New Zealanders have sometimes been described as sensory-deprived souls with too much time on their hands. It was there that the world was given bungee jumping among other things. And, one day a guy got inside a big plastic ball and began running around like a hamster to see what it feels like. It's a strange thing to do, but ... what the heck?
Thus was born ...
These photos were taken near
Brisbane, Australia where I joined
the ranks of proud Zorbanauts.
The ball is 15 feet in diameter (about 4½ meters), and inside is another smaller ball suspended by nylon strands. Between the two, there are a couple of feet of air. This cushion is what keeps you safe when you're hurtling down the side of a hill at speeds up to 50 kilometers per hour. As the ball rolls around, the person inside becomes pinned by centrifugal force.
There are TWO versions ... the wet Zorb (which I think is the most fun) and the dry one. In the wet version, a small amount of water is placed inside the ball with the Zorbanaut. Rolling down the hill in this situation gives you a good idea of what your socks feel like in a washing machine.
There's talk about taking the art of Zorbing to the next level by installing big mechanical bumpers that someone would operate by pushing buttons. The ball (and the Zorbanaut inside) would then be batted right & left as it rolls down the hill in what amounts to "a giant pinball game".
NOTE TO SELF: Never BE the ball in a pinball game!
I'm being HATCHED
Jumping from a perfectly good building ...
BASE-JUMPING without a parachute!
The Auckland tower in New Zealand is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. A cable was attached to my back instead of a parachute when I made this jump.
Usually, when everything works right, this slows down your fall keeping you from crashing into the street 1,076 feet below where your body wouldprobably receive severe skeletal damage.
Bungee Jumping A leap of faith
This probably shouldn't be classified as a SPORT since it doesn't require any more skill than a roller coaster does. All you have to do is SCREAM.
AND ... hope the bungee cord doesn't break, or stretch all the way to the bottom!
I bungeed from a bridge near Mount St. Helens in Washington. Actually, it wasn't much fun ... the freefalls were short, and each jump jerked me around a lot. You can get a headache doing that.
TV tower at WSM in Nashville, TN
Because towers like this are built to be flexible in the wind, it feels strange to be at the top of one.Instead of swaying from side-to-side, the higher portions will move vertically "up-and-down" as lower portions move "out-and-in" with the breeze. The feeling is like being on an elevator that suddenly DROPS a few feet then goes back up again.
Who ya gonna call?
Not far from Nashville near the small town of Chapel Hill, the ghost of an old trainman can be seen each night on the railroad tracks.
Many years ago, before he was a ghost, he was decapitated by a passing locomotive after falling and being knocked unconscious. His head was never found, and each night his ghostly body walks up and down the tracks looking for it. What is seen today is the light from the lantern he carries.
A few years ago a friend of mine, Andras Schoffer, and I rode motorcycles down to Chapel Hill and camped where it all happened. Sure enough at about 3 a.m., the ghost’s lantern appeared a few hundred feet down the tracks. In a rush of bravado we chased after it, but apparently the poor ghost was scared away because the light soon disappeared.
It wasn’t until much later I began asking the obvious questions …
How could a headless body SEE to find its head when its eyes are IN the head? And why would it need a lantern for light? I suppose the head could have yelled out "Here I am" when the body walked by, but without ears how could the body have heard what the head was saying? It's all very mysterious.
Now that we're here,
what are we supposed to do?
Of all the places in the universe, how did I end up being born on an obscure planet like this, naked and without anything to protect me? It's a question I usually ask myself after looking up at the stars on a warm summer night. Stone Age guys probably wondered the same thing when they relaxed in their rock gardens and looked up at the night sky.
We're all riding around on this big ball circling a nearby star. And, apparently it’s a MINOR ball, near a MINOR star on the edge of a MINOR galaxy!
It gets pretty complicated after that. The galaxies are separating from each other at increasing speed. A minute ago one of them was 2-million miles closer to us than it is now ... a year ago it was a billion miles closer. Eventually we won't be able to see it because we and it will be separating from each other faster than the speed-of-light. This becomes a "sight barrier" keeping us from looking any farther into space. Could all of that "stuff" out there be created just for our telescopic amusement?
But, what if we COULD see to the end of the universe, what would be there? Maybe a wall of some kind? How thick would the wall be and what would be behind it? Infinity doesn’t compute well in a human brain. Neither does eternity.
Who lit the fuse
for the BIG-BANG?
Here I am stuck in a temporary body on a seemingly insignificant planet. Right now I'm here, but at one time I wasn't; and, before long I won't be again. So is my life, or anybody else’s who has ever lived on the planet, meaningful in the grand scheme of things?
The death of Heath Ledger in 2008 had a particular impact on me for some reason. I don't know why. I didn't know him and he was younger than either of my own kids. It may be because I feel a little guilty about it. After watching him grow up from a 19-yr-old kid in Australian films, I also saw his personal life start to fall apart. There was probably nothing I could have done to prevent his death, but ... I think I saw it coming, and wish I would have at least TRIED in some way.
Will his short 28 years of biological time walking around on the planet mean anything a hundred years from now? A thousand? Eternity? What about you and me? Life is fragile and whether we're 28 or 98-years old we’re ALL headed for the same thing ... a screeching HALT. Facing the end can be scary because it's something we have to do ALONE. It’s like walking through a forest on a dark night with no one to reassure us everything’s O.K.
Is there any real reason for us to be here?
There is more to a human being than the chemical sum of his parts. It can be observed in the art & music he creates and can be seen in his humor & shared thoughts. It's like the wind ... we see it indirectly when the leaves on a tree begin to move.
His body is chemically the same in the moment he dies as it was the moment before ... but something weightless and intangible suddenly leaves.
I don't know whether to tell you this or not, but I had an experience recently that messed with my mind. You ready? I think someone who died spoke to me. Hang in there with me now. I'm not sure I understand it myself. It wasn't a dream and I wasn't hallucinating or DRUNK. Unfortunately, there's no one to corroborate this because I was ALONE at the time. But, it was an audible vibration in my ears the way we hear anyone's voice. A microphone could probably have detected it.
He said only one word, "Thanks", in response to something I had done for him. I recognized his voice right away and without thinking I smiled and said, “You’re welcome”. It wasn’t until a minute or so later that I realized what had just happened.
Now that some time has passed, the whole thing seems illogical. But, it was real. Maybe it was some small confirmation that the intangible part of us lives on. Either that or ... I could be loosing my mind.
Maybe what we're supposed to do is just help each
other make it through these small slices of eternity.