The 1990s was a very unforgiving time for nervous children. Pop culture was constantly encouraging you to be as X-TREME as possible. Skateboarders and BMXers were having a big cultural moment. Mountain Dew was encouraging people to go to very high places and then jump off of them. People walked around wearing “No Fear” T-shirts.
Then I guess, like, YouTube happened and we all saw videos of what it looks like to shatter a leg bone, and our ardor for extreme sports cooled. At least that is what happened to me — I was never X-treme, obviously, but I did actively make fun of kids who wore bike helmets, and I jumped quite irresponsibly on those big trampolines, even though one of the many Jennifers in my class messed up her knee really bad on one and had to wear a brace for like a year. But I hadn’t SEEN it, so it made no impression on me.
Anyway, somewhere between being a stupid teenager and a grumpy adult, I developed phobias involving bones poking out where they shouldn’t/dying in a really stupid way. But it was too late: I had already promised myself that I would someday bungee jump.
I blame MTV
This is the fault of “Road Rules,” the MTV “Real World” derivative, where they made stock-character 20-somethings live in an RV together and do extreme things. Like, again, go to high places and jump off of them. It felt like every season had a bungee jump episode, which I watched with fascination. What would I do, in that situation? Would I be like the cool kids and just jump? Or would I be like the lame girl (it was always a girl) who froze up and freaked out and didn’t want to do it?
I was secretly concerned I’d be one of the latter. But when I went to Costa Rica a few years back, I’d decided “Yeah, I’m going to do this.” There are tons of bridges from which to jump in Costa Rica, as it is a haven for adventure tourists, so it was the perfect place. I felt I owed it to my 14-year-old self, who was rooting for me, somewhere back in the mists of the past.
I convinced an unwilling friend to accompany me. We booked a ride with Tropical Bungee (motto: “100% Adrenaline!”) and got in a van with a bunch of enthused backpackers, and found ourselves on a bridge in the forest. It was dense green tropical forest, and peaceful. The river, far below, was flowing gently. We felt like vomiting.
To do this, you step into a harness thing that has thick cords hanging loosely around your ankles. When it is your turn, they hook you into the bungee cord. You walk to the edge of the bridge and jump off.
"Easy as pie," my friend and I said to each other as we watched the other backpackers giddily leap into the abyss. "Simple."
How to bungee jump
The trick to bungee jumping, of course, is not to think about it. Don’t think about anything. If you stop at the edge and look down and consider things rationally, you probably will not jump. Or at least, I wouldn’t jump. So, there on the bridge, I embarked in an aggressive form of meditation. I made a fist with my brain, and beat out every thought in there. I pummeled my higher-order thinking until I was down to just the lizard core. Then it was my turn. Blankly, I climbed the platform. Numbly, I watched them hook up my harness. Woodenly, I walked to the edge of the platform and let myself tip off the edge — just let my face greet the river below, and the rest of me followed.
Then I was just a torpedo of meat, heading for the ground. The white ribbon of river, and the green of the banks, zoomed toward me and I could hear my own short, panicked breaths. Then, still a comfortable distance away from terra firma, I felt the cord lightly squeeze my ankles and then I was rushing backwards and up, only to be snapped like a human towel-snappy by the bouncing cord. I made a “chuff!” sound that only I could hear, being as there was no one around, and eventually found myself just swinging upside down above the river.
Step two: Continue to not panic
Then, in order to not consider your position — that you are dangling like a fish on a line, high above the ground — you must concentrate on getting back up. If I remember aright, you wait until the operators send you a line that you snap onto your harness, and it brings you back up. So you must grab it, latch it onto the correct latch, and let it bring you to a sitting position. It draws you up like a kitten in a bucket.
They pulled me back onto the platform and I once more felt the ground under my feet. My 14-year-old self, back in the mists of time — wearing plaid and badly in need of an eyebrow wax — was beaming at me through her braces. I had comported myself with all the dignity I could muster. I gave her a thumbs up.