We went to Lake Placid, N.Y., for our family vacation this summer. On the first day, we stopped into High Peaks Cyclery for the sidewalk sale but left with a plan to jump off a 20-foot cliff.
“You’ll wanna hike from Copperas Pond trailhead,” the guy at the shop said. He was a lean, mean cycling machine. “Take your swimsuits. You can jump off cliffs into the lake.”
The children stood wide-eyed with hope. “Absolutely!” I said, trying to be cool just long enough to leave the shop with some dignity.
I took a map from the man. Good news—there were 10-, 20- and 30-foot death options. We weren’t out of the shop before the kids started howling with excitement.
“No way,” I said. I slammed the truck door and turned to face three very angry would-be cliff jumpers.
“We’re doing it,” Tim said. The kids played it cool, knowing that if there was anyone who wanted to go more than they, it was their dad.
An hour later we sat at the trailhead. The man had failed to mention that the short half-mile hike was also vertical. We pushed on until the trail curved around a lake. Clear, still like glass, trees and cliffs on every shore.
Which is when we heard the laughter. Six guys, all 30-somethings, partying down in the distance around a campfire. Three of them wandered over.
“Are you jumping?” This was their opening.
I took control of the situation swiftly. “Are you?”
We stood on the 20-foot death option looking down as a group. Our family of four and these three dudes.
“We’ve never done it,” they finally admitted.
“Someone should go see how deep it is,” I said.
Kendall and Nelson scrambled down the rocks and into the lake. We could see that the rocks we stood on jutted down into the water as far as they jutted up. The boys dove under as far as they could before bobbing up and reporting, “It’s deep!”
The biggest dude hesitated. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m a little heavier than a 9 year old.”
That gave me my out.
“Listen up, boys,” I said to my two. “You can jump, if these guys jump first.”
The dudes looked at me. We exchanged a glance of mutual terror. Then, they regrouped. Game on.
Two of the dudes turned on the one with a beer in his hand. “Do it, man! Come on, do it!”
Beer Man crept to the ragged edge and looked down. Take-off would have to be clear and purposeful, and ideally, sober.
“I’ll need a running start,” he said.
Kendall and Nelson joined in with the chanting. At this moment, a horrifying clarity came over me. It was my father’s booming voice: “If your friends jumped off a building, would you?”
About then, Beer Man ran and jumped off the cliff. He flopped sideways in the air like an alewife fish. He hit the water horizontally, a full-length body slap on the water.
We all waited, held our breath and watched. Yes, Beer Man surfaced! Alive! With both legs working! And a stinging red mark down his left arm, leg and face! Unequivocal success!
Even as I celebrated with the group, another horrifying moment of clarity came. This time it was my booming voice: “You can jump, if these guys jump first.”
What had I done? The boys were already stripping down to their suits and toeing the edge.
Kendall jumped first. Then Nelson. Then Tim. All three of the most precious things in the world to me jumped off into thin air and splashed into a lovely, gorgeous, perfect mountain lake 20 feet below. All three surfaced ecstatic and alive.
Beer Man came over and toasted me with approval. “What a cool family.”
And this very cool mom sat there in absolute terror for the next hour as her boys found more and more cliffs to jump off of. But in the end, I was laughing too. Even as I begged them all not to do it.