Initiation: Quick sand

For my first story, I thought one of my earlier adventures would be fitting.  This is from way back, when I was living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, romping about in open fields and chasing after jackrabbits and diamond back rattlers.

The Springs are right at the base of the Rocky Mountains, specifically under the watchful shadow of Pikes Peak (4,267 m/14,115 ft above sea level).


Due to the proximity of the range, Colorado Springs is in what we like to call a “rain shadow”, or the dry area on the lee of the mountain.  It means that wet, heavy rain clouds hit the western side of the mountains and are too heavy to get over it, so that the eastern side ends up not getting much rain.  When we lived in the Springs, we were up to our eyeballs in water restrictions.  The reservoir for the city got down to 3% one summer.

Now, all this talk of drought doesn’t mean that it never rains.  In fact, you would be amazed at the concurrence of drought and flash floods.  The residents have a saying, which goes a little like this, “If you don’t like the weather, blink.  It’ll change.”  And it does.  I’ve seen days that had everything from brilliant sunshine to thunderstorms and hail and everything in between.

I introduce you to all of this background on water because, well, water is important when you live out west, but also because it is relevant to my story about how I almost killed myself in quick sand…the reason being that there are an awful lot of “dry” creek beds in the Springs.  The creek beds hardly ever have visible water running through them, but locals know not to ever cross them because a flash flood can happen rapidly enough to drown and kill a careless person.  We are literally talking about walls of water crashing down.  It can happen in seconds.

And I was walking to work one day.  It was about a mile long walk…unless I took a short cut through a field, and across a creek bed.  (I should warn you in advance that you should never cut across a field in Colorado unless you want to end up with socks full of burrs.  Words of experience.)

So, intrepid adventurer that I was, I jauntily crashed through the brambles and stepped out onto the creek bed.  There was a voice in my head, at the last moment, of caution, but I dodged it with a well-trained aptitude.  And anyway, there had been a flash flood only the day before, and lightning never strikes twice, and all that…right?  I had only taken a few steps when I started sinking.

I thought, Hm.

I thought, well, no problem, the sand is a bit loose here.  I bet it is firmer up ahead.   I took two more steps and found that I couldn’t lift my feet anymore because the sand was halfway up my shins.

I thought, Hm…

By now, the sand was up to my knee caps, and still rising.  I glanced about, but there were no convenient jungle vines within grasp (in fact, there was very little vegetation aside from the crisp dead leaves of the brambles on the bank).  I wiggled my leg, sank a few more inches, and then decided to try a new strategy.  I found that when I lay back on the sand, it would support my weight.  I lay for a while, looking up at the cloudless sky, and thinking about whether quick sand could really be classified as “quick”.  It was certainly not as quick as that scene from the Princess Bride.

I will tell you this, it is possible to get out of quick sand using nothing more than desperation.  In fact, according to that omniscient body, Wikipedia, it is impossible for a human body to fully sink in quick sand.  I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time, because I doubt the fear of my boss’s anger at my tardiness would have given me enough adrenaline to get out.

I’m not sure how long it took to wrench my feet painfully out of their shoes and up through the weight of the sand, but I was exhausted when I finally crawled back up on the bank.  When I eventually arrived at work, I was barefoot and covered up to my ribs in a thick paste of sand.  There were burrs in my hair.  My boss took one look at me, opened his mouth, closed it, and then said stoically, “Work behind the tall counter tonight so that the customers don’t see you.”  I looked at my coworker, who had all kinds of questions in her eyes, and sighed.

Just for your information, quick sand is a “non-Newtonian fluid”, a colloidal mixture of sand and water.  Here’s what my friend Wikipedia has to say, “Someone stepping on it will start to sink. To move within the quicksand, a person or object must apply sufficient pressure on the compacted sand to re-introduce enough water to liquefy it. The forces required to do this are quite large: to remove a foot from quicksand at a speed of .01 m/s would require the same amount of force as “that needed to lift a medium-sized car.”  I can assure you personally that it is not an easy process.  I never did get my shoes back.  I assume that they are still there and will perhaps be fossilized in time.


2 thoughts on “Initiation: Quick sand

  1. Pingback: Ducklings in distress | standingoutinmyfield

  2. Pingback: Traveling, by William Wordsworth, and me « standingoutinmyfield

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