Tyler makes it look so easy, climbing over the guard-rail with a rakish grin on his face, peering down at the river far below, with a hint of nervousness glinting in his eyes. The twinge of apprehension manifests itself not as fear but as a raised eyebrow and a wide smile that says, "I'm doing something I'm not supposed to, and it's going to be even better than I thought!" (I've never captured the look, but it is something like this.)
Shooting me a mischievous smirk, he sucks in a heap of air, pinches his nose, and leaps off the twenty-something-foot-high bridge. Frozen in time for the briefest of moments, he hangs in the air, and then it's over—he lands in the water with a resounding splash and resurfaces seconds later, wet hair glinting in the sunlight, waving and grinning from the river far below.
Paddling to shore, he scrambles up the bank, passing a herd of loud high school kids who are entertaining themselves with beer pong and monopolizing the rope swing that brought us out here in the first place. As he makes his way back to me, leaving a trail of wet footprints behind him on the hot pavement, all I can think is "Shitshitshit!"
It's my turn.
Tyler is bemused at my nervousness, saying, "You biked around the world! Don't you realize what you're capable of?" Just because I leapt once nearly two years ago, off of something less than half this height, doesn't mean I'm cured of fear, eagerly leaping off anything without a care in the world! I tell him he should feel lucky I'm up here, willing to try this at all.
For me, many of the challenges on our trip were hard-won physical and mental battles. My bar has been raised substantially, but leaping off of high things? I'm not sure I'll ever be totally comfortable with it—or that I care to be.
It doesn't help that this place is crawling with drunken high school kids: obnoxious dude-bros with mirrored sunglasses, swimming trunks sinking far below their bellybuttons, with their wilty girlfriends in tow, dark and tan, skimpily clad in bikinis. They're heckling each other over by the rope swing, shouting obscenities at anyone who shows the slightest hesitation to jumping.
And so here I am, on this bridge, getting ready to jump, nervous as all get-out. Tyler has agreed to go with me, so our camera is now stowed safely in the car, and the keys are slipped away in a little pocket in his swim trunks. I hope to god they won't get lost upon impact. He gives me a pep talk as I lift one leg and then the other over the guardrail.
Leaning as far back as possible against the railing, I inch around carefully, turning to face the dizzying space below. I look at Tyler; he looks at me. We clasp hands, knitting our fingers together. And then we jump.
At first, I have that familiar feeling of jumping, as I've done countless times into lakes and pools. But then there's a new sensation, sandwiched in between the jump and the splash. It's the falling part, the vertiginous nothingness beneath my feet as I plummet through the air, never landing. My stomach flies into my chest, my mind chanting "oh shit oh shit oh shit", and still we fall.
Finally, my feet make contact with the water, and I'm home again, part of the earth. Relief and water wash over me, intermingled as I swim my way up to the surface with a smile. We did it!. Now, it's time for me to try it alone.
Crawling up the muddy riverbank, swim suits clinging to our bodies, we make our way back to the bridge. Tyler gets ready with the camera while I climb over the guardrail once more. It's even more terrifying than before, standing up here, so high above the river. I muster every ounce of courage within me, and try to still my mind.
Traffic whizzes behind me. A semi truck approaches from my right. When that truck reaches me, I think, that's when I'll go. Time stretches out like salt-water taffy as the vehicle nears, roaring and belching a black cloud of smoke from its exhaust pipe. The cab of the semi looms closer and closer, until finally it's precisely in line with me. I look at Tyler, we lock eyes for a split second, and I leap.