I hate flying.
Well, that's not completely true. To be honest, I like the whole “flying” thing, since I get a real kick out of being up in the Earth's atmosphere. It's miraculous if you think about it – applying Bernoulli's Principle by directing airflow over a shaped surface in a way that will provide sufficient lift to pick up a huge metal cylinder full of people, their luggage, a ton of mail, and 250 copies of the SkyMall magazine.
I like the view from up here, too. It's a gorgeous planet, and a lot of it shows no evidence of man and the sometimes lovely but more often horrible things that we have done here. Forests are flatter from a passenger jet, but you get a unique perspective of their colors and textures, and the way that they blend with the rivers and fields and bare mountaintops into what can only be called "gorgeous." I even like the Frankenstein-esque patches that humans have applied, with crops and roads and shiny little towns whose attempt at order proves the natural order of the surrounding chaos.
What I hate about flying is being trapped in the aforementioned cylinder, breathing gasses recently expelled by the people around me as most of us try to behave in this bizarre semi-society to which we are transcendentally trapped. I don't mind the crying baby so much as the efforts of the mother and/or father trying to stifle the child's valid response to being stuck in the mightily shaking cylinder as it heads for what we hope to be a successful landing. (Frankly, I kind of want to cry, too.) I hate the lady in front of me who feels that she is entitled to recline her seat into my lap -- she did pay for the seat, but not my lap -- and I hate the fellow next to me who laid seige to our supposedly common armrest, giving his elbow the right to make regular border skirmishes into my ribcage.
But what I hate most about flying is the feeling of an opportunity lost. When I glance out the window at the ground flowing beneath the plane, I cannot help but wish that I was crossing that terrain in a more intimate mode. The rocky peaks that we are flying above are long climbs that would have been much more painful – and thus more fun – on a bicycle. Once over the snow-capped pinnacle, I imagine the exhilaration of the subsequent descent and die inside, just a bit.
What seems like empty farmland from 10,000 feet is really fascinating country from two wheels. The smells of crops and fertilizer may not always be pleasant, but they are certainly more interesting than the bratwurst burps of the husky man in seat 22E. If you think that the world down there doesn't change much, you just haven't rolled across it at the right pace and been paying the right amount of attention.
When flying over water, I imagine what it would be like to cross it in a good sailboat instead. Spending three or four weeks on a boat that's only 37 feet long and less than 11 feet wide might seem claustrophobic to some, but to me it is an excellent opportunity to perform a series of simple but enjoyable navigational and sailing tasks while I sit and watch and think … and then think a little more. Never are you more in tune with the world than when you are on a sailboat, relying on the beneficence of nature to get you where you think you need to be, but also maintaining a weather eye for the fickle ways that nature may trick and test you.
But today I am on an airplane. It is the accommodation that I must make in order to balance that most precious resource that any of us has: Time.
Emerson said that life is about the journey, and not the destination. In a perfect world, we would always make the most of that journey. But, the sad truth is that this journey does have a destination, if not a point at which our travels end, and so we strike a balance and make a deal with Time ... our benefactor and prison warden.
And so today I look down at a road meandering through tired Kentucky hills and plan a tour for some future summer. I see the white-flecked spume of a wind-swept Gulf of Mexico and fantasize about finding a cutter-rigged Crealock 37 in good shape and fixing her up. And -- if that isn't enough -- I remind myself of long rides that I have enjoyed through similar terrain and sailing trips across this and even wilder waters, and I think, “Well, maybe not now, and maybe even never again, but I once did. My time here may be finite, but I did spend some of it well.”