Budd Davisson, 1995

The Journey

Okay, the scenario is this: It is time for your trip of a life time. You have all the time in the world, money is a secondary consideration and you have the option of using any airplane (within reason). There is only one restriction: You can select only one heading to fly. You have to pick a number you are going to split with the lubber line (that's on the compass for you GPS freaks.) and stick with it until you run out of continent.

Okay, I'll give you thirty seconds to think.

Time's up! It isn't all that easy is it? All sorts of factors, practical, emotional and technical enter into the equation.

Different folks might approach the problem from different angles, but the most common would probably be a heading that drew an average between a bunch of different destinations, so a lot of stops could be made and a number of different places experienced.

When thinking destination, others might select a heading that took them to the one place they've always wanted to go, but never could put it together. They wouldn't really care if they saw anything along the way. They just want to get there.

But, of course, it's impossible to simply draw a line on the map, fly the magnetic heading and expect to stay right on course. In the first place, the magnetic variation changes a fair amount on a long trip and holding the heading would slowly put the airplane off course. And then there are the elements: Wind is going to be continually pushing and prodding at you, moving you one side of course or the other, speeding you up and slowing you down. Then sour weather may force you to stop along the way, since you can't change heading and detour.

This is really kind of a spooky process, since it takes away the options of following roads or working from check point to check point. It means you may windup flying over some high mountains or desolate deserts, that cause your ears to develop an unusual affinity for small noises under the cowling. Refueling becomes something more than a casual stop, since almost any line on almost any map has some areas where airports are few and far between.

And then there is the airplane decision. If the name of the game is "get there, " speed and range become major parts of the equation. The selection would be for something lean and mean, ready to really stack up the cross country miles. It's not important that there's only room for your toothbrush and a small friend. If lots of baggage and family is coming along, airplane size does, however, become a factor. If sight seeing is important, low and slow performance moves up the decision totem pole and along with it maybe a little of the rugged reliability we attach to bush planes.

'Getting to be a complicated decision isn't it?

Okay, now go back and read what you just read, this time, however, think in terms of your life. Think in terms of any one's life.

When we are initially launched on this planet and have completed that messy part of our lives labeled adolescence, we are presented with a decision, actually a series of decisions. Most of them boil down to basically the same thing: What heading do we take and what kind of vehicle do we use? In other words, who will we be and how will be do it.

The decision includes many of the same problems, the unfortunate part is at the time we have to make the initial decision, we don't have the experience to understand all the factors that effect the course and we sure as hell don't have a map to draw a line on. We are, at that point in our lives, basically picking a heading and charging off into a great, uncharted unknown. The identifying data block on that particular sectional simply says, "Life."

If we are goal oriented and know what it is we want to be, chances are we're going to lay down a hard black line, pick the compass heading and launch in the fastest, most efficient life-vehicle we can lay our hands on. We are going to fast track it all the way and worry about sight seeing or smelling the roses, when we get where we're going. We want to live life in a Glassair III, with the throttle buried in the panel.

Some of us seem to have a little trouble picking that goal. We have only the vaguest idea of what we want to be, should we accidentally grow up, but it is clear to us how it is we want to live our life. To better control and enjoy how our lives develop, we think in terms of a whole bunch of mini-cross countries linked together to make the big long one. Most of the time, we're not in that big a hurry and desperately need the ability to stop and not only smell the roses, but hang around a bit and watch them grow, maybe learning something in the process. So, most of us are poking around in T-crafts and Pacers, with the more inquisitive amongst us, those who need to stop more often in more out of the way places, flying Super Cubs with fat tires.

From the git-go, when we make that first decision on the magnetic course for our live, none of us has a concrete understanding of how severe the crosswinds can be and how often the magnetic variation changes in life. That's what really screws up some of the fast-trackers. Although they may be willing to flatten some of life's uglier obstacles by blasting right past them, they are often likely to be blinded to the off-course effects hitting them by their unswerving belief in their speed and invincibility. They almost always get there first, but just as often, when they get "there" they find it wasn't really what they were looking for after all. A destination seen from a distance is almost never as it seems.

The low and slow types have the problem of arriving late. It is sort of a natural state of life. Some never arrive at all, since they run out of their allotted time on Earth before reaching their final destination. They do, however, have a lot of tales to tell about The Journey. Their life is full of the colors generated by the people they've met and the sunsets they've seen at a thousand small airports in a thousand locations. When they look back, the achievements may not be super high profile or monumental by world standards, but they form a warm fabric of experiences and memories all of which gently molded the person in the course of the journey.

There is no right and wrong in selecting a heading for life. We all walk at our own speed and that's the way it should be. It is only important we know The Journey is a one-way trip and we're not going to get the chance to go back and revisit things we missed. So, we'd better make it count the first time.

I vote for low and slow.