Fulfilling a lifelong dream can be exhilarating. Realizing it is within reach, planning the details, booking the flights, and making the reservations add to the anticipation of checking that item off your bucket list … an item that has been there since you were eight years old.
In my case, the dream was to ride a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and spend a night next to the Colorado River in a cabin. In October, I was talking about the dream with my husband when he said, “Why wait? Let’s do it!” I was shocked and thrilled all at the same time. No one had ever embraced the idea before. I went online, checked out the process and made a call. I was able to find two available openings in mid-February. Sure … it can be cold, even snowy, that time of year, but why let a little harsh weather ruin a dream? I booked the trip and started ironing out the details.
This kind of trip requires some planning. I knew we would need riding clothes and warm weather gear, but what else? Back online for research. There are “must-have” items and “optional” gear. There are videos to give you an idea what to expect. I created a packing list and watched a couple of the videos. I have a little fear of heights, so I was trying to get a visual idea of what to expect. Several websites made it clear that this ride is not for those with a fear of heights. I looked at a couple more videos and decided this was a case of mind over matter. I would defeat this fear and make my dream come true.
I bought cold weather rain gear. I ordered hand and toe warmers for the ride. I bought a strap to secure my glasses. I watched the videos over and over. I can do this!
Arriving at the Grand Canyon the afternoon before the ride, we checked into the Bright Angel Lodge, confirmed we would make the weigh-in restrictions (it is a FIRM 200-pound limit and my buff husband was close) and headed out to walk along the rim. I bravely walked to the edge and looked down – STRAIGHT DOWN! “Um, OK, I got this,” I said to myself as I took a couple steps back, “No problem.” I worked on that mind over matter thing. I smiled at Greg and we wandered along the rim taking in the views. I’m not sure if he realized I had positioned him between me and the edge.
We snagged a table with a canyon view for dinner, then headed to our room to pack our “Grand Canyon luggage” – two small plastic bags that were our limit for the ride. We were spending two nights at the bottom, so we got one bag per night. Packed and ready, we hit the hay with the alarm set for an early morning call at the stone corral.
Bright and early, we layered on the clothes, grabbed a quick breakfast and, with our breath visible in the sub-freezing morning breeze, we walked to the corral to meet our guides and riding mates. There would be six of us, plus two guides, for the descent. Stable master, Don, gave us a 30-minute safety talk, filled us in on what to expect and introduced us to our rides. I would be on Burt. Don laughed as he explained that Burt was a bit noisy and would snort and grunt all the way down. I gave Burt’s nose a little nuzzle, climbed up into the saddle and settled in for the five-hour ride along the edge of the paths on the Bright Angel Trail.
We walked out of the corral and immediately stepped out onto the trail. I did all the things I had talked to myself about. Look out across the canyon and the magnificent view. Trust your mule to stay sure-footed (no one has EVER died on this ride). Look at the rider ahead of you. DON’T LOOK DOWN. Then I did it – I looked down. We were maybe 50 paces into the ride. I gasped! Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I have hyperventilated ONCE in my life and all of a sudden I was gasping for air and wheezing. Ten more steps and we approached the first turn on the path. My lungs were screaming. My brain was screaming. I wheezed out a whisper, “I can’t do this.” Gasp, gasp … louder this time, “I can’t do this.” I felt tears start falling. The guide must’ve heard me and turned in her saddle, “Are you OK?”
“No,” I gasped. She looked concerned. She got on her radio and called back up to the corral. She stopped the group as we had discussed in the safety talk. We would all stop, turn our mules out to face the canyon, enjoy the view and take a drink of water. I barely remember stopping. Someone was standing next to me helping me dismount. The guide at the back of the group was repeating, “Breathe, just breathe, you’re OK.” I hugged the wall as far from the edge as I could get. I started walking back up, both my clear plastic bags in my arms. I don’t remember how they got from the saddle bags into my arms, but there they were.
I stepped over to the corral wall, dropped down onto it and started to cry. Greg showed up a couple of minutes later and Don walked us over to the Lodge to check us out of the ride group. I was feeling a sense of loss. I would be fine one second, then crying again. Greg got me some water. We walked over to the restaurant and got a table – one without a view! I was scared, shaking, finally breathing again and crushed.
I was experiencing the end of a dream. We made other plans for our vacation and Greg distracted me as I started to get over it. It’s been a week and I’m OK today, although a little weepy as I relive it. I have other dreams. I know I tried. Life goes on and I will move on stronger for the attempt.
The Grand Canyon is no longer on my bucket list, but there are hundreds of other things still left to see and do. After all, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored – don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.
Okay, I made up that word (because I’m a bit psycho), but when we booked our trip to Hawaii (see “P is for Pu’uhonua”), we bookended the flights to Honolulu with stops in Los Angeles to break up the long flights from the East Coast. On the first of those LA stops, Judy and I decided to check off a bucket list item with soaring lessons!
As a private pilot, all my flying has been in planes with motors, but soaring in a glider has held a certain appeal…matching wits with nature in search of thermals that will take you to new heights, rather than just gliding “down hill.” I reached out to Jeff Jewell, one of my LA-based flying buddies who had spent some quality time flying gliders, for some advice. He pointed me straight in the direction of the Southern California Soaring Academy in the high desert town of Llano. He also let me know that on the day we were planning our experience, he would be flying the tow plane!
We arrived dressed for the desert – shorts and t-shirts – but were met by breezes and cool temps. That didn’t dampen our enthusiasm as we were met at the door by Julie and introduced to our instructors. Judy was shown to her glider first and after she and Jim pre-flighted, a golf cart towed them to the end of the runway. Dale gave me a thorough rundown of the instruments and controls of the ASK-21 sailplane we would be flying, the difficulty we might have finding thermals this particular day, and the procedures we would follow when being towed into the air. We, too, were then towed out to the end of the runway, where Jeff taxied-up and the crew hooked up the tow line. When the line was taut, we waggled our rudder indicating we were ready to go, and Jeff firewalled the throttle in the Piper Pawnee tow plane ahead of us, and we quickly lifted off right behind.
A truly masterful instructor, Dale walked me through the tow procedures, one of the hardest parts to learn when one is getting their glider rating, as I followed along with my hands and feet on the controls. As we approached the mountain ridgeline south of Crystal Airport, we dropped the towline. We were soaring! Flying within just a hundred feet or so of the treetops, the view and the sensations were exhilarating, and maybe a bit intimidating. A pilot in a powered aircraft like I fly would never get that close to a mountain, Dale said, and I can certainly attest to that. We skimmed along the ridge, looking for the slightest amount of lift created by the winds rising up the mountain (called ridge lift or, in meteorological terms, orographic lifting) … lift that could be felt in the seat of the pants and seen in the very sensitive vertical speed indicator called a variometer. There wasn’t much, but Dale found some (Judy’s instructor would quip that Dale “could find a thermal in a fart”) and he racked the tiny aircraft with the incredibly long wings into a spiraling turn to stay in the thermal.
Then it was my turn. Flying that glider was unlike anything I’ve ever flown before. Dale was constantly urging me, “More rudder!” Unlike the Pipers and Cessnas I usually fly, where only a bit of rudder is needed to coordinate the turn, sailplanes with impossibly long wings experience a LOT of adverse yaw. But I got the hang of it, and soon Dale was showing me how to use speed in a dive to build energy to climb. We found a small thermal in a place dubbed “The Chimney.” I did my best to stay in it, spiraling in a steep turn as we climbed ever so slowly.
Soon, it was time to head back to the ground. I had long lost sight of Judy and Jim, but I was too mesmerized in my own experience to really notice. I did some stalls and steep turns to get a better feel for the bird, then Dale demonstrated the aerobatic capabilities of the ASK-21 with a wing-over! I flew the pattern toward the airport with Dale working the spoilers to lose lift in a glider that would rather fly than be on the ground. Nevertheless, we nailed the touchdown and coasted to a stop. Our first soaring flights were done, but they won’t be our last!
There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. See it from the air!
My plan to see the world from A to Z continued in 2017. When I started the plan in 2001, I had two rules: Don’t go back to places you’ve been before (at least as part of the A to Z plan), and wherever you go, it must be outside the 48 contiguous United States.
As I considered where to go for “P,” I realized my desire to go to Hawaii (I had never been) could easily meet those rules … and there are LOADS of “P” places in Hawaii. I settled on Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, a National Park on “the big island” known as place of refuge to ancient Hawaiians. We chose our dates, booked our airfare and found a hotel.
We arrived in Kona late afternoon, grabbed the rental car and headed to the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha Beach Resort, settling into our room with a gorgeous view of the lagoon and Kailua Bay. Ali’i Drive beckoned as the sun started slipping lower in the sky.
We wandered the coastal roadway and looked for a dinner destination, settling on Foster’s Kitchen with a view of the ocean and the taste of Ono, the fresh catch of the day. It was late by our body clocks, so we headed back to our comfy bed to settle in for a good night’s sleep ahead of plans for an early showtime for our Dolphin/Snorkel Cruise.
Somewhere around 2 am, the sound of howling wind woke us up and we marveled at an overnight storm stirring up huge waves in the bay and tossing-about the palm fronds in the trees that line the lagoon. About 6:30, the phone range with the news that the storm meant the Dolphin/Snorkel Cruise was cancelled. The girl on the line was friendly, apologetic and happy to reschedule our cruise for the next morning. That was no problem for us … we could swap our plans and spend the day exploring the island, visiting Pu’uhonua and making our way to the volcano in the hopes of seeing flowing lava.
Less than five miles up the road, we turned around. Flash flooding left us seeking an alternate route in the now torrential rain. We laughed about the diversion and drove the 45 minutes to the National Park.
We learned the rain was not typical when we found Pu’uhonua closed (we learned the next day that employees couldn’t get to work because of dangerous driving conditions). Not to worry, we snapped a few pics in the rain and headed back to KaiKona.
The rain eased. We wandered through the town, upgraded to front table seating for our Luau in the evening and sipped a few tropical cocktails.
The Island Breeze Luau receives rave reviews online and it was, indeed, a fun, entertaining event. We were taken on a virtual tour of the South Pacific through dance and food. I even tried poi the way the Hawaiians eat it and was pleasantly surprised at how tasty it can be.
Morning two dawned with calm winds on the lagoon and the early sun peaking over the horizon. When the phone rang just after 6:30, I guessed it was Alia calling to confirm our rescheduled cruise. Unfortunately, she warned of high surf and let us know the cruise was once again cancelled. We’d looked at the calm lagoon without checking the far side of the bay where HUGE waves were pounding the sea wall. No problem! We got an early start and headed for the far side of the island and Volcanoes National Park.
On the way, we stopped at Pu’uhonua, chatted with the rangers and marveled at a 95-year-old, third-generation Hawaiian man weaving palm leaves into bowls, crowns and fun little fish. He gave me a crown and a bowl suggesting he would be offended if I refused his gift. We left a substantial tip in his jar, thanked him profusely and hopped back in the Jeep.
We’d mapped out the back-roads route to Volcanoes and were delighted to find ourselves cruising through little villages pushed right up against the sea wall. Lava flows now hardened into rock, lush green foliage, brightly colored tropical flowers and expansive views filled our drive. We stopped in Na’alehu where a farmer’s market was in full swing. A few minutes of wandering had us marveling at the delicious flavors of a cinnamon roll made with dehydrated banana strips instead of dough and crunching on teriyaki smoked almonds. We popped into the Punalu’u Bake Shop, which bills itself as the southernmost bake shop in the USA, for malasadas. From there it was a quick drive to Volcanoes.
What a site to behold! Lava fields, smoking steam vents, everything we had hoped for! With plenty of time, we drove the 38-mile round trip Chain of Craters Road to see the Hōlei Sea Arch. The high surf that canceled our snorkeling trip pounded the sea wall with thunderous explosions of water and sea spray. We stared in amazement at the power of Mother Nature. The foggy mist lifted as we made our way back to the highway, revealing brilliant colors as the sun set.
We enjoyed a classic Hawaiian pizza for dinner and packed before falling asleep to the sounds of waves gently kissing the shoreline of the lagoon outside our window. Our exceptionally brief Hawaiian vacation did exactly as we had hoped – left us both wanting more. If you haven’t experienced Hawaii, what are you waiting for? After all, it’s one of the magnificent places in a whole world out there, just waiting to be explored.
Driving down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you’ll discover many things beyond tasting good whiskey. First, that it’s not really a trail, but a smattering of distilleries located in and around Louisville and Lexington, and second, that every distillery making “bourbon” follows the same basic recipe required by U.S. law. Unexpectantly, you’ll find a wide variety of flavors both in the drinks and the distilleries themselves.
When it comes to the whiskey, I’ll let you be the judge of what you like and don’t like. Try as many of the distilleries as you can, follow your guides’ tasting advice, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Judy was our Designated Driver – she generally doesn’t like Bourbon – but she was a trooper and tried some of them, even finding one or two she liked. I reveled in the new and different flavors, all derived from the grains used in the mash and the wood of the charred oak barrels. I became a bourbon drinker several years ago, when a former boss – a retired Air Force two-star general – pretty much insisted I join him at the bar when we were on business travel and introduced me to Maker’s Mark and a few others. I became hooked. Judy and I now keep a small collection of fine bourbons, scotches, and Irish whiskeys in our library’s globe bar. There’s something uniquely relaxing about reading a good book with a dram of amber, 90-proof liquid rolling around your tongue and palate.
I also reveled in the wide variety of architectural styles. From the classic “down in the holler” buildings of Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace (not on the tour but worth a stop) built in the 1800s with their worn and aging cypress fermenters, to the modern and spotless glass and stainless-steel Town Branch facility, to the gleaming polished copper, brick and wood Angel’s Envy distillery built inside a former manufacturing plant in downtown Louisville…architectural personalities young and old were featured. Even the retail “experiences” of Evan Williams and Jim Beam featured architectural styles that put their products and personalities in best light.
Each of our guides also brought their own unique personalities to the tours and tastings. Nicholas at Town Branch was, by far, the funniest and most entertaining, but the booming voice of classically trained actor Jimmy James Hamblin at Angel’s Envy earned him a nomination for Louisville’s Recognition of Service Excellence (ROSE) Awards this year…and our utmost respect and admiration. But unvarying among all our guides and the people we met along the way were the warm Kentucky welcomes we received and felt, making our Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience one of our favorite diversions so far.
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it!
From my earliest days, I wanted to fly.
As a youngster, I was fortunate to fly commercially before airliners became nothing more than airborne buses and coats and ties were de rigueur. Flights in Lockheed Electras, Convair 440s, Boeing 707s and DC-8s had me glued to the window as the earth fell away during takeoff. Back then, cockpit tours for kids were a must, and the stewardesses (as they were called then) ALWAYS had wing pins for their young passengers.
Balsa wood, tissue paper and dope models followed, as did subscriptions to every flying magazine I could get my hands on. Dad took me to airshows at Pt. Magu where I saw the incomparable Bob Hoover in his Aero Commander Shrike perform a complete aerobatic routine with both engines silent.
My best friend’s grandfather took us up for a ride in a Piper Tri-Pacer out of Van Nuys airport and later a Piper Apache; his dad took us up in a Cessna 310 … the stage was set.
But priorities changed. Sailing, then cars and girls in high school, more sailing in college and a first marriage kept my aviation dreams at bay. But then in 1993, the planets aligned and an opportunity presented itself that was simply too good to pass up … a close friend had an opportunity to buy an old Cessna 150 for $9,000 – a bargain! – did I want in? Absolutely! Another friend had just received his Certified Flight Instructor certificate and would train me in exchange for the flight time. Deals were made, checks written and the airplane was ours.
My logbook tells the story. My first lesson was on April 6, 1993 in a Cessna 172 when we went to pick up the plane. Mike flew it back. I soloed just three months later with only 18 hours logged! I passed my private pilot checkride on March 21, 1994. Bigger and faster airplanes followed and in December 2001, I passed the checkride for my Instrument Rating.
It all stopped in 2003. I moved east and when the promise of a new job failed to materialize the finances to fly just weren’t there, and then life ensued. The dream faded but never went away. A new, but short-lived job with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association threw new sparks on the fire, but my then-wife wasn’t a flyer … it wasn’t a priority.
Fast forward to 2012 when the woman of my dreams enters my life … and she wants to fly! Judy not only supported my dreams, but wanted her dreams of flight to be realized. For a wedding present, I got her a logbook of her own and an introductory lesson. On a cold day in January, I watched her take off for the first time at the controls. Later that summer, I, too, was back in an airplane with a new medical certificate in hand and an instructor putting me through the flight review paces. It took a few flights – I was definitely rusty, but it all came back and my instructor signed me off. I was back in the air!
A week ago, I was again signed off by an instructor to fly one of my favorite airplanes, a Piper Arrow, and later this year, I hope to regain my Instrument Rating currency. In the meantime, Judy and I are planning many flights together.
Today is National Aviation Day…a day to celebrate why we fly and our nation’s long history of flight. I am incredibly thankful to live in a country that affords me this opportunity…but it is an opportunity that is being put at risk by Congressional legislation to privatize our Air Traffic Control system. This move will make private aviation too costly for all but the richest folks and put control of ATC in the hands of the airlines that do NOT have your interests at heart. Thousands will lose their jobs and critical infrastructure served by general aviation will be lost.
If you have ever, even once, thought about taking a flying lesson, enjoyed a scenic flight, taken a flight with a friend to another airport for a “$100 Hamburger,” I ask you to do two things: 1) Write or call your representatives in Congress and tell them to Modernize, not Privatize, our ATC system, and 2) Book a flight with an instructor TODAY and see for yourself what joy flying brings! If you need some advice, contact me…I’m always happy to talk flying.
There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored…see it from the front seat!
August 19, 2017 is National Aviation Day. For me, it’s a reason to celebrate.
I grew up around airplanes. I remember as a very little girl, going to pick my dad up at work at Griffiss Air Force Base and him letting me sit in the Link Trainers he worked on.
From that base we moved to more Air Force bases … Nebraska, Nevada, Texas, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Germany … almost too many to count. The one thing that was an absolute constant in my life was the sound of airplanes. Propellers, jets … it didn’t matter what kind of plane to me. I was too young to really understand the difference between bombers, fighters and cargo planes. I knew that sound, though. It really is the sound of freedom.
Every base had an airshow in the summer. We always went to the airshow. The US Air Force Thunderbirds dazzled my sisters and me with their feats of acrobatics.
Bombers and fighters showed off in the sky. The idea of flying was magical. My fascination with the Thunderbirds led me to an airshow a couple of years ago where I got to touch one! I met a Thunderbird pilot and got her (yes, HER) autograph.
I didn’t actually fly in a plane until I was in 7th grade. My dad had orders for Germany and he and mom wanted to make sure we would be able to tolerate flying since we had all experienced inner ear problems as kids. On the way home from a vacation, Dad dropped Mom, me and my sisters at the airport in Montgomery, Alabama, where we caught a short flight to Mobile. He drove down and met us when we landed. It was AMAZING! I was hooked!
We flew to Germany and back a couple of times then returned to the states. I was in high school, so I joined the Civil Air Patrol in the hopes of getting into a cockpit. It didn’t happen.
When I was in college, I enrolled in ground school.
I passed with flying colors (no pun intended) the day before the nation’s air traffic controllers went on strike. Flying lessons were no longer an option.
I enlisted in the Air Force and kept an eye out for opportunities to fly, but I was never at the controls. I managed to swing an assignment for the base paper when I was at Dover Air Force Base that landed me in the crew section of a C-5 for an extended mission.
I had a family. Kids, money, time commitments all played a role in slamming the door on my dream of flying a plane. I wrote off the dream and did what I could to travel by air just to be up there among the clouds.
Then I met Greg. A private pilot, he had let his license lapse. When I asked why, he only offered the typical excuses … not enough time, not enough money, blah, blah, blah. We made it a priority to get him back in the air. He introduced me to friends he had flown with years earlier. One even let me take the controls of the experimental aircraft he had built! I FLEW IT! Sure … it was only for a couple of minutes … but I actually FLEW IT! The dream came back to life!
We visited the nation’s largest airshow, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, three years in a row.
We check out aviation museums, local airshows and just about any aviation event we can find.
When we got married, he gave me my own pilot log book and I took my first lesson. I’m headed towards making my first solo flight, but in the meantime, Greg got re-certified. We’ve climbed into a Cessna and taken a few short trips.
We even created an aviation-themed bar in our home – complete with a replica wing for a bar and aviation nose art on the wall.
Recently, he got back into the cockpit of a Piper Arrow and the flying bug came back to life in him. We were off the ground. It’s a priority for both of us. From here – the sky’s the limit!