Danger! Beware! Quicksand Ahead!

"We know the secrets of the fire swamp. We can live here quite comfortably for a while." ~ Princess Bride

“We know the secrets of the fire swamp. We can live here quite comfortably for a while.” ~ Princess Bride

Quicksand has captured the minds and imaginations of children and action-adventure writers everywhere for centuries. Or so it must be—right? I remember being terrified to go outside after reading a particularly nasty story featuring someone drowning in quicksand. I don’t remember the title now, or the author, or where a child under ten would get their hands on such a horrific tale…but it wasn’t the only one.

 

Somewhere along the way, growing up, I lost my dread of quicksand. I’d quite forgotten about it entirely until I saw the now-popular meme:

Sand Meme

Far from being one of the biggest dangers we face as adults, it scarcely even exists! All the dreaded stories warning us of the dangers of drowning in dry land have vanished—all the detailed explanations of what it is and how unavoidable it is to get sucked into it once you venture to near are gone from memory.

quicksandSo I ask myself, and you others—what is quicksand? Is it some great myth invented by adults to keep us worrying about something insignificant instead of freaking out about real world problems? Where do we need to worry about quicksand? How many people die from it every year?

Quicksand is not nearly as dangerous as it is portrayed in the movies, and that people don’t actually drown in it. Due to its high viscosity, if you don’t struggle around like an idiot (and who would do that after reading so many terrible stories about it as a kid?) you’ll actually float quite comfortably until a rescue arrives.

Provided a wild animal doesn’t eat you first while you’re trapped there helplessly.

Remember that strange paste you can make out of cornstarch and water? When you tried to stir it in the cup it was too thick to move around, but when you pulled it out like a dipper of soup it became liquefied? That’s what quicksand is like . . . sort of.

Quicksand isn’t water. It isn’t dirt. It’s a mixture of the two. But it isn’t mud either. Walking into a pit of mud is probably more dangerous since you’ll sink properly if its deep enough. Quicksand is sand suspended in water. It appears solid—until you step on it. Then the sand realizes that it’s actually mixed in with water and moves out of the way and you start to sink. But the water gets confused because of all the sand, so you sort of stay sunk. If you make sudden, violent moves it’s like applying pressure to the cornstarch goo, and the quicksand becomes solid. If you relax then the goo will relax and you can move—slowly.

Have you ever played with Chinese handcuffs? Quicksand is like that.

So where is quicksand most likely to occur? Anywhere where you have sand and water. Along rivers, streams, or coastlines. It works better with saltwater, but it can occur with freshwater as well. Swamps are likely as well—but you have to have sand. Regular soil will simply dissolve and make mud. They occur most often wherever there is loosely-packed sand and a water source—along the beach at low-tide, or near naturally formed springs.

truths-quicksandQuicksand doesn’t occur in lake-sized swaths that will such you in and vanish you forever. They’re rarely more than a few feet deep, and you’ll probably notice that you’ve stepped in it with your first step, leaving you plenty of access to dry ground to roll out onto.

There is no data on actual deaths from quicksand. The Internet speculates that the reason for this is that there aren’t any. You’re much more likely to be killed by a mudslide, or a flood, or some other natural water-related phenomena.

So there you have it! Quicksand is just another of nature’s quirky phenomena, and not a real danger at all! But just in case, here’s a wikihow article on how to get out. There’s no such thing as being too prepared.

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