Wednesday, March 26, 2014

127. Jumping Off Bridges

The trail pops out onto a road, and the tell-tale double blaze bids us to take a left turn. As we descend the hill, walking on the left-hand side of the small country road, we see a large river up ahead. There is a person standing on a tall bridge over the river, his feet on the small ledge on the opposite side of the thick concrete railing. His arms are held behind him, like winged victory, and he leans out at an angle over the open air. He hesitates, watching the water rush by far, far below him.

Then he lets go.

Cries of excitement explode from somewhere underneath the bridge, where our hiking companions are all sitting on rocks, drying out in the sun after their own launches. He is in the air for only a few seconds before he crashes into the water below, his body disappearing into the swiftly flowing green depths. Dumptruck and I get to the bridge crossing just in time to peek over the railing to see Grim swimming robustly over to the rocks to meet everyone.

I cross the bridge and make my way down to the gathering of damp hikers, following wet bare foot prints back to their origin. Without a word, I drop off my backpack, remove my shoes and socks, and head back up where I came from.

As I round the corner to start making my way to the center of the bridge, my body still hasn't quite figured out what's happening. It is blithely doing its job, putting one foot in front of the other, following orders like a good body should. My mind knows that I cannot give any indication to my body that I am about to do something dangerous. My mind knows that given the chance, my body will spring into action to protect me, releasing a flood of hormones to cut off access to my frontal lobe, allowing my lizard brain stem take over and send me fleeing back down the road and barefoot across Vermont.

The trick will be giving my body the order to jump before it has any awareness that it's jumping. That means that I will not be able to stand on the edge of the bridge, holding onto the railing and giving myself time to "make up my mind." Because then it will already be too late, and I will never let go. They'll find me, 10 years from now, a desiccated mummy, and they'll have to pry my skeleton fingers off the railing.

Isn't so much of our lives this way? Before that first kiss, before that interview, before getting up on that stage. We can spend all the time we want beforehand, making the decision, weighing the options, but there's that "do or die" moment. If you don't leap right then, then you'll never leap at all, because your body and your mind will get locked into a battle. And unfortunately, when that battle ends in stalemate, the only option is to retreat.

I reach the middle of the bridge, and Dumptruck raises his hand to say hello to me. He opens his mouth to say something, but I have already grabbed the railing, and I am practically hurling my body over it. My toes have only a second to touch the ledge on the other side, because I am using the same momentum that took me over the railing to take me out into the open air. I push off on one foot, deciding in that split moment that I want to spin.

And I spin... out into the weightless atmosphere. Just as my toes leave the solid bridge, my body becomes very aware of what I have done, but it cannot do anything about it. In a last ditch effort to regain control, it forces a scream from deep within my lungs, and the animal sound explodes out of my mouth. I spin nearly 3 full times, my scream spiraling out around me, the siren of my voice Doppler-Effecting its way all over the valley below.

The drop takes just long enough for me to wonder if perhaps I have fallen into a wormhole, and I will fall forever, like Alice down the rabbit hole. I open my eyes just as the impact into the surface of the water SLAMS my mouth shut.

Then there is nothing but silence. The green blue water is everywhere, and the weightlessness of the air is replaced by the rushing, insistent weightlessness of water. I am motionless for the tiniest fraction of time after the impact, my body plunging deep below the surface. Then I begin to kick, my body furious at me, but relieved to be unharmed.

Popping my head out of the water, I hear the cheers of my hiking companions, and I swim over to them, laughing and happy. I reach the rocky outcropping where everyone is sitting, feeling confident and proud, grinning from ear to ear.

And as I pull myself out of the water, I notice a tiny, 2-inch long crawdad crawling on the rock near my hands, just beneath the surface of the water. I SHRIEK, I SHRIEK LIKE I AM DYING, and I launch out of the river like someone lit a waterproof stick of dynamite under my butt. I am halfway across the rocks before I can catch my breath.

Isn't so much of our lives this way? That we can be fearless enough to do something like fling ourselves off of a bridge extremely high in the air, but we are scared silly by a harmless* tiny lobster?

Clever Girl

* Crawdads are not harmless. They are the WORST.


  1. Love the duct tape on your foot! Hiker first aid at its best. Love, Mom and Dad