Lately, I seem to be thinking a lot about holidays. As in vacations. As in last week’s column about holidays. And since it is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the august month of August, the subject of holidays might be nearly as relevant as some of my other columns like blind dogs, pen twirling or paraprodokians. Or even furtlings.
And since the whole fam damily is gearing up for our yearly visit to the funky Shangri-La contained within the most westerly of provincial domains, British Columbia, I’m still thinking about holidays.
And whenever I think about holidays, especially holidays to said B.C., I’m reminded of the time myself and my buddies very nearly bit the dust. Bought the farm. Cashed in our chips. Gave up the ghost. Became ex parrots. Took a dirt nap. Pushed up daisies. Took a last bow. Thought up a bunch of euphemistic expressions for dying.
Except for the last time I had a really bad cold, the aforementioned holiday really was the closest time I’ve ever felt I was actually joining the choir invisible. We came this close to wearing the pine overcoat, I’m not kidding.
Four of us reprobates realized one day that one of our friends, Gary, had a pilot’s licence of all things, and that it was possible to rent a small airplane and go someplace fun and funky in the holiday spirit of freedom, spontaneity and utter foolishness.
So we each saved up a surprisingly disappointing amount of moola that when scratched together made it just barely possible to rent an airplane and stay in a cheap hotel for a few days and not much else. We figured: who needs to eat when you have your own airplane to bop around for a few days?
So there we were rattling along in the sky, four of us stuffed into a Cessna 172 heading for Kelowna. Which, if we’d thought about it hard enough would have led us to the obvious conclusion that we had to buzz this little bird — with us in it — into, through and over the mighty Rocky Mountains.
If we had’ve thought about it even a little bit we might have chosen to go the other way and navigate the mountains of Saskatchewan, which are, ipso facto, much less formidable and therefore much less likely to cause four young meatheads to nearly shuffle off this mortal coil.
But then Saskatchewan doesn’t contain the Okanagan, does it?
All was hunky dory (now there’s an expression you don’t hear much anymore) for about the first half an hour of sailing off on an adventure into the friendly sky, but then ‘friendly’ turned ‘fickle.’ That sky turned so black and wet and so positively unfriendly that we were forced to turn back and land in Lethbridge, of all places, which isn’t at all like the Okanagan either. There we spent the overnight visiting various lame clubs with bad DJs whilst proceeding to lose the keys to the airplane.
I have mentioned this debacle in detail in a previous column about losing things in weird places, and one or two faithful readers may recall that the keys were eventually found in our hotel room hanging from the switch inside a lampshade that our pilot had hung his shirt on. The shirt with the keys that slipped out of the breast pocket.
Turns out, finding the keys inside a lampshade was the highlight of the entire trip. But we didn’t know that at the time. Unfortunately.
The next day we made it as far as Cranbrook before we had to land on account of something was wrong with the airplane. A semi-emergency landing in the mountains not a fun way to start a little holiday either, especially when a mechanic had to replace something called a “magneto,” which I knew was the name of a super-villain in the X-Men Marvel comic books. And which I took as a bad sign.
We made it to the Okanagan eventually, where a female ex-friend would have nothing to do with one particular broken-hearted member of our flying quartet, but I eventually got over it and we all made the best of it by searching in vain for the Ogopogo and attempting to swim in the cheap hotel’s pool, which was permanently set at 5C. They don’t like to heat pools in B.C. — especially for Albertans.
But the time we thought our number was up was on the trip back. Suddenly weather moves in like an unwanted relative and the foolish four and our Cessna are headed into the dark heart of a serious storm somewhere in the middle of the Crossness Pass.
Our pilot, Gary, 26 years old with 10 years of flying experience, takes us higher, too late to turn back, making sure we will clear the mountain peaks that we can no longer see. Suddenly it’s like someone hung thick black curtains on all the windows and turned the plane into a ping-pong ball.
I was so sure our number was up, I huddled in the back passenger seat, with my head between my knees and my coat over my head and my eyes squeezed shut, babbling away over the deafening violent jostling roar of the storm like there was no tomorrow. Calling in every favour and making every promise to every known deity and some I think I made up. Pleading that it wasn’t our time to go to the big airport in the sky.
I think the other guys, including Gary the pilot, were doing the same.
And as so happens in stories where you are just about to ride the pale horse, the storm somehow suddenly breaks and the sun shines and the ping-pong ball is an airplane again and you take your coat off your head.
We burst out of the maelstrom into a precious calm, and there in front of us a vision none of us will ever forget: Ogopogo!
Just kidding, we level off facing the most wonderfully flat patchwork prairies, the Calgary airport in the distance. Zillions of places to land if we wanted to. Beams of light breaking through the clouds like soaring major chords from a celestial pipe organ.
You could practically hear the choir as we burst into the kind of manic celebration that only comes when you know you’ve dodged a bullet, ducked the devil, danced out the door. Missed it by that much. And after a vacation like that? Every day is a holiday.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.