Early in 2013, I had been going through some stuff. My birthday was approaching and I needed to decide what I wanted to do. Always slightly afraid of the big roller coaster (named The Mindbender) at West Edmonton Mall and with a moderate fear of heights, what better time to face those two things?
So that was the plan. I would face my roller coaster and height fears at West Edmonton Mall on the same day. The Mindbender is the world’s largest indoor triple loop roller coaster, and reaches 5.5 G’s on a normal run. That’ll do it. The bungee jump was the world’s tallest indoor bungee jump, at 106′ or 11 stories. I say it was, because unbeknownst to me at the time the bungee was unfortunately closed a couple weeks later to make room for a new attraction. So this turned out to be literally my last chance to do both of these activities in the mall together.
So that’s the plan. Get some friends and family together to watch/participate, and we have something going here. I can write calmly about it now, but I was utterly terrified. Putting on a brave face for those I roped in (not literally), I was figuring out how to find the courage to face two fears in big ways in the same day. Heckling and trash talking ensued as well.
The day comes and I’m all set. There’s no backing out. I make sure to eat a sufficient amount of time before, as to not have too much food in my stomach or bowels (yes, I went there) at the time of either event. Sufficiently nourished and evacuated (sorry for that image), my dad and I strap into the Mindbender. I’m shaking, and to be honest I feel a bit tall for the coaster, so the shoulder restraints have me in a crunched position. At least I won’t be falling out.
We go around the coaster, and I have to say there was little to be afraid of. It’s a huge rush, and other than one well known accident has no real incidents, so safety wasn’t much of a concern. Not only that, but it was a great bonding moment. The thing about being a talk guy in the coaster is that it feels like you have to duck. Part of he experience, I suppose. There are moments of terror, but all in all the coaster is a great rush that you want to do over and over. I didn’t have much time to celebrate though, since I had the big leap coming. Most of my limbs were shaking thanks to the combination of adrenaline and fear of the events to come.
Now, the bungee jump had two options. Strap in by your ankles and go head first, or chest and waist and end up in a seated position. From the outset I decided the best bang for my buck was going head first. After all, anyone can jump bum first. In for a penny, in for a pound, right? The process of the jump takes a while. They do it at the top of the hour, so they take you in a bit beforehand and get you your harnesses and rid you of anything you don’t need (jewelry, etc.) So I put on my waist harness and ankle harnesses. It’s a bit like walking around with neoprene ankle weights, but they feel like a noose around your ankles. This is a good thing, as you’ll be thrusting yourself off the tower soon. The attendants also weigh you with your harness on. They write the number on the top of your hand like some kind of ID number.
What you don’t know before your first jump is that (at least at this bungee tower), because of the different bungee cords they use and the counterweight in the tower they go from heaviest jumper to lightest. At 175-ish pounds with my harness, I’m about second last. When you’re shaking from the nerves, second last is not my favorite place to be. One of my friends chickens out after a few attempts to go, and does the walk of shame down the tower. I’m also one of only two guys going head first in our time slot, and the second is the last guy. From the top of a 106′ tower, the water park below is pretty cool. It’s hard to take in the beauty, though, as you’re standing their waiting for the death leap.
I get up there and the tower attendants are beautiful young women. That helps, actually. So they tie my ankles together tightly and hook me to the cord. Double and triple checks and I step to the edge. They throw the cord over the edge. What they don’t tell lighter guys like myself is that the cord probably weighs about what I do and with both ankles tied together and my toes over the edge, it’s a good thing my hands are white-knuckling the railings when they toss it, because I can feel it trying to pull me off the edge.
So I smile for the camera poolside while the cord stops swinging. Smartly, this was as close I got to looking down before my jump. More on that in a second. Now the countdown, and I jump out from the tower as instructed.
Holy shit, I did it. Now I’m free falling. Head first. What’s below the bungee tower is the deep end of the wave pool, which is relativelycakm during jumps. When you haven’t looked down before the jump, what don’t realize is how close the bottom of the pool looks through the crystal clear water. Being an engineer, I also should have realized that the moment of maximum velocity on such a short jump is some split second just before the cord pulls you back. Or at least that’s how it feels.
So I’m falling, falling, and I clearly see the bottom of the pool at what looks like a very close distance while I’m speeding towards the ground. If you haven’t peed, I’m assuming this is the moment when it all comes out. The only thing through my mind (and probably out of my mouth) in that last second was “OH FUCK!!” as the bottom of the pool looks close enough to touch (thought I wasn’t that close to the water at all due to diving head first). The next thing you know, you’re being tossed back into the air thanks to the bungee cord. Wow, that was intense. Now you’re just bouncing around and this sensation is really cool. You don’t really have time to process where you are in space or if you’re travelling up, down, or sideways. You’re just being Superman, hanging out in space. It’s a lot of fun.
Once you stop bouncing, they lower you down and because you’re over the pool, they extend a guide line. Beforehand you’re instructed to grab the rope and pull yourself in, hand over hand. I’m a tough guy, that’s easy, right?!? Not so much whem you’ve just been thrust upside down for a couple minutes. All the blood is in your arms and pulling yourself in against the tension of the bungee cord feels about like pulling a Buick across the street with the emergency brake on. Not to mention you’re a bit disoriented.
Safely back at poolside, they take off the ankle noose and you’re free. Collect your belongings, empty your diaper, and you’re free to go.
I have to say that both adventures that day were two of the best things I’ve ever done. While it’s a bit of a slippery slope (as I want to do higher jumps and other “insane” activities), it’s very liberating to face your fears. You get this feeling of elation, and of knowing that if you can face something like that there’s not much you can’t power through.
Whatever your fear is, I truly believe that facing it will help you find your authentic and uninhibited self. This requires your full participation, but I promise if you accept what’s inhibiting you and face it head on, your life will change. The changes may not be obvious, but subtlely and eventually your outlook, decisions, and life will change if you let go of what scares you. In my case I literally dove in head first, but that’s not what it takes for everyone.
Face your fears, you won’t lose anything. But you might just find yourself.