Saturday, January 2, 2010

Calculate your leaps, mind the gap

At first glance, it seemed like a no-nonsense jump. And that first glance was all the thought I gave it. With my body weighed down by a backpack and my pockets full of stuff, I took a few steps back from the edge, ran forward, and jumped.  I cleared the gap just fine, but landed a bit too close to the edge for comfort.  The extra weight on my body hadn't quite been fully accounted for. Turning around, I looked down the gap that I had just jumped across. It wasn't very wide, just a few feet, but it was deep. A long way down to the rocky bottom.  Looking across the gap to where I had jumped from, I noticed that the ledge was higher than the small table-like shelf of rock on which I now stood.  Looking to the left at the only other edge connected to the main cliff face, the gap was smaller, but the other side sloped too steeply upward, with no signs of adequate foot- or hand-holds.

On the face of a cliff within in Red River Gorge near Slade, Kentucky - in Daniel Boone National Forest - I began to get nervous.

(The picture above - taken minutes before I jumped to the rock shelf visible to my lower-left - is fairly descriptive of my attitude prior to the jump, having a certain "uuhhh...wha?" look about me.)

Hiking with me was my wife, my sister-in-law, and her husband, David. The picture below was taken later in our hike, across the gorge. The red circle indicates the rock on which I was stuck. (see the full-sized picture)

The following picture, again taken before I jumped, would be looking to the left of the red circle if you use the picture above as a frame of reference. The size of David in regard to the cliff should give somewhat of an idea of the scale. (see the full-sized picture)

Back on the rock, I paced nervously about, trying to figure out what to do. By then, David had come down to where I had jumped across and surveyed the situation. Before I jumped, I thought he might leap over with me, us both being adventurous outdoorsy types. But seeing the predicament I had gotten myself into...he didn't. So instead of joining me in folly, he started helping me figure out what to do. I threw my backpack over to him to relieve some of the weight, and began psyching myself up to make the jump back across to where I had come from. But the image of long drop was hovering in my mind's eye, and the light dusting of snow near the edge - potential slip hazard - where I would jump wasn't helping either. David was poised at the other side of the gap, arm extended, ready to grab me. Once or twice, I counted aloud down from 3. Once I actually even began taking the steps toward the edge to jump.

But I couldn't do it. I re-evaluated the situation. Walking back to the edge of the gap, I looked down again, then looked across. Would it be easier to run and jump, or do a standing jump across? By this time, my wife and her sister had made their way down to see what was going on. After a few minutes of watching David and I, my wife got too anxious and had to walk away.

Finally, we worked out a plan that didn't involve me attempting to jump the gap, possibly falling to severe injury or worse. On another edge of the rock shelf, to the left of where I had jumped, with the gap that was much more narrow (but no less deep) and the cliff that was too steep for one person to climb up from the isolated rock shelf, the three people on the other side sat down in a chain with David at the end. They anchored themselves to each other, legs-to-arms, to support David at the end, sitting at an angle that would probably have me pulling him down off were he not supported by the others. On the rock shelf, I toed the edge and tipped myself over the gap like a domino, resting my hands on the main cliff just below David's leg and outstretched arm. I found a foothold on the other side of the gap and put one foot over, along with the rest of my upper body already bridging the gap. Reaching up with one hand, I grasped tightly to David's wrist, and he to mine. He pulled up, while I worked my feet up the rock and climbed up to safety. I was back on terra firma.

While I kissed the rock, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and we continued on our hike, which was a beautiful one. It took me about 15 minutes to come out of the mild emotional shock or trauma that I was experiencing. My prayers related to this experience - during, immediately after, and even now - are 1) thanksgiving for my family, who rescued me, and 2) for better foresight in my future dealings, whether outdoor/adventure-related or otherwise. Had my wits been about me, the whole ordeal wouldn't have even transpired. There were a number of oversights I made leading up to the leap, and it was only through loving support and action that I came back across the gap.

May it be so for me, and whoever else may resonate with this parable.

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