Shrinkage

I was going through some old school papers and came across this narrative that I wrote for an English class in college.  It’s a fun story and I thought I would share it since I can’t seem to come up with anything original to blog about this week:

Last summer, my friends and I were camping in the high Uinta Mountains of Utah.  On the second night of our trip, three of us, Jarem, Raeshell, and I took a drive up into the mountains to Washington Lake for a midnight swim.  It was early September and temperatures were still in the sixties, but the water at high altitude was enough to chill your soul.  It was all we could do to get in the freezing, black lake, and we had to dare each other just to dunk our heads beneath the dark surface.  That’s when that odd part of my brain decided we needed an adventure, and came up with the following:

“I wonder if we could swim all the way across the lake and back without freezing to death,” I offered.  Jarem was my best friend, and he must have known right away that this meant I was probably going to find out.  Jarem only has one leg.  He lost the other above the knee to bone cancer when he was 14.  He has a prosthetic for walking, but he takes it off to get in the water, which makes swimming a little more difficult.  Jarem also has about five percent body fat, compared to my thirty.  But luckily, Jarem also loves a good adventure.

“What the hell,” he said.  “You only die once.”  We didn’t expect Raeshell to want to go with us, she being a girl and all, but she didn’t want to be left behind, so we all accepted the challenge.

I’d been there before in the daytime, and I remembered the lake being about a quarter of a mile wide, and a half mile long.  I didn’t know which side we were on, but I figured we could swim it either way.  We could barely make out the silhouette of a big round-topped mountain just on the other side of the lake, so we decided to make that our point of reference, and we set off swimming toward it.

Once away from the shore, the darkness enveloped us like a shroud.  The moon wasn’t up, and the stars were obscured by clouds.  We couldn’t see more than twenty feet in any direction.  Our whole world was a silent black sea beneath dark clouds.

It was fairly easy going, and we found that as long as we kept swimming, we could stay pretty warm.  Just about the time we thought we should be getting to the other side, we didn’t.

“Shouldn’t we be there by now?” asked Raeshell.

“I don’t know.  I can’t see anything,” I replied.  “We’ve got to be past half-way, though, so we might as well keep swimming.”  We kept swimming.  Five minutes later, the shore was still nowhere in sight.  The cold was beginning to seep into our bones, but our numbed bodies kept stroking, having no other way to keep warm.

Finally, as we were starting to doubt ever seeing land again, we began to make out the shape of a rocky shoreline.  We swam until we could touch bottom, and stopped to catch our breaths.  As soon as we stopped moving, though, the cold began to take its toll.  We considered walking back to our clothes instead of swimming, but the shore was a mass of sharp boulders.  Jarem was minus his left leg, and only Raeshell had thought to bring her sandals with her.  None of us wanted to swim all the way back, but the longer we waited, the colder it got.

Jarem started shivering uncontrollably, so I knew we had to do something.  Raeshell decided to walk back, and Jarem and I would swim.  We all hoped that we could find our way back to our towels and clothes in the pervasive dark.

With the decision made, we set off swimming again as quickly as possible.  Jarem was still shivering, and his muscles were starting to cramp up.  I urged him on, hoping he could make the long swim.  We had no landmark to shoot for on the return trip, but I have a pretty good sense of direction, so I went first and let Jarem follow.

About half way back, our pace began to lag.  Jarem stopped talking, and I could tell he was concentrating hard on swimming.  I looked behind me with every stroke to make sure he was still coming, preparing myself to rescue him if he went under.  I pictured myself having to tell Jarem’s parents I had killed their son.

On and on we swam, our bodies far past the point of feeling.  Nothing seeps away your energy quite like ice-cold water, and we were both feeling the effects.  But Jarem’s head remained above water, and we both kept stroking away like mindless drones.

When the shore at last materialized in front of us, our fears and worries immediately melted away, replaced by a feeling of happiness and contentment.  We had done it!  We quickly located the tall pine under which we had left our clothes.  Raeshell was already there, and we both helped Jarem out of the lake and into his towel.  As I climbed on shaking legs out of the icy waters I found my body to be completely numb, yet rarely have I ever felt more invigorated and alive.

As we dried off and dressed in our warm clothes we had a great sense of accomplishment, having done something few people would attempt.  Later, sitting around a warm campfire we laughed and joked at what a stupid thing we had just done.  But we knew that such an adventure was something that we would always remember, and given another chance, we would do the same again.  We went home safe and happy and very alive, with a great story to tell.

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