Nick Varney

Nick Varney

Unhinged Alaska: Would I do it again?

I ran across some 20-some year-old journal notes rambling on about a 268-foot dive I took

I was flipping through old notes and pictures last weekend when I ran across some 20-some year-old journal notes rambling on about a 268-foot dive I took back when the common-sense side of by brain was dramatically undeveloped.

The first set of pictures showed Jane and I set up in a caravan park in Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand.

The area was overrun with head cases launching themselves off cliffs while attached to parasails hoping crosswinds wouldn’t spiral them into the frigid waters of Lake Wakatipu.

I wasn’t into the probability of inadvertently neutering myself by plunging into waters a couple of degrees above the cryonics stage, so we wandered into the town’s tourist-adventure section.

After a short perusal of the mayhem tendered, I selected something a bit tamer titled The Awesome Foursome that offered just a moderate graying of the temples. Jane chose a novel. Her common-sense cerebral section had fully matured.

The package included a hell-bent, near ground level, helicopter sprint over abrupt precipice drop-offs accompanied by maneuvers I hadn’t experienced since I was strapped into a door gunner’s position of a HH-53 chopper.

It turned out that particular life experience saved me the embarrassment of power hurling a breakfast burrito down the pilot’s neck. My fellow passengers, who were in their late teens and early twenties, weren’t nearly as seasoned and ended up resampling their meals which seemed to highly annoy our aviation host.

The flight finally landed on a mountain bluff where the only way down to the jet boats waiting along the river was to negotiate narrow trail or take a bungee plunge off an old spanner bridge.

The pack from the chopper opted for the jump site although a couple of the guys had developed a greenish pall as their girlfriends gave them a “Ya gotta be kidding me” stare.

I’ve always experienced weird feelings in sensitive orifices when I’ve stared into significant chasms. Those trepidations tripled and my orifices slammed shut as I teetered at the edge of a bridge plank trying to get pumped enough to plummet toward cataracts that, if the rubber ribbon snapped, my significantly rock-compacted torso would wash over a roaring waterfall to end up as digestible protein elements for various indigenous creatures cruising the pool below.

The jump crew had a little weigh-in scale and before we assumed the position of imminent demise, they adjusted the stretch bands according to our weights.

They set mine at “Armored Personnel Carrier” then wrapped towels around my ankles and secured them with something resembling a tow strap snapped onto the bungee cords.

I was then asked to stand and, once they were satisfied that my eyes hadn’t glazed over and that I wasn’t drooling like the two dudes who suddenly reconsidered the adventure and abandoned their ladies for the trail down, had me shuffle to the end of the plank.

The view has spectacular but my gaze kept coming back to the tiny-looking jet boats waiting for me in the abyss beneath the bridge.

The crew then asked me to wave to the camera, gave a countdown, and roared “Go for it!”

I powered off that plank like I was headed back to Christchurch instead of to the river rocks below. As the rapids neared, the crescendo of the cascades turned into a roar and I congratulated myself for making a prior-launch pit stop at the Porta Potties.

When I finally hit the end of the bungees, I was counting the pebbles on the river’s bed before being flung so far back up I could see the facial expressions on those waiting in line and spotted three more weenies on the “No ^&%$#*@ way trail to the river.

The rest persevered and jumped, although, on their way down, a few shrieked like Howler monkeys midst a prostrate exam.

I bounced around upside down for a while until they could position a jet boat in the rapids below me. Once set, they held up a retrieval rod that I seized while they reeled me in like an inverted barndoor halibut.

I ended up no worse for wear, an inch taller, and a deep respect for the quality of Kiwi bungees. The foursome was just half over.

The day’s final act included an extreme white-water jet boat ride including 360 bow brodies through narrow canyon cuts terminating with the challenge to navigate the remaining rapids via a guide, river raft and the panic paddling of pax without a clue. What a rush.

Would I do it again? Spot me a quadrans centennial of youth and you bet. But I think I’ll heed my doctor’s counsel. He solemnly advised that, at my age, he’s not sure they’d get all of my body parts returned when the bungee snapped back.

Nick can be reached at if he isn’t busy chasing down the rumors that eggs may soon be declared legal tender by the U.S. Treasury.

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