It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself on the road! This is especially true when you venture outside your usual comfort zone, face a fear, or simply push the boundaries of your experience.
Although I don’t generally shy away from trying new things, I recently learned something about myself that was a bit of a surprise.
This revelation came in the front seat of a helicopter, and this time it was Eddie’s fault.
Eddie loves helicopters. Not an, “I just love roses” kind of love, but an, “till the end of time” kind of love. Maybe it was his first experience zooming into the Royal Gorge with an x-Vietnam vet at the controls, but Eddie has been having a bit of an affair with helicopters since before I ever met him.
Me? No way. If you caught my blog called, ‘One Thing’ you’d know that I have a fear of heights. A serious fear of heights. And in no way can I justify the cost of a helicopter ride that would no doubt leave me green around the gills (have I mentioned my motion sickness issue?) and cause nightmares.
So here we were on day one of my first cruise, sailing from Vancouver into the inner passage of Alaska. As if getting onto a cruise ship at all wasn’t hard enough for me (yep, I spent the entire cruise using large, preventative doses of Dramamine and trying to stay conscience), I was contemplating the helicopter ride that Eddie twisted my arm into scheduling for our first port city in Ketchikan.
How I let that happen I cannot say.
I was very open to a float-plane excursion, but a helicopter? In the words of a friend who is a former Navy-pilot-turned-commercial-pilot, “if something goes wrong you end up chopped into little pieces”. Yikes! Cowardice confirmed. Eddie, however would have none of it. He was determined, and he won.
We booked the excursion with Ketchikan Helicopter Tours and its owner, Ryan McCue. We arrived early at the meeting point because we weren’t sure of where we were going, and Ryan was already waiting. He was clearly excited. Obviously, this was not simply another ‘day on the job’, and Ryan loves what he does.
Ryan offered us some extra time in the air if we were open to leaving immediately. We were the only passengers for his 4-seater chopper anyway, and he shared that Ketchikan has over 300 days of cloudy skies each year. Turns out that this day was a rare, clear, blue-skied exception and Ryan wanted to make the most of the opportunity. Thinking about an even greater, higher view of the ground caused my stomach to jump into my throat as Eddie shouted, “you bet!” being just as excited as Ryan was.
Great. A longer time in the air.
I was happy to let Eddie sit in the front as I sank into the backseat trying to shield myself from the viewing window. I listened closely to the safety instructions and kept my hands over my eyes.
I’m not really sure what happened to me next.
We started out enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the tiny town of Ketchikan and the absolutely gorgeous views of the nearby Fjords that characterize this part of Alaska. We then made our way into the nearby forests that allow no vehicles and have no roads. I was intrigued at seeing what is only visible by air. What I saw was Pristine. Wild. Primal. And more beautiful than anything I’d ever seen. Maybe it was the remoteness. Maybe it was the clear, blue skies or sun shimmering on water. Maybe it was the various shades of blue within layers of ice.
Maybe it was the height. The vantage point that gave me a whole new perspective.
We flew over hilltops and I felt like I was soaring. We ventured over lakes, up streams and right into the sprays of a waterfall. We hovered over ice fields. Then we landed. Ryan set us down in a spongy, mossy, marsh (where no float-plane could ever go!), and we had a chance to spend some time in our newly discovered piece of paradise. We got to know Ryan a little more as he shared with us his story, his personal life and a little about his wife, Loren. Making new friends is always one of the greatest things about traveling, and we enjoyed this time of connecting and sharing.
Eddie and I enjoyed walking around and exploring the basalt that makes up the local multi-colored, slate-like rock formations, delving into the ancient forest blanketed with moss and lichen, and getting our feet a little wet.
Ryan enjoyed being in his favorite spot with the day being so unusually beautiful.
I was in no way ready to leave this enchanted place, but I was ready for the front seat! Eddie was excited that I was enjoying the experience so much.
We reluctantly left and took back off into the air. This time my eyes were wide open and I was looking all around not wanting to miss a thing.
We flew right over the top of a bear and our blades rustled the trees to coax him out into the clearing. We learned that the reason he never even looked up at or acknowledged us, was that because bears have no natural predators from the air, there was no cause to do so.
The ice fields were not stable enough to land the helicopter on, but Ryan hovered close enough for me to feel the cold and get a few pictures.
I felt a little melancholy as we neared the end of our tour. Ryan gently removed my hand from the controls as he answered my questions on what it would take to get my helicopter pilot’s license, and steered us back toward town. After arriving safely back in Ketchikan, Loren was there to greet us and drive us back to our ship’s dock. We enjoyed visiting with her and vowed to return.
So what was it that I discovered about myself?
I discovered that I am not actually afraid of heights! I cannot even share how awesome this excursion was or how much I enjoyed this experience. This will forever affect my ability to be up high, and serve to limit the things I shy away from.
Nope. It turns out that I’m not really afraid of heights…
…my fear is actually that of FALLING.
I’m not sure how that is to be overcome, but hey…one step at a time…
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