Featured Writer: Brent Milcz
Photos by Brandy Montgomery
On a random day at work, our boss, Dennis got an email from a local business advertising a locals appreciation day. He wasn’t interested in it himself I guess, but showed it to us. It just so happened that this business specialized in something on our unwritten list of must-dos in New Zealand, bungee jumping. A New Zealander invented bungee jumping and neither of us had ever tried it before, so what better time and place to give it a shot than here and now at half price? The only problem was that we had no means of getting there, and were supposed to work on the day of the special.
“Ah yeh, just take my truck,” said Dennis.
“Ok. Are you sure?” I said, having never before driven in a country where the lanes and rights of way are flipped.
“Oh sure, no worries,” he said, not realizing why I was unsure.
And with that, it was done. We’d borrow his SUV and head out to the jump site for an $89 bungee jump (on the clock, no less), and be back after lunch to get back to work.
Getting two birds stoned at once, I accomplished my goal of driving a car on the left side, and jumping off a bridge with a stretchy cord tied to my feet. Sweet.
Driving on the opposite side of the road–especially on the highway–is really hard on the nerves the first time. You have to consciously make sure that you’re on the correct side of the road at all times (easy if there are cars in front of you), and think a little extra when making any turns. It’s an odd feeling having to wait for traffic before making a right turn at an intersection, and vice versa with the left turns. Gauging the width of the lane also proved stressful in Dennis’s huge truck, and I was constantly worried that I was drifting onto the shoulder.
After ignoring a road sign to appease our Google Maps directions (don’t ever do that), we ended up on a dead-end road in a sheep paddock. Eventually we made it there after passing through the nearby military camp and Taihape (tie-happy), home of the giant gumboot (or Wellington, as they are also called). As I mentioned in a previous post, kiwis seem to love their monuments to the everyday object.
The drive was stunning at times as the road passed through dug out hills and tree-lined pastures straight out of a painting. We arrived and checked in to take the plunge at about 10am.
We were harnessed, registered, and weighed, before signing away our right to sue or have our family sue in the event of a disaster of some sort.
Before heading over to the bridge we had the chance to watch a few people scream hysterically as they put their lives in the hands of the friendly staff of Mokai Gravity Canyon.
“Any second thoughts?” I asked Brandy. She just gave me a look and kept walking toward the bridge. As we approached, a big banner hanging on the bridge read, “If you can’t jump, push yourself.”
True enough. As we’d soon find out, the staff sure as hell aren’t going to push you.
Brandy went first, as she was worried that she’d chicken out if she had the chance. I wasn’t going to let that happen, so I sat down and had a nice long think about what I was about to do while Brandy was hooked in to the bungee cord. In just a minute or two, she was on the end of a tiny little plank, waving at a bridge-mounted camera and processing just what 80 meters of free fall looks like.
“Three, two, one, bungeeeeeeee!” said the voice of the jump master–let’s call her Jane–and Brandy stiffened up. There was no bungee.
“Oh shi*,” I thought, as Brandy started to beg Jane to push her.
“Oh no, nope. I’m not going to push you, Brandy. You can do it!” said Jane, without conviction. Brandy was not going anywhere. She was shaking a lot, though, and for a minute I thought she might just shake herself off the plank (after all, consensually jumping is but one of many ways to get to the bottom).
“Three, two, one, BUNGEEEEEEE!” said Jane one more time, and Brandy was away.
Here you should recall the loudest, most terrified scream you’ve ever heard. Quadruple that, and you’ll get an idea of what everyone in a 10 mile radius of the canyon heard as Brandy plummeted toward the tiny stream below. I guess she ran out of breath after one scream and was not satisfied, so she did it three more times. She was then lowered down to a raft with another employee on it who pulled her down onto the boat and unhooked her.
Needless to say, this did little to calm my frayed nerves. I’ll say without embarrassment that my arms and legs were shaking as Jane and her co-worker turned to ask me if I was ready. With a ghost-faced nod, I inched my way up and put my feet at the start of the platform, the heavy rubber rope pulling at my ankles.
“Just wiggle your way up to the end there,” said Jane.
Sure, I thought, I can do that, but it’d be even quicker if I just grabbed the hand rails and swung my way to the end. Great idea in theory, but I nearly swung myself off the edge in a very dangerous fashion. The rope was already over the edge, and heavier than it looked.
“Whoa, don’t do that,” said Jane, “just shimmy to the edge.”
As I stood at the edge, I can honestly say that I didn’t have a thought going through my head. I made sure of it. Just clear, blank space, ready to do the only thing that you can do when you’re standing that close to the edge of a precipice with all eyes on you.
“Three, two, one, bungee!”
And off I went, doing my best to form a perfect dive. Instantly the reality of the situation hit me, but my reaction was the polar opposite to Brandy’s–complete silence. At least that’s what you would’ve heard if you were a bystander. I was actually making a long, low, astonished “Hoooohhhh,” sound to myself as I hurtled through complete, surreal silence in free-fall toward the paralyzing inches-deep stream below.
The free fall did not last long at all, and the reassuring tug of the bungee eased me back to reality as I reached the end of the cord and smoothly sprung back up.
“Grab my pole, dude,” said the guy on the raft below.
“Umm, whatever, ok.”
And in a minute I was down, chatting to Brandy and the bungee jumper-fisherman on the raft.
“Do many people react like that?” I asked, referring to Brandy’s blood-curdling screams.
“Nah, eh, not too much really. You start to miss it…” And he chuckled a bit with nostalgia, looking off into the distance, thinking about past screamers.
Moments later we were on a chairlift back to the top to grab a beer and check out our photos.
Just before we left, we saw Jane one more time. She confessed to us that Brandy’s scream scared the hell out of her, and that she she had been worried that her tremors were a seizure.
“And then you went, you didn’t make a sound.”
Well so what? I don’t care for the sound of my own voice.
The important thing is that we both jumped, and in the end “Brent Millz” and “Brandi Montgimrie” (fact: I dug through the garbage at midnight to fact-check these misspelled certificates) were certified bungee jump paying customers.