Through the air, over the ground, across the water. Gravel, dirt, grass, asphalt, snow, and ice. Short distances. Long distances. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. I am that body.
There is an essential truth about human beings and movement. It’s in our genes. We were made for motion. We have figured out a way to move in all environments where most of our neighbors on this planet excel in only one. A penguin can walk, but it isn’t pretty. A human can outpace a horse over the distance of a marathon. Dissatisfied with terrestrial bonds, we refused to stay in our lane and took to the skies—something our bodies are still millennia behind in terms of evolution. Go get your instrument ticket if you’d like to see just how much. Half the things you learn are how easily our internal systems are fooled. Somatogravic and vestibular illusions will turn your own body against you in the clouds. Forcing your insurrect limbs to do your mind’s bidding can be-come a battle at times. Here, our reach well exceeds our grasp from an evolutionary perspective. Still we move. Dangers be damned. Whatever pleasure center in our brains is triggered by movement, it is a powerful region.
In January, I traveled to Phoenix with a group of friends to go dirt bike riding in the surrounding mountains. I was unable to fly myself as my airplane was being worked on by my friend Phil at Taylor Aviation. Flying commercial got me thinking about how we travel for the pleasure of moving over another part of our planet in a different vehicle.
Try to imagine what this would look like to an alien species observing our behavior. A group of humans gather at Newark Liberty International Airport (KEWR) in New Jersey and fly across the country. They get in cars and drive to a dirt lot under some power lines. They exit the cars and mount dirt bikes, which they ride in large circles for three days, before, ultimately, flying back home. They return with nothing but memories of firing neurons. They have no goals nor specific terminus. They gather no food. They find no treasure. Leaving New Jersey in the first place is probably the only thing that made any sense, if observing from a distance.
I suppose this is why we call this a joy ride. Traveling over desert landscapes and across mountainous single track, we celebrated our speed, skill, and agility. Never mind the jumping cholla cactus I collided with that re-quired needle-nose pliers to remove the 100-plus barbed spines that punctured my skin. Some of us are more blessed with skill and agility than others.
Now, add general aviation to the mix and the quest for movement is intensified by an order of magnitude. Returning home to a working airplane, I immediately prepare for my next trip, for which I am the PIC. I am glued to ForeFlight and various other weather apps for two days, trying to find a window to leave New York in mid-January—a time when icing AIRMETs are as ubiquitous as $6-a-gallon 100LL at every major FBO chain.
I finally got out with a VFR-on-top clearance taking me over a solid overcast, but I was hammered with 50-knot winds on the nose. It didn’t matter one bit. I was in motion. The challenge of modifying the plan to avoid descending through ice-laden clouds and landing with enough fuel holds my interest in a way no in-flight entertainment on an airline ever could. I check the weather at multiple airports on my route, comparing their observed ceilings to PIREPs of cloud-tops west of my location. This allows me to judge the thickness of layers and, along with temperature readings, decide whether an instrument descent is feasible. All the while, there is constant movement.
After stops in Ohio, Kansas, and Pueblo, Colorado, I am direct to Telluride (KTEX). This will be the second time landing there since the incident four years ago that cost me an airplane. I shook the bulk of the dust off this past August with the help of CFI Dennis Duggan, who went up and flew the pattern with me, reminding me that I am once again a pilot up to the challenge. My year in Albuquerque during lockdown was spent taking mountain flying lessons around Taos and it all came together for me. No more fear, just healthy respect.
Leaving the Flower FBO at Pueblo, I grab a free hot dog and a quick chat with a minister’s daughter behind the front desk. I approach the Rockies later in the day when the winds have picked up some. I cross the first ridgeline at a 45-degree angle and at 4,000 feet over Hayden Pass. Where normally filing an IFR plan creates a sense of safety for me, here I find it advantageous to stay off the published airways and cut some corners to make time. In CAVU conditions, flight following does the same thing for me as an IFR clearance, and I onlylose radio contact for a few minutes east of Gunnison.
The approach is beautiful; and the sense of movement, so difficult to gauge at 14.5K, comes into sharp relief as I pass a mountain just a few hundred feet off my left wing on a two-mile final into Runway 9. The wind from the north rocks the Bo but I am ready with a full (though fast) aileron movement to the stop, to keep the wings level. My IAS is the same as it ever is on approach but groundspeed is so much higher in the thin air. I feel the extra speed looking out the windows. Flare, then chirp-chirp, and I am down and taxiing.
My pal Rosie picks me up at the airport, and pulling my snowboard out of the back, I have this overwhelming feeling of gratitude for all of this coordinated motion, for the skill sets I have cultivated and honed that allow me to make all of these movements with precision. From an instrument approach to minimums to a back-side cut on an overhead wave. I have trained myself for a life of motion.
The next morning, I strap on my snowboard and drop into the trees to find the last of the fresh powder. I move between firs and pines slashing at the snow, appreciative of the decades of muscle memory I have stored for this exact movement. From the top of the gondola, I can see the runway in the near distance and the take-off awaiting me when I leave here in a week’s time. Keep it moving.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Q2 2022 issue of FLYING Magazine.