w: Ryan Payne

Jumping at Soldier Bluff

Lake Whitney

Fear is a fickle thing. It drives some to immeasurable heights while crushing others into oblivion. It can be both a tool and a curse. Some men are driven to run due to fear, others cower. Me? I jumped.

The Soldier Bluff campsite rests on Lake Whitney’s southern bank, near its dam, roughly 45 minutes northwest of Waco and my alma mater, Baylor University. My first trip there was nearly 9 years ago, during the fall semester of my freshman year at college.

My hall monitor that year, Andy, arranged for a trip out to Lake Whitney to go cliff jumping. Having no friends and not wanting to say no to anything for fear of missing out, I agreed to go along with 6 other guys living on our hall.

That day was a normal day for Texas weather. After we parked, storm clouds appeared on the horizon bringing with it wind and a temperature drop. Getting to the jumping spot might be easier now, but back then it was a bit of a challenge. No road took you there, and the walk from the parking lot to the jumping site was just under a mile. Most of the way was along a steep cliff face 30 or so feet above the water, with a path that at times, was little more than an inch or two.

“What did I get myself into.”

After what seems like forever, the path opens up into a slight incline that culminates at a triangular point overlooking the whole of Lake Whitney. You can stand there at it’s peak and see nothing but water and a distant shore. That day, the wind was driving against us, churning up the dark water as black clouds raced towards us.

The cliff that day was roughly 30 to 50 feet above the water, which meant absolutely nothing to me, because the entire trip was a series of firsts.

We reached that point, the jumping spot, right as it was starting to go from “uh oh” to “we should go.” Andy told us it was now or never, and with an intense, shaky sigh, he ran towards the edge and disappeared. Just like that.

Fear is a fickle thing. Everyone else was looking for an excuse not to go. The “exit” was just minutes away, climbing up the cliffy shore after having jumped moments earlier. It was now or never. Thankfully I’ve been blessed with a bad taste whenever regret enters my life, so I next found myself running towards the edge and soon flying. And falling. And then it was dark and quiet with only the waves whispering in my ear.

There’s a moment right after you jump where it doesn’t feel like you’re falling yet. A void surrounds you, letting you float for a moment in nothingness. Here, just the stormy water surrounds you while the wind is singing in your ears. It’s as if someone slowed your real life down to a fraction of its normal speed so that you could enjoy every moment.

Then you look down, the wind is roaring, and suddenly time races ahead, bringing with it dark, cold water. And you hit it, and you’re in a new, dark and cold void and for just a moment you don’t know which way is up. A few seconds of clawing later you’re back at the surface and climbing up the cliffs to do it all over again. It’s fun now.

This is our life. We jump and pretend we’re flying when it’s convenient, but all the while hurdling towards smashing into a new reality we saw but didn’t prepare for. We deal with it all the same. You either jump, or you don’t. Fear was no different for any in our group, most jumped, some didn’t. Life moves forward without them, leaving behind its potential experiences.

Fear can either be a tool that reveals a new slice of reality or a blanket that blocks out the world.

662 words


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