Royal Gorge Bridge, Cañon City, Colorado
October 6 - 7, 2005
Not so many years ago, I had a fear (anxiety?) of heights. In an effort to cure myself, I tried the confront-your-fear approach. My first "treatment" was bungy jumping. Las Vegas had a bungy jumping platform that rose a towering 170 feet off the ground. I still remember the terror of putting my toes over the edge of the platform - and the thrill after I had jumped. Since then, I've jumped a second time, and tried other stuff as well (e.g., sky diving, rock climbing). I declared my fear of heights cured. Bungy jumping was now fun.
In September of this year, I planned to make my third jump in Las Vegas. Alas, AJ Hackett (the owners) had sold the real estate and closed shop. However, as luck would have it, they were arranging something very special. In their words:
"AJ Hackett Bungy, in conjunction with Go Fast Sports, will be jumping from the Royal Gorge Bridge in Canon City, Colorado from October 7-10, 2005. It will be a once in a lifetime experience as you jump from 1053 feet over the roaring Arkansas River!"
In the past, two people (one of them AJ Hackett) had jumped off this bridge - the highest jump ever*. However, this would be the bridge's first commercial bungy jump. Being careful not to spend any time actually thinking about it, I signed up.
(*From a fixed platform, that is. Even crazier people have made higher jumps from helicopters. But then, if you jump from a helicopter you don't get as close to the earth, and miss the ground rush.)
I arrived the afternoon before jumping began, and filled out the paperwork - basically a document that I had to sign and initial about forty seven million times, stating that I couldn't sue, wouldn't sue, wouldn't even think about suing - and if I did sue I wouldn't sue for much. Then they videotaped me saying pretty much the same thing.
This earned me my Bungy Athlete Pass to the Go Fast Games of 2005. This was the third year that the Go Fast Games had been held at the Royal Gorge Bridge. They feature BASE jumpers (Building, Antennae, Span [Bridge], Earth - folks who jump off of things with a single parachute, and hope it opens before they hit the ground). This year, bungy jumping was added.
I was scheduled to jump the first day - Friday. I was to arrive at 10 am, with the understanding that jumping might not start then, but would begin shortly thereafter. I arrived a few minutes early, and got a good look at The Royal Gorge Bridge.
Those wooden planks rattle when a car or truck rolls over them - and you can see straight down between the cracks.
The view down. That little red dot (lower center) is one of three rescue rafts. Below it (very low center, in the shade), the even smaller white dot is an emergency vehicle.
Another view, a little farther down stream:
At this point I realized I had not entirely lost my fear of heights! "Why do I get myself into these situations?"
AJ Hackett is good at many things (see below), but good organizers and good communicators they are not. When I arrived at 10 am they were no where near ready. We would be told that things would start to happen in 10 minutes, or 15 minutes...over and over again. Three hours later we would hear the same thing. Four hours later we would hear the same thing. All this time we would-be jumpers were getting more and more nervous - a combination of anxiety about the jump, and anxiety that the jump would never occur. It was one of the longer days of my life! I kept telling myself that I would never do anything like this again, all the while worrying that I might not get to do it at all.
At last, some progress. Around 4 pm or so, the first test was announced. What looked like about 200 pounds of weights were attached to bungy cords, and would be pushed off the bungy platform.
Once the weights were pushed over the edge, it got very quiet as they plummeted earthward. They fell for a long time. From over a thousand feet up, it looked as if the weights were going to crash into the ground. They didn't. Success!
This would eventually lead to two test jumps by AJ Hackett crew, also successful. After them, the next jumper was a young newspaper guy. He had never jumped before - pretty gutsy - but he did great.At last, it was time for us regular folks. First off: a 79 year old gentlemen who had been jumping for a few years, and who seemed as cool as could be. So much for my idea that I might be either the least experienced jumper or the oldest jumper.
Finally, my turn. To their credit, the AJ Hackett crew spent a lot of time checking, double checking, and triple checking my harnesses and connections. It appeared that there was a fair amount of redundancy in the setup. At this point, I was also connected to the bridge by a safety line; I couldn't fall if I tried. The crew spent time making sure I understood what I needed to do; it's a little more complex jumping from over a thousand feet than from a mere 170 feet in Las Vegas.
My jump ticket. Jump information was written inside. Hackett's motto is "Never jump without a rubber."
The scariest part is right before the jump, when one needs to get one's feet to the very edge of the platform. Those last few inches feel like a mile. Then...5...4...3...2...1...jump! This part was great!!! At first, there was a feeling of falling, but very quickly I reached terminal velocity of about 110 mph. After that, it felt like floating - just wonderful.
Eventually, the bungy cord started to slow me down. Since the primary harness was around my ankles, I quickly assumed an upside down position. AJ Hackett does a good job of designing their cords, so that the process wasn't jerky at all. Nonetheless, the G force felt pretty high, and blood rushed to my head with a vengeance - nothing terrible, but quite an experience. I had just fallen between 800 and 900 feet. I think that less than ten seconds had elapsed since I jumped, but I was so full of adrenaline that time seemed to have stretched out for much longer than that.
With bungy jumping, whatever goes down must come up. In this case, I rebounded upwards for about 400 feet. The next fall was gentler, and after that the oscillations pretty quickly died down. The rest of the process was uneventful, and I made it to the bottom in one piece - but what a rush! At this point, I was ready to go right back up and do it again; too bad they didn't offer seconds.
►►► Click here for a short video of the jump - sorry about the poor quality.
Bridge height above ground: 1,053 feet.
Type of bridge: suspension (1,260 feet long, 18 feet wide; roadway made of wooden planks; it sways a bit in the wind).
Length of bungy jump: 800 to 900 feet; first rebound 400 feet back up.
Prior jumps from the bridge: David Kirke in 1980 (800 foot jump); AJ Hackett in 2000 (1004 foot jump).
Maximum speed: 110 mph.
Youngest jumper: not sure; one person was 22.
Oldest jumper: 79.
Heaviest jumper: I met one person who was 265 pounds.
Least experienced jumper: newspaper man jumped for the first time.
Most experienced jumper (excluding the crew from Hackett): not sure; one person had 157 prior jumps.
Origin of jumpers: France, Spain, England, all over the United States, who knows where else!
Why I Like AJ Hackett
The first time I jumped, I was impressed with the gentleness of the jump - no sudden jerks, just a gradual slowdown in speed. Hackett, along with some other commercial enterprises, uses a handmade bungy cord that produces a slow decrease in speed. I talked to a couple of other jumpers who had less happy experiences with other outfits that used a different type of cord, resulting in a much harder, painful jerk at the bottom.
Hackett also has a reputation for safety. They claim that, in two million jumps, they've never had a client fatality. From my limited experience, they seem to be very concerned with safety, and very serious about their job.
For this jump, they spent a lot of time checking things out before dropping a set of test weights from the platform. Once satisfied, two test jumpers from AJ Hackett jumped. Only then did they allow clients to jump.They were also extremely careful about each person's weight. First, they asked me what I thought I weighed. Next, they weighed me. They wrote down my weight in a notebook, and also wrote it on my hand with magic marker. Right before the jump, they would again ask me what was my weight, then consult their book, then look at my hand. Their policy of care continued right up to the jump. Every connection was inspected by at least one other person, and AJ Hackett himself gave the final OK on everything I noticed.