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Friday, December 16, 2005

How Many EMTs Does it Take to Rescue a Bluff Jumper?

First of all, read this news story. It involves my alma mater, Concordia University Wisconsin.

When I was in school, one of our favorite activities to do on a lazy winter afternoon (when it wasn't too cold, or too windy, or snowing, or mysteriously foggy) was something we called "bluff jumping." It was best after a fresh deep snow, as this created the cushion needed to create a pillow-like effect that prevented dread accidents like the one described in the story.

Bluff jumping, like most college activities, was both ill-advised and exhilarating. Allow me to set the scene: Along the entire East side of the CUW campus there is a bluff that overlooks Lake Michigan. This bluff was very steep (a lot steeper than it is now, I hear) and stretched approx. 350 feet down to the beach below. Our mission was to find a very steep and very clear portion of the bluff, so that we could have a fun and clear slide when we eventually landed. Most of the time we used a cleared-out section near all the parking lots and stuff, where a makeshift hiking trail had been constructed by students that had come before us.* It was clear, and the snow fell in white blankets, 2 feet deep at least by the time January rolled around.

What you would do when you "bluff jumped" was simple: Dress in winter clothes from head to toe (very important) and either take a running start or just dead-jump off the side of the bluff. Not exciting, you say? Well, the main excitement came from the fact that the bluff was so steep that you could not see the ground beneath the lip of the bluff. You had to take it on faith that the ground was actually there. By all appearances, you were jumping off the side of a 90 degree cliff to your death. Even though you know the snowy pillow is down there, it's still insane, because you're jumping blind.

So you've just jumped and you're flying through the air an unreasonably long time, possibly flailing your arms because its fun. When your parabolic trajectory crossed the bluff's steep decline, you would glide into a pile of snow and slide another 20 feet or so because fluffy snow is not the most effective braking system in the world. When you finally stop, your heart is racing and there's mud and snow down your pants and up your shirt, and in all sorts of other funny places. You lay there a long time, not wanting to move (because you know you somehow have to make it back up the snow-covered bluff, and you're not looking forward to the effort). When you finally decide to get up, you get as much of the snow off of your bare skin as possible and take the 5-minute trip back up to the top of the bluff, being careful not to slip on any icy patches. Then you go back to your room, put the clothes in the bathtub, and have some hot cocoa because you are cold and that was awesome.

People also would do "bluff sledding," stealing the trays from the cafeteria and using them to slide down the steep hill. This may have been the faster way, and probably was the more dangerous way(as evidenced by the above story), but it was no substitute for propelling yourself off a cliff and landing in a pile of snow. There's no sense of flight or style in bluff-sledding. Plus, if the mulletted cafeteria worker spots you stealing a tray, you'll be on cleanup duty for a week.

*Truthfully, the path had to be constructed and re-constructed every year because of bluff erosion, a process that led to us coming back from every summer break and noticing the bluff was a few feet closer to the campus than it was before.


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