People travel for different reasons. For some, it is the lure man-made wonders- ancient temples and towering skyscrapers. For others, natural wonders call their names- deep, rainbow colored canyons and breathtaking mountaintops. Those who travel for work are in search of new connections, new deals and higher profits for their companies. Some travelers are looking to find something or someone, escape a situation or try to outrun a memory.
And some travelers are just looking for a new place to jump off the highest point possible.
Those are the folks we went to visit this weekend. Kuala Lumpur was holding its annual KL Tower BASE Jump event, meaning folks from all over the world gathered to hurl themselves off the top of a nearly 1400 foot high radio tower in the center of the city. We had heard rumblings that the jumpers were going to be in town this last weekend, but couldn’t find any specifics about when the jumps would be taking place. As I was driving to school on Friday, I saw a single parachute open mid-sky and was easily convinced we needed to find out more. As it turns out, the participants would be jumping most of the day Saturday and Sunday. (There were evening jumps planned too, but with KL storms, I’m not sure those happened.)
Sunday morning, after a quick shower and bowl of cereal, we headed into town. (I can actually see the KL Tower from my kitchen, but just the top bulb, which is where they jumpers take off, but because of the skyscraper-heavy skyline, we wouldn’t be able to see the rainbow of parachutes open.) We parked along the road, which means we actually parked in the traffic lane, but I figured it was all legit since I paid five ringgit and got a ticket to place in my window. Who cares that it was blocking future traffic; I had the official slip of tissue paper with a number on it. Too legit to quit. As we walked to the top of the hill upon which the KL Tower sits, we had to stop multiple times to watch the BASE jumpers coming off the building. From below, it is hard to see the initial leap, but the snap of an opening parachute draws eyes upward, creating a constant need to stop and stare.
We hadn’t planned on going into the tower itself, but when we got there, we were told we could go to the top and watch them jump from above. On a regular day, I’m not sure the tower entrance fee is worth it, but how often do you get to see people throwing themselves off a building with just a small backpack and a GoPro-sporting helmet? So, we quickly signed away our lives (not their fault if we fall off!) and headed up the elevator, which we shared with a jumper from California. When we told him we were from Idaho, he was excited and said that many of the jumpers loved going to Idaho to jump from the bridge in Twin Falls. He said that on Friday he made the KL jump nineteen times and did twenty-six more on Saturday and he was on number seven for Sunday and he was definitely feeling it in his joints. (I’m not sure what the long-term effects of the sport are, but I am guessing knee-replacements come early for some of these folks!)
Watching these guys (and gals! We saw three female participants) was incredible. I squawk if I even get near the edge of the building, but they would fly off of it on a rope swing with nary a peep. Are you serious? How does one not squeal as they dangle from a rope, suspended 1400 feet above the ground?
And how does one become so accustomed to hurling themselves off buildings that it merely jumping isn’t’ enough, but to up the game you must launch one another off by the feet, go piggy-back style or bail as a group, just to keep in interesting?
Most of the jumpers were young, in their 20s and this is what they do for fun. They travel the world in search of buildings, antennae, span (bridges) and earth (cliffs) from which to jump. (BASE.) I don’t know if these guys have “real” jobs or they just wander the earth, seeking the next thrill, but one young man made me laugh as he awaited his next turn to go over the edge. He was chatting with other jumpers on the platform, saying, “Man, I think I am going to ask my mom for a new helmet for Christmas.” Haha! Really? You jump off buildings for fun, but you are hoping Santa will bring you new equipment to shield your noggin? Cool, dude!
As an acrophobic of highest order, I can’t imagine strapping a self-packed chute to my back, snapping on a bike helmet and then leaning over the side of a building. Heck, I can barely get myself to the edge of the many tourist-trap viewing balconies we’ve visited all over the world. BASE jumpers travel in pursuit of actual, physical high points. I, on the other hand, will happily stick to the quest for cultural peaks and the summits of humanity.