The Helicopter Ride


Our helicopter banked sharply to the right. I could see straight down to the canyon floor, thousands of feet below us. Mist from the clouds swirled through the cabin. I clung to the strap that was bolted above my head, my fingers aching from the tight grip. I wasn’t sure if it was wind, tears, or fear that blurred my vision. My husband called this a birthday “surprise,” I called it panic.

Hubby had planned a helicopter tour of the island of Kauai. But this helicopter was missing something. That something was called DOORS! Nope, no doors.  Zero. None. Nothing but an unobstructed, terrifying view of the Garden Island.

During the pre-flight briefing we had been introduced to what was euphemistically called an Aloha bag, “just in case you see your lunch again.” I had chuckled at the time, but was now thinking I should have mine ready.

The helicopter seated five people. In the back row were Hubby and another passenger. The front row held the pilot, another woman in the middle, and me on the far right. Upon boarding I had been securely fastened in with a multipoint harness system. I couldn’t move. I was told that I had the best seat. What they didn’t say was that given the tight quarters, a bit of my posterior would be slightly off the right edge of the seat, outside the framework of the aircraft. Yes, that’s right, a few inches of me were not even inside the helicopter, yikes!  

We toured island for an hour. Our earphones equipped with a microphone enabling us to speak to, and hear one another. The cabin vibrated steadily as the rotor blades slapped and chopped through the air, while our pilot shared his knowledge of local history and geology. Every change of terrain created a change in temperature. I could smell the saltiness of the ocean and the earthiness of the red dirt. Rain would blow in with the wind. Then the sun would pop into view and warm me. I was part of the brilliant blue sky.  

On the day before our ride, Hubby and I had kayaked for 45 minutes, then hiked for another 45,  to a pool at the bottom of Wailua Falls. At the base of the falls we stretched our necks backwards, to see to the top. They seemed huge. But now as we flew over those falls, the people at the base were barely discernible specks in the distance. It was wonderful  to experience the beauty from both perspectives.

Cruising along the NaPali coast, we spotted the water spout of a whale in the distance.  We drew closer and could see its massive shape just below the surface of the water. The pilot announced we would call the whale Tracy, in honor of my birthday. I clapped and thanked Tracy for the gift of her presence.

We flew into a tight canyon, so close to the side I felt I could reach out and pet the grazing cattle. I felt droplets on my face from the turbulent waterfall. Our pilot flew fast, straight toward the canyon wall, then waited until the last possible minute to pull up. The force of gravity pinned me to the back of my seat as we rocketed skyward, up and out of the canyon. I gasped for air. I had forgotten to breathe– again.

With every dip and tilt I felt as though I was being dangled midair, and a long fall to the ground was eminent.  As we swooped in and out of canyons, hovered over jagged cliffs and lush jungles, I made a decision. I wanted to do this again!

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