January 5, 2014

3, 2, 1, Bungee!

Do one thing a day that scares you.

These words run repeatedly along the length of my teal blue yoga strap, which, wrapped around my yoga mat, accompanied me throughout my journey last year. Each morning when I unrolled my mat they greeted me boldly, all capitals—a challenge, maybe. But usually I smiled and took them as an affirmation because, well, I was trying my best.

I tried, but it was not always easy.

Sure, I hate talking on the phone, but it doesn’t scare me. I dislike ants and spiders, but we’ve come to an understanding and coexist quite peacefully; they don’t scare me either. As I travelled, I sought out situations that challenged me—accepting an invitation to a dinner party in Biella, Italy full of Italian speakers I had never met, for example—to test my mutability, adaptability and flexibility. I repeatedly threw myself at the universe and marveled at the endless variety of ways in which she caught me. I was rarely scared.

On Sunday, July 7, 2013, the straps of my safety harness wrapped around my billowing teal pants as I stood at the center of the Colossus bridge, 152 meters above the ground at Veglio, Northern Italy. A spectacular spread of forested green mountains surrounded the small group of spectators. The three o’clock sun heated my shoulders. I watched as, one after another, the people ahead of me jumped, arms out like Superman. When my turn came and I climbed the metal steps to the edge of the bridge, nothing but an elastic cord attached to a carabiner at my ankles, I was scared.

“Sei pronta?” The monitor, Gianluca asked me, grinning casually after ten years of facilitating this bizarre and exhilarating activity. “Sì,” I responded, though I was hardly convinced. I had closed my eyes and imagined leaping out into the air at least twenty times since calling the bungee center several days prior, but I was nonetheless terrified—terrified of jumping, and even more terrified of not jumping.

“Alza le braccia.” I lifted my arms. “Three,” I think my heart stopped beating. “Two,” I bent my knees. If I don’t go now, I never will—the thought jumped spontaneously into my consciousness and without hesitation I leapt on “one.” At “bungee,” where one usually jumps, I was already in free-fall, accelerating towards a speed of 28 meters per second.

The scream that wrenched from my throat could probably be described as blood-curdling; it was certainly as close to primordial as I have ever come. I had thought jumping would be the most frightening part. Wrong. The first two seconds of my fall, as I felt the uninhibited force of gravity act on my body, I think fear-driven adrenaline blocked all other brain functions. Then, the following few seconds, I managed to process the sight of treetops rushing toward me at blinding speed, the sound of air whooshing past my ears, the pressure of wind against my cheeks. My scream morphed into a whoop of elation. Next, as I reached the full length of the cord, the elastic caught me, pulled me to a stop and flung me upwards.

Twice I rebounded high, my body hung suspended for a moment in mid-air, my heart in my mouth, and I flew.

I pulled myself upright, a feat which proved more physically challenging than jumping, and the woman at the landing platform pulled me back to solid ground. As I walked (and skipped) along the trail back to the road, I felt exhilarated, jubilant, and, especially, satisfied. Satisfied because I couldn’t think of anything more terrifying than jumping off a 150 meter bridge, and I had done it. I had taken a fear and alchemized it into a thrilling experience. I had physically embodied my policy of leaping at the universe. The elastic cord, like optimism and openness, had turned a free-fall into flight.

To clarify: bungee jumping is not frightening because it is dangerous. In over 60 thousand jumps and 20 years of experience, the Bungee Center at Veglio never had an accident. As extreme sports go, bungee jumping is extremely safe. Our instincts are not so rational, however, and to voluntarily jump one must override a very basic fear and instinctual reluctance. I am not really a thrill seeker—I don’t like cliff jumping, skiing on ice, driving fast, or otherwise putting my body in danger. This probably won’t become a regular activity for me, and yet, I just might choose to repeat the experience, if only to remind myself that I can. Because even after the fact I could barely believe that I really jumped. I had trouble falling asleep that night as the memory of treetops speeding towards me replayed in my mind. I no longer felt scared though—only elated. I had done something that truly scared me, and it rocked.

Do what scares you. You might even discover you have wings.

If you want to see it, the lovely people at Veglio were kind enough to film my jump for me, and it’s posted here.

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Assistant Editor: Tifany Lee/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

 Photo: Martin

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