By Tony Overman
The thought of dying had rarely entered my mind.
Oh sure, there was that time I nearly tore my face off in a three-wheeler accident. Or that frightened Rottweiler that went for my head but managed to only pierce my earlobe.
Each time, the fear of death entered my head only for a brief moment, quickly replaced by the realization that I was still alive, albeit somewhat bloodied.
But this bungee-jumping stuff was quite different. I had way too much time to think.
Keep in mind I'm the guy who voluntarily climbed a 115-foot television tower to shoot a picture of someone working on top. And the guy who hung precariously from the scaffolding of Whitespires Church to get a less-than-boring construction shot. And the guy who leaned halfway out an airplane door at 10,000 feet to get that special shot of a skydiver taking flight.
In each of those cases, the worst-case scenario was accidentally falling from my perch.
But there I was standing on the side of a bridge 100-feet above the Rogue River about to intentionally hurl myself head-first toward the chilly water.
Way too much time to think, indeed.
I thought back to the day our sports reporter approached me with an offer to go bungee jumping for a recreation page story. He wanted the story, but he wasn't about to take a leap. I jumped at the chance.
Jump-master Casey Dale of Ashland and the 17 other thrill-seekers with me on the bridge tried to convince me that this "leap of faith" wasn't going to kill me.
I was connected to four very large bungee cords, each by itself capable of stopping me before I smacked the water. And the bungees only recoil 80 percent, so I wouldn't be hitting the bottom of the bridge on my way back up.
All that was left to do was start the countdown and get on my way.
I'd had two weeks to think about the leap, but as I stood on the platform looking down at what seemed like a bottomless nothing, I had to ask myself once again . . . why?
"After you jump, the sky is a little bluer and the grass is a little greener," said Wayne Bumgarner, a 43-year-old finance director from Portland with a fear of heights. Earlier in the day, Bumgarner paced back and forth across the bridge for nearly half an hour before making two jumps. If he could do it, certainly I could, too.
"I've never been so scared of anything that much in my life," said Tom McGuirk of Eugene. "I feel like I'm now defining the limits of my own ability. I've gained some control of my fears."
Armed with the knowledge of safety and the promise of newfound introspection, I started the countdown.
"FIVE!" (Should I have said that, I thought) . . . "FOUR!" (The others started counting along) . . . "THREE!" (I'm not really doing this) . . . "TWO!" (Bend your legs and get ready to leap) . . . "ONE!" (Close my eyes, scream and swan dive headfirst off the bridge).
About two seconds later I came to a smooth stop at the bottom of the bungee cords. They tell me that my legs hit the water, but I really don't remember it. I was too busy regaining my senses. I still hadn't stopped screaming, but now it was in jubilation. I survived!
After lowering me a rope and the rest of the group helping to pull me up, I jumped again. I returned the second time with an exuberance I had never had over anything I had done before. After two more jumpers, we packed the equipment and headed home.
The drive back was long. I was exhausted. I was happy. I was alive.
I wanted to do it again.