Bungee jumping in Chiang Mai, Thailand

On being rational…or irrational…or…whatever…

Or, how I got roped into and then chickened out of bungee jumping in Chiang Mai, Thailand...

I am afraid of heights. No, that’s not quite true. I am afraid of plummeting from heights. I held on for dear life and cried excessively every time a child bumped into me at the top of the Eiffel Tower for god’s sake. So, how, exactly, I got roped into going bungee jumping in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and got myself 50 meters in the air, sitting on a crane, with a bungee chord strapped to my legs, is beyond me.

No, that’s not quite true. It involved, as such things often do, a cute boy and a couple of beers…

It was Tom’s idea. We were drinking on Khoa San Road in Bangkok when he mentioned that he wanted to go bungee jumping when he got to Chiang Mai. And then he said the one thing that always tugged at my heart and my brain the most: “I’m trying to push myself to do new things.”

It’s a simple statement that wrapped up everything about what this trip, and my resulting new life has been for me. Going out there. Pushing myself. Seeing what I’m capable of doing. Of course, the new things I want to try usually include a different kind of noodle or a different kind of beach…

But I, personally, was a little drunk at that point. And I, personally, was trying to sleep with him (hey, I’d spent every single night of the past 3 months sharing a bedroom with a gay guy, give me a break). And so I said I’d think about it.

Of course, I had no desire to plummet off a crane 50 meters in the air while bungee jumping in Thailand. But I kept to my word, and thought about it. In the last year people have managed to convince me to add skydive and scuba dive to my life list, so this would just be one more thing I had no interest in doing, that I was beyond scared of doing, that I could convince myself that I actually wanted to do.

Over the next couple of days this idea of going bungee jumping came up more often, with more people. And the more often it came up and the more people who’d said they’d done it and said that I should do it, the more I convinced myself that it was something I wanted to do. That it was something I could do.

I debated between myself over whether it was rational or irrational to fear jumping from 50 meters with a bungee chord strapped to my legs. On one hand I know that it’s, technically, safe. I know that people rarely actually die from doing it. I know that I would come out just fine, if not a metaphorically better person for it.

But, irrationally, I suppose, the only outcome I could imagine involved me being dead.

There’s a fine and blurry line between rational and irrational.

For instance, it’s totally rational to really want to have sex with a guy you just met because it’s been three months since anyone’s even kissed you. And he’s cute. And he’s there. And he seems somewhat interested. And it’s totally rational that, despite all this, it’s kind of uncomfortable to be having sex in a 22-bed dorm room when you know there’s someone trying to sleep in a bed two feet away. And so it’s simultaneously rational and irrational to go ahead and do it anyways even though you’re somewhat uncomfortable the entire time because you keep hearing others around you and people are turning on and off their lights and then you’re distracted and worrying that he thinks you don’t want to be sleeping with him, but you do, you just don’t want to be sleeping with him with someone actually sleeping (hopefully, sleeping) two feet away. And then in the morning it’s both rational to be kind of irked that he doesn’t acknowledge in any way that anything happened the night before but totally irrational because you’re traveling and these things happen and even though you totally want to sleep with him again in a better circumstance, because you know you’ll see him again in Chiang Mai, it’s not like you want a relationship anyways.

I have always considered myself to be the most irrationally rational person I know.

The night before we were supposed to bungee jump, we were drinking in a treehouse at a hostel in Chiang Mai. Tom had managed to convince another girl, a German named Kirsten that we had both met in Bangkok, to go as well. We had a fine little group of interested backpackers. But he was drinking a lot. And saying that he was pretty sure his morning hangover would postpone the jump for the next day. And he was kind of flirting with this other girl. And then they disappeared. And then later he knocked on my door, not looking for me because he didn’t know I was in that room, but looking for another friend. And he asked his friend if he’d seen his wallet, that he lost.

And I, irrationally, maybe, assumed that maybe there was something different that he would have asked if I hadn’t opened the door. If his friend had and he hadn’t seen me there. If he had just made that up to cover some sort of tracks.

Or maybe those thoughts were totally rational.

In the morning I ran into Kirsten, who was gung ho about doing the jump. She planned to leave for Pai later in the day, and so it was now or never for her. Tom was still sleeping, and so she woke him up. The fact that it was noon and that he was still in bed was pretty strong sign that he would be out.

Tom said he wasn’t feeling up to going bungee jumping that day: he was hungover, not feeling well. That he would go the next day instead.

But Kirsten said she was still going, she was leaving, so she had to go that day, and that I should go with her.

I felt as if I was caught in the nonexistent middle of a bait and switch maneuver. I had agreed to go with Tom, who had convinced me to go with him right before he had slept with me. I had never agreed to go with Kirsten.

Or maybe I didn’t really want to go.

But I had agreed to go nonetheless.

But I wasn’t sure.

And so, I had to be rational with myself and say Val, you’re not doing this for a guy or for anyone else. You’re doing this for you. Or some bullshit like that that you tell yourself when you know that you would never really be doing it for the first place if there wasn’t a guy involved.

I was kind of pissed off at everyone. At Kirsten for making me go with her and not wait. At Tom for backing out after convincing me to go after totally ignoring the fact that anything had ever happened between us. At myself for saying yes to going in the first place and for still kind of wanting more to happen between me and this guy who probably slept with some other girl the night before and who was ditching me after convincing me to put my life in dangerous hands.

All terrible, irrational, hatred.

Naked bungee jumpers from the Bungee Jump place in Chiang Mai.
This was the bathroom art at the bungee jump place…


Two hours later I was standing in the rain (in the rain, it was raining which really just made everything that much worse) watching Kirsten, with no hesitation, jump.

I hadn’t wanted to go first. Kirsten had suggested I go and get it over with, but I always feel like I feel more comfortable after seeing something done. I like having a better idea of what to expect in my head. So I told her to go first.

Which, maybe, was a bad idea. It wasn’t until I watched her that I realized it wasn’t just a fall. It was a bounce. You don’t just fall and stop. You fall. And you bounce. And you bounce. And you bounce.

It was a little detail that I’m sure I knew, I’m sure I’ve seen on television, but that didn’t really occur to me. Until right then.

But I was fine. I still somehow thought that I could do it. And I was fine when the man weighed me. Fine when he strapped in my feet, and tied a chord around them. Fine when I hopped up to the chair lift and sat myself down.

But then, we started going up. And about halfway up I realized that we were getting too high for my liking.

And then the man started pushing the rope overboard. In my head I imagined it trailing behind me. And somehow that little change of detail from what I had in my head freaked me out. I would be falling towards the rope, it would not be trailing behind me. I’m sure that that’s the way it’s done. I’m sure that’s somehow the safer way. But it wasn’t what I had in my head. And sometimes when things aren’t what I have in my head it takes a lot of effort to deal with them.

And then the man explained the rules. He told me to hold on to the sides. He told me to stand at the edge. He told me not to hold onto the rope when I fell.

I hadn’t even thought about holding onto the rope.

And now I was thinking about holding onto the rope.

And then he told me to not look down. But looking out is just as bad. Because when you can see so many damned trees and buildings and whatnot you know you’re high up.

And I couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t go to the edge. I couldn’t jump.

And I, very rationally, told the man that I wasn’t going to go.

Of course, when we got down, I had my nervous breakdown.

I cried. A lot. Hyperventilated. A little.


So maybe it was better that Tom had backed out and didn’t have to see that. My ugly cry is not a pretty site. (I have scientific evidence that boys don’t like to see me cry. I conducted a 12-year long study with my ex-boyfriend where I tested this theory on far too many occasions.)

Tom never went bungee jumping in Chiang Mai. He didn’t go the next day as he said he would. Or the next, and then he left, went off to Pai. I think I was used as some sort of guinea pig experiment to see if I would actually do it. Since I failed, he didn’t see the need to try.

In all honesty, I’m pretty sure that a year ago I wouldn’t have even made it up to the top of that crane. Heck, a year ago I wouldn’t have slept with a guy I’d just met hours before either.

And so, I guess, maybe, some day, I will be able to take that jump. And, I guess, you can consider me chickening out 50 meters in the air instead of flat out saying no while still on flat ground an accomplishment of sorts.

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Jen
    June 8, 2012at1:49 am

    I’m still proud of you, I’d have never gotten on the crane.

  • Sabrina
    June 8, 2012at11:25 am

    Ditto to Jen, that was still fucking awesome

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