When the going gets tough, the tough go traveling!
An excerpt from Adventures By Sailplane
B.S. (By Sailplane) B.C. (Before Cancer)
Until you stand alone, you do not stand. The first time I truly stood alone was when I was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis. It was at Yale. Doctors would barely look mean the eye when I asked hard questions. Hard answers were not their turf. Events after my surgery had nothing to do with them . Survival was my affair.
“Don’t let skin stand between you and the diagnosis.”
They didn’t. There was surgery and drugs. Eventually I would beat the odds and be alright, but at the time I had no idea if I would be alive next year.
What would become of me? How could this be happening?
There were people who came into my life, as if by chance; people who were sent to befriend and help me, but I was too frightened to let them in. What was I frightened of? I try to recall. Of living. Of feeling. For I had made a terrible mistake in marrying an unfeeling man.
Alone again in a sailplane. This time I feel. I feel terror. I am low over the land. There, a football field. But in my heart of hearts I know I can’t get my plane into that field. There are goal posts and bleachers. Fences. It is too early the season, and I am not seasoned enough.
I want to cry out like a little child. But there is no one to come to my rescue. I am alone in the cockpit. I must save myself.
Sink. There is nothing but sink everywhere in this valley.
I will have to land.
I will have to land.
Last time I landed out in a field I came in high and managed to stop before I would have flown into the trees. I walk back in my mind and look at that landing. The trees were terribly close. I had made a series of bad judgements.
I remember landing, drifting. A bit too fast, a bit too high. None of this good. The trees are coming. If I do not get this down, I will smash into the forest at five feet off the ground. I do not want to do that.
Forget that, focus here now.
Turn off the radio. Concentrate. Concentrate on the task at hand. Five hundred feet. I am over the black tarred roof of a high school. It is my last chance. The accumulated heat on the roof might just generate a thermal.
I feel a bare bubble under my right wing. I prefer to thermal left, but that is irrelevant. I turn and I bank the plane very, very carefully, watching to keep that yaw string perfectly straight. The plane climbs better in a slight slip but not now. Now I fly perfectly.
I look at the altimeter. I lost thirty feet on that last circle. But lift is here, I can feel it. It is erratic and disorganized. Another turn. Another. I wait, a timeless wait, and I try to hold my altitude. It is not even, but there is something here. I fear that if I move the plane I will lose the fledgling lift that seems to be forming and there may not be another opportunity at this altitude to find it again. I stay put.
The bank is steep and I hold it so, constant, just turning around and around and around, hoping, praying. I watch my airspeed. No chance to stall, keep it a little fast, but fast the plane doesn’t climb as well.
I grind around and around praying that my wings catch some wisp of rising air. I am down to five hundred feet AGL when the altimeter slowly, almost imperceptibly, starts to rise.
Just keep it here. Keep it in the forming lift.
I am near tears.
Around and around. How much time passes I do not know, and it does not matter. Flying plays games with time. All that matters is altitude. Precious altitude. I am approaching 1,000 feet and my rate of climb has increased. I am still reluctant to move my plane, to explore the air to see if there is better climb here. I stay put, just circling over that black rooftop, eyeing the athletic fields just beyond. I will not put my plane into that field. I will not.
I will myself to rise. First I will just climb out of here. Then I will worry about how I get home. I am flying from an unfamiliar airfield and I haven’t a clue where I am. How far out am I? What valley is this? Where is the river? What of the weather?
I turn the radio back on and the people I had been flying with are all declaring another turnpoint. They are leaving me behind.
I don’t care about turnpoints. I don’t want to go to another turnpoint, I just want to find the friggin’ field I took off from. I just want to go back, I want to land, but to go back I have to keep going forward.
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