Here’s a little exerpt from The Story of the Great American Flying Broomstick, Book 1: Genesis. Fun reading!
Ok, let’s get down to it. You now know what I was doing that morning and why I was in the mood I was in. Happy exploration. Eager to try anything.
One of my favorite activities on my trusty Yamaha is to carve canyons. No, that doesn’t mean make new ones, it means find a twisty paved canyon road and crank up the speed a little. Or a lot—this is called “setting a sporting pace.” Yes, I know the sheriff frowns on this, since the ambulance has had to haul out too many other motorcyclists doing the same thing, but even after 54 years of life, this is a thrill. Please forgive me if I pass your slow car.
There are some truly wonderful canyon roads in the area. But, there are even more canyons without roads. Why not find a deserted canyon and have some fun on the broom? In retrospect, my mind was not exactly rational after the exhilaration of the speed runs. So, I headed west, passing over Colorado Highway 62, up past Horsefly Mesa and over in the direction of Nucla. I surveyed three canyons before deciding on the perfect one.
The geology of the Uncompahgre Plateau is in general different from that of the San Juan Mountains, of which the Sneffels and Cimarron ranges are a part. The Uncompahgre Plateau (with Horsefly Mesa and Log Hill Mesa at its southern terminus) runs like a rib from Ridgway all the way up to Grand Junction. It’s tilted, sloping gently to the east, but its western edge can be quite jagged. It’s sedimentary rock with lots of wonderful horizontal, multi-colored strata, just like the Grand Canyon in miniature.
Anyway, few paved highways plow through these canyons, though I saw occasional gravel county roads and two-track Jeep trails. The perfect canyon was rugged, twisting, and roadless. And therefore peopleless. Perfect for some speed runs, looping and soaring and generally having fun. I descended gradually until I was at the head of the canyon at treetop level. Grinning wickedly, I started down the canyon at maybe 40 mph, swooping back and forth to follow the canyon walls. ‘Twas an amazing visual experience, not unlike a video game, except it was completely three-dimensional. I flew generally over the (dry) creek bed, keeping myself about halfway between the canyon’s rim and the rocks at the bottom. At points the canyon walls were vertical. Most of the time it was a sharp vee-shaped cut into the rock.
I navigated back to the head of the canyon and tried it again. 50 mph. Again. 60 mph.
I was starting to feel the limits of the broomstick in terms of its ability to change direction, or more precisely the limits of my ability to stay on the broom when I gave it radical control inputs. The unsteadiness that precedes a flip-out nagged at me. A couple times I came interestingly close to the canyon walls.
The rocks in these canyons are fascinating. I don’t know how the pinions scrabble out a living, clinging to the rocks and catching only rainwater. Most of the rocks are a dull reddish color or sort of a brown-blond.
The rocks are also highly irregular. Think of a combination of the Grand Canyon and Canyonlands National Parks, except on a much smaller scale. A very different scene from the Sneffels and Cimarron Ranges. Remember: These are canyons. Not mountains.
Anyway, I decided on one last run before heading for home. I think you can see it coming.
I made it through the first five turns without a problem. I knew I was going too fast because I seemed out of control on corners four and five. I faced a quandary. I didn’t exactly know how to slow down without altering direction and actually hitting one of the walls.
In turn six, I decided to bail out, and the way you bail out on a broom is to bail up.
Picture the situation. The canyon takes a hard turn to the right. I’m pretty close to the left hand wall. I see this massive cliff face ahead of me. I’m in a hard right turn, leaned over at about a 45 degree angle, feeling a flip-out coming on. I’m not going to make the turn.
Pulling the broomstick sharply toward me and slightly to the left, I try an ascending right hand turn. There are big boulders on the rim, as large as your house. I’m going to either slam into one or the other or go through the space between. Using every ounce of concentration I had—impending disaster focuses the mind wonderfully—I headed for the space in between and the freedom of the open sky.
Now let’s pause and consider things here. Do you know the feeling while you’re drying dishes during the instant between the time you drop a glass and the time it shatters on the floor? Many feelings crowd the brain, indeed the soul, in that split second. Regret. Doom.
I remember the time I had my big motorcycle accident. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the car coming toward me. My mind did the mental calculation and actually formed the words “it’s going to hit me,” though of course I didn’t have time to react or do anything sane.
So, you know how I felt when I saw the tree.
A stupid pinion pine.
It had been growing on that spot for maybe fifty years, sucking its tiny existence from the passing thunderstorms. It could’ve passed its life in utter ignominy, the two of us never meeting nor caring about each other. It reached into the soil, found life, and now its sole purpose was to block my way to the sky.
I don’t think I was going all that fast when I hit it. I’d done my best on my arc out of the canyon to slow my forward speed as I tried with all my might to increase my vertical speed while trying not to flip out. I probably hit it at 20 mph or so. For the record, I plowed through the tree, a picture of arms and legs flying—yes, I let go of the broom—about six feet right of center and about two thirds of the way up. I think I pulled my arms up over my face. The broom must’ve been pointed straight into the tree; if it’d gone in sideways it could easily have snapped.
As near as I can reconstruct, I tumbled out of the tree completely unencumbered by any thoughts of keeping the broom under control. The broom, of course, tried to keep me at a constant altitude. The problem was that I wasn’t completely out of the canyon. The rocks continued to climb another 15 or 20 feet. Fortunately, the top was laid over with soil, or what passes for soil around here. This is what I hit at probably 15 mph or so, the tree having broken my upward climb and forward speed.
Now I had you do a thought experiment a minute ago, so please indulge me with another. Let’s put you back in the kitchen, slicing up broccoli for your famous pasta and shrimp dish that only you can make. You’re talking with one of your guests and not paying attention. You slice deeply into your thumb. I mention this because everyone has done it. There’s a brief moment between the time any of the nerves in your thumb can send you messages during which you realize something has just gone terribly, terribly wrong. Blood is not an ingredient in the pasta dish.
Anyway, that’s how I felt as I came to a halt. I knew I’d stopped, and knew things were terribly wrong, but I’d not yet received any damage reports from critical body parts.
I remember dust flying everywhere. I had a mouthful of grit, which tasted just like you might imagine grit to taste, sort of gritty. My eyes were shut tight with my arms still hugging my face. The broom, faithfully tied to me by the safety harness, hit me square between the legs, and I’ve already described how that feels, though it wasn’t as bad this time.
I wasn’t ready to see anything just yet, so I took silent inventory with my eyes closed. My left leg and left arm were starting to sting. That male space between my legs throbbed. I shook my head a little. I didn’t think I had any broken bones. I only ever broke a bone in my body once, in high school, while playing basketball with the big boys. Some ugly git slammed the ball down on my outstretched hand and broke my left pinkie. The guy at the hospital set it nicely and you’d never know today. I didn’t want to add any more bones to the list.
It was time to open my eyes. The stinging in my leg was getting insistent. I took inventory of my surroundings. I was indeed on the mesa, though the canyon was feet away. The tree I’d gotten to know so recently was down the slope a bit. I noted with satisfaction some broken limbs. The tree’s. Not mine.
I tried to sit up but the broom was in the way. Painfully, I undid the carabiners and pulled out the broom. Now not between my legs, it lay there innocently, GPS still duct-taped to the pole.
My Levi’s were ripped. I found a giant gash on the outside of my left calf, not terribly deep, but it looked like it was going to need stitches. It bled, turning the soil dark. I had no idea how much blood I’d lost, nor how much I might lose if I stayed there. I was checking it with my filthy hands when I noticed that my poor jacket was ripped completely through and my left forearm was torn up also. At least it hadn’t been my face.
I staggered to my feet, checking as much of me as I could, but it looked like this was the extent of the damage. I could do with a bath and a change of clothes, that’s for sure, since I was filthy from top to bottom. I pulled the goggles off, which had protected my glasses. The left goggle eyepiece was cracked.
Limping, I examined the broom. It was scratched down one side, but was otherwise intact. I looked in particular at the broom straw, but if any was gone, I couldn’t tell. I think I’d protected that part of the broom by moving tree branches out of the way. I looked back at the tree.
I’d been so close.
What to do? The leg wound burned like stink. I was in a spot that may have been touched by some range cattle 50 years ago, but probably never by a human since the last Ancestral Puebloans had wandered the area and built the pueblos down in Mesa Verde National Park, although, of course, it wasn’t called that at the time.
Stupidly, I pulled the cell phone out of my right jacket pocket. No signal. Bottom line: there was only one way out.
Plan A: Get up in the air, orient myself, and fly toward home at 90 mph. I was only about 30 miles from home as the broom flies, so I’d be there in 20 minutes. Clean up, have Loretta help me. Loretta. Oh, dear. What would she say? But that was all moot at this point. I couldn’t stay here. I looked at my watch. 10:35 a.m. It was pushing 85° and I felt stupid in the jacket. But I had to gain some altitude, so I didn’t take it off. I shook out the goggles and put them back on. I straightened out the safety harness and fastened the broom with quivering hands.
I took off to the east (thank heavens for the little compass that comes with the GPS) and tried to gain as much altitude as I could to get some cool air. For some reason the canyon did not look the least inviting. All I could think of was Ridgway and home. I grit my teeth from pain.
Ten minutes into the flight, and by now at 12,000 feet according to the GPS, I was getting lightheaded. I lowered it to 11,000, then 10,000, then 9,000. I wondered if I was going to make it. The heat wasn’t helping. 8,000, which is not very high, considering that Log Hill Mesa is about 8,500 feet. That means I was tooling down Pleasant Valley a mere 1,000 feet above the ground.
I glanced down at my left leg, stinging as though raging grandmothers had jammed it with ten thousand knitting needles, and recoiled. Not only was it bleeding, but I could see blood dripping away into the wind. And not a drop here and there, either. A little stream, actually.
Time for Plan B.
When one is in pain and desperate for help, one does not think clearly. I certainly didn’t. All I could think of was getting to the ground and getting the bleeding stopped. Right now I hated flying. I wanted to throw up.
Our little doctor’s office in Ridgway is the Mountain Medical Center. It’s open Monday through Friday, and sometimes Saturdays, and it was a Saturday. I didn’t know whether the MMC was open or not, but every ounce of remaining strength willed me to get there. It didn’t occur to me to call first.
I lowered my altitude gradually to about 75 feet above ground level, leery now of the broom’s ability to stop a descent. I zoomed in over town, pretty much following Sherman Street (Colorado Highway 62), not caring a whit if anyone saw me. The clinic is just beyond the town park, easy to spot from the air.
Be open. Be open. Be open.
I landed right in front of the door and hastily fumbled with the carabiners. I was vaguely conscious of several people running toward me, but I had tunnel vision now; I wanted into the clinic. Ignoring the yells, I jerked open the outer door, jerked open the inner door, carefully protecting the broom straw, and presented myself at the desk, not bothering to remove my goggles. I was covered from head to toe in dust and blood and grit.
“Hi,” I said to the startled desk clerk. “I’m Dave Casler, Dr. Darwin is my doctor, and I need to get someone to stop my leg from bleeding. I flew through a tree.”
Now this seemed perfectly clear to me.
“You did what?”
“I flew through a tree. Look, my leg is bleeding and I can’t make it stop.”
She leaned out the little reception window and looked down. Blood pooled around my left sneaker. I could feel it squishing in my shoe. It was warm.
Some yahoo burst into the reception area through the same entrance I’d just taken.
“Did I see what I thought I saw? Did you actually fly that broomstick thing?”
This was the first tiny inkling I’d done something wrong. But I’m still intently focused on my leg.
“Look,” I said to the clerk. “A nurse, maybe?”
Well, to make a long and fascinating story short, the nurse finally rescued me from the reception area, but not before ten—that’s right—ten people, two of whom I recognized—came in to ask if I’d really flown the broom. And there I was, holding a broom, which makes things hard to deny (I’d finally removed the goggles). I tried ignoring them, which was actually tempting given that my leg was truly a bonfire, but I had to acknowledge the painful truth that I’d been seen flying.
On a broom.
In broad daylight.
The next little bit remains sort of watery in my memory. I stripped down in one of the little “treatment” rooms. The nurse did what she could to identify the major cuts, which turned out to be the monster on my leg, two gashes in my arm, and previously-ignored ones on my forehead and left cheek. The nurse said the latter were minor and didn’t need stitches. The leg wound took twenty-five stitches, the arm wounds six each. Not until she and Dr. Darwin were bandaging everything did anyone turn their attention to things other than medical.
“Through a tree, huh? Where?” asked Dr. Darwin.
“In a canyon northwest of Norwood.”
“I was hot-dogging it on the broom and got out of control.”
“Well, you asked. The broom’s right there.”
There was silence after that while they finished their work. The arm and leg bandages went completely around the respective limbs. They left the cheek and forehead scratches unbandaged. The cell phone in my jacket pocket rang.
Steeling myself for the worst, I reached for the jacket and fished out the cell phone, remarkably undamaged. The Caller ID said what I feared.
“Honey, are you all right?”
“I’m better now. I had a little accident.”
“Randy just called. He said he heard on the Sheriff’s radio that someone landed on a flying broomstick just outside Mountain Medical Center. He thought I’d find it funny.” She did not sound amused. Her voice was loud enough that Dr. Darwin and the nurse could hear; they looked at each other. Dr. Darwin grinned.
I closed my eyes and cringed. “Well, that’s where I am now.”
“Randy says the Ouray County Sheriff’s been called in to assist the Ridgway Marshall to do crowd control.”
I took a deep breath. “Oh, joy,” I said.
“Are you safe to fly home?”
My leg hurt. I was still feeling faint. “No. Can you come get me?”
There was a little hesitation. I held my breath. “Ok, where do you want me to pick you up?” she asked. This was not the first time she’s had to rescue me from some folly.
“Mountain Medical Center.”
“Randy says it’s a zoo down there.”
“Call Randy back. Have him get on the radio and tell the Sheriff to be looking for you. Just a sec.”
I turned to Dr. Darwin. “Is there a back entrance? I hear there’s a commotion out front.”
Assured that there was (a back entrance, that is—he knew nothing of any commotion), I gave suitable instructions to Loretta. The good doctor loaned me a crutch to keep the weight off my leg. I wanted to go home.
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