Sunday, 30 September 2012

What I Learned From My Second-First Solo

“And sometimes I get nervous when I see an open door.”
 Human, The Killers

The past couple of weeks have been intense, interesting, and introspective.  I moved my home and office.  Sometimes even the very best roads can still be a bit bumpy.  Although I knew I was packing to transition my family and business to a new life, after long days of working and parenting, I tired easily and my confidence waned.  I began questioning what I was doing, if I could pull it off.  How was I going to make this work?  Was the timing right?  The “what-ifs” hit me.  It was exactly how I had felt about coming back to complete my flight training after being away for so long.

With moving there’s the packing and unpacking, reintroducing yourself to treasures you had forgotten, and purging those items that no longer fit.

One evening I was caught off-guard and lost my breath when I opened an unlabeled storage bin that contained the wedding dress that I packed away four years earlier when I had last moved.  I ran through everything that goes along with that as I tried it back on.  It still fits.  It’s a classic.  I think I’ll keep it for all my weddings.

In the thick of all the change, on my Wednesday morning pilgrimage to my downtown Starbucks I was witness to a moment in time that felt like a sharp jab in my solar plexus.  It only briefly knocked the wind out of me but I knew I had to break my own heart right then and there to save myself a greater heartache later.

Thursday in the exact same spot I had a similar experience.  I swear I was taking the same stride in the same place.  Since I am all about the signs I believe that The Big Guy is trying to tell me to get a new Starbucks!  I know – pretty deep.  I suspect that from now on every time I grace that step in the path I will hold my breath.

A short time later the hamster died.

“Wave goodbye, wish me well.  You’ve gotta let me go.”

In 2009, I sat down with one of the top Sky-Gods at the Club after a check ride where he advised me that I would be soloing on my next flight.  Then he asked me if I was going to quit after I completed my first solo?  “No.  God, why would you think that?” I asked in disbelief and to be honest, a little bit of paranoia.

“Because a lot of women quit right after they solo – I don’t know why but they do,” he answered.

“No, I won’t do that.”  I waited until I started my cross-countries to walk away.

“Up to the platform of surrender I was brought but I was kind.”

Friday was the final moving day.  Saturday morning I knew if the weather was good and my performance was better I would solo again.  My second-first solo.  Almost three years from my first-first solo in October of 2009.  My confidence was shaky.  There had been so much time in between.  I was completely wrapped up in self-judgment.  Even though that state of mind no longer fits, sometimes I’m a bit of a hoarder.  No one knew what a really big deal it was to me – and I didn’t tell a soul.  From the moment I woke up I had to remind myself to breathe.

I have had these holding-my-breath experiences before.  Given enough life experience I’m sure we can all make a long list.  I have children so that’s called holding your breath for nine months – twice.

I will never forget the big breath in with no release as I watched my infant daughter being wheeled away for open heart surgery on what appeared to be a massive stretcher in comparison to her tiny 10-week old body; or the tight chest and quick breaths every single second from her birth trying to keep her alive so she would have an opportunity to be on that stretcher.

I’ve had some doozies right?  Why couldn’t I breathe on Saturday?

“Let me know, is your heart still beating?”

The plane I was scheduled to fly was late getting back and I had prepared all of my pre-flight work so I waited.  And I waited.  Barely breathing.  Waiting to exhale.

“So, today if everything goes all right, you are going solo!”  Sean smiled through his citrus gum.  I’m not sure if I smiled back.

“Do I get another certificate?” I asked.

“No.  But let’s see if we can switch planes.  We can take Yankee Romeo November.”

Then I did smile.  “I did my first-first solo in Yankee Romeo November!”

Eyebrow raised.  “Well then looks like you got your sign.”  Sean reads my blog.

My first plane-crush YRN still fits.
Used to be that every time I was flying YRN I would walk up, touch the door, and say: “Hello Beautiful.”  I had a soft spot for this little red on white number because I lost my pilot-in-command virginity to it.  When you fly your first solo in a particular plane you never forget it.  Did I mention I also did my Discovery Flight in YRN?  I’m well acquainted with that throttle – that’s all I’m saying.

YRN had been out of commission for quite some time while getting an overhaul.  Now it had become another rediscovered treasure.  My stiff smile softened as I slowly caressed the frame on my walk around.  YRN might need a little bit of body work but inside there’s a brand new engine.  I couldn’t help but notice the new tires and bells and whistles in the cockpit.

When Sean cut me loose and I did a couple of circuits on my own I wasn’t feeling the liberation or sense of achievement I had the first time.  But I also wasn't feeling the terror or the dread.  All I cared about was getting it exactly right: full power, gauges in the green, airspeed’s alive, rotate, ground effect, climb out, turn at 500, level off at 1000, power to cruise, call in the downwind, pre-landing checks, cleared for touch and go, carb heat hot, reduce power, turn base, pitch to maintain airspeed, safe altitude, turn on final, eyes on 1000 foot markers, co-ordinated flight all the way down to the flare, hold it... touch and go and do it all over again.  Don’t forget to breath.

In all of that I remembered that I can fly a plane by myself.  And I was fine.  What I had been waiting for was the big SHAZAM!  Skies open, lights shine-on with a hip soundtrack that would allow me to take a deep breath in and fully exhale.  What I got was the same old me riding with my first plane-crush and I was pretty okay in a not bad sort of way.

“And I’m on my knees looking for the answer.”

Then I met Howard Peng.

Howard had attained his Private Pilot License a few days previous and was at the Club with his partner for his first flight as a real-life private pilot.  We started chatting and I learned that it had taken Howard five years to attain his PPL.  He had wandered away more than once, trained at two different flying schools in two different cities.  He had a number of instructors – some fit, some not so much.  Howard came back to VFC because his girlfriend, Crystal, was taking ground school and he decided to sit in on a class with her as a refresher.  He was at a point where he just wanted to get it done.  Because he had more than enough solo hours he hadn’t flown without an instructor for quite some time.  They had concentrated on preparing him for his flight test.  And he lit up like Las Vegas as he related that even though he was now a licensed pilot, he still felt like today had been his first solo – again.

Congratulations to Howard Peng!
Bright and shiny new PPL.
Howard was exactly the right person to meet at exactly the right time.  He is living proof that one does not have to walk in a straight line to get to a destination on a self-imposed time limit.  He knows about second chances.  He was a sign.

As I said good-bye to Howard and Crystal the moodiness of the past week had shifted and I was all warm butter on toast.  What I learned from my second-first solo, Yankee Romeo November, and Howard Peng is that it’s never too late for a second chance.  Get a new Starbucks, keep flying.  Breathe.

“Close your eyes, clear your heart.  Cut the cord.”

No comments:

Post a Comment