Mar 11, 2009

let it fly

i’ve heard this phrase a few times in my life. the first time was when i was student piloting a little cessna 150: 704EL

seven zero four echo lima

those were the call letters to the plane i used to fly. you read that right, i used to fly planes. sometimes i forget that i was once fearless. but there are always little moments in which i remember, and can almost feel like i am flying again.

i took flying lessons at a little airport about 45 minutes north of my college, which was in boston. it all started with a friendship, and then over coffee with my grandfather.

i worked at a comedy club in harvard square all through college. met all sorts of comedians, some totally famous, some boston or new england locals who would one day become fairly famous. funny enough (no pun intended), cocktail waitressing at that club was one of my most favorite jobs and provided some of my best college memories. anyhow, i became good friends with one of the comedians and we stayed in touch when his comedy stint was up. we both discovered that we had each always wanted to learn to fly, he went back home and when he called me to tell me about his first flight lesson, i was all, “shit. he beat me to it.”

not long after he beat me to the skies, i went to florida to visit my grandparents and while lingering over a coffee at their favorite diner one morning, i told my grandfather, a WWII fighter pilot, that i was planning on taking flying lessons when i graduated and moved to los angeles (i already had a teaching position there – thanks to that snazzy diploma from fine upstanding, expensive school).

he said, “why wait? there’s a flight school 20 minutes from here. your first lesson is on me”. and off we went.

one flight was all i needed to get hooked and turn into a total junkie. i went back the next day and paid for my own lesson.

vacation over, i returned to college, hell bent on finding a flight school. before i even unpacked from the trip, i got a legal pad, a pen, the yellow pages and the phone with the really long cord that stretched to every roommates’ room in the first floor apartment that we rented, and i sat on the toilet (i like to multitask) and started calling flight schools.

i called every one within an hour of my college, asked all the right questions about planes, instructors and yadda yadda. but the only answer i really cared about was the one to: how much is flight time? i didn’t care if the planes were held together with duct tape (and in fact, i wound up flying one that did indeed have some duct tape holding bits together) – i just wanted to be able to afford it with my cocktail waitressing tips.

so i’m on the toilet, on the phone talking to a guy on the other end who’s answering all my questions when the answer to how much is flight time? decides more than i had anticipated. it was the cheapest school i had called. sweet. sign me up. when can i get my first lesson? he scheduled me with an instructor for later that week and i hung up the phone. oblivious to the fact that i had just spoken with the guy i would wind up marrying.

i pulled into the parking lot for my lesson a few days later, and as the story goes, that guy i was on the phone with saw me get out of the car and head towards the building – he knew i was the one he had spoken to on the phone and he knew he was going to marry me.

as far as i knew and was concerned, he was the guy who worked behind the counter at the flight school, scheduled lessons and fueled my plane. literally. and all of this is another story entirely.

back to flight lessons: one of the first things my instructor said to me was that the plane inherently just wants to fly. so just let it. it doesn’t really want to fall from the sky. just let it fly.

this knowledge alleviated some fears, but still not enough to practice stalls when i was soloing. sorta like i never liked to practice sand pits when i was by myself on the ‘cross course. i trusted the knowledge that should an emergency arise, i could find a landing spot and put it down.

i still to this day, look for emergency landing spots.

i spent all spring and summer that year waiting tables at the comedy club & taking a flying lesson every chance i could get. i’d pay for my lessons one by one in singles – a big wad of them. all the flight instructors thought i was a stripper. i’d cancel lessons if i didn’t make enough tips the previous night. my instructor would always tell me it was so much cheaper to buy a big block of time for about $500, but i never had that much money at once. and so it went until the day after 16 hours of instruction, i finally soloed the plane. this day also deserves its’ own post, but after that i was free to take to the skies whenever i wanted. plus, soloing saved me the $24 per hour instructor fee.

touch and go’s were my favorite. take off, stay in the pattern and land. over and over and over again. i loved the take offs. and the landings. and actually, everything in between.

my instructor would always admonish me – he’d tell me i didn’t need to come in screaming out of the sky. i had developed a bad habit of coming in high & hot. also known as steep and fast. i was 21. and fearless.

my now husband, then fueler guy would sit outside the flight school and make bets with a friend. he’d watch me doing touch & go’s and say if she puts it on the numbers, i’m going to marry her. i put it on the numbers every time. it was a huge source of pride. to come screaming out of the sky and put that plane right on the numbers at the end of the runway every damn time. grease the landing. flaps up, power up, take off and do it all over again.

i’d leave my lessons, or solo flight time and drive back up to our summer house. getting on the highway with the airport tower just off to my right, i’d watch the odometer hit 55 and pull back a bit on the steering wheel just to see if i would take off.

that’s all it took. 55 mph. a little power on the throttle, pull back on the yoke and the plane just wants to fly.

we now live near a tiny little airport much like the one where we met and i used to take lessons. i still think, on certain days “it’s a good day to go flying”, but haven’t flown (an airplane at least) in 13 years.

i remember the training rides earlier this year and even late last year. most of my teammates knew that i’d be one of the last ones down a steep descent, white knuckle braking all the way down. a few of them were always kind enough to stay with me and coach me through the turns, what do do with my oustside leg, inside arm, where to put my weight, etc. it was just another version of flaps down, pitch down, decrease power, then level off. land. put it on the numbers.

one teammate would tell me during these white knuckle descents – let it fly suzanne, just let it fly.

but i was too afraid.

last week, i was on the rollers in my safe little cocoon of a vestibule. i wanted to try something different. i wanted to try starting with both hands on the handlebars as opposed to the death grip on the doorframe method.

both hands on the handlebars, with my right arm out a bit leaning onto the doorframe, i start to pedal. faster. faster. faster. all of a sudden, the bike uprights itself and i’m rolling. no death grip. just me and the bike rolling. a tiny little lightbulb moment that proved just letting it fly is okay.

pedal. push the throttle. pull back on the yoke. and let it fly. come in high & hot and put it on the numbers. fleeting moments of realizing i just went down a screaming hot descent and my hands didn’t go numb. or i take a turn and realize i hardly touched my brakes.

season number 2 officially starts on saturday with the first race. here’s to hoping this is the year i learn to let the bike fly.


Unknown said...

aw! that's a great story.

and very romantic that you met your husband while doing something that you loved so much.

~ lauren said...

that was me. in the wrong account. but still lauren.

Gotta Run..... said...

Your post like a keyhole to another world. You look in and see what story is unfolding. Somehow you feel pulled in and a part of the story. I follow along and feel curious, happy, and excited all wrapped into one.

No doubt that you will “fly” this season!

ItchyBits said...

How cool! I can't believe you don't do it anymore!! I have a feeling you are going to have a great season!

Ben said...

Loving the blog, zanne. I subscribe via Google Reader.

Your roller experiences got me to buy a set!

I'm also a newbie racer and I'll be at Long Run on Saturday w/ the Twin Spires crew. Am a little freaked out!

Good luck!

Bandobras said...

Is there any feeling in the world to the takeoff on that first solo?
I don't think so.

Joe Biker said...

Bravo! Thanks for a good story to take into the weekend!

zanne said...

ah yes, LAUREN in all caps, as it should be! thanks - its a great story & there's even more to it - may save it for another post. But think its' also why I took to cycling so quickly - its' something that we both enjoy!

thanks GR - time will tell if I really will, but I love the little lightbulb moments!

itchy - I stopped when i was pregnant with my first child; started forgetting to put down the flaps and stuff like that. Thought my mind was otherwise occupied & it was best to hang up the wings for a bit. Plus, its' $$$ - hard to justify that kind of habit when you've got 3 kids. Cycling is expensive enough - just keep trying to justify that!

wilson - awesome! thanks for stopping by. It's a great first course - paved & closed. Saw your video on BC this morning. Also tried to comment on your roller video, but think there's a bug cause it doesn't show up! Will have to put Webguy on that one. Good luck - stop by the Airstream & get a cup of coffee.

Bandobras - so true - that solo is pretty much in a class by itself. Its' up there on that list of best days ever - along with wedding day, giving birth, soloing airplane.

Joe - thanks! Will you be there? You'll have to stop by the bus too.

Judi said...


i didn't know you could fly planes. that is very cool.

i can't wait to hear how you do this weekend! tear it up zanne!

Anonymous said...

i had no idea you flew planes. and how fun that you met the love of your life doing something that you were passionate about. i always thought you were cool. now i know you're WAY cool. good luck tomorrow and ride like the wind!

Anonymous said...

Great post. Really great post. You make me want to go learn how to fly.
Good luck tomorrow. I am sure you will have the best season ever :)

bsegal said...

that's an awesome story. Good luck today, sounds like you're going to have a great race

Anonymous said...

Are your comments turned off on Flickr?

What a lovely day to be out yesterday! I froze my toes off at the lacrosse field.

How'd you guys finish up?

Anonymous said...

wow, suz, that is such a great story. And now I want to know the rest of the you and hubby story. :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Zanne,

A cycling friend of mine sent me your blog post "let it fly" and I loved it. You see, about four and a half hours ago, I soloed for my first time. It was the most incredible experience I've ever had. When I saw the time and date that you posted "let it fly", I knew it was an omen. 11:11 pm on 3/11/09. I was born on 3/11 and 11 is my lucky number. Too cool!
Anyway, just thought I would tell you that your blog is amazing and I hope to someday see you up in the sky. Good luck on your running and riding. I used to race bikes - on the velodrome. Now, I just 'let it fly'.
Still trying to 'hit the numbers' and grease my landings,
Jan Johnson
Palo Alto, California

zanne said...

judi - thanks! I don't know if I 'tore it up' ... in fact, am sure I did not - but I still I had a good race! Not entirely what I wanted, but not without its' progress & really good moments.

pamster, beth & bsegal - thanks. sometimes i forget how cool it was to fly planes - in some ways, feels like a lifetime ago & in others, I remember it like it was yesterday. They were good days, indeed.

prickly - i'll tell the rest of the story one day. it's a good one, made up of many parts ...

jan - thanks so much for stopping by to visit! I didn't even notice the date post & time. 11:11 - my friends and I used to call that time "sticks" and it was good luck if you noticed the time & said "sticks" ... kinda cool that it had some fun meaning for you too. Sounds like you are still flying - you'll grease those numbers, no doubt. The velodrome? You're way braver than me. ;-). Those bikes don't have any brakes! I like my brakes. Happy & Safe flying to you ...