Waterfall at Salt Creek

March 14, 1999

In a couple of hours he would be on stage. This was a big deal for him, speaking at this national advanced planning conference. He was ready. For this first day he chose the Italian gray suit. Splashes of red and blue in the tie were the only hints of life in this business attire.

The starched white button-down was checked one last time. The NSR monogram caught his eye on the left shirt cuff. Leaning close to the mirror he grimaced and shook his head. He pursed his lips, watched his head shake slowly side-to-side and rolled his eyes.

Just before walking out the door he applied a dab of ointment.

This had been a classic trip. Someone else was writing the checks and all he had to do was show up and talk. There had been a glint in his eyes weeks before as he leaned over to his desk and hollered out:

"Hey guess what? They are willing to pay 1,300 for the airfare."

"What's between here and Seattle?"

She groaned. There were hundreds of places between here and Seattle. An entire country!

Detroit to St. Louis
St. Louis to Little Rock
Little Rock to St. Louis
St. Louis to LA
LA to San Jose
San Jose to Seattle
Seattle to Denver
Denver to Detroit

It only cost $1,250.

I wish I could pay her more.

It had not seemed like a dumb idea when he had packed. Generally baggage handlers hated him and that big black duffel bag with the red HEAVY tag. But for this trip the HEAVY bag stayed home and all that came along was a wet suit for the waterfall.

There is a theory that if a butterfly flaps its wings in Thailand, the effect can be felt in California. He packed excitedly after hearing that a pacific typhoon was washing up on the California beaches. Forget butterflies.

Four legs of the trip were completed and now it was late Sunday afternoon. He had also spent Saturday afternoon at this place and wanted to visit one more time. Where he came from there were few waterfalls, and certainly none you could play in.
Salt creek is located just down the beach from the Ritz in Del Ray. As you stand above the beach, an abandoned trailer park graces the view to the left. Empty concrete pads are overgrown with weeds. A set of concrete stairs falls to the water below, over 200 steps down.

He smelled salt in the air and heard the thunder. He bounded down the stairs like a child in pursuit of a wayward toy. When he reached the bottom he stood mouth and felt the sand shake. Massive waves pounded the shore. Wave after wave they came, rolling in like clockwork. There were few people on the beach, almost none in the water. The red flag on the lifeguard tower snapped in the stiff offshore wind.

He was ready.

This was to be day two on an ocean full of rides.

The biggest problem with these waves was just getting through them. The only way through the surf was to plunge beneath the wave and fight against the surge. He wished he had purchased a pair of the small flippers boarders use in heavy surf. It took about 10 minutes to get beyond the row of breaking waves.

Exhausted he floated on the boogie board in the unusually warm pacific water. Licking his lips he just tasted more salt and bobbed like a cork just past the line of breaking waves.

The first ride had been great, and now it was time for the second. The problem with great however, is that there is that it leaves room for awesome, magnificent, earth shattering and mind bending. Besides, there is something to be said for hitting the wave just right, laying under the water as it curls over you while racing toward the shore.

Looking down he tightened the black Velcro strap on his wrist. The wrist strap is attached to a rubber chord that keeps the boogie board from washing too far away when rider and board separate.

The waves came in groups of three this day. A group of rollers would pass and then there would be a short pause. The choice was made but the first wave of the group surged past before he could "catch" it. For the next one he was ready. Kicking with all his might, he caught the wave right at the crest.

Uh oh, slight problem.

If you swim too fast, you can actually get ahead of the wave and continue on over the crest. It's called "going over the waterfall" and he had just gone over the crest.

As waves come, this was no monster, but was still significant, logging in somewhere around 10 to 12 feet. As he went over the top he tumbled through the air and separated from the board.

Lungs are full, this should be no problem, ride it out.

The wave had another idea.

It spun him around about three times and then flung him face down onto the bottom of the ocean. He could feel the sand scrape on his toes and was glad for the wet suit protecting his chest. Tons of falling water pinned him to the bottom. In a flash he realized what had happened.

The rubber chord had wrapped around his neck and then across his chin.

He was pinned on the bottom; but the board kept going, carried by the wave.

He remembers the thought today as clearly as when it happened.

"I am going to be strangled on the bottom of the ocean."

Answer back, "No you are not, you are holding your breath."

It was a rational answer. It calmed him.

But he was being crushed. The weigh stunned him, and almost caused him to blow all the air out of his lungs. Suddenly the force eased and he was flung forward in a violent somersault. Tossed out of the wave like some piece of sea garbage he staggered to his feet in the shallow water between the crests.

Turning and stumbling forward, he watched another wave smash behind him as the ground shook and more salt spray filled the air.

Something felt strange. He placed his hand to his face and a message of panic was telegraphed to his brain. His hand was warm and sticky, and the blood dripping down his arm and off his elbow was the confirmation.

"Houston, we have a problem!"

In those moments of stumbling toward the shore he remembers looking back at the waves. He could have died there, and the next wave would have rolled on, as if nothing had happened.

It was a quietly disturbing thought.

The lifeguards saw as soon as he approached the tower. One jumped down and went for the first aid kit and grabbed a big piece of gauze.

"You ok?

"Yea, Just a little cut."

The Lifeguard said: "Well not so little."

He knew enough to ask for the plastic surgeon as soon when his friends delivered him to the ER.

"That will take an extra couple of hours"

"It's my face, I'll wait."

The surgeon was a master who worked with special lenses. Over a two hours period he placed 27 stitches in the chin.

"You were lucky," he said. "That could have gotten the carotid."

The rider hadn't thought of that.

Standing in front of the crowd he was happy that the micro stitches were really visible.

The speech was done, and forgotten by the time he stood in front of the mirror again, just five short days later.

Leg seven was complete, and this time he was at the Marriott in Vail. He carefully cut out the stitches and then headed out the door for the ski lift, rented mountain bike in tow.

It looked like a great day for a ride.