22.10.2011 - 23.10.2011 28 °F
JUMP DAY! Saturday morning Allie and I hesitantly got up and prepared for the big day. It was a 1 hour train ride from Bern to Interlaken. Once in Interlaken we found our hostel and tried to mentally prepare for the adventure we had ahead of us. The company we jumped had its main office right next door to our hostel, but of course we were late (our 20 minute nap and stretch session turned into an hour). They drove us up towards Stockhorn (practically the center of Switzerland) where we bordered a gondola that took us up to the top of the mountain. When I thought we were already at the top of the world, I saw that we pulled into a different cabin where the second gondola would take us to the jump spot. Before loading us up for the jump, they took each of our weights and strapped on our gear. The only thing attaching me to the rope was padding around our ankles that attached to a harness around our hips! Of course, Allie and I were the only stupid Americans there who didn’t bring ski jackets and snow shoes, so were standing there in a sweater and slip on shoes. There were about 20 of us who signed up to jump, so we piled into the gondola and rode over the belly of the mountain from which our jump was to take place.
From the top of the gondola, we had views of the entire Swiss Alps, including Jungfrau (the tallest mountain in Europe) and Matterhorn (another tall one, but famous for being a ride in Disneyland). It was without question, the most beautiful view I have ever seen in the world. Being surrounded by white topped mountains stacked on top of each other. For a moment the earth stood still and silence overwhelmed the gondola. I wish I had brought my camera with me just to capture the moment. Except of course my heart was pounding out of my chest and I could feel the viscous adrenaline begin to flow through my body. The gondola descended back towards the lake and stopped midway through just above the center of the deep blue sea beneath us.
The guys start blasting music to help pump us up and keep that adrenaline flowing and swing open the gondola doors. Down below a man is in a teeny row boat, ready to paddle in the direction of the first victim. They begin strapping up the first guy to jump. Attached to our ankles are these heavy, red padded straps that cover almost my entire calf. Around our hips and back is a second harness that will attach to the cord in case the ankle straps become loose towards the end. When strapped to the cord, your ankles become joined by a 2 foot cord and this cord is attached to the harness at your hips. It doesn’t sound like a lot of security, but trust me, it was.
Allie was one of the first people to jump. I kinda hoped to go before her because I didn’t want to see her panic, but I was glad no one seemed to be having second thoughts. I watched as everyone else went before me. Out of the maybe 20 people packed in the gondola, I was the 3rd last to jump. When my jump came, however...
(those of you who don’t want to hear about Bungee Jump mishaps probably shouldn’t read on.. but its still an interesting story)
I stepped forward when the guy instructed me to. He took one look at me and then realized there was obviously a big mistake. Before loading into the second gondola, each of us were weighed and placed into a colored weight category. Your weight was then written on your palm in the color that corresponds with the weight category (red being the heaviest, yellow as the middle weight, and green as the skinniest little Swiss girls possible). I didn’t know this however, so when the guy wrote my weight down in a green marker, I didn’t think anything of it. I did realize this was a mistake when up in the gondola and the man setting up my jump is swearing in German to his coworker and pulling out charts and a calculator. I didn’t hear or understand much of what they’re saying to each other because I’m listing in my head all the dates of bungee accidents and replaying all the YouTube videos I (stupidly) watched the day before coming on this trip. I did hear him say that I should have jumped on a 2.5 meter cord and they were about to send me out on a 5 meter cord. I shook my head and my body and said: “Just give me my money back, I won’t say anything, we can just pretend I chickened out... 5 meters is 2 and a half meters longer than I should have gotten... I don’t wana die... I don’t wana jump.. 2 and a half meters stretches to (pause) a lot more than 2 and a half meters... I don’t wana die.. I don’t wana jump!” The photographer was a really sweet Australian woman who tried to console me (even though she kept taking pictures of me bursting into tears and my white knuckles gripping the safety bar). They tried to tell me that I would be fine, but I would hit the water and have to be prepared. My next muttered phrases were: “I don’t wana hit the water.. I don’t wana die.. I don’t wana jump! I can’t hit the water... the waters too cold.. frozen water.. I don’t wana die.” Maybe I was being a little melodramatic, but I wanted to make sure my fears were expressed.
When other people jumped, they were instructed to do a light leap out of the gondola. This is so that they could pick up a little air, get a great photograph of them jumping, gracefully coast through the air, have a soft landing, then rebound for an awesome photo. With me, they wanted me to make a BIG LEAP. A big leap is usually discouraged because it causes the jumper to create too much momentum in the jump and swing the body too far forward, commonly resulting in mild whip lash. With me however, they wanted me to make a bigger leap so that I could pick up that momentum and swing my body and the rope away from the water. How do I do this? Take 4 running steps and hurl my body upwards and out of the gondola. Sounds easy right? Not when the ankle weights weight a good 10 lbs each and you have a 15” cord connecting your ankles (plus the 5 meter long cord that’s been tossed out of the gondola and will soon drag you to your death). I did my little "left, right, left right, run, jump, leap, swing body, you are as light as a bird and birds can fly.. you will not fly out of this gondola and into safety..” or so I had hoped.
The jump itself was the most exhilarating feeling I think anyone can ever experience. My eyes locked with the sun setting over the snow tipped mountains and I almost forget that gravity will soon take its course. For what seemed like an hour, the scenery didn’t change and I seriously thought that I had somehow sprouted wings that were going to help me keep flight. Oh how quick this feeling left. Gravity decides you’ve pretended to be a bird long enough and drags your body down, quickly connecting the space between self and earth. For a fleeting second I forget I have a cord attached to my ankles and hips and I wonder if this is what suicide is supposed to feel like. The last half of the jump is the greatest blur. By the time my body was a couple hundred feet down, I lost all sign of daylight and all I could see was the dark grey mass of water. I wish I could say I prepared myself for the impact by peaking my arms above my head and closing my eyes, but I honestly didn’t know I had make contact with the lake until I was being pulled out and swallowing loads of crystallized water. Of course my initial reaction was to overreact. I yelled, I cussed, I screamed, I cried; but once I realized that I was okay and in no immediate pain, I took in the rest of the sights. Above me was the tiny speck of a red gondola, below me a sea of glistening water. I could hear the funny Swiss man in the boat beneath me trying to instruct me onto the landing pad. Up above I could hear the cable wire lowering me towards the boat. I was to reach out, find a long metal pole that I would use to pull my body towards the boat, grab the hand of the Swiss mountain man, and swing myself onto the launching pad. Once on the boat, I realized I was soaking wet head to hips and freezing cold.
Afterwards, we hiked for a good 20 minutes in the snow back to the second gondola spot where I was given my consolation price of men’s underwear, a t-shirt, and a hoodie. It when I was drying off that I noticed the swelling under my eye and the bright red patch of blood in my cornea. Luckily, one of the girls on the jump came with her mom, who happens to be a nurse at John Hopkins hospital back in the states. She looked at my eye, checked everything, and said I was okay. The swelling was just from the impact and the bleeding was a subconjunctival hemorrhage and would heal within a few weeks. After a few celebratory beers, we all piled back into the car and drove back to Interlaken.
Although Allie and I had planned on celebrating after our jump, neither of us felt like doing much but taking hot showers and curling up by the fireplace with hot toddy’s at the hostel. We had planned on staying a extra day in Interlaken, but realized we didn’t change our train tickets in time.
A few hours later, also known as the next morning, Allie and I packed in the dark and hiked the 30 minute walk to the train terminal to catch the 6:45am train from Interlaken to Berne (where our train was departing). The ride lasted just under an hour, giving us enough time to buy a few souvenirs in the Berne train station before catching the next train to Paris.
No matter how tired and tore up we looked, of course Allie and I meet some of the most interesting people. We met Chris because it was the first time in a while we heard a New Yorker accent and felt a little cry for home. Chris works in the LA music industry but was in Switzerland working with an alternative funk group (think de la soul meets Andree 3000?). He and I spent a good hour of the 4 hour train ride arguing over the future of dub step beats in pop and hip-hop (I think I argued my case better though). Then the three of us went on a hunt for the least noisy train car where we could spread out an nap. A few hours later, I’m woken by two women whose seat I was apparently sitting in. Lena and Jen got on the train in Dijon, France to head to Paris for a quick weekend trip. Lena is au pairing for a family in Dijon but her best friend Jen is visiting for a few weeks. Both girls met at Oregon State in Portland, but I later found out they grew up in Southern Oregon. What part of Southern Oregon? Well Ashland of course! We immediately bonded over having been bit by swans in Lithia Park, riding Honey the horse in big hippy farm of a preschool we all went to. And the icing on the cake, they both remember Theresa’s Cantina. After talking for a little over an hour, Lena tells me that her au pair contract ends in December and her family is looking for someone to fill the job in late January. The offer is still tempting me...