One of my biggest fears is fearing. If crazy is knocking at my door and I have the opportunity to answer, I take about three seconds to wonder if crazy is dressed as insane or stupid. If insane, I usually open the door. If stupid, I almost always ignore. Then there comes times when crazy is knocking but I can’t tell what it’s dressed like until someone else answers the crazy and comes out unscathed. That’s when I know it’s just insane, and I can’t be out-crazied.
Personally, cliff jumping is one of the most unnerving things I can do, even over skydiving. When I commit to skydiving, I am committed. While falling tandem, I’m strapped to someone who has already answered that crazy hundreds of times and lived to tell the tale. He’s the one who initiates the jump, he’s the one who pulls the parachute, he’s the one with the control. To question the “what ifs” would do nothing more than question a certified skydiver, and if I’m going to question a professional then I might as well head home right then. For my own sanity, I completely block off that initial unnerving nag at my instinct before it turns into a muscle-freezing alarm.
In cliff jumping, there’s no slowing down, no gentle landings, no time mid-air to calculate a potential disaster and fix it. It’s just me and myself taking the plunge, me and myself deciding my actions—where, when and how to jump. And until I make a full commitment forward, there is always a chance to turn back. Plenty of time to change my mind, question myself, wimp out.
The last time I cliff jumped was at Devil’s Punch Bowl in mid-July with five friends. By far it is not the highest cliff I’ve leapt from (only about 20 feet), but the slow building of that adrenaline slam is still the same. Everyone who’s been cliff jumping knows what the rush feels like, how you stand at the edge with your heart thumping harder with each passing moment until eventually it’s the only thing you can hear. How you lean forward and defy everything your brain has ever taught you about survival, how you fight those instincts to flail like a thrown cat while getting the worst tickle-punch to the gut. Then, after you arrow through shock-cold water, how you feel much more fearless and badass and alive than you’ve ever before. Which is why I will never pass down an opportunity to go and I’ll always give crazy a chance.
Located nine miles past Apsen along Independence Pass, Devil’s Punch Bowl is one of the top swimming holes in all of Colorado and a haven for locals wanting to escape the summer heat—or rather welcome it, since the river is freaking COLD (in the 30s). Working up the nerve to leap across a six-foot gap 20 feet above a narrow, rocky stream was probably the hardest part, and good practice for shutting my brain up. Once across, I waited three minutes for my heartrate to slow before my body prepared to pump more adrenaline. Standing at the edge of the cliff, I heard crazy knock, and the rush I knew would come came. If I didn’t fall then, I would overthink the actions, the potential consequences, and I would never be able to answer the door. So in a shrill yell I forced myself forward, letting all thoughts fly out of the top of my head as I watched crystal clear water rush at me in slow motion. When I hit feet first and lost all breath to the cold, I hung suspended for a moment and let my thoughts come crashing back into me. I survived. All body parts are moving. I did not smash into a rock. And hell yes I’m going to do it again!
After about three jumps I was crazied out and spent the next hour stretched out on warm rocks rising up from the river’s middle, cursing every cloud that dared hide even a sliver of the sun. I could’ve laid there all day, enjoying the sound of rushing water and shouts from others taking the plunge, but cliff jumping isn’t the only thing that defines this gorgeous nook in the Rockies. So much more to see, so we packed up and headed back to the trail, except for me, who for some reason was feeling particularly brave and daring. While everyone else ascended the normal path to the cars, I figured I’d just climb back up the cliff and hop over the six-foot gap I hopped over getting here—except now I’m standing at the edge and realizing the other side is higher, and that’s making a difference in the type of crazy that’s knocking. Three seconds go by, and I make no move. Now I’m trapped, and it’s sounding more and more like the stupid kind of crazy that’s at my brain’s door. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Turn around. Don’t do it. Muscle shut-down.
But now I’m realizing that it might not be stupid, but my mind’s configured it that way. Am I just overthinking? Why could I jump several times from a 20-foot cliff but not jump six feet in front of me? Why have I stood here for so long staring at it? I can jump six feet in front of me. I will!
I do, but not before my brain breaks free of the shut down I tried to force on it and freaks out mid-air. Each second spent trying to figure out the type of crazy was a second too long to stand at the edge, and trying to overcome a lock-down fear is no easy battle. I hit the other side with more than enough room to spare, but hard on my knees and completely out of breath. Not the graceful jump I was imagining at all, but I survived, all body parts were moving, and I did not smash into rocks below.
But hell no I was not doing that again!
As the hot sun burned too quickly across the sky we threw our stuff in the back of the Jeep and made our way to the Grottos, a.k.a. the ice caves—small water-carved slot canyons just below the surface, with areas of icicle stalactites dripping down from the ceiling onto a thick blanket of ice below.
What a cool place. Pun intended.
Another half mile or so boulder-scrambling along the trail took us to the Cascades, a sequence of small waterfalls and rapids spilling over polished, twisting rock. Watching the river flow through wavy lines of sculpted granite, some of us sat by the edge, deep in thought, some of us took 1,000 photos, some of us dared to cross a fallen tree suspended over the rushing water. Me, I extended my $400 GoPro into a pounding waterfall for a fresh angle and managed to capture some decent footage, which I compiled into this three-minute long video:
In experiences like these I’ve learned that actions outside my comfort zone don’t make me fearless, but defiant. I won’t disregard an adventure just because there is risk, because there is risk in everything we do everyday. It’s the measure of that risk that decides my limit, and I won’t let my brain review that measurement more than once—to give it a chance to override logic and commitment with fear. Because maybe what I fear more than fearing is regretting I didn’t take the jump.
Even if that makes me just a little bit crazy.
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