WARREN, Vt. — Talk about taking the plunge.
Stephen Heck of Port Jefferson, N.Y., is getting married this afternoon. He has cold feet, but only because he's spending his last moments as a single man doing somersaults off the rocks of Warren Falls into the swimming hole.
"A little chilly, but refreshing," he says.
Heck says it's "probably" scarier doing a flip into the 61-degree Mad River than saying "I do."
Warren Falls is a series of small, cascading waterfalls surrounded by cliffs and carved rocks of various sizes.
Swimming holes in landlocked Vermont are closely guarded secrets. Years ago, there was just a small parking lot off Route 100 to mark the short path to Warren Falls in the Green Mountain National Forest.
"Back in the day, there would be a little bit of tourist traffic and people would come in and enjoy the swimming hole," says Jack Garvin, manager of the nearby Warren Store.
On a recent Saturday, the Warren Falls Observation Point parking lot is jammed, and cars line up along the shoulders of Route 100 North, despite the "no parking" signs.
"People enjoy the spectacle of watching people jump," says Garvin. "Kids are fearless, and they'll go up on the highest ledge and jump."
Gavin confides that he now goes to a nearby secret swimming hole that he says is "just as beautiful."
Those in the crowd at Warren Falls ranged from babies frolicking in the shallow pools to senior citizens trying to negotiate the slippery wet rocks. It is an eclectic crowd, and the people are respectful; they carry their trash out with them.
Swimming holes are a throwback to a simpler time.
Here, everyone loves them.
There are towel-toting French-Canadian tourists stung by a poor exchange rate who are gleeful that everything is free, and there are tie-dyed hippies who cool off after feeling the burn.
After Cote's plunge, she yells, "Do that again. I forgot to hit 'record.' "
Up the road several miles is the Great Eddy Covered Bridge in Waitsfield, Vt., where kids have been jumping off the wooden bridge probably since it was built in 1833.
Warning signs are posted, but that doesn't stop the kids on a hot day. A local constable spies a diver on top of the covered bridge from 50 yards away and shrugs.
Mason Lenery, 16, of Waterbury, is engaged in his own private Olympic diving competition with his friend Aiden Chmura, 16, of Stowe. Lenery does a twisting, arching dive and knifes feet-first into the Mad River. Moments later, he emerges wet and happy.
The police officer is mellow. He explains that the jumping is damaging the cedar shingle roof tiles and the water level is low. He tells Lenery if he does it again, he will drive him back to Waterbury.
The boys then decide to go to Warren Falls.
Lenery heads for the highest cliff, and nails his first dive.
"I think about the girls below," he says.
"A bit, I guess. I don't know, just a good time."
Chmura, 16, of Stowe, Vt., who has purple hair and is skinny as a reed, fearlessly matches him dive for dive.
Why cliff dive?
" 'Cause it's fun," says Chmura. "I like risky things, basically, like adrenaline and stuff. Like I grew up snowboarding my whole life. And this is just another thing that I do that's super fun for me."
He does a front flip, coming close to an underwater ledge below the surface.
There have been two fatalities in recent years, according to Mad River Emergency Medical Services.
Does Chmura ever think of death?
What about the crowds?
"Too many tourists here," he says. "I've almost landed on a few. They are clueless."
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.