Monday, August 08, 2011

Real Stories (II)

The Jump of a Lifetime

Those of you who know me personally, know how passionate I am about a particular hobby of mine. That hobby is cliff-jumping. I love it. I love the total experience of not just jumping off cliffs, but also the experience of discovering new places and being able to appreciate the beauty of some relatively unknown places in Korea. The activity is more than just jumping. There is a good deal of hiking, rock (free) climbing and swimming involved. It’s good exercise, and I certainly can use all the exercise I can get these days.

This last weekend I returned to where it all began for me - the island of Geoje (거제도). My good friend Zach has been jumping with me for 2 years now in Busan (부산). I’ve been eager to show him the places that started the cliff-jumping phenomenon here in Korea. He’s returning to the U.S. this week, so we decided to have one last trip together. Since we were the only two out of the group that we regularly jump with, we called it the ‘executive retreat.’

We arrived late Friday night and tried to sleep in the car, because we’re both cheap. It turned out to be next to impossible for us to do that, so we went and got a small yeo-gwon (여권), which is essentially like a youth hostel. We woke up early that next morning and walked over to the cliffs I used to jump at with my good friend Will, who was during the genesis of the cliff-jumping experience. I was anticipating the gigantic cliffs of my memory and the picturesque landscape around us. The landscape didn’t disappoint, but I was shocked at just how small the cliffs seemed to me. The tallest one was well below where we had been jumping in Busan. It was turning out to be a disappointing day, as I knew the other place we would look to was even smaller than this place.

On our way back to the car, I happened to mention to him that there was a cave nearby that I had never gone into. We checked it out and discovered that this place would be a great place to jump from. It was at least as high as the place in Busan (approximately 60 ft.). We started jumping and couldn’t believe how fun and scary it was. The waves were really crashing in, and the sea was quite rough. Getting out of the water was a challenge, but it was well worth it. After about 2 hours of jumping at this place, we decided to move on to the next place, and verbally confirmed with one another that if we were unable to find anything else as good, we would come back to this place again. This place made the trip worthwhile, if there were no other places with good jumping.

We headed off to the next place. However, instead of going to the place I usually went (the place shown in the blog post titled ‘a story of three friends’), we decided to go to a rock beach and explore along the coast. At first we were only able to find small jumps, maybe 10 - 25 ft. Looking along the coast there seemed to be wonderful, sheer cliffs, but most of them were either too difficult to climb up out of the water to, or they were too shallow or had scattered rocks in the would-be jumping area. After a relatively long swim, probably about half a kilometre, we found a place that looked good. There was an easy place to exit from the water, and no rocks in the water below. I started to climb up, and it was a tricky, scary climb. This place was higher than any place we had previously jumped. We figure it was around 70 - 75 feet. The jump was exhilarating! There was a platform about 15 feet higher than the one we jumped from, and I attempted to climb it. I climbed up about 4 feet and then completely lost my nerve. I kept thinking of my wife and daughter, and my knees began shaking. I have done difficult, vertical climbs before - there were vertical places in the climb below - but never at this height. This cliff would be the first cliff-face to defeat me in Korea. I couldn’t move upward, and so gave up the pursuit. It was a truly terrifying experience. I made the same jump again, and then we decided to move on and return later if there were no better places. This would be our last chance to jump together, so we wanted to go as high as we possibly could.

Around the corner, we found a place that equalled the height of the last place, but which had a much easier climb. We nicknamed it ‘the cheat.’ This place had a platform around 60 feet and a higher platform at around 75 feet. Again, the jump was thrilling. These heights gave for a great feeling on every jump, and they were much easier to do because they had full platforms which allowed us to run into the jump. After doing these jumps, I looked up and noticed it seemed like there was another platform higher up. The climb, again, was simple. Upon reaching the platform, I began to grow scared. Was I really going to jump from this height? We double-checked the water below, and I just decided I had to go for it. I threw a rock out to where I wanted to land, and used the ripples to guide my jump. Keeping the ripples in sight, I began running. I couldn’t stop myself and so I had to jump. Once in the air I kept doubting whether or not this was a wise idea. I was falling, falling and falling some more. It seemed like I would never hit the water. Incredibly I hit the water and as I entered the water, something like a flash went before my eyes. I don’t know what it was. I came up out of the water full of adrenaline. I was thrashing the waves, kicking the water and screaming out of sheer excitement. I would use two words to describe the jump: insane and exciting. Climbing up out of the water, it took me a while to come back to reality. My whole body was shaking from the sheer excitement of what I just did. I really have never experienced anything like that before.

Zach had climbed to the top, and then I joined him. As we were at the top, we observed that we were at the point of the cliff where the trees were growing, and that we were so far from the water that there were no sea cockroaches here, but rather there were ants. Apparently I was in the air for over three seconds!

After some conversation, Zach went for it. He made the jump and came back up with no smiles. He was bleeding from his mouth. Apparently he had chipped three teeth and bit his tongue so hard that it was bleeding. It was a high cliff. After seeing that, I was a little bit scared, but I knew I could do it again… so I did. I jumped again and received no less thrills than before. I remained unharmed, having a perfect entry into the water.

At the end of the day, we saw amazing scenery, explored new territory, and jumped off some cliff-faces which probably had never been jumped from before - or ever will be again. I love this sport, and I was happy to be able to share such an amazing experience with a friend who shares the same passion as me. The Lord is good, and has created some amazing places for us to enjoy. I’m thankful that He was gracious to me to allow me to have this experience.


Tim Whitson said...

Wow!!I would like to think I would do it but not sure due to the family issue. Something to work up to instead of going for the 75'+ jumps first

Jeff Lenhart said...

Tim, thanks for the comment. Yeah, it's definitely a 'work your way up to it' kind of thing.