I recently wrote a post about my thoughts on air travel. Reading it, you may have gotten a sense that I view riding on airplanes as an unwelcome exercise in fear management and that I’m something of a chicken when it comes to even the most mild turbulence. And during every takeoff. And on most landings. That’s all true, but I hasten to add this newly acquired, if paradoxical, factoid about myself:
I want to be a pilot.
More to the point, I want to woman the cockpit—every single day—on the Minneapolis to Palm Springs route.
Our recent flight to southern California started out as they all do, with me burying my nose in a crossword, calming music filling my ears, resolutely ignoring the thin, acrylic-and-plastic-covered hole sitting between me and certain death. After a while, though, I glanced up and saw a nearby passenger’s seatback screen displaying our route and our aircraft’s place on it. We were over Colorado, my favorite state.
A reluctant glance out the window revealed snow-covered Rockies.
Based on what the screen was telling us, we could very well have been looking down on the Sawatch Range, meaning our beloved Leadville and the locations of many of our fourteener mishaps were somewhere out there . . .
Suddenly, the crosswords were abandoned, the playlist silenced, and my gaze fixed on the scenes floating by my now annoyingly small window.
Before long the scenery changed from white to green to brown, from jagged to flat and rutted, as we sailed past the mountains and entered the airspace over the desert southwest.
Now, I can’t prove it, but I could swear that I was looking down on the sacred and beguiling Monument Valley . . .
. . . and could that be the road to the Moki Dugway?
I’ve driven in, around, and through these areas so many times, and as stunning as they are from the ground, seeing them from above is something else entirely. I was so captivated I nearly forgot to question how the hell a 100,000-lb jetliner could possibly be gliding through space without losing altitude and crashing in a fiery, smoking jumble of twisted metal, plastic tray tables, and crossword puzzle ashes. The two times I did have terrifying intrusive thoughts, I just refocused my attention on the outstanding vista below.
As long as I was looking, I checked to make sure our plane wasn’t having a United Airlines Mishap like the one that recently rained debris over Denver. Being seated in the exit row is a big responsibility, and I take my duties seriously.
Finally, the terrestrial cracks began to widen and I didn’t even need to be told what lay beneath (thank goodness, because the neglectful captain didn’t say squat). It was that vast, majestic maw in the the face of the Colorado Plateau, the Grand Canyon.
I’ve seen the Grand Canyon from the ground on three different occasions in my life, and now I’ve seen it from above. Perhaps next I should experience it from within. Hmmm . . .
Before I knew it, the landscape was changing again.
And suddenly, after darting recklessly through a narrow opening in the Little San Bernadino Mountains, we were there.
I alighted from the plane with a mile-wide grin hiding beneath my mask, not just because we were starting our long-awaited vacation, not just because we emerged into an indoor-outdoor palm-and-flower-strewn airport on a blissfully warm afternoon, but because I had just, for the first time I can remember, enjoyed my flight.
But don’t let my uncharacteristic about-face worry you. Turbulence is out there, lurking. Scary, ocean-crossing flights await. I’m bound to have a bad flight in the future—it’s only a matter of time—and when I do, you can be certain I will promptly and unequivocally rescind this rescindment.