I have made this climb before, around lakes in the Carolinas, alongside the rivers of south Alabama, by creeks in Florida. It is hot, I am covered with sweat, I am tired and dirty and ready for a plunge.
Welcome to the jumping rock.
This is a place of innocence lost, ever increasing thrill, rites of passage, teens behaving badly, danger and tragedy.
From the limestone outcrops that hovered above the lazy rivers and creeks of my boyhood, we faced our fears, accepted dares and did foolish things. Sandbars shift and logs drift into deep holes, making them not as deep as they were last week, as everyone knows.
Even as 12-year-olds, we knew caution was always called for, someone should check to see if that hole at the bottom of the jumping rock was free and clear, except that didn't always happen and people got hurt, they ended up in stretchers, in traction, in intensive care, in the graveyard.
Then there is that which happens when the innocence of childhood drifts into teenage nirvana — a place populated by cutoff jeans, long hair, banged-up old Chevys, lots of love and Tom Petty blaring from a tape deck — and eventually recklessness where thick marijuana smoke and an abundance of cheap beer pretty much can propel one to attempt a triple gainer off a 50-foot rock into a puddle, especially if there are girls to impress.
It was, however, a distinctly family affair recently down at a collection of rock outcroppings in Lake Martin. Dozens of kids, with their moms and dads watching from boats anchored a safe distance away, took turns facing their fears and throwing themselves off Chimney and Acapulco Rocks.
It seemed an exercise in pure happiness as kids as young as 7 screamed to the heavens as they catapulted toward the surface of the lake at upward of 40 mph. Even fighting past their fears turned into a playful sport, with the frightened and the phobic treated to the sweet encouragement that only children can bring to such scenes.
"What am I afraid of?" replied one half-quivering 14-year-old as he prepared to launch himself skyward and downward. "I'm scared of spiders and bees and snakes and girls and — " he said as he pivoted to look back at the assembled giggling crowd, "— heights."
Still the dangers lurk, especially up at the top, where the sharp rocks point more than 80 feet down to the surface.
People routinely go to the hospital from here. Sometimes they have died.
After learning The Star was doing a piece on Chimney Rock, one of my middle-aged-acquaintances, who had a friend die there years ago, collared me to share a piece of wisdom.
"They can shut the place down as far as I'm concerned."
Don't celebrate danger, he was warning me.
He's right. But such wisdom is usually wasted on the young. And youth will always delight in flinging itself off of a jumping rock, in an act of self-defiance, of courage, of celebration of youth itself in all its foolishness.