My Weight In Stone

Excerpt from my book, BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY.

“The scariest part isn’t the jump,” says Te, the Maori driver of the 4×4, as he turns into Skippers Canyon Road. He laughs maniacally, contorts his bulbous body back to us, and bares his teeth. “It’s the drive!”

Skippers Canyon Road is a dirt track with steep gradients and tight turns that Chinese laborers chiseled into the canyon walls during the gold rush. Below is the Shotover River. Te takes each curve with a rear-wheel drift. Tires kick rocks against wheel wells and into the canyon. We brace ourselves the best we can. Te guffaws as the 4×4 skids through a blind downhill turn. The outside rear wheel fishtails off the edge. Our hearts stop. We don’t want to die down there at the bottom of the canyon like so many Chinese laborers before us.

“You’ll thank me for driving like this,” he bellows. “It’ll make the jump easier.”

Some cackle, others bite their lips.

And just as we’re coming to grips with the fragility of life, the 4×4 grinds to a halt in a cloud of dust by an old pipeline suspension structure across the canyon. With a catwalk on top of the pipe. The second 4×4 plows into the gravel. Our eyes are fixed on the finger-thin cables. And on the flimsy catwalk. It moves.

Holding on to a cable that serves as the handrail of the heaving catwalk, we advance in single file. 340 feet below is the silver-green Shotover River. Above are bluffs, mountains, and glaciers. I hate heights and jumping off catwalks. The first guy stops. Everyone behind him stops. He clings to the cable with both hands.

“Go ahead,” he says, desperate smile on his pale face. He lets us get around him. Then he backtracks to firm land. Down to three guys and five girls.

One of the guys who work there ties a harness around the ankles of the first girl. Another guy instructs her. I’m not listening. I don’t want to hear it. Merely being on the catwalk is nerve-wracking. But I’m thinking. The numbers don’t jibe. Why are there three guys and five girls who want to do this? Why are there any girls who want to do this?

The girl plunges and screams. Holy baby Jesus, she’s fast. I can’t even follow her with my eyes. A tiny speck down there, hanging off the rubber band which—now that I’m looking at the end that’s tied to the suspension cable—is composed of hundreds of little beige rubber bands of the type you have in your junk drawer, only longer. Whoa! She’s coming back up! Why is there anybody who wants to do this?

“How many stone do you weigh?” the guy asks me while he straps my ankles together.

“Stone? You’ve got to be kidding.”

He isn’t. I tell him in pounds and kilograms. It doesn’t mean anything to him. Another girl plunges and screams. He gives me a once-over and says, “Eleven and a half stone.” Makes you wonder where these people have been for the last two thousand years. Then he selects a bungee cord based on my weight in stone.

“Scream on the way down,” the other guy says. “The sound effects are cool, and you’ll feel it better.”

“It?”

“Falling into the canyon.”

My ankles tied together, I inch to the edge of the jump-off platform jutting out from the catwalk into thin air. It doesn’t even have a handrail. The bungee cord linking my ankles to the catwalk loops into the canyon.

“Don’t get tangled up in it on the way down,” he says behind me. Kiwis can be extremely helpful at exactly the right moment.

I hate, hate, hate heights. And platforms jutting into thin air. I never thought 340 feet would be this far. I’m doing this to be with Ginger. She’s somewhere behind me, occupied with her own thoughts. Sounds are blotted out. My vision fails to provide useful information. I worry about getting tangled up in the bungee cord on the way down. I hate that guy. My brain freezes up. My heart races. If I were able to go back, I would, but my fine motor skills are shot, and backing off the narrow heaving platform without handrails, ankles tied together, isn’t feasible. I see only one solution—and if I die, so be it.

I power-dive forward to accomplish a neat horizontal position to impress Ginger, but the weight of the bungee cord pulls my legs down. A weird voice echoes at me. Canyon walls fly by. The rushing air draws tears from my eyes. I pray that the bungee cord will hold. It tightens around my ankles, a relief. Blood rushes into my head. I pray that my eyes won’t pop out and that my legs won’t come loose and that I won’t hit the water too hard. I stop above the water, and for a moment I think it’s over, but then I’m yanked up. I pray that I won’t hit the pipeline from underneath and that I won’t get tangled up in its cables. I stop and fall again, yo-yoing until I dangle to and fro, the Shotover River above me, the pipeline underneath, and the sky at the very bottom.

Excerpt from my book, BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY.

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