They say few things are as American as baseball, apple pie….and add to that “jumping into the old water hole.”
As we headed west from Reno/Sparks, Nevada, the temperature climbed steadily toward the maximum it would reach that July afternoon – 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Just off to the right, winding alongside interstate 80, the Truckee River ambled lazily from side to side, with its telltale green fringe accompanying it through the dry Nevada high desert. Though it’s normally quite frigid, I found myself thinking it would be nice to dip my toes in the water today as it was probably pleasantly cool.
About 15 minutes outside of Sparks, we saw a line of 5-6 cars parked along the right side of the Interstate, in one of a number of snow chain removal areas that appear every few miles along this stretch of high desert. As we drove by at 70 mph, we saw off to the right a huge boulder that formed a cliff over the Truckee, with someone distantly perched on the top of the precipice. “Hey look – they’re jumping off a cliff into the Truckee!” I told the kids. “Can we stop?” they asked, and once we verified the presence of on/off ramps about a mile on either side of the spot, we agreed to turn the RV around.
As traffic continued to zoom by, we all changed into our swimsuits and grabbed cameras and sunscreen, picking our way along the cement dividers lining the chain removal area. As we followed a path down the embankment and crawled through an area where the barbed wire had been pulled apart to allow access, the heat from the desert floor was already feeling uncomfortable through the soles of our shoes. We had to cross a train track and follow the 100 meter trail littered with beer cans to the cliff.
“More people are joining the party,” a tattooed, goateed mid-20’s male clutching a can of unidentified beverage called. About a dozen people and at least two dogs were in the cool water below as a teen prepared to launch himself off a cliff that towered about four stories over the river. “Is it deep enough?” I asked – and he led us to the edge and gave us a short briefing on where the Truckee was deepest. Spray paint on the rocks and the occasional soda can or beer can told us we were definitely not the first to brave the cliffs, so we decided it would be safe. Someone had even taken the effort to cement the “launch pad” from the highest rock.
The kids went first, with very little hesitation, as we snapped photos. But then I made the mistake of climbing up to check out the jump myself, and suddenly found all eyes focused on me, waiting for me to take my turn. As I cautiously peered over the edge of the precipice and saw the swirling green water at least four storeys below, my stomach lurched. And I suddenly realized I would have to decide between “chickening out” after my teenage daughters had already made the jump – and going against all my natural instincts and nearly five decades of conditioning.
Ultimately I would make the leap – and even went back once more to prove it wasn’t a fluke. Plus I wanted to do at least one jump without shrieking like an eight-year-old on the way down. And after a few more jumps we had to tear ourselves away, picking our way across the rocks back to the RV as traffic continued to fly by on I-80. Hey, you only live once.