Colorado Mandala by Brian Heffron

“Alan and I came up here last spring and jumped off the cliffs for accuracy. It was great trying to go straight through an inner tube jumping all the way from the top,” Michael said. “Too low for that this year, though. Bad luck!”

“Yeah, bad luck,” I said with sarcasm. Alan was probably Michael’s craziest old Colorado friend. I had been driving up here to this canyon all morning from Manitou Springs so I was looking forward to stretching my legs and uncramping my stiff muscles. Today’s boisterous outdoor activities were planned late, late last night at a bar table, which should explain a lot, including my cramped, water-starved muscles.

“This is it,” Said Michael. “We’re almost there.”

The cliffs rose on both sides. On our left, the steep red rocks plunged straight to the road’s edge. On the far shore, the cliff face rose sheer from the foaming rapids. The stream thinned and accelerated through this new alley-like narrows. I tried to estimate the depth of the water, to see if it could ever be safe to jump from the top. No, it seemed much too shallow, perhaps from halfway up.

“This is it,” said Michael. “Right there, see the white water? Well, it spills out into a slow pool and then you can ride it all the way down.”

I slowed down and pulled off the road onto a narrow shoulder where I parked in the shade of an overhanging ledge. The kid, who I had only met today, took off as soon as I stopped. He hadn’t said much during the whole trip up, but just sat smiling. I figured he was just shy.

Michael and I were in long pants and had to change. Sarah followed our thirsty dog Strider down to the stream’s edge where he drank deeply. I peeled off my jeans and put on my climbing shorts. My legs felt great to be unfettered. After we had both changed we got the truck tire inner tube off the jeep roof and walked upstream high above the water. On a huge boulder along the river we passed about ten Denver teenagers. Almost all of them were wearing sailor’s watch caps. They thought that made them look tough; a few were playing guitars, and all were drunk and loud.

We left the road and made our way toward a crack in the cliff. It became a loose shale path leading steeply down to the torrent. Michael hurried down, jumping from rock to smooth rock, all the while rolling the wide inner tube in front of him. He pulled up short of rushing in and slowly dipped his foot into the water.

“Ahhh,” he grimaced, “it’s freezing!”

Just under six feet tall, Michael was an extremely striking figure. He had a shock of rebellious dirty blonde hair that cascaded to his shoulders. His eyes were an intense shade of flinty gray that shined out from young crows’ feet like a lantern light in darkness. His face was like a nervous animal’s, moving, twitching, and seemingly always ready for any action. He instantly jumped on the inner tube and paddled out into the fastest part of the current, his back muscles undulating with the effort. He soon left my sight, bouncing down over a roller coaster of white water, yelling.

His husky voice soon faded away in the fleeting foam. The shore’s thick dust clung to my feet and itched. I waded in to my knees; the water was chilling cold, a shimmering white reflection of the sky above. The bottom was covered with smooth worry-stone pebbles and sloped away into a sharp V. The stream was about thirty feet across at that point. In the center the current was the slowest, although still fairly fast. The water rushed along both sides of my rapidly numbing and whitening climber’s legs. It felt wonderful though, and thoroughly purged whatever was left of my hangover. I squatted down and splashed my face in the icy water.

Presently I saw Stuart coming down from the road with the inner tube. He slid like a skier in the loose gravel. His long straight hair was the exact same shade as his mother’s. He had a habit of flicking his bangs out of his eyes with a short swift shake of his sandy head.

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Genre – Literary Fiction

Rating – PG

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