Falling Down

Why do people do the strange things they do? Why do men want to defy death? What is it that makes a man decide to plunge head-first from a cage located 130 feet in the air with only a mutant rubber band to keep him from hitting the ground?

These questions, along with “What, am I nuts?” were running through my mind as I drove the dusty, winding road off of Camino Del Norte to the canyon that Bungee Fever, Inc. now calls home. I had somehow been roped into taking the plunge so I could write a first-person story about it for Community News Network. I guess maybe I have stepped on too many toes with my column — now they want me to bungee jump!

But really, there’s no reason at all to fear bungee jumping. Since the company set up shop in Lake Elsinore on July 13, they have done more than 1,600 jumps, according to Rich Schurfeld, a large, strapping man with enormous calves and a million bungee-related one-liners. Furthermore, he said, not one of those jumps has resulted in injury or death — “not even a hangnail,” he said. I pointed out that the odds of the jumpers’ survival were getting worse and worse then, because the law of averages dictates that eventually, something would have to go wrong.

There were five other jumpers there: a young, spritely woman, a middle-aged man, and three very young men, not much older than I. One of the young fellows had gotten for his birthday a gift certificate for one bungee jump. If it’s the thought that counts, his family must not like him much.

We were all led into the office, where we had to sign a million releases and waivers. I didn’t have time to take complete notes as to what the release form said, but I can paraphrase it: “I (Eric D. Snider) am fully aware that bungee jumping is a very dangerous and, well, stupid thing to do, and I realize that it may well result in injury or, yes, even death, and I must be a complete moron to even try it, and if I should get hurt or, yes, even killed, it’s my own fault for volunteering to do it in the first place, and I certainly won’t sue Bungee Fever, Inc., nor will I hire large, burly men to go beat up its owners.”

After filling out the forms, Rich the Humorous Bungee Person weighed me. I happened to weigh 134 (which is just perfect for a teenage male of about 5’10” and has the strength of ten men), but I asked Rich what the maximum weight is. He said the limit is 270 pounds, which is about the weight of a fully mature moose.

The other people jumped before I did. As I waited my turn, one of my friends asked if I was nervous. I said I wasn’t yet, but that I’d let him know as soon as I was.

A bungee-related employee came up to me and started attaching what he said were “aircraft buckles” to my ankles. He explained what I would have to do: face forward, toes straight out, and when Derek the Jumpmaster says, “Three, two, one, bungee!” jump out. “Do not hesitate,” he said. I didn’t ask, but I assumed that if I hesitated, Derek the Jumpmaster would push me.

By the time I had the aircraft shackles affixed to my ankles, it was my turn. They attached the bungee cord to the shackles, and attached the other end to the cage. I waved goodbye to my mother and hopped in the cage with Derek. He motioned to the crane operator, who promptly began lifting the cage up to its 130-foot resting place.

On the way up, Derek explained again what I would have to do, including the “do not hesitate” part. But I wasn’t listening very closely, having already heard Rich say it didn’t require any effort anyway. Besides which, I was busy thinking about other things. Like the fact that I had driven my family there in my car, and I had the only key, and if I wound up in the 16-foot man-made lake at the bottom, how were they going to get home?

We had reached the top of our climb. Derek opened the cage door and repeated the instructions (especially “do not hesitate”). I yelled to my friends that I was, at this point, nervous. Derek said, in a very authoritative manner, “Three, two, one, BUNGEE!” Not wishing to disobey, I did not hesitate. I just leaned out. Immediately thereafter, that darned gravity took effect.

I had attached my tape recorder to my chest via duct tape so I could record my thoughts as I fell. My thoughts were, and I quote, “AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” Not very profound, I’ll admit, but it came straight from the heart.

I bounced perhaps 400 million times, and then they lowered the cage back down to the ground. Except for all eight pints of my blood having been relocated to my head, I felt fine. There had been no jerking, no abrupt movement, no motion sickness. Just falling.

I would highly recommend bungee jumping to anyone who has $79 lying around or who is assigned to do so by his newspaper. It is truly an incredibly experience, one that can be compared to no other. And no one ever gets killed!

I think I learned the answers to my questions. In my case, people try to defy death and do ludicrous things simply because they have to. At least I had to. I was assigned by my editor to do it.

As for those other five people, well, they just must be nuts.

Gonzo journalism at its finest: Hunter S. Thompson would be proud. This was a big story for me, as it was not an "On the Light Side" column, but was instead featured on the front page of the paper's features section. We had a photographer take pictures, and someone else did cartoon illustrations. It was quite an event.

The bungee company had indeed rolled into town and set up shop, and everyone was talking about it. Bear in mind that this was in 1991, before every miniature golf place and "family fun center" had their own bungee jumping facilities, so it was still a novelty.

One of the requirements to jump was that you had to be 18. I did it about two weeks before my 18th birthday, and sort of didn't exactly tell the truth on my waiver forms. I felt really, really bad about it, especially after I got to jump for free, and even more especially after the newspaper paid me for it.