Rite of spring
| April 20, 2010 9:00 PM
COEUR d'ALENE - The sun was baking the Tubbs Hill cliff as the young men peeled off their shirts and shoes on Monday afternoon.
Taking a few moments to scrutinize the turquoise water below, they exchanged glances to confirm what had already been spoken aloud: They were in this together, and no combination of hidden rocks, biting waves or shallow depths could stop them.
After all, it was tradition.
"Ready?" said Michael Cuentas, 19, as he and his two lifelong buddies stepped up to the edge.
Muscles taut, they leapfrogged off the edge, the sound of their bodies smacking the water reverberating off the cliff face.
"Woo!" three voices hollered as one.
It's going to be a good spring.
Monday marked the fifth year that Cuentas, a Coeur d'Alene native, has recruited his pals to kick off the season with an intrepid leap into the depths of Lake Coeur d'Alene - measured Monday at a chilling 45 degrees.
"Everybody should try it," Cuentas said with a grin. "People come out here to hang out and walk around. If they try something crazy and fun, it's exciting."
The sacred event wouldn't have taken place this year, he added, but for the serendipity of an Icelandic volcano erupting just in time for its ash to delay his flight back to his Army station in Schweinfurt, Germany.
His superiors had grudgingly told him to extend his leave by one more week until the volcano took a breather, he said.
"I'm stranded, shucks, for a whole other week," Cuentas joked. "We didn't get to do this last week because we couldn't find the time. Now this way we get to do it."
Of course, the minimal spring runoff this year made the 30-foot leap more of a challenge.
"It's so shallow, I was standing up," James Thomas, 19, said with a groan as he climbed back up the cliff with 18-year-old Josh Blakley.
Cuentas admitted a pointed rock had greeted him in a tender spot.
"That hurt my butt so bad," he said with a laugh. "I sat right on top of it."
That said, the three prepared to jump in again.
After several leaps and hollers of pain and cold, they showed off their bloody scrapes and foot blisters from smacking the lake bed.
"The cold water gets rid of the swelling, so that's an up," Cuentas said with a laugh.
His mother, Diane Higdem, who sat nearby snapping photos, said she had no worries about their safety.
"He (Mike) has broken so many bones over the years," she said. "There's a nurse at the hospital, Patrick, who's gotten to know Michael quite well."
This time was easier than last spring, Thomas said, when they jumped into the lake in a snowstorm.
"Nobody was around, that's why we did it," Thomas said. "Here there are lots of people walking around, so we can't."
As Thomas consulted with Cuentas about getting recruited to the Army and serving in the same town, they said this is an opportunity for the Lake City High graduates to enjoy the few times they see each other.
"It's a bonding exercise," Cuentas said. "We do everything we can together."
Why bond in a way that results in bleeding ankles and pockets full of sand?
"Because we're dumb. We're teenage guys still," Cuentas said.
But, they agreed, they'll probably still be doing it when they're 60.
"Whenever we're together, we'll always be young," Thomas said.