Spreading My Wings

Lake Champlain
Lake Champlain

For someone who hates to fly, I find myself in the air a lot. I’m not talking about 747s either; I’m talking about those small metal boxes with wings that spurt and putter when you start the engine and look like they should be flown with a remote control.

I made it 35 years without getting in a plane the size of a peanut; then I met Jordan.

The first time he convinced me to go up was in New York. The pilot, Colin, was a close family friend who worked as an engineer on rockets at Boeing. I figured, if I’m ever going to willing step into a death trap it should be with a rocket scientist behind the yoke.

On the drive to the airport I couldn’t stop thinking about a book I read when we lived in Alaska called The Map of My Dead Pilots in which the author details the grim truth about being a commercial pilot in a place where it’s not a matter of if a plane crashes, but when.

Standing on the tarmac watching Colin do the pre-flight check, I still wasn’t sure I’d actually get in the plane.

Pre-flight check

Yes, the pilot is checking the oil.

Here’s a picture of Colin reassuring me:

Colin Reassuring Michelle

Velociraptor-free workplaceI ran back inside the office to pee twice; then once more.

In the office, that sign was hanging on the wall –>

I thought, if they can’t go five days without a Velociraptor accident, I wonder how long they can go without a plane crash.

Alas, I reluctantly crawled into the Hindenburg.

To my great surprise, we lived.

We flew over Newark, circled around the Statue of Liberty and made our way up the Hudson River. Our wings passed over the 9/11 memorial, Central Park and Yankee Stadium. I didn’t even need Jordan to hold my hand on the landing.

NY from the Air

Hazy Day in New York

Once we were back on the ground, my relief was not only that we lived but that I could cross this adventure off my life list. In MY mind, I had accomplished the task. In JORDAN’s mind, however, this was just the beginning: I had gotten over the initial hump; I learned you don’t die every time you fly in a small plane, so it wouldn’t be as scary the next time I do it.

And there was a next time. Less than a year later we once again found ourselves hanging out with a pilot and part owner of a Cessna. I wondered, how many pilots can one man know?

This time the pilot was Gail; she’d been flying for 12 years and wanted nothing more on her birthday than to take her family and friends for a ride.


Me holding my breath.

On flight day Gail’s enthusiasm was palpable. Her eyes were brighter, her back straighter and her smile wider than the day before. Flying was her drug.

I went more willingly than the last time but I still clenched my fists and held my breath for most of the trip.

We flew over Lake Champlain and through the Champlain valley. We saw pastures, red barns and rolling hills. I analyzed the farm roads and wondered if we could land on one of them should we run into trouble. Gail pointed out Lake George (where my parents met) in the distance.

Post-flight, Gail was still beaming. Back in the car, she kicked her shoes off, put her feet on the dash, and looked over her shoulder at me. “Isn’t it amazing that we can fly.” It wasn’t a question so much as something to marvel at.

I looked out the window, shook my head and thought, yeah, it is pretty amazing.

Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain

Video from the air: The Aviatrix by Robert Isenberg

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