“ It’s been so refreshing and inspiring to talk to you” she said, and added “ I’ll definitely check out that little airport close to where we live! Thanks so much and all the best for your flying adventure.”
Then she stepped on the pedals of her mountain bike and rode away trying to catch up with her husband.
It was early Saturday afternoon in Gadabout Gaddis, Maine, the first stop on my camping-under-the-wing trip.
I had decided to take it easy, soak in the relaxing atmosphere of the “North Country Rivers” adventure ressort and decompress from almost two weeks of intense flight training.
At 3pm the weather had finally given up on its back and forth between heavy drops of rain and piercing rays of sun and the sky had calmed down to scattered cumulus clouds floating by in a light breeze. A few early arrivals for this weekend’s wild water rafting adventures had already settled in, eaten lunch, and were now off to reconnoiter the premises of what was going to be their habitat for the next 30 hours. After crossing the volleyball courts, the campground, the golf course and right before heading through the underbrush to the banks of the Kennebec River they would have to pass the spot where I had parked WhiskyBlue, my Cessna, and pitched the tent.
She and her companion had gotten off their bikes and were about to take the trail through the willows down to the “rainbow alley”, the stretch of the Kennebec named for an abundance of you know what, when she looked in my direction and stopped.
“Did you fly in with that plane?”
“Yes, I got here yesterday.”
“Wow, how cool is that! “
She dropped her bike and came over. “Where are you from?”
Ah, the canonical question… and so many ways to answer.
Did she want to know where I had taken off from because there was an airplane involved, or had she already detected an accent in the few words I had spoken and wanted to inquire about my origin?
Better to paint the big picture rather than deliver one small sketch after another, I thought
“Well, I flew in from Plymouth, MA yesterday, arrived in Boston from Patagonia two weeks ago, moved to Argentina from Switzerland in 2007 and was born in Germany – does that answer your question?” I rattled off with a grin.
“Now wait a minute, you’re making all this up, aren’t you?”
“No, not at all. Just sounds like it“
She stepped closer to WhiskyBlue, looked it over and said: “You have a beautiful plane, but don’t tell me you flew up here all the way from Argentina in it ?”.
“No – but it would have been an epic trip, for sure!”
“And a long and dangerous one…” she raised her voice a bit as if trying to decide whether to make a statement or pose a question.
“Depends on what you mean by dangerous” I replied “I’d call it challenging”.
“ Oh, so you’re an adventurer?” she looked like she had finally figured me out. “And what adventure are you on right now?”
With every question she had moved closer. I got the impression that she was not interested in striking up some smalltalk with a stranger. She really inquired and wanted to know the entire story.
“Well, I’m on a camping-under-the-wing trip of two, maybe three, weeks and this is my first stop. I want to fly from one small town to the next, across the eastern US, whenever and wherever the weather is nice enough to enjoy the flight.”
“Sounds wonderful, like a road trip through the air – oh, how I love road trips! We live in South Carolina and had a great time driving up to Connecticut to visit family. And yesterday we decided to do some white water rafting and come up here.”
And after a short pause she continued:
“So are you a professional pilot then?”
“I’m a physicist, but ever since I turned 5 I wanted to become a professional pilot – didn’t happen. But flying has always been my passion.”
“You have owned this plane for a long time then ?” She continued digging deeper.
“ I bought it barely two months ago, actually!”
“What? You started flying only recently?”
“Well, I learned to fly gliders in Germany back in the early seventies and have been very active in the soaring world. But there was always this childhood dream: to fly a Cessna 170 across this country, to follow what those barnstormer pilots with their biplanes did in the twenties.”
For a second or two she looked away, looked at an image distant in time and space. Or so it seemed.
Long enough for me to let my mind drift away, too, back to that place where my dream suddenly awoke, to that moment when I decided to take it seriously and do something about it.
“Ah, dreams… “ she sighed after we both had come back to the ‘here & now’.
And after a short pause:
“Aren’t dreams just that: dreams?” It sounded like a rhetorical question with the real one following right on its tail:
“Are you really living that childhood dream of yours? “
And when she continued: “I wish I could do that.” she had apparently come to the conclusion that I actually was.
It was resignation, not envy, what I saw in her eyes as she lowered her gaze.
The silence which followed gave me time to reflect on and to appreciate what I had achieved, or, better perhaps, what had happened to me: someone with a “slightly” different take on life had nudged me at the right moment to give my dream a chance. Hesitantly, I admit, I had taken a few steps toward its realisation and those baby-moves had ignited a fire of passion and generated so much momentum that here and now I was at the beginning – or maybe already in the middle – of a ”dreamlike” adventure.
I was truly grateful, not only for having come this far, but also for the experiences along the way, the sudden setbacks, the unexpected advances, the encouraging, as well as the frustrating moments. But above all I was grateful for the connections I had made to the community of tailwheel enthusiasts.
Something deep within me had come alive – and right there and then I felt it again: this warm, fuzzy feeling of being in tune with life.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to pass that feeling on?
So I tried to pick up our conversation and asked her: “What’s keeping you from pursuing your dream?”
“Well, you know how it is, first you study then you work on your degree, start a family, try to launch a career…. There really never was the time, nor the money, to take flying lessons. And now, with one boy about to go to college and the second one close behind… things haven’t changed much!”
Flying lessons she said!!
Now I understood why I had sensed her genuine interest in an airplane and its solitary pilot sitting under the wing and sipping lemonade! Right there, in front of her eyes, her dream had manifested, and it had enlisted me to send her a signal.
How could I refuse ?
Many times I had heard similar stories, or rather “arguments”, about not paying attention to a dream’s voice calling from within. I had, after all, succumbed to one of the habitual excuses myself: “ I’ll do it when… I’m forty, retired, the kids are out of college, have more money, etc, etc…”.
Never ever have I seen anybody to get around to doing something when those requirements had been met. Always something else had come up which needed attention first (and, surprisingly, quite often this “something” involved health issues). And then the dream got tired and frustrated and many years later it said – or the person said: “ I should have… but it’s too late now !” and the only thing he or she was left with is regret.
Every once in a while I stepped up and tried to encourage friends to go for it, to take their dreams seriously and run with their enthusiasm while there was time. And time after time I saw a boisterous and vivid imagination being dragged down by doubt and hesitation, by resignation which eventually turned into regret.
It was truly saddening.
Agreed, those “arguments” are rarely pulled out of thin air, there’s always an aspect of reality involved. But what one seldom acknowledges is that conditions and circumstances are at best obstacles which can be overcome step by step. In my case the first hurdle to jump over was my decades-long hiatus from flying powerplanes. (see here) As soon as I had convinced myself that my old flying skills could be reanimated and new tricks learned the resolution to continue pursuing my dream became unshakable.
I told her all that. And she listened.
Was there perhaps a way to inspire her? And which was it?“Have you ever flown in a small plane?” I asked her.
“Yeah, once, long time ago.” she replied “ it was kind of a dare-me-to moment during an open day at the airport which the aeronautics department sponsored. I loved it, every minute of it!”
There it was again, this look at a distant image. But this time a faint glow appeared in her eyes.
“It was only a short flight, over to the university and back to the airport. The pilot let me take the controls for a minute and I surprised myself – I wasn’t scared at all.” she went on.
“Wow, so you know already how it feels to pilot an aircraft. And you liked it, right?” I said, and added a little teaser: “ How could you stay away from flying for so long? ”
“Ah, now that you ask me…” she let her voice trail off.
“I’d like to invite you to your second flight then” I said and: “how about in an hour…?”
“No no, thank you so much! I’d love to but we’ve got the full family-programm this weekend, our schedule is packed! ”
She didn’t mean it as an excuse, neither did it come across as one.
Too bad, I thought, but then I had an idea:
“What a pity. But you know what? There must be a small airport in your neighborhood, why don’t you stop by there and ask if someone is giving rides, or a flying club, a flight school offering introductory flights. You wouldn’t have to commit to anything but you could find out how it feels to fly again. Just a check to see if your dream is still alive. “
She thought for a moment, looked at me, and asked:
“And what if it grabs me again? “
Ah, the last-ditch attempt of internal resistance…
“Let it grab you, allow it! Nothing to worry about, it’s not life-threatening! “
I saw doubt in her face and questions forming in her mind. So I explained:
“When I began to take my dream seriously ideas popped up and options appeared which I never imagined. “ I told her.
Silence. I hadn’t convinced her – yet. I tried again.
“Perhaps you can fly with someone every once in a while and see what happens. If you like it, I’m sure, your dream will tell you how to proceed. “
I doubled up: “ I’d just think of it as being invited by my dream to dance. Even if I’d enjoy it tremendously, it doesn’t mean that I have to start the one year Tango master class next monday!”
“Ah, the Argentinian speaking, didn’t you say you live in Patagonia? “, she almost laughed.
“And I like to dance !” she added.
“There you go! Dancing in the sky! What could be more fun than that? “
Her smile had gotten even bigger.
“I might be able to set aside a couple of hours now and then, we’ll see.”
And then her imagination took over:“ And maybe in a couple of years I can take my husband on a trip like yours…”
“Oh, my husband! Where is he?”
We had been talking for fifteen minutes at most, but our conversation had taken us at least a year into the future – and possibly rekindled an almost forgotten desire. That’s what I hoped for, anyway.
She looked around. When she spotted him at the end of the runway, right where another path led down to the river, she picked up her bike and said:
“Well, I better hurry! He must be wondering what stories you told me. Let’s see what he says when I confess to him about my dream!”
She turned around, gave me a quick wave and said: “ It’s been so refreshing and inspiring to talk to you, I’ll definitely check out that little airport…..”
Well, you read that already at the beginning of the story.
Little did I know, that this was only the first occasion when someone, pilot or not, would comment on how inspired he or she felt after finding out what I had embarked on.