Ashley and I locked elbows in a silent motion of solidarity amidst a small crowd of adrenaline-seekers chattering in languages we didn’t understand. Shoulder to shoulder, chest to chest in the small gondola, my eyes had nowhere to go but down at my shoes, staring intently, as if the navy blue fabric covering my toes had sent me into a hypnotic trance. I was definitely in a trance– but it couldn’t have been from my shoes. Twenty-four hours ago I was sitting in my French language class at the Sorbonne in Paris, daydreaming of croissants and tartes des pommes. Somehow, my mind went from pastries to death-defying adventures, and I had tricked myself into thinking that the only possible way I could spend my weekend was by hopping on the next train to Switzerland and bungee jumping out of a gondola.
I was retracing my thought process on how I ended up here, in a crowded gondola in Interlaken, Switzerland, the world’s top spot for adventure sports, when my friend and sole partner in this adventure, Ashley, squeezed my arm. I jolted out of my hypnosis just in time to catch a glimpse of the Matterhorn peeking out from behind a snowy landscape of mountains in the distance. As our small red box made it’s ascent up our mountain, a painted black bear waved at us from it’s post on a yellow and red flag, an emblem of Swiss heritage hanging from the side of the tiny gondola.
The guides, three enthusiastically rugged men decorated in beards and beanies, began explaining the procedure for our jump– in German. Speaking in a tongue I couldn’t understand, they held up buckles and straps and spoke slowly, for this was important information. Information, I assumed, that would lend to my chances of survival on this 450 ft. jump. I waited patiently. “Okay, so, anee-body speaks English?” Ashley and I shot our arms in the air, with embarrassed, but eager smiles. We were ready to learn. I wanted to be prepared. “Okay, good luck!” The tallest guide opened his mouth in a burst of self-propogated laughter. The rest of the gondola’s occupants followed suit, as did Ashley and I. What a comic; with a polite chuckle I resisted rolling my eyes and waited for his English instructions.
But the English instructions never came. Within seconds of the joke’s diffusion, the guides tossed around colored harnesses and began readying the elastic cords– our lifelines in this little venture. I shot a look of confused panic at Ashley as she got pushed to the back; she shrugged with nonchalance, but her widened eyes gave her fear away. Heart-pumping music reverberated through the gondola and pierced through my panic. I froze. What the hell is happening? Why did I never learn German? Is this it? Did I just pay 175 francs to leap to my death? I could have bought so many chocolate bars with that money! If only I had learned German, I might survive this. Did I even put this harness on correctly? I was jostled out of my trance once again as the guide lifted the rope barrier and nudged me to the door, now wide open, revealing an alpine canvas so breathtaking that I forgot, for a second, about my imminent free-fall. The guide, chuckling at my stupefied face, mumbled to himself in German as he checked the velcro on my ankle straps and snapped a carabiner across my chest.
I was two steps from the edge. I took one step and my arms instinctively grabbed the door frame as my pigtails swung forward. I peered at the ink-black lake far below, where a tiny rowboat was waiting to retrieve my body, dead or alive. If only I knew German…
“DREI! ZWEI! EINS! BUNGEEEE!”
Face first, I tumbled out of the gondola. Falling, icy air stinging my face, I lost sight of my body. I was free. I was alive. I felt alive. The elastic rope stretched just before I could dip my fingertips into the lake and rubber-banded me gently back toward the sky.
Spinning, giddy, weightless; I looked up. The lavender sky, the red box still suspended on cables, my elastic lifeline, my wiggling toes. My right foot was bare, no longer covered in blue fabric. My shoe had been thrown off in the fall, and I had been thrown out of my trance. I threw my arms out and my mouth dropped into a wide smile emulated by a victorious shout. I was happy. Up above, the gondola responded with a series of cheers from inside. Below me, the rowboat responded with applause. It turns out, happiness is a sentiment understood in any language.
Ashley and I both returned to Paris with pockets full of Swiss chocolate and heads full of memories. It was a weekend that we wouldn’t soon forget, and adventure we wouldn’t soon repeat: next time, I’m bringing a German dictionary and an extra pair of shoes.
-The Wandering Alliegator