Thrown from a pickup

The summer after I completed my Master's degree in geology I worked as a gold prospector in Arizona's Mojave Desert. There I once had the opportunity to fly like a bird, to soar for a brief moment without engines, propellers, or help of any kind. As a prospector, I would spend my day's alone hiking around a fairly large property looking for formations and veins of rock that might contain gold ore. I would mark prospective outcrops with a red dye and indicate the location on a detailed topographic map. That map would later be used by two young laborers to relocate the outcrop and take a sample for assay. I found the job very peaceful and it allowed me a great deal of time alone to enjoy the beauty of the desert. In the evenings I would return to the camp and the company of the others working on the project, surveyor, driller, cook, and laborers. About the only source of literature we had there were numerous editions of Easy Rider magazine as the entire crew were bikers or, mostly, biker wannabes. I became a semi-expert that summer on Harley bikes, suicide clutches, biker ladies, (usually presented draped over some vintage machine which always begged the eternal question: which was more beautiful, the bike or the babe?, I don't recollect that we ever solved the mystery...) and the whole biker culture.

Water was scarce in the camp, pumped from a well that ran dry after a few tens of minutes pumping each day, so we all had to be careful. The best washing took place on weekends when we would drive down a gravel road to Lake Mead. It was on just such a drive that I had my opportunity to take flight and soar with the eagles. We were returning from the lake and were all in good spirits. The beer was flowing freely as we drove back up the road, recently graded. The surveyor and I were sitting in the back of the pickup and having fun watching the antics. Two of the laborers were in the cab, and two in the bed of the pickup. Those in the cab were spraying us with beer as we drove along and the others were trying to return the fire. In the fun the driver veered off the road and over a ridge of gravel. He regained control quickly but not after some very violent bounces which sent me and the surveyor, at about 40 miles per hour, on our flight!

I still clearly remember that historic moment, the jolt and suddenly seeing myself above the bed of the truck, the gravel road a blur below me. My flight was not a long or elegant one, and the birds would not have been proud I'm sure. My landing was hard. That too I remember well. I hit on my side, badly scraping my leg, hip, arm, shoulder, and face. I bounced once or twice before stopping, dusty, bleeding and torn. The ground was my enemy, in my pain and anger I immediately got up, cursing the drivers. They were white faced as they got out of the truck and saw me standing there, scraped, dirty, and bloody, giving them the what-for.

For the surveyor it was another matter. He had landed on his back and could not get up. We got him back to the camp where he was taken to a hospital that evening. He will remember his flight in another light, with a brace for the rest of his life. I still reflect on that moment, the fun turned to tragedy in an instant. For me it is a lesson that I still have not fully learned. I was fortunate that day in an odd sense, I was back in the hills a day later where the stiffness of my joints and the pain of my cuts were eased by the movement of climbing. I survived intact. What then is the lesson?

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