By David Foster
Bungee master Casey A. Dale offered his customers a bargain Sunday.
For only $99 they could leap off a 140 story bridge spanning the shallow Trinity River not twice but three times.
Most took him up on the offer. And as cash exchanged hands a clipboard was circulated with a form for all inductees into the Dangerous Sports Club to sign.
The form says "that basically you're crazy and stupid for doing this thing," Dale explained.
What the form really says is that Dale and his company, Oregon Bungee Masters, are not responsible for injuries sustained in a bungee jump.
And the form is explicit about what those injuries might be: rope burns, rope slaps, sudden jerky motions and death.
One woman in the group asked Dale whether bungee jumping is legal. He said no.
On the brighter side, Dale told his customers that what they would get for sure from their jump was a free membership in the Dangerous Sports Club. They also received a diploma that certified them as bungee masters, a T-shirt and a bumper sticker.
Dale offered a full refund to anyone who didn't like the tradeoff. There were no takers.
Sitting on a boulder Sunday in a rest stop on Highway 299 a mile or two outside of Salyer, Dale gave a short history of himself and the sport of bungee jumping.
Bungee jumping began about 1,500 years ago on the islands off New Zealand as a rite of passage for young boys entering manhood.
According to legend, however, a woman made the first bungee jump. While fleeing her irate husband, the woman climbed a banyan tree, tied a vine around one of her ankles and dove off a cliff.
Then in 1970 a group of thrill-seeking men in Oxford, England, formed the Dangerous Sports Club. Bungee jumping was a popular pastime.
"They would dress in tuxedos, drink champagne and dive off the highest places they could find," Dale said.
The club expanded into North America, and in 1988 men in Palo Alto started the first commercial bungee organization. Dale said he started his company about 1 1/2 years ago in Eugene, Ore.
Dale holds a psychology degree and is a former counselor of juvenile offenders. He ran the youths through outdoors programs designed to build character - or if nothing else at least give them a good thrill.
When the history lesson was over, Dale launched into the rules of bungee jumping, or more specifically, the rules for observers. And the first rule is no coercion. If someone has second thoughts, he said, let them bow out gracefully.
"When you step up on that platform it becomes geometric," Dale said. "This is a time when you cut each other a little slack."
For Dale, bungee jumping is more than a cheap, or in this case not-so-cheap, thrill.
He sees it as an opportunity for personal growth, a chance for people to confront and overcome one of the greatest fears of the human race: the fear of falling, so powerful that it is a common nightmare.
"I really feel like I'm selling empowerment," he said.
Dale assured his customers, who may have found the mention of death in the release form a little unsettling, that bungee jumping is a safe experience as well.
Jumpers wear chest and pelvic harnesses, both standard mountain-climbing gear. The bungee is hooked with a metal link to the harnesses just above the navel, like a giant umbilical cord.
Most bungee-related injuries are caused by the cord slapping against the body, especially the face, which can split lips, bloody noses and blacken eyes, Dale said.
To cut the risk of these injuries Dale strongly urged that jumpers wear hockey helmets with face cages, which he supplied. All but one of his customers did.
Dale said he knows of only five deaths from bungee jumping. Three were from heart attacks. And the others were from reverse bungee jumps, which involves a crane and works like a slingshot. Two jumpers hit the cranes.
The bungee cords can sustain 1,500 pounds of stress. Dale uses four of them bound together.
"We back up our back-up system back up, that's why we can jump and live to tell about it," he said.
Dale walked his customers through strapping on the harnesses. He encouraged the men especially to be sure the straps on the pelvic harnesses were secured in the right place.
"If it's not where it should be now the Vienna Boys Choir is looking for you," he said.
Then he ran them through their three jumping options, and had them practice on the curb. First there was the swan dive. Dale said this is his personal favorite.
The second is the elevator to hell, a straight jump backward off the bridge. "Three-point-four seconds later your stomach will catch up with you," Dale said.
And finally there is the Lipton Ice Tea plunge: just lean back until gravity takes over.
When the drill was over Dale led the pack to the launching pad. He had reserved the first jump for himself - just to break the ice.
A veteran of many bungee jumps, as he climbed onto the concrete bridge rail Dale was visibly shaken.
"No matter what people say this sh-- doesn't get any easier," he said. "If you're not scared you're either lying or not part of the human gene pool anymore."
Dale started his countdown and the crowed chimed in: "5, 4, 3, 2, 1." He leaped into a graceful swan dive head up, arms outstretched. Fifty feet down the bungee began to stretch and after another 50 feet it whipped him back up about 80 feet.
He bounced up and down a few times and let out a primal holler: a mixture of excitement and relief. His customers answered with applause. They were relieved too.