Kibanda Part 4: Quicksand!

When I was a kid, the TV adventure serials and pre-movie shorts (remember those?) in the theaters were filled with dauntless heroes facing deadly peril in exotic lands. One of the most compelling of these was quicksand.

You be walking along when suddenly you, or more likely the lovely damsel with you (sorry ladies, that’s the way it was in the fifties) would step into a pool of quicksand. And yes, it was always a circular pool fortunately surrounded by solid ground. The better to rescue yourself or your companion.

Cool head that you were, you’d stay calm and not struggle. Or you’d coolly calm down your panicking companion and she’d (again, sorry ladies!) relax and follow your soothing instructions. These usually involved grabbing a handy nearby branch or vine and slowly pulling her or yourself clear. No mention was ever made as to how or when you cleaned all that damp, sticky sand from every crack and crevice.

When I got older and began to travel the world, somewhat to my dismay, I discovered that quicksand was seemly extremely rare and the odds of my rescuing some grateful damsel from it rarer still. Indeed not only did I never come across it, I never met anyone who had. Never even read about someone who had in the papers.

Another childhood myth shattered. Well, I wasn’t destined to win many desperate sword fights either.

I am not naturally a morning person, but here on the beach the glorious dawn with the sun rising up out of the lake is enough to get even me out of bed. Except for the lapping waves it is completely quiet and, at this time of year, there is not another soul to be seen.

The early morning of May 12th was cloudy, damp and a bit cool for the time of year. It had been raining for the last few days. As commonly happens, the waves had crested the sand bank on the beach and formed small pools behind it. This sand between the lake and the pools is most often firm, but can occasionally be soft. Sinking in an inch or two as you walk is not uncommon.

Walking along on one of these sand banks I noticed the sand go from firm to soft and gave it not a thought. Until one step too far where I sunk up to my knees. Quicksand!

And make no mistake, it was quick. Not as quick as…

“Lightning Sand”

…but quick.

One moment I am on the surface and the next I’m in up to my knees and trapped in a thick, wet, heavy sludge of sand.

Unlike the films of my youth, this quicksand had a bottom. Nothing firm you understand,  just a point at which I stopped sinking. Very lucky this. Had this quicksand been, say, 6″2″ deep, it would have been good night Irene before I’d have had a chance to say “good night, Irene.” Here one moment, gone the next.* That would have made for a fine mystery.

Had it been just a few inches deeper there would have been no getting out of it and I’d have been stuck in the cold wet sand up to my whatever until the embarrassment of rescue. Which, remembering how nice and deserted the beach is this time of year, might have been sometime coming.

Once I stopped sinking, and remembering back to the TV serial lessons of my youth, I remained calm and took stock. There was not a branch or handy vine to be had. This was empty beach and Jake the Wonderdog was not about to go for help. He was just wondering why we’d stopped walking.

Not Lassie

While I’d stopped sinking and wasn’t in any real danger, I could also feel the sand start to solidify around my feet. If I was going to get out on my own, it would have to be, well, quickly.

Slowly I managed to pull my right foot free and there was firm ground close enough to give it purchase. But now it was bent under me providing little leverage to pry out the left which in pulling up the right had been driven deeper. So I started to dig.

Digging in wet sand is a fairly futile task. You pull out a handful of sand and the surrounding sand just flows in. None the less I managed to clear a bit away to about half way down my shin. Twisting my foot to break it loose this was enough to slowly pull it free.

I knelt there exhausted for a bit before I could stand, took two steps and began to sink again. There was no visual way to tell where the sand is solid and where it is quick.

Taking another lesson from my childhood adventure serials (when in quicksand lie flat on it) I dropped to my hands and knees and began to crawl. Once it felt solid again, I got up and walked the long way around.

My boots were filled with sand and my pants coated with it. Both are drying in the sun as I write.

What lessons are there here to learn?**

  1. Quicksand does exist!
  2. And it is really quick!
  3. Encountering it doesn’t get you the damsel.
  4. While they lied or ommittied on points #3, #5, #8 and #10; pay attention to the important lessons in the TV adventure serials of your youth.
  5. You can’t count on a handy branch or vine.
  6. Boots are not helpful.
  7. Once you start worrying about losing your boots, you are probably out of danger.
  8. Your dog is not going to recognize the problem. Unless he’s Lassie.
  9. Do your squats daily. You never know when having strong legs is going to come in handy.
  10. Cleaning the sand out of your boots, clothes and various cracks and crevices is the real problem with quicksand.

More cautionary tales:

*This doesn’t actually happen, for reasons I discovered when I Googled it afterwards. Since it not actually happening rather spoils the drama of the story, if you want to know why you’ll need to Google it for yourself.

**If you want actually useful information on quicksand and how to escape it, you’ll want to seek out better sources than my vaguely remembered lessons from old fiction films.


For those of you who having been asking about Kibanda and how this project is going, I am working on a post to fill you in. As those old Serials used to say:

Stay tuned! 


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    • jlcollinsnh says


      I should have tied it into an investing life lesson, and one on debt would have been perfect.

      Glad it held your attention just being a fun little tale. 🙂

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Perfectly, and with no real risk.

      Other than the potential embarrassment of having to be rescued. 😉

  1. Susan @ FI Ideas says

    That movie clip had Nesquik Sand. Now there’s a new one.

    I’m 58 and it seems that quicksand was a popular hazard in those days of movie and TV writing. Were we just more gullible in that era? Probably. The danger is a metaphor for all the things we worry about that never happen, that keep us from investing or trying a new business, or realizing we can make safe withdrawals work from here and not have to do that one-more-year thing.

    I’m a lucky one. I’ve got my Greece week 2 reservation. Looking forward to meeting you, Mr. Great One!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Wish I’d thought of that metaphor, Susan. It is spot on!

      Looking forward to hanging out with you in Greece, assuming I survive all these perils until then. 😉

  2. Accidental FIRE says

    I loved the movies and shows that had quicksand in them.

    I think the sunken cost fallacy has some sort of touch point with quicksand – you want to get out, you know you need to get out, but you’re just not getting out!

  3. Dave says

    I’m just glad you didn’t report encountering any rodents of unusual size. Those are the worst!

    • jlcollinsnh says


      The worry about the house is the foundation failing and it collapsing into the crawl space.

      Well, that’s one of the worries anyway. 😉

  4. financialfreedomsloth says

    It just proves there is no need to spend a lot of money on ‘extreme sports’ to get a good adrenaline boost! Live an unconventional live and the adventure will find you. Just two days ago, due to heavy rainfall in the region, I had to cross a half a meter deep mud stream with the Vespa when coming home from work.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Glad you like it, Michelle…

      …I wanted to write something fun and light for the holiday weekend. 🙂

  5. Escape to MI says

    I was actually waiting for the point where it was discovered the lake house was built on quicksand and there was a bigger home ownership crisis/life lesson/huge expense/aggravation looming.

    Phew on all counts!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      There are plenty of ownership crisis/life lesson/huge expense/looming aggravations with this little shack, but it has been here since 1939 and the quicksand hasn’t gotten it yet. 🙂

      Congratulations on your pending move/Lake Michigan house! I spent some time poking around your very engaging blog. Your comments reflect the same things we love about living on the big lake. Even winter.

      Good luck with the build!

  6. Danny says

    Glad you made it out of quicksand safely! As I was reading this, I remembered having a similar situation as your own, and completely agree that it can be surprisingly scary experience. As a kid, I was playing in a golf tournament and had hit my ball near a stream. Seeing that the ball was on solid land, I decided to hit it. As I walked towards it, immediately my right leg fell into quicksand. I was lucky that a) the quicksand went down as far as my right leg, b) my left leg was still on solid footing, and c) my competitors were kind enough to help pull me up. My right shoe was lost in the quicksand, and for the remainder of the tournament I played it barefoot. It was then I took on the name Shoeless Dan from my fellow competitors. On a positive note, I also learned that day that walking in a park/golf course barefoot was extremely satisfying, and highly underrated 🙂

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Danny…

      I imagine it would be quite the experience has a kid, scary and a great adventure.

      Plus, you got a cool nickname out of it! 😉

      Walking barefoot, now that the ice has melted, is one of the great pleasures of living here. As you say, satisfying and underrated. 🙂

  7. FIRECracker says

    Quicksand?! SAY WHAT! So there’s a 4th Sword of Damocles?

    My life is too easy, he said. Time to buy a house, he said.

    Remind me to never make my life too easy. Though I did willingly sign up to write a book so clearly I don’t like having an easy life…

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Yeah, that whole my life is too easy problem has vanished in a puff of smoke. Just got in from mowing the grass while feeding the mosquitos.

      On the plus side, that smoke comes from night fires on the beach.

      As one commenter on an earlier Kibanda post said, if you get to live in such a beautiful place you don’t get to complain. Or something like that. 😉

      Plus, it is definitely easier than writing a book 🙂

  8. SLR says

    Quicksand is a real hazard on some of our UK beaches. Search UK quicksand.
    Glad you got out safely. 🙂

  9. Liz says

    Our dog Sadie enjoys watching Lassie occasionally. We tell her to pay attention so she’ll be able to rescue us when the time comes.

  10. plantguy says

    Growing up watching a lot of TV and movies that had quicksand calamities, I assumed quicksand would play a much larger role in my life as an adult. Alas, no. Never heard anyone actually encountering it until today! Glad you’re ok, and I think I found a metaphor in there. Or is quicksand just quicksand?

  11. Simon Kenton says

    The density of wet sand is greater than 200/lbs/ft^3. You are not so dense. Therefore you cannot sink deeper into quicksand than about crotch-deep. Nobody can. If you want a metaphor here, a calm relation to the data is better than a panicky one.

    If you want a somewhat different experience than most personal finance writers have had, you can take off your clothes, plunge in the lake, then roll over and over in the sand. Thus you learn how a sugar cookie feels. If you can find very fine-grain, slick mud, roll over and over in it, and hold still until it dries completely, you can discover how a statue feels; or how a person feels who has encased themself in habits that have petrified. Then if you run down to the lake, dried mud cracking with each pace, and dive in, you can discover what rebirth feels like.

    There is much to be said for living by a lake, more for living by a river.

  12. Jamie V says

    Jim, while in Nepal last month, we went on a trek and came across quicksand. One doesn’t realize it’s quicksand because there were plants (tall grasses) growing out of it so it appeared deceptive, but it had also been undisturbed for quite some time. Our guide advised us to stay on the road and not to take a pee break at that time. You never really think it’s a real thing until you encounter it and then yeah, start walking very. carefully.

    • Jamie V says

      ps I too am looking forward to another Kibanda update, as your friendly neighbor to the south (I like in MKE). 🙂

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Jamie…

      Where in were you? Chitwan? Beautiful place I think not many visitors to Nepal take the time to see. I didn’t know there was quicksand there, I was too busy watching out for the tigers. 🙂

      Another Kibanda update is due, but every time I publish one I get a bunch of subscription cancellations.
      Ah, well 🙂

      The big news on that front, is the north foundation wall has been dug out and rebuilt. This is the only one of the three foundation issues that is practical to address. The other two we’ll just live with.

      Plus, we got the water turned on to the loft. This was a concern as it had been off for several years. It has to be shut off before the winter freeze each year, but we weren’t sure if that was the only reason. Turns out all is sound.

      Next we have to decide whether to just give it a good cleaning and repair a few things or go for a full gut renovation.

      • Jamie V says

        We (very unfortunately) didn’t have time for Chitwan, but our friends went there and it looked like what I had *wanted* to do in Nepal, time! We instead did a hike through the Chisapani/Nagarkot area, which is rather close to Kathmandu, but I guess there’s pockets of the sand in odd places there. I wonder if perhaps there was a mistranslation or misunderstanding, but I’m not 100% sure, so..who knows what is really was! I certainly was not going to find out. 🙂

        Sounds like Kibanda is still an adventure in homeownership. I remember when we were looking at houses (first time homebuyers) and we were warned to stay away from anything with foundation issues since it’d be more pretty pennies to get it sorted. Glad to hear that the water was just fine for you (we turn water off to our outside spigot in the basement to prevent any issues) and I’ve heard horror stories about the pipes freezing/bursting. No one needs that!

        Thank you for the update! (Every time I drive Up North (we take 43) I wonder which house is yours..clearly we can’t see it from the highway but it’s fun to think about (I always wanted a place on the big lake, so I live vicariously through you!). I love staring out at the lake in the morning on the drive, the reflection of the sun is just gorgeous; our own little slice of heaven here.. 🙂 Take Care!

  13. Julie at Nest Egg Chick says

    Woah, how scary! As soon as I read the word “quicksand” I immediately thought of the Princess Bride scene – I’m glad to see you did, too 🙂 Good think Jake didn’t sink with you. Poor little not-Lassie must have been confused by the whole thing. That’s not the kind of thing anyone wants to deal with, but if you want a silver lining, you now have a heck of a story to tell for the rest of your life!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Anything for a blog post, Julie. 🙂

      Jake was not the least bit concerned, other than his walk was interupted 😉

  14. Patrick says

    I can’t quite remember how I got onto your Kibanda series today Jim, but your mention of Jake the wonderdog and the picture with the not Lassie comment had me laughing out loud!

    Anyway, I hope you don’t get me to change my mind on property ownership by the end of the series. Already seeing that it’s been positive on the numbers has me concerned. If there’s a highly successful airbnb venture about to begin I’ll be totally livid.

    Keep up the great writing.

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