Hawaiian Adventures: Day One
10.31.09 90 °F
I am a nervous flier. I just pretend to be brave as air travel seems to be a necessary evil. In truth, I have gotten a bit better. There was that time tears streamed down my face and I nearly squeezed my friend’s fingers off as we departed Oahu. Not exactly the highlight of my travels, but hey I’m not ashamed to admit it. My heart still races at every irregular noise or bump during the flight, but at least now I only grab for my travel companion during moderate turbulence. What can I say? I like my feet on solid ground.
So it was with regular nervousness and excitement that I boarded an Alaska Airlines flight to Maui last week. No matter how many dozens of planes I have boarded I always check the seat pocket, read the safety instructions, check that my life vest is actually under my seat, count the rows between my seat and the nearest exit, and then strap that seat belt around my waist as though I were taking off in a NASA space shuttle (the less circulation the better). Take off is the worst. I try to preoccupy my mind with some kind of crossword puzzle or gossip magazine. I just need to get through the first 15 minutes and then I finally relax into a semi calm state.
Landing doesn’t freak me out. I guess the anticipation of finally getting back on land negates any fear of flying I may possess. That is until I arrived in Maui last week.
It was such a glorious sight to see land after nearly six hours of clouds and water. As we descended over the island I could almost smell the salt infused breezes. I watched as waves rolled ashore and trucks plowed through the fertile farmland. We made a grand sweeping circle over the island before lining up with the runaway. As we steadily made our way toward the airport, I kept glancing at the ocean ahead of us. Was it just me or were we coming in really high and fast? We were totally going to crash into the ocean! I nervously glanced around to see my fellow passengers happily staring out the windows. Ok, so maybe I was just paranoid. I quickly looked back out my window and noticed that we were just feet above the pavement. I let my nerves wash away in anticipation of the halting brakes. But wait. What? The plane seemed to jump sideways and suddenly we were pushed back into our seats as the engines pushed us forward and up into the air. Instead of feeling panic and fear as one would expect, I felt serenely calm (great – isn’t that what happens right before death?!). We were taking off again over the ocean. Suddenly the fear flooded me. Minutes later the captain chuckled over the intercom, “Ah, Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s try that again, shall we?” Umm. Yes. Inside I was screaming, “Get me back on the ground!” A kind old gentlemen next to me happened to be a pilot. Apparently my nerves were not pronounced enough as he gently told me, “That’s, like, the most dangerous thing a commercial airline pilot can do.” Perfect. Apparently our pilot was on a suicide mission.
We circled the island once more. This time the pilot gave himself plenty of time and room to land. I just wanted off the damn plane and I wanted to get away from the “sympathetic” old man next to me. I squeezed my eyes shut (no tears this time!) and eventually I felt the familiar feeling of solid ground beneath the plane. Suddenly all around me passengers erupted in applause. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who feared for my life. A brief announcement later and we discovered that a combination of strong wind gusts and a short runway caused the touch and go landing. I didn’t care what caused it, I just wanted to get to the beach and forget all about my fear of flying for several days (this fear would be renewed on our tiny 50 person prop plane to Kauai just days later).
Finally back on the ground we made a mad dash to get our rental car, met up with my parents who were already dark skinned from a week on the island, and then went back to the airport to meet up with Dan’s parent and my sisters as they arrived on a separate flight. In the next few days 25 of our closest friends and family would arrive to celebrate our renewal of vows.
More than anything I was most excited to share the beauty of Maui, Hawaii with my sisters and Dan’s parents. My sisters, Leah and Brianna, and Dan’s parents are practically travel virgins having each only been outside of Washington for brief trips to Disneyland or Oregon. I was convinced that Maui would open their eyes to a world outside of the mundane routine of work, school, and chores.
I knew I succeeded the moment my sisters saw the beach in front of our hotel. They frolicked through the sand, danced in the waves, and grinned from ear to ear. The joy of that moment made every horrible, fear wrenching second on that cursed plane worth it. I was reminded of why I continue to fly, despite my deep rooted fear. We spent the remainder of our first day happily floating in the pool as hula dancers and ukulele players serenaded us under the setting sun.
True travel is uncomfortable, sleep deprived, stressful, and fear inducing. Yet, despite all these things, travel is eye opening, engaging, and captivating. Travel brings us closer to new cultures and people; it strengthens our world views, and breaks down barriers. Yes, I dread every plane I board, but I do it because the benefit far outweighs my discomfort.