This will have to go on my list of things to do.

Danny said...

it's been awhile. certainly you've done more stuff since this? reading these posts is like the highlight of my day. come on now, don't deprive me. (don't get me wrong, this was awesome, but it's been almost a week!)

tchaka owen said...

Trish, last weekend I told a few people about your bungee and swing experience. I'm going to send them the link so they can read about it too.