I was not going to be late this time. My wife and daughter were jumping into the icy lake at 11:00 sharp. I was home with the boy, and we were going to be out the door at 10:30, and no later. I looked at my watch at 10:35 and shouted “Edward! Get your stuff on! We’re late!”
Edward did not want to go watch his mother and sister do the Penguin Plunge. He wanted to do it himself. The fact that he was four and his sister was seven did not hold up in the court of Edward. He was grumpy and resentful, and therefore reluctant to cooperate in any sort of way whatsoever with his desperate father. By the time I managed to squish him into his snow gear it was 10:45.
The plunge was happening only a few miles from our house, but it was apparently a very popular event. Traffic was a nightmare, and pedestrians were streaming in from every which way, further gumming up the works. After sitting at a light for three cycles and only seeing one car make that left turn way ahead of me, I knew that if I stayed and waited my turn we would miss the event. Or at least the part of the event that mattered. There were hundreds and hundreds of people jumping into the frigid waters of Lake Champlain that day, but my family was in wave 14. At only a minute or two per wave, we could not be more than a few minutes late if we wanted to see them go in. I made a decision and swerved out of the turning lane, driving past the traffic and up the hill, hoping to find a better place to park.
There was no better place to park. Not one that would still give us enough time to walk there anyway. I pulled into the park at the very top of the hill and coaxed my son out of the car. There had to be a way to get there. I ran to the edge of the park, which was at the top of a very steep cliff overlooking the lake. And there, right underneath us, was the Penguin Plunge. “Edward!” I screeched. “Get over here! I found it!”
Yes, I found it, and I could see the tiny ant-people moving around near the tents, and I could hear everything over the loudspeakers. They were calling the first wave. “Waves 9 through 14, please get ready,” I heard them say. Oh no. We were going to miss it after all. I looked up and down the top of the cliff, looking for a way down, but there was none. I was sure that, somewhere under 2 feet of snow, there was a slightly treacherous path, but I couldn’t see it. If we wanted to get down there, we were going to have to walk all the way back down to where the traffic was turning in, and then all the way back here again. It was going to be 30 minutes at least, and that’s if Edward could keep up. As the first wave of people splashed into the lake, I realized that in order to get down there and support my family, there was only one option. We were going to have to take a plunge of our own. “Edward,” I said ominously, “come sit on my lap.”
With my son positioned somewhat securely on my lap, I took a deep breath, wished I had remembered to wear my snowpants, and then pushed off from the top of the cliff. It was a fast drop, and we slid quickly, at least until we got to the trees. Much of the hill was covered in trees, limbs, and branches, but these were mostly dead, so they snapped off as I hit them all with my face. They also snapped off as I tried to grab onto them for purposes of slowing down and not dying. The one time they did not snap off was when Edward’s boot got stuck in them.
I managed to stop and get his boot out of the tree, but now he was full of snow, and I was full of snow, and we were only about halfway down the cliff. I took a noble step forward, through what looked to be the last and the worst of the trees, and this was true. It was the worst of them. You see what I had not realized was that under the two feet off snow at this point lay two more feet of piled dead branches, which snapped completely under my weight and I went down about four feet, my legs tangled in spiky wood and my torso buried in snow. It was about this time that I discovered the thorns.
Edward did not get stuck on any thorns, or surrender to any pitfalls, because my lumbering mass of ill-advised destruction was clearing a decent path for him. Once we were through the tree belt, it was smooth slide, all the way down to, well, somebody’s deck. I didn’t mean to land on their deck, but the rowhouses were built right up against the cliff. There was no way to go between them, and no way to stop myself once we started sliding again. I landed with a nice soft *ploompf* on their snow covered deck. Sadly for Edward I had cleared enough path that the snow was too compressed. He had been sliding behind me, but didn’t quite make it over the deck railing. I got up and lifted him over, and frantically looked around, trying to figure out how we were going to get out of these people’s houses.
This was a second story deck, but there were, very fortunately for us, stairs leading down to the garage, which we took quickly. Edward was beginning to switch over to complaining mode, since he was extra full of snow everywhere, and was tired from all of that adventuring. But this was not a time to dawdle. Or be written up for trespassing. This was a time for haste! The deck gate was locked, or possibly frozen, so I jumped over it into the garage area, lifted Edward up as well, and then we ran. We ran really fast. Even tired, grumpy Edward ran. I think he could kind of tell that we were maybe not supposed to 100% technically be there.
All of this had happened very quickly, and when we made it around the housing development to the street, wave 9 was rushing into the water. There was a long line of people pressed up against the edge of the lake, and we weren’t going to make it over there any time soon. It was roped off anyway, so we would have had to backtrack quite a bit to get in there and then probably have a terrible view. But, as luck would have it, we were pretty much the only people on the other side of the ropes, so we got a front row seat view of the exit.
We could see, across the way, the
insane people plungers run towards the water, and we could hear them going in and splashing about, but then we had the perfect spot for congratulating the wet people on their way back to the heated tents. Edward and I relaxed and had plenty of time to see wave 14 do their thing. It was great. We cheered extra loud for our family as they raced past us looking for dry clothes.
In the end, Edward forgot completely about needing to do the plunge himself, and he was much more excited about telling his mother about the crazy adventure we had just had coming down the hill, so it turned out all right in the end. And if this post wasn’t too long already, I’d tell you about how we all got back up.