When I was a junior in college, I decided that I wanted to explore the ravine at Grand Valley. It’s really a beautiful feature of the campus, and there’s a bridge which connects two halves of campus over the divide. The drop from the bridge is probably 50 feet or more, not an insignificant height. At the bottom of the gulch is a small creek which varies in size with rainfall.
Dylan (name changed) and Kyle decided that they were going to accompany me on this adventure, and we set out with high spirits. Dylan loaned me a pair of his sturdy hiking shoes as my delicately embroidered flats were unlikely to provide adequate support for the adventure at hand. I laced them as tightly as possible, but the difference in size was quite a hindrance. I smothered my skin in natural mosquito repellent; the burgeoning population of the bloodsuckers was out of control in the rural setting surrounding the campus.
We found the beginning of the ravine behind one of the buildings near the clock tower, and we began our descent into the leafy gorge. We progressed slowly; the looseness of the dark soil combined with the steepness of the slope made for a potentially disastrous descent. I gripped the ground with my feet as best I could, hands braced against the earth for added support. Melodious birdsong accompanied our small grunts of concentration as we focused on maintaining our tenuous hold on the slope.
Eventually we made our way to the winding creek at the bottom of the ravine. It was a beautiful ribbon of cornflower blue, swift and mysterious. It chirped a welcome at us as we paused to survey our surroundings. A small piece of blue and white china glistened beneath the waters. I picked it up carefully and examined this intriguing piece of material culture while Dylan and Kyle discussed a plan of attack. After a small amount of discussion, they determined that we would walk along the creek as far as we could before turning back.
We splashed along in the cool stream which had forged its own path through this shaded glen. Small pieces of rubbish flashed in the creek, discarded remnants that had been brought far from where they originated by the water. A bright green bullfrog croaked as it watched our movements from the safety of a fallen branch.
The sun pierced through the tightly woven canopy of the trees with great difficulty; the ravine was bathed in a soothing, indirect half-light. We kept moving forward slowly but surely. A squirrel chattered at us indignantly; its tail twitched with annoyance. Eventually we reached a point where we could not follow along the banks of the creek any longer.
After a brief conference, we decided to travel vertically, ascend the slope, and bypass the obstruction. We were at least half a mile from where we had entered the ravine, and the walls were even steeper in this area. However, we did not let it deter us from our exploration, and we clung stubbornly to the dirt as we climbed.
“These shoes are too big.” I muttered to myself distractedly as I repeatedly tried to progress through a particularly tricky section of terrain. Dylan’s shoes were at least three sizes larger than what I should have been wearing, and I was having difficulty with precision. This combined with the steep slope proved to be my undoing. I was perhaps 20 feet up from the riverbed when the foliage I was hanging on to gave way beneath my weight.
“Oh!” I exclaimed with surprise; there was no time to process the situation any further. I attempted to dig my feet into the sheer cliff-like side of the ravine, but I was unable to obtain purchase. Unwilling to plunge to my death blindly, I managed to flip onto my back as I dropped like a lead balloon down the side of the ravine. Supine, I slid rapidly down the incline at a 70 degree angle reminiscent of an unlikely heroine from an action movie. The forest was a blur of emerald and jade around me, individual features blending together into one big smear of foliage.
My arms flailed uselessly in an attempt to grab hold of something to halt my abrupt descent. I watched in horror as the ground rose up to meet me. I knew that the force of my reunion with solid ground was likely to propel me forward, making me land face-first in the creek. Reluctant to indulge in a mud bath or knock myself unconscious on the stones of the riverbed, I forced myself to relax my legs and bend my knees. I rushed toward the ground and made contact; my bent knees provided enough shock absorbance to help me keep my balance and avoid an impromptu facial and/or braining.
Laughter rained down on me; 25 feet above me, Dylan and Kyle were turning red from lack of oxygen. They had heard my exclamation and turned to see what had startled me. They had watched with equal parts horror and amusement as I plummeted down the ravine only to land unharmed at the base. After verifying that I was indeed unharmed, they paused for a break to watch me as I slowly attempted to regain the ground I had lost in my unplanned tumble.