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Inspiration takes wings

Last summer when I excitedly shared with others that I was intending to fly my old biplane all the way from Port Townsend, Washington to Dayton, Ohio and back I could tell that it was exciting for them too. They would respond with, “Wow! Cool, I have ALWAYS wanted to fly across the country in my plane.” or, “That’s incredible, I wish I could go too..” I would imply that they were welcome to come along and share the adventure and I was amazed at how fast people’s tunes changed in a nanosecond. From enthused inspiration to reasons why not. “Oh I can’t take the time off” or, “It’s too expensive” or, ” I’d love to but……” “Maybe someday…..” It really was disheartening to watch, not unlike watching a hot young fire starting to grow being doused with a bucket of water leaving only a pile of wet ashes and dissipating steam, the fire just a memory. It was almost an automatic for people to shut down when I posed to them that their dream was right there, fully formed, waiting only for them to say yes. But they wouldn’t. Their reasons barreled right over their possibility and crushed it. It was kind of sad to watch, their eyes would change and I would watch the light dim when their reasons marched in. I witnessed several dream deaths, but I was no one to judge.

For over twenty years, I had been spouting about how I was going to fly the Student Prince across the US. But I never put any action behind my words, and I grew more and more reluctant to voice my intention because it felt disingenuous. What I didn’t do was say “Yes, I am going to do this now” and actually start doing it. With each passing year it seemed that it was more unattainable and I let every day life distract me and convince me that I was right, it was too out of reach. As the quote goes, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”. But it chaffed, this dream that I had layered under reasons and distractions, it was still alive, just buried. I knew I was avoiding it and it was a disquieting feeling to be breaking a promise to oneself. And it’s not like I had never practiced the art of fulfilling my word and intentions before. Far from it. Beginning with my father’s unexpected death I made the unequivocal decision to keep his airplane. I was seventeen years old, in high school and with no family support. Somehow I managed to not only maintain the Student Prince, but to slowly achieve my advanced pilot credentials and put myself through college. Quite frankly, I have no idea how I pulled it off, and I had no idea how I was going to do so at the outset. I just did it because I decided to and I moved in the direction of my intentions. I could cite so many more examples of this from my own life; deciding to pursue something in spite of the unknown and seemingly stacked odds. In a nutshell, I really had no excuses. Oh, I could certainly make my reasons completely plausible and solid when I told others about them, but my conscience wasn’t buying it. Not for a second. I could feel it sneering at me, “You’re just chicken and you know it.” And so it went, this dream that wouldn’t ever completely expire. I would lie to myself and others but my conscience wouldn’t let me off the hook. I was making excuses because it was daunting, period. And the longer I procrastinated, the more daunting it became. Until one day, when the opportunity presented itself loud and clear with a question that included the words, “Why not…?” I asked myself, “Why not indeed?” And I had no answer, other than yes.

The weeks leading up to my departure were fraught with opposing and conflicting emotions. My reasons were pissed and they were ramping up. How dare I just take off so frivolously and irresponsibly, didn’t I know that avgas was over six dollars a gallon.? How utterly selfish to waste money like that! And what if the airplane breaks down in the middle of nowhere, thousands of miles from home, what then? And, don’t you know anything about weather Ms. Pilot? That thunderstorms need two things to form: Lift and moist air? Both of which are in overly abundant supply from the Rockies eastward? Do you really want the Prince to look like a block of Swiss cheese when it gets pelted with hail? And for crying out loud, LOOK at the size of those mountains! You’ve never had the airplane up that high, can it even do it? And geez, you didn’t even invite your husband, just leave him behind to man the fort! On and on these thoughts would run accompanied by a dread knot of anxiety in my stomach. But to counter the dread thoughts, my dream was growing and stretching, buoying my spirit and propelling me forward in spite of my worries. It was a battle of the reasons and the dream until I settled into the rear cockpit on August the seventh, waved goodbye to our friends and family and took off to the east. As we were climbing above a scattered layer, the Cascade peaks poking through in all their magnificent, snow capped beauty, I queried Chrissy about her silence as she rode in the front cockpit. She summed it up perfectly, “I just can’t believe we’re actually doing this.” And neither could I. I exhaled deeply, realizing that part of the magic of this trip was that I was finally doing it, and my fears about a future that never existed except in my mind melted, and I was free.

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12 responses »

  1. For those of us that are old time aviators and have flown “rag wing” planes your journey was a heavy dose of nostalgia. There is nothing like an open cockpit, a humming engine and the wind whipping around your head. I loved every episode and the photos that went with them. The spread in EAA magazine was much too brief for me but I was happy to see you get the recognition. One of my favorite photos was of Chrissy propping the prince, that’s a lost art. I can’t count the number of times I have pulled a blade not to mention being injured while doing it. I would love to see you fly the plane around the US and if you come by here I will buy your gas and take you to dine, that’s an open invitation when you are in Dallas again. Please keep writing and attach a photo every now and then. God I love old airplanes!

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  2. And so we went! And we created the most amazing memories that will last a life time. It was as epic as epic can be! But now, I’m a junkie and can’t wait for my next fix 😉

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  3. Awesome blog entry Summer, I so understand exactly how you felt, the reasons why not. I am still there making excuses. We just picked up a couple of Monocoupe projects also comes with a couple more excuses why not. Plan is to fix one to keep and fix the other to sell. Who knows, maybe someday the 90-A will be my ride for my big adventure. Keep writing, looking forward to that book. Hope to run into you all maybe next summer at a fly in or something. Thanks for the inspiration. Hi to Chrissy and Jerry.

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  4. Ahhhh.. Summer… your words are just the perfect drug — I want to be in my plane — I want to be flying somewhere… but next year — we will wing our way to Blakesburg to meet you and then on the Brodhead — it will be an exciting time…and we’ll toss a few rolls of toilet paper along the way!! 🙂

    Love you sky sister!!

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  5. My Dear Summer,

    I too know the fears and anxieties when faced with a long flight. They all kid me about how tense and worked up I am PRIOR to the flight before departing on a long cross-country. But the moment the Jacobs roars to life and the wheels leave the ground, so do my worries.

    I am honored to have been a big part of your flight to Ohio. The time we all spent together was truly priceless and even though we did not make the journey with you, we were all there in spirit, watching you do the things we all have dreamt of doing but have not yet accomplished. You were also such an inspiration to one family and especially to their very special daughter….Sophie! The Lucas’, Mike, Kathie, and Sophie, now know what binds all the aviators of old biplanes together. All have become aviators since your time with us; Sophie taking lessons in all sorts of antique airplanes, Mike soloing an Aeronca Champ and buying into a Rearwin, and Kathie, taking lessons in the Citabria and the Rearwin. YOU were the reason!

    Thank you for also sharing your beautiful Student Prince with Susan and I. Trusting someone to solo an airplane that is such a huge part of your life and history shows what kind of a person you are and the trust you place in others. Susan and I are both honored to be one of the few. I am proud to call you my skysister and look forward to many more flights together!

    Love Ya!
    Blue Skies and Tailwinds,
    Brother Andy

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  6. Most of us have all kinds of excuses for not doing things dream about doing…

    Sometimes you just have to go for it-and when you do you’re liable to get more than you bargained for.

    Good for you Summer, you’re one of the few who have done it!

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  7. I can only smile.

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  8. That is the best note of inspiration I could imagine! We’ve all been there, we all know people who are still locked in their fears, even the most courageous have to conquer stubborn old gremlins – and what a great concept to ponder when we face that wall!!

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  9. Should have called me. I would fly around the world with you Summer. It’s time to plan a get together! I have been back in Gig Harbor for 3 years! Miss you. Karen

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  10. I just read your story again for the 4th time, and it breaks my heart. I met you when you were 17, and you reminded me of me. That is why I spent so much time coming to your Flight School when I was a DE. God we had some great times, flying and on the ground! You go girl… you always will. XOXO

    Reply

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