Friday, May 6, 2011

Fear of Flying

Or: The Winds of Insanity!

Fear of Flying

Saturday morning, with a last minute invitation and a whim, I threw a change of clothing and my toothbrush into a small bag, shoved in a book for just in case, climbed into my trusty van Roshanna, and with a “Giddy-up Go” pointed her east, and keeping a tight rein on the steering wheel, bucked the wind all the way to Glasgow to visit my high school classmate Jim.

The sky above looked like a gigantic upside-down blue mixing bowl. Half way to Dodson I noticed lake-wind effect clouds moving in from the southeast, beautiful and billowy. A hundred puffs of cloud, each shaped like a flying saucer, soared in perfect fleet formation. I could hardly take my eyes from them.

By the time I drove through Malta , I was not so much looking at the sky as trying to keep out of the sky. My van is not aerodynamically engineered. Yet she kept trying to take off, up, up, and away, into the wild blue yonder.

According to the NOAA report from Glasgow , the wind held steady at thirty-six mph, gusting to forty-eight. These certainly were not tornado-force winds. However, out on the open road rolling across the Plains of northeastern Montana , this is considerable force.

I focused on holding the steering wheel in a death grip, glad I had not removed my pile of winter-traction sandbags. Whenever I drove through a cut in the hills, the wind picked us up and moved us four feet to the north. A four foot shift on narrow two-lane US 2 made me feel grateful there were few travelers sharing the road that blustery morning.

Normally I love to fly. I prefer flying as a passenger in a small plane, one in which I know the pilot. The irony struck me that my craft is small and I know the pilot intimately. So there I was, taxiing down the runway of US 2, valiantly trying NOT to lift off. I realized in that moment that I was afraid of flying.

Actually, I was not so much afraid of flying as I was afraid of landing. I especially wanted to land in an upright position, four wheels down, on the same stretch of asphalt from which I had lifted off.

Then another fear struck me. Here I was, preparing to solo, and I did not have a pilot’s license. Think of the consequences. The FAA would investigate. They would discover that my craft had none of the requisite navigational equipment. I had failed to file a flight plan. I would undergo endless hours of interrogation. Undoubtedly a hefty fine. Perhaps time behind bars. Maybe blindfolded facing a firing squad. Certainly a special restriction stamped on my MDL. Oh, the humiliation.

In my favor, air traffic was light. One meadow lark clutching a fence post and two geese wading through the grass. The wind had grounded all sensible birds.

I finally made it to Glasgow . My friend Jim peeled me out of my van and treated me to a drive out to Gun Site, a private hunting preserve he shares with his partners. We saw hundreds of white tail deer. Later Jim prepared a gourmet meal and we enjoyed scintillating conversation.

My trip home the following day was less eventful. Again, my van and I bucked the wind, but it was a mere breeze in comparison to the gales of the previous day. For entertainment I watched the needle on the gas gauge go down as the greening landscape unfurled before us.

I may have to get a new steering wheel. I noticed where my hands grip in the ten o’clock and the two o’clock positions, the wheel is squeezed very thin. While it is in the shop, I wonder if I could have the mechanics weld on retractable wings. I think a roof-mounted propeller would be especially attractive. I wonder where I can take flying lessons.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

May 5, 2011

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