As some of you might know, one of my other passions besides flying is running. I run quite a bit and I’ve got a number of great friends who are runners, too. It’s a community that shares some basic understandings about what we love, much as pilots understand other pilots.
There’s a joy we have about running that we don’t always say but we know is impossible for someone who hasn’t experienced it to understand. That’s because it’s not quantifiable or easily explained. I don’t believe in magic or superstition, but the joy I get from running sure feels like magic. (Please insert endorphin joke here.)
I get a different version of that same joy from flying. I was having dinner with a good friend the other night—we’re both pilots—and I mentioned the feeling I first get when I take off and retract the flaps and make that turn on course, climbing to my preferred cruise altitude. At that point, no matter how crazy my last few days have been, which is “very,” a calm comes over me that defies description. My buddy just nodded as I said this. And I’m free, not in a clichéd greeting card way but in a very real way. I might be busy with the flight…some flights you are and others not so much…and I’m always paying attention to the business of flying and the business of having a backup plan should my engine decide to take the day off. But even as I’m busy, attending to a dozen important things, I feel totally at ease. I’m where I’m supposed to be. The noise of the world, the disagreements, the disappointments, the things that still need to be finished…they all melt away. It’s not as though they don’t exist. It’s that they just don’t matter, at all, at least at that moment in time. The things that matter, leveling off, adjusting power, trimming up, leaning for cruise and keeping a watchful eye on the gauges, they consume me. But it’s not in a bad way but in, to use the word again, a freeing way.
Running is good at helping you forget about your rough day yesterday and to just be there, but there’s not that much to do…I mean, putting one foot in front of the other repeatedly you can kind of do without much attention to it. And you’ve got the constant nagging voice in your head that says stuff like, “Why are we doing this again? Wouldn’t walking be easier? Or eating an ice cream cone?”
With flying there’s none of that. Well, not much anyway. It puts me in my happy place.
There’s a saying among runners that running isn’t free but it’s cheaper than therapy. Flying isn’t free either, but in this, it’s definitely not cheaper than therapy, especially if you own your own airplane, which is a life choice that others might suggest we seek therapy to correct!
But the thing about flying, even if it does cost more than an hour a month on the couch, is that it’s the best therapy imaginable. Does it solve all of your problems? It doesn’t. It just makes them go away for the entire time you’re in the air. Which is something that, I don’t know about you, puts a smile on my face just thinking about.