Ball Bearing Mountain

Kino Bay, Mexico. There were three of us. We’d driven down during Christmas break from college. On this day we’d decided to split up — each of us for a solo day. I went east from the beach and climbed up a nearby mountain. Everything was fine until the descent. I slipped into a steep gully and couldn’t get myself stopped. If you saw the movie, “The Mask of Zorro”, remember how he slid down that steep gully on the shovel? That’s how I started going down this thing on my butt.

The gully was full of round pebbles that acted just like ball-bearings. I couldn’t get any kind of traction or grip and I slid faster and faster down this steep, narrow, serpentine channel. There was no foliage or outcroppings to grab and I knew from the climb up that the gully would find its way to a sheer drop-off. It might be ten feet and it might be 200 feet. But I knew I would come to one and fly off into empty space. I grabbed desperately for anything I could reach. Nothing. Except for the long arm of a cholla cactus that crossed the gully at face level. I swiped at it with my hand but missed and it needled me hard in the chin. I just kept going and going.

I slid around a steep bend and there was my cliff, about 50 feet in front of me. I was lucky. It was only about a 20-footer. Maybe enough to crack an ankle or break a leg. Or maybe barely not enough to do any great harm at all – if I was lucky.

I slid toward the drop; sure I was going fly off. I scanned for the best place to land. At the last second I would launch as best I could in that direction, hoping I’d land without injury and with some kind of chance to stop my slide.

Here came the edge. Fast!

I don’t think I even saw the narrow band of solid rock, right on the edge of that cliff. As I set that last step to direct my flight, my boot found that little pad and slid no further. I thought my speed would bull me over anyway but nope. My foot held fast and the rest of me accordioned to a stop.

It was very quiet, except for my breathing. Dust rose up and gravel sprinkled over the little cliff. My chin ached and bled from the deep cholla spine wounds but I wasn’t going to die or break a leg in two. I sat there, looking at my landing spot – happy not to be groveling around on it in any kind of pain.

It’s nice to be in control. I negotiated my way around the cliff, got myself the rest of the way down the mountain, and walked into camp in the waning light of the day.

I was the second of us to arrive back there. Later, number 3 stepped out of the edge of night and up to the campfire. And we shared the adventures of the day.

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