The Benefits of Traveling Slow and Low

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20 years ago, my husband and I took our two young daughters on an epic 4,500-mile trip from Atlanta to Anchorage, Alaska. Flying in our own small plane, we broke our 29 hours of flight time into two to three-hour segments, and visited:

  • Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee
  • Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
  • Minden, Nebraska (one of the best museums we’ve ever been to)
  • Douglas, Wyoming (camping with my sister)
  • Yellowstone Park (geysers, animals, hiking – always wonderful)
  • Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada (the B & B proprietors serenaded our family for hours with a classical Spanish guitar said to be hundreds of years old)
  • Jasper National Park (gorgeous!)
  • St. John, Ft. Nelson, Toad River and Lliard Hot Springs in British Columbia, Canada
  • Watson Lake in the Yukon, Canada
  • White Horse (the largest city in northern Canada, though the population is only 25,000)
  • Tok, Alaska
  • Denali National Park (camped three nights, exploring the beautiful tundra and picking berries, until the clouds finally parted and we could see the magnificent Mt. McKinley).
  • Anchorage, Alaska
  • The Kenai Peninsula (three solid days of rain, but the tent stayed dry)

We had a 30-year old workhorse of a plane. Big enough to hold lots of gear, and with enough lift to land and take off in the short, bumpy runways we were likely to encounter. But not particularly fast.

We discovered that the further you go off the beaten track, the more curious and welcoming people tend to be. You see lots of different ways life can be, rather than simply experiencing a mass production version of life.

I say mass production because so much of our daily lives have been transformed to be as efficient as possible. When many of us fly on commercial airlines, we get upset if our 1,000-mile journey is 20 minutes longer than expected. When we dine, we squirm if the waiter is a few minutes slow in taking our order. We want answers to our emails in a few hours, and responses to our texts in seconds.

There are excellent reasons—and benefits—for such efficiencies, but there are times when it is far more rewarding to avoid them. The most rewarding experiences in life are anything but efficient.

So when Rob and I loaded our two and four-year-old daughters in our small plane, we weren’t worried about efficiency… and we had no choice but to avoid the big airports and cities. As a result, we met individuals willing to live out of the mainstream and—in many cases—to take more risks.

We each grew up in flying families. Rob’s dad was a test pilot for Lockheed, and founded an airline in the 1940s. His mom was a licensed pilot and was in the Civil Air Patrol. As a sales engineer, my dad flew his plane every week to visit customers in small towns around the southeast. My mom wasn’t a pilot, but she gamely loaded me and my siblings into Dad’s plane for every vacation when we were young.  Our parents unanimously supported our trip.

At one point, the weather turned bad and we landed on a dirt landing strip in remote British

Columbia. A guy wandered out of the woods. He turned out to be the late Jimmy Anderson, a famous bush pilot reported to have survived 16 crashes. Jimmy invited us to taxi our plane across the Alaska Highway and park it on his property, so our daughters could play with his grandkids. He then entertained us all night, with incredible search and rescue stories (plus a few about bears).

On the same trip, we went to a county fair in Nebraska, where we paid 50 cents to see “the biggest steer in the world.” We noticed people would look straight at us without breaking eye contact, unlike city people. I believe we may have been the only strangers to come through that town in quite a while.

In the spirit of full disclosure, initially I was not in favor of taking this trip, but it was my husband’s dream to do it. At times, I grew uncomfortable with our circumstances. By the end of our journey, I recognized that we had had a series of magical experiences made possible only by our willingness to fly slow and low.

In the years since, memories of my discomfort have served as a nice reminder of how we all can feel when confronted with change and a risk/reward decision. It is often tempting to pursue the safest path and most efficient path,but doing so likely eliminates the most rewarding experiences you will ever have.

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