The constant jostling, suspended 134 meters (439 feet) above the craggy ravine of the Nevis Bluff, is forcing a similar emotion in my intestines.
Should have used the toilet, I lament. But there had not been time; someone sounded sick in one of the stalls, and before I could whisper assurances, commanding voices dragged me out of that porcelain haven.
Another gust shakes us easily. New Zealand is still on the edges of winter, a grey sky veiling the thorns of the Matagouri that grows wild on the surrounding hillsides.
“Are you panicking yet?” asks Kelli, companion in this misadventure. My half smile and quivering palms answer.
One thin wire supports the pulley on which our box is slowly moving. If I stare at it, bouncing in the weather, I will cry. Focusing on my feet is equally terrifying: the metal grill they’re glued to only accentuates our height above the Nevis River.
We would hold hands for support, but the other travelers in the box are watching anxiously. A British couple, one Indian lad with raven curls and us, two apprehensive Americans. All trapped in a tiny container by this morning’s ill-conceived decision to jump the country’s biggest bungy.
Thunk. “Everybody out!” The AJ Hackett jump crew grab our harnesses and insert us into the sturdier jumping platform. Glancing down, I still see the river’s freezing rapids – the floor is a glass window – and my feet begin to twitch.
“Good spirit, you’ve got to get into the moment of anticipation,” the Indian applauds. He’s mistaken my involuntary dancing for enthusiasm. Throwing his head back, he also starts to tap around. “This is my fourth jump, what about you guys?” The British girl, I’m quite sure, is now crying. Woolen mittens hide her eyes but not the sound of upset sniffles.
Neither am I, I worry. “An Adult’s Playground,” the travel companies call New Zealand. For every quaint café featuring scones with locally-made fruit jams, there are thirty more outdoor opportunities to push the inner wimp. Trek up a glacier, body surf the rapids, snorkel with dolphins. Of all the physical challenges I’ve agreed to, none haunt me like this. I’m torn between admiration for the pioneering, hardy Kiwis who settled these parts; and, not for the first time, begrudging annoyance for their apparent lack of doubt or fear.
More than that, I’m aggravated by myself and Kelli. Is an “I survived!” bungy t-shirt any more proof (than a Queenstown postcard) of where we’ve been?
At this moment, when the AJ Hackett crewmember with the neck tattoo invites “Who’s first?,” I feel liberated by a decision to give up. Ignore the see-through floor and remove my harness with the maturity of someone who understands her limitations.
But then Kelli raises her hand. “Take a leap of faith tonight,” she hums to me, quoting the lyrics of Midnight Youth, a popular Kiwi band. This is the place that never sleeps, where your dreams are brought to life….
It all slips away from me like melted butter: Kelli’s ankles are strapped into red cords and linked to the bungy; she’s distracted by casual questions from the crew, chatting amicably about our two-month trip; smiling boldly and suddenly disappearing over the ravine.
If she offers words of advice, I’m not listening. My heart is frozen, my legs turned into licorice sticks as I’m seated and ankle-sheathed. No light-hearted conversation, just positive reinforcements from the crew. “Stand up? You won’t regret it – move forward please – there we are. Ready to go?”
New Zealand’s South Island, even under dismal clouds, is stunning. Its clash of snowy peaks and golden hills a welcome distraction from the scene underneath me.
“Take a deep breath, you’ll be right.” A crewman has his hand on my spine, preventing me from shuffling backward. For the last time, I observe my feet. Mere centimeters separate white rubber soles from the open abyss.
It’s impossible. I can’t do it.
Or can I? A leap of faith – is that not the placement of your belief over the clatter of your distrust? Willingly choosing to step beyond daily boundaries for places yet unknown? Travel, in all its entirety?
Maybe it’s just the 8.5 second ground rush of a hysterical American tourist shrieking “Sh******” as she releases herself into the blustery effects of gravity for the first time.
Independent of weight or direction, arms hanging like tentacles and bladder bursting, my freedom is a choice. Nothing to hold me back but a length of elastic.
About the Author: Kelli Mutchler left a small, Midwest American town to prove that Yanks can, and do, chose alternative lifestyles. On the road for six years now, Kelli has tried news reporting and waitressing, bungy jumping and English teaching. After recently working with Burmese refugees in Thailand, she hopes to pursue a MA in Global Development. Opportunities and scenes for international travel are encouraged on her blog, Too Much for Words.