THIS is What Life is All About

Experiencing the wonder of the world with someone you love.

Last night, I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. While I’ll likely use another blog post to debate the wisdom of stretching Tolkien’s classic into a three-part movie, I cannot criticize the movie makers for the breathtaking scenery throughout the movie. Filmed in New Zealand, this — and the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy — showcases some of the most stunning backcountry locations in the world.

There’s a scene in the movie when Thorin’s Company (13 dwarves, a hobbit, and a wizard) are traveling along a ridge in the mountains, high above the clouds. The scene, obviously shot from a helicopter, reminded me of two other scenes, one from a movie and the other from real life:

  • One of the closing scenes in the 1965 classic, The Sound of Music, when the Von Trapp Family is escaping the Nazis by hiking through the alps.
  • A particular moment on my July 2012 helicopter flight over the Cascade Mountains, when I crossed a specific rocky ridge surrounded by low clouds within sight of Mt. St. Helens.

That entire July flight was amazing, but it was this rocky ridge that popped into my mind while watching The Hobbit in a crowded Florida movie theater:

Cascades Ridge

And it brought me to tears. Even as I write this, perched on a stool at the breakfast bar in my mother’s kitchen on a Thursday morning before dawn, I’m all teary-eyed thinking about the amazing things I see and experience almost every day of my life — usually alone.

As I blogged after that flight:

I also felt more than a bit of sadness. There’s no way I can describe the amazing beauty of the remote wilderness that was around me for more than half of that flight. And yet there I was, enjoying it alone, unable to share it with anyone. Although I think my soon-to-be ex-husband would have enjoyed the flight, he was not with me and never would be again. I felt a surge of loneliness that I’ve never felt before. It ached to experience such an incredible flight alone, unable to share it firsthand with someone else who might appreciate it as much as I did.

Over time, I’ve come to learn that it’s more important to experience life than to be a slave to the material things we think we need to survive. I’m not independently wealthy — I do have to work for a living. But I’ve learned to work hard and smart and to live somewhat frugally so my money goes farther. By staying out of debt — and I’ll be completely debt-free (at least for a while) when my helicopter’s final loan payment is made next week — I’m not stressed about having to generate enough income to make credit card and loan payments. I can take time off to enjoy the experiences that make life worth living. In a way, I’m in a sort of semi-retirement where I mix work with play and really enjoy life.

Unfortunately, I’m one of the few people I know who are able to do this.

Reflection Canyon
Another example of the great places I fly for work; this shot was captured by my helicopter’s “nose cam” during a photo flight at Lake Powell.

My choice of career has also enabled me to enjoy amazing life experiences while working. I can’t begin to list the incredible places my work has taken me — or the incredible things I’ve seen from the air and on the ground while simply doing my job. That dawn flight across the Cascades is just an example — I did it for work, to reposition the helicopter for a required maintenance. In other words, it was part of my job. Not only did it entail a pair of amazing flights on consecutive days, but it also included a day spent wandering around Portland, a drive along the coast, a great dinner of oyster stew and fried oysters in an oceanside restaurant, a walk along the beach with my dog, a night in a beachfront motel, a beautiful foggy dawn, breakfast in a historic hotel, and a scenic drive back to the Portland area. What some people might do on a pair of days off, I was able to do as part of my work. How great is that?

What’s not so great is doing it alone.

Although my soon-to-be ex-husband promised me he’d join me on the road during my annual migration to points north — and I worked hard for years to build a business capable of supporting both of us — he backed out with excuses about needing to save more for retirement. I always hoped he’d see the light — and I was somewhat patiently waiting for him to do so right up to the end. The end came, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, when he replaced me with another woman — someone who apparently doesn’t mind watching him be a slave to his material possessions and debt, enjoying life on weekends and during two weeks of paid vacation time each year.

It’s a shame, really. While I feel that life is all about experiences, those experiences are somehow better when they’re shared with someone else. For nearly 29 years, some (but not all) of my best life experiences were spent with the same man who I really thought appreciated them as much as I did: A road trip down the Pacific Coast from Seattle to San Francisco. A motorcycle camping trip down Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah Parkway and back up the Atlantic Coast’s barrier islands. A dash across a mosquito-infested field in the Everglades to a rental car, followed by an intense swatting session. A sunset soak in abandoned hot springs along the Rio Grande, watching wild horses graze in Mexico. A jet ski journey up the Colorado River from Lake Havasu to Laughlin. A river rafting trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. A horseback ride on the beach in Costa Rica. A hike up a slot canyon with friends on the shore of Lake Powell. Time trials at a Bridgehampton race track in my Toyota MR-2. A day spent exploring the ruins of Chichen Itza. A sunrise at Montauk Point, followed by a nap in each others arms on a flat rock overlooking the Sound. An afternoon spent snorkeling in Cozumel. A view of the broken clouds of a marine layer moving in beneath us during a helicopter flight down the coast of Oregon. Long walks on beaches in too many places to count.

These are all memories I cherished, experiences somehow made better at the time because I shared them with someone I loved. Someone I could talk to about them long afterward. Someone who could browse photo albums with me and reminisce about the scenes they captured. Someone who could say, “Remember when we…” and I could remember with him.

That’s all gone now. Yes, I still have those memories, but they’re no longer shared, no longer cherished. Instead, they’re a reminder of how things change, how people grow apart without even knowing it, how love dies, and how easy it is for some people to replace a “life partner.”

I’ll have new experiences and build new memories of the amazing places I go and things I see and do in the years to come. Maybe I’ll have someone to share them with. Maybe we’ll stay together for a long time — long enough for the word “forever” to have meaning to me again.

But I’m certainly not going to wait for that someone to continue enjoying what’s important to me in life: experiencing the wonder of the world. The world is out there now and it’s not waiting either.

8 thoughts on “THIS is What Life is All About

  1. You, your travels & life are very interesting. You have an exciting life with wonderful stories to tell. I’m new to your blog. How would I find a way to plan a vacation with your services?

    • Thanks, Greg. I do try to have fun.

      I used to offer multi-day excursions by helicopter in Arizona, but due to limited demand and my upcoming move, I’ve stopped pushing them. If you’re interested, you can get an idea of what’s possible here: I’ll probably set up something similar but shorter for wine-lovers in Washington State with stops at Wenatchee/Quincy, Walla-Walla, and Chelan. I can also do custom trips. Just remember that it’s costly to operate the helicopter, so the more time in the air, the more the trip would cost.

      Keep in mind that I often reposition the helicopter for work and offer relatively inexpensive fares for passengers to help cover my costs. For example, on January 1, I’m flying from Wickenburg, AZ (near Phoenix) to Page, AZ (on Lake Powell) where I’ll be for a few days before coming back. Although I haven’t made an official offer on that flight, I usually offer one or two passenger seats on a flight like that for $250/hour. It’s two hours each way. Last spring, a couple flew with me from Scottsdale, AZ to Wenatchee, WA for the cost of fuel — a truly smoking deal.

      Maybe I’ll see you on a future flight?

    • I apologize for not addressing the purpose of your post. I am sorry for the evil in men; in spouses and the damages inflicted. There is no elixir but time. And you have a life full of opportunity and to see places I have not dreamed and now hope to see. You have family, fans and I want better for you.

      I love your website and the possibilities; I will lobby for a trip to a location where we could hire your services; it is very attractive to the colder climes of northern Ohio. :) I will also recommend your services to others.

  2. Wow, Maria. You expressed yourself so well! I feel exactly as you do only I lost my husband to cancer. Some of my memories are so strong, like all the great times we spent building and enjoying a cabin on a gorgeous lake in B.C., that after spending the last 3 summers there mostly alone I will choose to roam the USA in my tiny trailer. There may be even parts of the world I may revisit. I would like to find a retired, compatible person who also has resources and owns a tiny trailer who may have similar goals.

    • Your loss and mine are similar in that we both lost long-time partners we were still very much in love with. Building new memories is key to getting past this stage in our lives. You might consider a membership in an RV park chain, where you can travel from park to park each summer, stay for a month or so, and meet new people. Sooner or later, I bet you’ll find the traveling companion you’re looking for.

      As for me, well, I bought my big RV because I expected Mike and our dog to join me on the road — as he promised. (His last broken promise.) Once I have a roof over my head again, I’ll likely sell it and buy something smaller. Maybe in a few years I’ll be your part-time traveling companion!

  3. As a 19 year old stationed in South Viet Nam, I saw things that almost couldn’t be believed by anyone that didn’t witness them first hand. What a beautiful country being viewed from my door gunner station half hanging out the right hand sliding door of our Huey helicopter gunship. The green countryside was beautiful enough but after dusk when the machine gun tracers flowing between the ground and the helicopter behind our helicopter and the simultaneous return fire, formed the most beautiful arched rainbow I have ever seen.
    I remember one night after midnight when 50 caliber tracers were coming right at our helicopter passing above, below, in front of and behind us. Each tracer started out as a tiny thimble sized glow in the distance. At first barely moving because they were coming right at me. But as they got closer they got bigger until they looked to be the size of a basketball by the time they flew right by me.
    It seemed ironic at the time, but I thought of the beauty that would be the last thing in my life that I would see. As it turned out, that wasn’t the last thing I ever saw, much to my surprise. But that and many other experiences showed me that beauty, just like ugliness comes in strange packages. Long after my military service had ended, I had dreams of being eternally single. But dating new people lacked one thing. History. I’m not one to dwell on the past, but I found myself wanting to share past experiences together with someone I’ve known more than a month. It was then that I realized that maintaining a relationship with one person has a lot going for it beyond an exciting new date. So when I read your entry here Maria, I called my wife and talked and laughed about things we shared years and years ago. We recently celebrated our 40th anniversary, but we now have known each other 46 years, with good times and bad. When I fly and see something breathtaking, I take a picture or video and share it with my wife. It’s the next best thing to being there. I’m glad that those 50 caliber tracers weren’t the last thing I ever saw. You still have your memories, and although you can’t share them with the same person that you used to, they are still your memories. And those of us reading your blog very much appreciate your sharing them.

    • It should come as no surprise that reading your comment brought me to tears. I’m so happy for you and your wife. But, at the same time, you reminded me how much I still don’t understand about what happened to me and why. You obviously see the value of maintaining a long-term relationship with a life partner. So does Sharon, who also commented on this post. And I do, too. Didn’t my husband see it? And, if so, why was it so easy for him to throw it all away? He told me at first that he wanted to stay friends after the divorce — I thought a friendship would keep those memories alive. But then he started doing so many cruel and hateful things to me, obviously proving that he has no desire to have anything to do with me anymore. How could he act in such a way to his partner of 29 years? How could he throw everything away? That’s what I don’t understand. And I likely never will.

      Forward. I need to look forward.

      I’m glad you and the others enjoy my blog posts. Writing about the life and death of my relationship is extremely cathartic. But, at the same time, I can’t wait to get this all behind me so I don’t have to think — or write — about it anymore.

      I just wish I could understand.

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