On Someone Else’s Vacation

Reflections of a tour guide.

First of all, I’m not a tour guide. I’m just responsible for organizing, providing transportation for, and ensuring the smooth flow of someone else’s vacation.

A Southwest Circle

The vacationers in question are a very pleasant, very flexible, very likable young couple from Canada. About four months ago, they signed up for one of Flying M Air‘s Southwest Circle Helicopter Adventures. The excursion is a series of helicopter charters that takes them to popular destinations throughout northern Arizona, with an overnight stay in each place. The price they paid covers the helicopter flights and ground transportation, lodging, and tours at the destinations.

Planning these excursions was no small feat. I had to come up with destinations that people would want to go to and that had ground transportation, lodging, and dining opportunities accessible from the helicopter’s overnight landing zone. This trip starts in the Phoenix area and goes to Sedona, Grand Canyon, Lake Powell (at Page), Monument Valley, and Flagstaff before returning to Phoenix. To further complicate matters, each client’s trip is customized with preferred flight times, hotel accommodations, tours, and tour times. I get a list of client preferences like a handful of puzzle pieces, then work the phones to get reservations made and fit those pieces together.

Like Clockwork

What’s amazing me right now, on day three of the trip, is how well everything is falling into place. Weather — which is the main thing I can’t control — has been cooperating with clear skies. It’s been a bit windy, but not too windy to fly. My clients are enthusiastic about every flight and every destination and are having no trouble keeping themselves busy between flights or tours. They haven’t called me yet with any problems or concerns.

Of course, I’m handling a bunch of the bothersome stuff — like checking into hotels and handling luggage. We arrive at a place, I give them a briefing, and they’re off. They return to the hotel whenever they like, claim their key at the desk, and go to their room where their two bags are waiting. (With an unusual amount of foresight, I purchased appropriately sized wheelie bags and sent them to my clients before the trip, so not only does the luggage fit in the helicopter, but it’s easy enough to pull around.) The next day, they meet me at a predetermined time and place for the next flight or tour.

My Vacation, Too

Oddly enough, it’s turning into my vacation, too. I don’t go home each night — it would be too costly to fly the helicopter back and forth. So I’m at the same destination my clients are at. Of course, while they have deluxe view rooms, I have the budget rooms nearby. While they’re on tours, I’m shuffling around luggage, preflighting my helicopter, and handling the tasks that need to get done to make the trip work smoothly for them.

Sedona SunsetStill, I have plenty of time between tasks. For example, on Sunday, while they were enjoying a walk around Uptown Sedona and a sunset Jeep tour, I was walking about an art festival and setting up for some sunset photography on one of Sedona’s hiking trails. Yesterday, while they were exploring Grand Canyon for the first time, I was shuttling out to the visitor center, then walking along the rim.

As long as my work is done — getting things ready for my clients — I’m free to do what I’d like to do. And my cell phone is always on and ready if they have a problem or question or need a lift in one of the destinations where I’ve secured a rental car.

I have to admit, it feels good to relax when the work is done. I’ve been working far too hard lately on writing projects and flying gigs. I need a vacation. This might be enough to satisfy that need.

Grand Canyon SunsetIt also feels good to visit these places and linger a bit. I’ve been taking a lot of photographs, especially around sunrise and sunset. And I’ve been trying to stay active with daily hikes of at least two miles. I just wish I had more willpower when it comes to mealtime!

The Adventure Continues

Today, we leave Grand Canyon National Park for the Grand Canyon Airport. My clients will take a 50-minute helicopter flight with Maverick Helicopters. While they’re doing that, I’ll load our luggage onto the helicopter, settle my fuel bill, and preflight. By the time they’re back, we’ll be ready to go. Then it’s a 1-hour flight up to Page that includes an overflight of the Little Colorado River Gorge and mile after mile of Navajo Reservation. If we have time, I’ll swing by Horseshoe Bend and a few other scenic areas — otherwise, I’ll overfly them tomorrow on departure from Page. At Page, I’ll get a rental car and shuttle them to the Marina for a boat tour on the lake. While they’re doing that, I’ll get the luggage, secure the helicopter for the night, and check us all into our rooms.

Then more R and R for me, this time at Lake Powell.

What do you think?