As a soft, bald, late middle-age, goofball who still hasn’t figured out exactly what I want to do with my life, I can say this with complete confidence: I hope for smooth sailing.
It’s what I shoot for. Of all the people you’ll meet in life, I am not the one who has a penchant for launching off into the maelstrom just to prove I can do it. No, that’s not me at all. I’m at the other end of the spectrum, entirely.
When the water is calm, the air is still, and the sky is blue, every aspect of life is more inviting. A sense of peacefulness comes over us. The world opens up. We believe we can do whatever it is we want to do. We see possibilities. We dream big.
That calm may be only surface deep, however. There may be turbulence under the surface, above the trees, or in our hearts and minds. Even in the moments when great serenity is apparent, the potential for trouble exists.
Very recently, I awoke to such a chain of events. Winds were light, out of the northwest. The sky was as blue as can be, unblemished by even a single wisp of water vapor. Visibility was excellent, and as I completed my Sunday morning chores, the idea of throwing a little adventure into my day blossomed and grew in my mind.
By noontime I’d made a decision. It’s a perfect day to pull the Cub out of the hangar, circulate some oil, and head for a grass strip not far from my home airport. There, I would find a cluster of welcoming friends who live alongside that velvety green runway.
I grabbed my flight bag and headed for the airport.
The weather held beautifully and was forecast to remain unchanged for the remainder of the day. It was just past 12:30 when my wheels lifted off the ground. The Cub and I began to climb.
The takeoff was magnificent in the way they so often are when experienced from the pilot’s seat of an airplane built three quarters of a century ago. A moment of introspection and an appreciation for the wonders of lift might have captured my imagination had it not been for a sudden dip of the left wing. An entirely unexpected yawing of the aircraft required a kick of rudder as I rolled the wings level again.
The day was not as peaceful as it appeared, and my flight was not to be the casual adventure I’d hoped it might be. My destination was barely 20 minutes from home and in the general direction of my runway heading, so as I climbed, bumped, twisted, and rolled my way to pattern altitude, I disregarded any misgivings about the discomfort I might suffer and set a course for Flanders Field.
I’m glad I did.
The flight was never unsafe, but it was far from the serene sightseeing experience I’d imagined it would be. The little Cub bounced along like a cork on the surface of a wind-whipped lake. At 1,000 feet above the surface, brisk winds mixed with rising thermals to create an invisible obstacle course that tossed us about at will. Buzzards rode the rising columns of air all along my path, forcing me to navigate my way through them like a downhill slalom racer at the Winter Games.
At my destination the wind sock told me I had a light, but direct crosswind on the runway. Aloft, I continued to bump and lurch my way through the ether. On final I held a significant crab correction to hold my line to the runway.
Descending through the clear cut of trees on short final, my wings stretched out toward sturdy, straight pines on either side. Normally, I don’t give our proximity to these tree trunks a second thought. On this flight, I gripped the stick a bit tighter than usual, even as I reminded myself to relax my clenched fingers.
Then, as suddenly as the turbulence had begun, it disappeared. The Cub broke out into the clear, the sound of soft wind in the cockpit replaced the clattering of the engine, and rubber touched grass as smoothly as it ever would.
I was down and safe.
In flight, as in life, the unexpected will happen. Our wishes will override our intellect at times, deluding us into believing all is well, when it is not. Or just as often, pushing us to the conclusion that all is lost, when we are in fact merely experiencing a few bumps and bruises along a path toward ultimate success.
Aviation and sailing both lend themselves to being analogous to life in general, because in each case, you’re all in. Whether you want to be a player at the moment or not, you are.
Your choices are remarkably simple, even in the most challenging of circumstances. Do you want to think your way through the rocky shoals or turbulent air, or do you want to throw it in and let the winds take you where they will?
My visit to Flanders was simply wonderful, even if the flight to and from was not.
We enjoy the calm of the smooth air, but we learn from the challenges of the turbulence.
I wish you well on your journey, in good times and bad.