I hope I didn’t do it for you.
I promised myself I'd quit before I'd do that. What’s “that”? Engaging in unusual activities, so I’d have something to write about. Contriving “adventures” is a common strategy for writers. In fact, it’s pretty much a genre of its own.
“I went to a ‘Nude Ranch.’ Not a ‘Dude Ranch’, a ‘Nude Ranch.’ Everyone there walked around nude. And I did what they did. You get what I’m saying here? I was nude too! And now I’m going to tell you about it!”
I hate that stuff. It’s like, “My life is…you don’t want to hear about it. I don’t even find it interesting. So, instead, I’m wresting alligators.”
A helicopter ride is a precarious undertaking. It is easy to imagine an unfortunate turn of events, whose coverage would inevitably include the words “malfunction”, “plunged” and “fiery inferno”, along with pictures of charred wreckage and bodies that could only be identified from dental records.
Yes, it’s dangerous. Or at least it can be imagined to be. As a result, only three of our party of five chose to participate. Rachel, Anna’s b.f., Colby, and myself.
And I didn’t do it for you. I’m almost certain.
I did it to see the volcanoes.
I have written elsewhere that I’d tried to see the volcanoes on an earlier visit to the Big Island of Hawaii (which houses five volcanoes, four of them active), but our helicopter tour was cut short, due to unfavorable weather conditions, unfavorable, I believe, though it was not specifically spelled out, to our survival. I was not at the time provided a “Rain Check” – “Come back when we can show you the volcanoes without the risk of killing you.” Our subsequent visit required an entirely new payment.
I didn’t care.
I wanted to see the volcanoes.
It does not bode well for a person about to go up in a helicopter to feel queasy during the “Pick-up van” ride to the helipad. The uphill road was extremely windy. If I had had a pre-helicopter-ride breakfast, I’m not sure it would have remained inside. Fortunately, we arrived at our destination without incident, thus sparing me the rest-of-my-life repetition of,
“Earl threw up before the helicopter ride!”
When we got to the helipad, we went through the standard ritual of the weigh-in, the “We’re not responsible for anything” release forms, and the buckling on of some yellow thing that was supposed to keep you afloat in water, if you know how to activate it, which maybe I did, and maybe I didn’t.
After a few minutes – which included a warning not to walk into the rotors – we were escorted to the helicopter, where I was assigned the front row seat beside the pilot. After securing my seat belt and shoulder harness, I leaned over to the pilot and said,
“I don’t want to hear the words, ‘I’m blacking out. Take The Stick.’”
The helicopter pilot responded blankly, either because he’d heard that a thousand times before, or because he hadn’t heard me at all, or because helicopter pilots have no sense of humor, or because what I’d said wasn’t funny. I’d like to think it was one of the first three.
We took off with the Star Wars theme reverberating in our headphones, followed by the words, “Apollo Eleven, we have liftoff.” I momentarily panicked, remembering that “Apollo Eleven” had had a tough time returning safely to earth. Fortunately, the ever-sensible Rachel reminded me that that was “Apollo Thirteen.” Of course, I thought in retrospect. It would be crazy introducing a sky adventure with a reference to a space mission that almost didn’t make it back
Unless the people were really sick.
Our helicopter’s wraparound Plexiglas window provided a panoramic view of the island. And a highly illuminating one as well. Without the sky-ride, I would never have known that the Big Island of Hawaii was more than a never-ending landscape of hardened lava.
There were cattle ranches. There were rainforest areas. There were acres of trees, planted so the wood could be used to repair damaged sailing ships, and for something else, I can’t remember, it could be a windbreak.
There was a city, Hilo, (population, 60,000) and a town, Kona, (population, 50,000), whose combined inhabitants made up a substantial chunk of the island’s 175,000 population. No wonder the place felt uninhabited to us. We never went where the people were.
There were a couple of disappointments on our tour. When we skimmed over the ocean, we didn’t see the whales the pilot suggested we might spot. But I was used to that. I never see whales.
Also, in this valley he pointed out, the pilot said that we might catch sight of a downed Japanese bomber, which had participated in the Pearl Harbor attack, but had crashed on the way home, when it ran out of fuel. We didn’t.
You’d think a pilot who conducted these tours several of times a day would be able to find some airplane wreckage that had been lying in the same spot since 1941 – I mean, it’s not like they move it around. I guess locating airplane wreckage is harder than it looks.
But I was in no mood for complaining, and for me, that takes a lot. What was the “lot”?
I had seen the volcanoes.
We flew pretty close, except for one that the law requires you to stay a mile and a half away from. Seeing volcanoes is different from in the movies. There were no sudden explosions, or molten lava flying in the air. I think that’s when they evacuate, and call CNN. The volcanoes I saw churned up endless clouds of billowing, gray smoke.
At one point, we flew right through it. Colby said he could smell the sulfur.
For those needing drama, some volcanoes presented what the pilot called “skylights”, narrow cracks in the craters, where you can look inside, and see rivers of orange flowing close to the surface.
Near the end of the tour, the pilot flew us right up to the side of a cliff, as if demonstrating how skillful he was, and, by so doing, enhancing his tip. This maneuver was followed by the only stomach-turning moment of the flight. Drawing away from the cliff, the pilot turned in the other direction, causing a valley to materialize suddenly beneath us.
My reaction reminded me of a ride at the Canadian National Exhibition called “The Rotor” (I only heard about this.) “The Rotor” spins around, its riders pressed centrifugally against its sides. The floor beneath them is then suddenly removed.
That’s how it felt on the first sight of the valley. You hear yourself go, “Whoh-ho!”, accompanied by a shocked, reflexive intake of breath.
After two hours, the pilot lowered the “chopper” to the helipad, and we got out. It was good to have gone. It was even better to have returned safely.
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
My mother departed, bestowing one final generosity. She allowed us our entire Hawaiian vacation, passing away the day we were scheduled to leave. We then added another leg to our journey. A trip to Toronto to attend her funeral.