It was a sunny Missouri summer day when I decided to go on a road trip with three of my friends from high school. I had been contemplating the trip because summer was almost over and this was my last summer before college started. It's funny how at the time it seemed like such a hard decision when today it would be an easy one.
My friend Chris had been planning this during our senior year, finally coughed up three thousand dollars and bought a used van. For the money the van was rather nice looking. The idea was to go out West hitting the majority of national parks. Most of the time would be spent camping and cooking outside, except when we were at a place where one of us had relatives.
So we headed out, driving towards Omaha where we stayed the night with my friend Luke’s sister. From there we proceeded to Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone. Then onto Montana where we heard there were no speed limits. We would rotate driving shifts. At Montana I was to step up to the plate and drive. Unfortunately, the van topped out at a mere 85 miles per hour. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed.
From Montana we ventured through potato land and into Seattle. We figured since we were so close to Canada, we might as well go visit Vancouver for a day. On the way back, we stopped near the coast in Oregon where we knew some people. Then it was the Redwood National Park to see the tree you could drive through. Sure enough, there it was; we were able to fit the van through it.
We arrived at our next destination, Yosemite, late at night. We were told that there had been a few bear sightings; nobody wanted to pitch tents. We rented little cabins so we wouldn’t be mauled to death by any bears. We woke up the following day and went on some hikes. We came across Vernal Falls and decided that it would be a good hike. After we finally reached the top, we sat down to catch our breath while looking at the scenery in awe. At some point, Chris got up to stand on a rock near the waterfall so he could take a picture. I stood by him, or rather wanted to stand by him. As soon as I took that first step on the rock, I immediately slipped and fell. While I was falling, Chris put out his hand to reach out for me, but I was unable to grasp it.
The whole moment seemed like it was in slow motion. The only thing I could do was try and protect my face and head. Once in, I almost immediately dropped 30 feet with what seemed like nothing but rocks underneath. I was carried a ways until there was another 25-foot drop into more rocks. I then slid down a 100-foot rock slide into a pool of water at the bottom, where people were playing in. They had walked up to 15 or so feet to slide into the pool. People assumed I had just slid from the very top; they had no idea I almost died.
When I reached the pool, a German doctor pulled me out. I don’t know if he saw what happened, but he could tell something was wrong with me. Once out, I layed there against the rocks with my legs cut up and missing a shoe. I sat and stared blankly at nothing, I was in shock. The entire incident happened in about five to ten seconds, but my mind felt like I had run a marathon. My three friends witnessed everything; they ran down the mountain trying to get to me. None of them thought I would survive the fall, including myself.
As soon as I slipped into the water, my mind went wandering. I thought I was going to die; I saw my life flash before me, a time line from when I was young to that exact moment. All I could think of was that I was too young to die; I had too much yet to see and experience. It felt as though two hours had passed when in reality, the flashback took only two seconds. My friends found my shoe and I made it back down the mountain with their assistance. I was still in shock, not able to say a word. Luckily I was able to walk out. I learned later that it would have cost $25,000 to be air lifted off the mountain.
Back in the van and on the road, we continued the journey. It took two more hours before I was aware of my surroundings. I kept replaying this near death event over and over in my mind. Everyone tried to get me to laugh. I started to come out of it when they offered to buy me lap dances in Las Vegas. I said ok.
What had happened at Vernal Falls left everyone on edge. We considered calling it quits, head home, but I wouldn’t agree. When I was able to speak, Chris broke down in tears and told everyone how much he loved them.
Despite what happened, this trip was one of the best. The amazing places we saw, the things I learned about myself, and the close bond I made with my friends are all irreplaceable. To think I almost didn’t go! I wouldn't have seen those fantastic parks.
It's been years. I still think about the fall, and it still feels as though it happened yesterday. When I’m sad, I relive that moment and consider how much better I'd be if I had not survived. Then I realize how blessed I am for having gotten through it. If you are one of the few who have faced death or had a near death experience, consider yourself truly lucky. It forces you look at everything in a new perspective, to realize what’s truly important in life.