When did I become such a chicken again? I’m watching a human being hurtle down from the deck overhead, a slack elastic tied around rigid ankles. There’s a soundless snap as the cord fully extends and the person bounces once, twice, three times almost skimming the surface of the watery pool. A long scream is followed by silence, and then delirious laughter.
I’m at AJ Hackett bungee centre in Cairns, the far north Queensland paradise for backpackers keen to discover top Aussie sites such as the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest and, apparently, the art of the bungee jump.
A sense of curiosity niggles at me, but when I’m offered a free go, the no practically dives off my tongue.
The bungee has become almost a rite of passage for the young traveller. Maybe I’m just too old?
I search for signs of sagging and wrinkles fretfully in the mirror. But even though I find a few, I know that my apprehension has nothing to do with my age.
After all, its only been a few years since I set off to travel the world, with my only companion a hastily packed backpack.
I had put it off longer than most mainly because of a deep-rooted fear of the unknown – few people I knew in London had ever gone off on such an adventure. Holidays, yes, but roughing it backpacker-style, no. I had travelled extensively, but always with a companion and in a semi-decent hotel.
As a result, when the ominous approach of my 30th birthday combined with a dead-end job and an even deader relationship forced me to take the plunge, I couldn’t have been more scared. There’s something about stepping into the unknown that is inherently terrifying.
But fast forward the clock just one month, and I was drinking caipirinhas in Brazil with complete randoms, sleeping in the jungle, learning to surf, sand boarding and wakeboarding – all things that had previously been very much out of what I had believed was my comfort zone.
Somehow, I had become more confident and gutsy than ever before. And I loved it. If someone had offered me a free bungee jump back then, there’s no way I would have turned it down.
So why had I done so in Cairns?
Although that newly discovered sense of adventure had never seen me quite make it home, instead setting myself up in Sydney with a new life and new job, just settling back into a day-to-day routine can have the effect of washing away that travelling oomph. And, four years in, perhaps I have reverted to my overly-cautious ways again…
Failing to take up the challenge and dangle my body upside-down at the end of that twanging rope shook some of that daring and determination back into me. Grab each opportunity, seize the day, I told myself.
But, if I could turn the clock back and have my chance at climbing that towering platform all over again, would I take it?
The answer is, I’m not sure.
Having watched someone take the plunge in all its up-close glory, I have to say it didn’t look particularly fun or rewarding.
Give me challenges like climbing Mount Everest, or learning to scuba dive, or sailing around the world and I’m there. I don’t just want adrenaline, I want experiences – things I can remember rather than just flash before my eyes.
Or maybe I am just a chicken after all.