Twin Falls, ID – Three men knelt on the sidewalk near my car parked near the Snake River Canyon. Two of them patted backpacks on the ground. I noticed a helmet, then extra straps. As one of the men pulled two straps up his legs to make a harness and slipped his arms into the backpack straps, curiosity killed this cat.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Jumping off the bridge,” one man said. “Wanna come?”
The younger of the two men, Jeremy, danced around at the tightness of his leg straps and Joshua, the guy without a pack, took his picture in front of the Evel Knievel memorial. Mr. Knievel attempted to jump the mile-wide canyon in a rocket motorcycle in 1974. The jump fell short and he landed by parachute in the bottom of the canyon. He lived. Walking with the men out onto the Perrine Memorial Bridge, I could, in just a few moments, see someone die.
“You ever seen this before?” asked the older of the two jumpers. (I realized later that I forgot to ask his name.)
“It’s BASE jumping….‘Building, Antennae, Span and Earth’. Where you from?”
“Most of the buildings there have been jumped off of…” (I hadn’t had coffee yet and my brain was still registering what these two men were about to do.) “…but most cities won’t let you jump off things. Twin Falls is one of the only places where they just let you jump off the bridge. People come from all over the world to jump off this.”
“How do you know the wind’s okay?” I pulled my hood on.
“See that flag down there?” he pointed to a very very tiny flag very very far down in the canyon. It hung limp in a grassy landing zone about one-by-three acres, maybe. “Not moving, we’re good.”
We reached the center of the bridge, 486 feet above the Snake River.
“Hey, I never noticed this,” Jeremy said, pointing to a blue Banksy-esque stencil at the foot of the walkway divider across the railing. It was a little blue possum-cat holding a sign that said, “Jump”.
Jeremy gave all of us knuckle-bumps and climbed over the railing. Then he chanted, “One, two, three” and jumped.
I was not breathing.
A small black pilot chute deployed, then the full chute. The older jumper, (good grief), was already climbing over the railing. Jeremy landed safely. Both men wore only shorts, t-shirts, and tennis shoes with the laces tucked in. I suppose if you make it to the ground alive, the last thing you want is for your shoelace to get caught in a tree limb.
The second man whispered, “One, two, three” and jumped/fell/swooped off the bridge. He made a safe landing and Joshua and I headed back to the car.
“Jumping’s easy – it’s the trail out of the canyon that’s sketchy,” he commented. I looked where he pointed and, after a few tries, could make out the climber trail ascending past a little alcove in the rock where there appeared to be a little teddy bear. “Actually that is a gigantic stuffed teddy bear, not a regular one.” We were really high up. The trail disappeared after that up the cliff.
“So you do jump off shit a lot?” I hadn’t had coffee, two men had just jumped off a bridge before my eyes. Words were hard to find.
“Yesterday was my first – my wife gave it to me as a birthday present.”
“Where is she?”
“Home back in Kansas – she has no interest in this stuff…but she knows I do.”
“I skydived once but I don’t know if I’d try this.” It was an effort to connect, save face when I hadn’t lost it, anyway, but I knew where this was headed.
“What people don’t understand is, in skydiving, you have about 3000 feet to correct a mistake. There’s no room for mistakes in BASE jumping.” Touché.
I looked into BASE jumping later on the internet. Here are some tips on etiquette if you decided to jump. And before you can purchase a chute, here’s one company’s warning: Base jumping is by nature dangerous and can cause death. It is done under the whole liability of the jumper. The terrain used for this activity and the way the activity is pursued and the equipment used is uncontrolled, uninspected, unmarked it thus involves many hazards and risks. Et cetera.
Joshua invited me to stay for more jumps. It was going to be a beautiful day for jumping, he promised.
I told him I was headed to Great Basin National Park. “They have the oldest living things there – bristlecone pine trees.” But Joshua didn’t see how this could trump risking your short-and-soon-to-be-shorter-(maybe)-life by jumping off a bridge. It could be a beautiful day for lots of things.