Friday, June 11, 2010

Flight of Passage

"Our original plan called for skirting the north edge of the Allegheny Mountains, where the peaks are lower and there would be less turbulence, following the gently rolling valleys of central Pennsylvania into Youngstown, Ohio. But that course was now obstructed by clouds and the weather had formed a narrow, irregular chute forcing us to divert south through Harrisburg and the lower Susquehanna Valley. That would mean facing the Alleghenies head-on in rough air, but we would have to worry about that when we got there.

On the map I found a rail line just south of Pottstown that meandered west to the Susquehanna, up through Reading and Hershey. If clouds blocked our way there were several intersecting power lines that we could pick up. Wiggling the stick to signal Kern, I ruddered over for the tracks and pointed them out on the map. Throwing open the side windows, I kept my head out of the slipstream to look for landmarks. The ceiling was dropping again and we didn't have a lot of airports in front of us. I didn't have the luxury of guessing at our position and I focused like a gnome on the land and then back to the map.

That's how we flew the first leg, like a pair of old airmailers. While Kern manned the plane and kept us straight and level from the front seat, I hung out the side from the rear, battered by the rain and slipstream as I concentrated on the terrain."

The plight of Abby Sunderland, the 16-year-old sailor who was attempting a solo circumnavigation of the globe, has been a compelling news story. She ran into heavy weather in the Indian Ocean, lost radio contact and had to activate her emergencies two hours later. Fortunately she's been found, her boat de-masted but still afloat and help is steaming towards her and less than a day away.

Her age, coupled with the thought of her trying to sail solo around the World, has drawn considerable criticism. Many people have argued that her parents were irresponsible for allowing her to attempt such voyage.

In following the story I've been reminded of a book I read, Rinker Buck's Flight of Passage.

The book is a memoir of Rinker (age 15) and his brother Kern's (age 17) flight across the continental U.S. At the time they were the youngest pilots to cross the country. They had bought an old Piper Cub for $300 and carefully rebuilt it for the flight.

Aside from being a good travel yarn, the book is a look back by the adult Rinker on his relationship with his brother, and beyond that his relationship with his father. It is an altogether touching book and in the end it reminds one of what it is like to be a teenager with the horizon before you and a nest to leave.

Thinking of the story told in the book, and having watched one too many helicopter moms in amazement, I think I come down on the side of Abby's parents who left her try her luck in that boat. There are certainly worse things a young girl could aspire to achieve. I wish her fair winds and trailing seas in her future.

Anyways, those were simpler days. In digging around for material for this post I bumped across a couple of videos of young Kern and Rinker Buck on the old TV show To Tell the Truth. They're after the jump. Click "read more" to watch and enjoy. 


1 comment:

Barry Dauphin said...

From what I have heard, this teenager has been on and around boats her whole life. She seems like an extraordinary talent, and it's not like there has been no planning for problems.

At the same time, this story has caused a lot of people (to borrow George Will's phrase) to commit sociology. I have no idea whether this young woman could do other things well or not and whether her trip says much of anything about today's prolonged adolescence (Tiger Woods was also an extraordinary talent who could beat seasoned pros at an early age and who was overfocused on a singular goal and who did not mature in other ways). I don't think the parents were careless, although I'm not sure that waiting to sail around the world at 20 would be all that bad.

Having said that, I don't think her age played a factor into abandoning the mission. I hope she makes another attempt after she and her parents have done some Monday morning quarterbacking about this attempt.