TYRONE — On this Independence Day, listen to bungee jumper Doug Frutos describe the freedom he feels when he steps from a ledge into thin air 240 feet over the Kentucky River:
"It's the most focused I can be," he said. "I don't think about anything else except what's happening in front of my face, my eyes, my ears. Everything is amplified and heightened, and you're just purely focused on the moment."
And so it was for Frutos and others Thursday as they jumped repeatedly from Young's High Bridge, a 125-year-old railroad trestle that spans the Kentucky River between Anderson and Woodford counties.
A group called Young's Bridge Partners LLC purchased the span in 2012 to serve as a place for members of their private club to bungee jump, the activity that involves leaping from a tall structure while tethered to an elastic cord or cords. The group wants to turn the bridge into a marquee spot for the sport, in the same way that Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, a private club, is the home of the The Masters golf championship, said Mitch Morris. He is general manager of Vertigo Bungee, the company that operates the bridge as a private club.
The bridge is "a needle in a hundred haystacks," Morris said, because "it's beautiful, it's accessible, it has deep water underneath."
It's about 35 feet deep beneath the jump site. From the bridge, participants can see the Wild Turkey Bourbon facilities, the Kentucky Utilities Tyrone plant, a rock quarry, and, of course, the river threading its way through the countryside.
Morris says the trestle "is the highest legal bridge jump in the United States. There are a couple of other bridges out west, one in Washington and one in Los Angeles, that people have rights to, but this is bigger than those."
The New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia does not have bungee jumping, Morris said, only BASE (Building, Antenna, Span, Earth) jumping, which involves jumping from a tall structure and using a parachute to land.
But Morris envisions a time when the neighboring U.S. 62 bridge might be closed to traffic for one day a year so that people could watch bungee jumping.
Morris also hopes to put in a zip line that the public could ride through across the Kentucky River.
"You'll have the same feeling of stepping off into bungee jumping, but the physical stress is nothing compared to diving," Morris said.
Members of Vertigo Bungee typically get together to use Young's High Bridge around holidays, such as the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. They also plan to be there in October for the Bourbon Chase, a 200-mile relay race along Kentucky's Bourbon Trail.
The group has been jumping from the bridge since last year, after they laid a wooden deck 950 feet from the Anderson County side and erected a safety fence. The members use skateboards to shuttle back and forth across the bridge to portable restrooms and nearby parked vehicles.
Bungee jumping is strictly a members-only activity, which exempts the group from regulations and inspections that would come into play if the bridge were open for public use. Members are accepted only after they have proven their physical fitness and commitment to the sport.
When the jumpers are active, motorists on the U.S. 62 bridge will slow down and even honk. But Beth Kallin, a Lawrenceburg police dispatch telecommunicator, said she isn't aware of problems with slower traffic or gawkers.
"People have gotten used to it now," Kallin said.
Young's High Bridge is named for Bennett Henderson Young, a Nicholasville native and Confederate soldier who became president of Louisville Southern Railway.
Congress approved construction of the span in 1888, and work began early the next year. The first train crossed it in August 1889.
The last passenger train crossed the bridge in 1937, and most freight traffic was gone by the 1970s. The last diesel engine crossed the bridge in the 1980s.
Now the bridge serves as a destination for people like Steve Buttrey, 45, a carpenter from Seattle. He drove 2,600 miles from Washington state to Kentucky with his miniature American Eskimo dog, Zoe, so he could jump from the bridge.
"It was pretty incredible," Buttrey said. "It's a little bit spiritual for me. Very, very peaceful and calm when you're going down. It's quiet and it's just you and you're out there on your own."
Brian Grubb, 33, of Orlando, Fla., also came to dive into the thrill of bungee jumping. Grubb is a professional wakeskater, another extreme sport that combines skateboarding with the water.
"It's super fun and really addicting," Grubb said of bungee jumping. "This bridge is really cool, too, because you have deep water beneath it so you can do head dunks. ... You see the water coming right at you, and when you come out you have water coming off your head. It just kind of adds to the experience."
Frutos, a metal fabricator who does custom work for houses and restaurants, has made jumps all over the world, including Cuba, Norway, Switzerland and France. And he has made wingsuit jumps, flying through the air with a special jumpsuit. But Thursday he was in Kentucky experiencing independence from solid ground beneath his feet. He said he likes working together as a team in bungee jumping — something he doesn't necessarily feel with wingsuit jumping.
"The greatest thing about bungee is that somebody who has no experience can push beyond what they think they could," Frutos said. "That is part of the joy: They can stand up there scared out of their mind, and we can get them over it, help them conquer their fear. You learn a lot about yourself when you're able to push those kinds of limits."