In my teens I used to hitch hike around the Coromandel and Bay Of Plenty in my holidays over summer. The year I turned 18, that summer I was starting my new job at Waikato University and leaving school.
I had this great friend Glen, he was better at everything than me. I was a fast runner he was really fast, I had long hair he had really long hair and so on. I could strum a few chords he was already a fine bass player. We were best mates all through school.
Over Christmas I was with some friends at Whangamata – Jenny, Glen and Diane. We had a wild party in a motel and got kicked out and it all got weird. We had an argument and I headed out of town on my own in a huff. Me and my guitar – we were going to McLaren Falls to spend my birthday alone.
Glen and I had been shown the place the previous year by two trainee nurses from Tauranga. They took us to the falls and a track that takes you upstream to a big wonderful pool – paradise. Where better to spend your 18th birthday.
I got dropped off at the turnoff and trekked the few miles to the falls. It was starting to rain and I high tailed it up the track to the pool. I made up a crude shelter with my groundsheet and drank the bottles of wine I’d brought.
Next morning broke fine and I felt great. I decided that I liked the looks of that cliff on the other side of the stream and as it was my birthday and I was a Capricorn I was going to scale it.
I struggled across and scrambled up the bank on the other side through dead branches and big sharp rocks. I started climbing. I didn’t know what I was doing – I was just pulling and pushing myself up. And up. I had had really high tree huts as a kid and there was always a certain point beyond which I wouldn’t go.
I looked down to the dead branches and big sharp rocks far below. I was well past that point. I reach for the next hand hold and it breaks away and my foot slips and I’m falling…to my death.
With that realisation, in that nanosecond – everything that was me wanted to survive. I flashed through every image, every speck of information I had ever gleaned to find a way to live. It was sequential and led me to memories of climbing up this cliff and that there was a big root hanging out to the right that I had passed on the way up. I stretched my body that way and reached out and caught the thing – wrapped my right arm around it in mid fall.
I dangled there by my bloody arms I don’t know how long, then slowly, cautiously, found my way back down. I threw up and collapsed onto the rocks.
Next thing I hear a voice.
“Hey Jon! You here? Happy Birthday Jonny!”
It’s Glen and the nurses from Tauranga.