There was a brief moment when I could have turned back. It was only a moment and then it was gone. Once I was on the other side of the railing, the only thing left to do was jump.
I don’t consider myself a risk-taker or a daredevil or even a thrill-seeker. But there are some things in this world that I believe just have to be experienced. When life is so short and the world is so big and time is so precious, there are some experiences that are worth everything. And so I went bungee jumping.
It’s been on my bucket list since I was a kid, but it was one of those far-off pipe dreams. It was a dream, along the lines of “climb Mt. Everest” and not so attainable as “learn to play the guitar.” Nevertheless, it made the list, in a 14-year-old’s handwriting, right under “skydiving,” (which I crossed off the list in the summer of 2011 and would happily do again).
The opportunity arose when my family decided to take a trip to Portland, Oregon to visit my brother. Whatever made my sister search Google for “places to bungee jump in Portland” I’ll never know. But she emailed us the link to the “highest legal bungee jumping bridge in North America” and in a few weeks, we were scheduled for our first jump.
I agreed to do it, not only because it was written on a list, but because life is too short to say no to a new experience. When terrible things are happening every day, the only thing we can do is actively seek out the the happy moments, enjoy the opportunities as they arise, and squeeze the most out of every second.
I will admit, bungee jumping terrified me. The thought that the ground was close enough to see and the creek was close enough to hear made it more terrifying than blindly leaping out of a plane 10,000 feet in the air with a professional strapped to your back. When you jump off a bridge, you jump alone. The only thing to catch you is a tangle of cords and strategically clipped straps. I watched the promotional video on their website and while they purposely chose photos and videos of smiling happy people, I felt my stomach flutter and my hands shake.
I played it cool and confident as we walked onto the bridge, were strapped into harnesses and watched another group of people jump. But when it came time for me to be the first of our group to hurtle myself off a bridge, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be first. I could feel my heart in my throat and I made my brother’s girlfriend take the first plunge.
The fall from the bridge was 191 feet at 67 miles per hour. The bounce back up was actually faster, at 71 miles per hour. We had been fitted with what seemed like minimal harnessing across our shoulders and around our legs and matched to the correct strength of bungee cord, according to our weight. It was very mathematical, but did not do much to ease my fears. We climbed over an iron railing on the edge of the bridge, looking out over the mountains of Oregon and Washington, the greenest and tallest trees I’ve ever seen bordering a large creek at the bottom of the drop.
Once over the railing there was no time to think. The only things running through my head, in succession were, toes over the edge, arms out, three, two, one, jump.
And I jumped.
I flung my arms out, in a subconscious swimmer’s dive, and felt myself falling and falling as I tipped forward and flipped over to be caught by the bungee as I was on my back. At one point, or maybe several points, I closed my eyes, hardly daring to look at how close I was to the ground or the trees or the steel beams of the bridge. I was instinctually trying to grab onto something but the only thing to hold onto was the padded part of the cords in front of my face, and even that kept tightening and going slack as I bungeed up and down. When I finally felt like I could look around me, it was over. I clasped the hook that would pull me to safety, and I stepped onto the platform, shaking but alive.
In my opinion, there is nothing in the world that will give you the same thrill as falling. Whether it’s leaping from a bridge or a plane, there is no other moment that will make you feel so utterly alive and so completely vulnerable. It’s only when you’re plummeting through the air, and you’ve left your stomach behind, and there is nothing at all that you can hold on to, you see how amazing the world is. This is when you see that we are just tiny beings in the universe and hard as we try, we will never grasp the full measure of life.
So you need to soak it up and drink it in, every day. If there is ever a time to leap headlong into the wind, it is right now. The present. Don’t think about it. Just jump.