For years, I have wanted to go wing walking.
What is wing walking?
Glad you inquired.
Wing walking is pretty much self-explanatory. It is when a person goes walking on the wings of a biplane.
I am not an adrenaline junkie, and I do not have a bucket list.
If anything, I feel like a bonafide scaredy-cat with a penchant for the occasional thrill.
It was not always like this for me.
Once upon a time, after a major rough spot in in life, I got fed up of letting fear stop me from trying new adventures.
Even scaredy-cats get tired of fear.
I have broken an arrow with my neck, gone parasailing, cliff rappelling, skydiving, fire walking, glass walking, and then some.
All of these seemed commonplace.
But, I think I have outdone myself, at least, for now.
Enter into the picture, Wing Walking (Cue Handel’s “Messiah”).
In this post, I share my experience and three key lessons learned each step of the way.
On My Way
Months ago, I had planned my trip and sealed my lips to most people I knew, just in case this scaredy-cat switched species and chickened out at the last minute.
I did not want some basic wing-walking experience, where I am strapped in before take off and get flown around.
Certainly, doing so requires an element of bravery and carries risk, but in the name of Tom Cruise, a Sista wanted to do her own stunts.
I wanted to train like a pro.
On the day before my solo adventure, I did another inner spiritual check to ensure that I knew that I knew that I knew that I knew I would be okay.
This experience was not the time for me to overlook red flags and ignore warning sirens.
I rose early the next morning to start my almost three hour drive to the destination.
It was a breath-taking scenic drive, as I sang aloud to Lauryn Hill, Sza, Maroon 5, and other artists guaranteed to keep me on the prayer lists of the folks who claim to pray for me or declare my special need for prayer due to my blog content.
No podcasts on this time around, either. I wanted to move and sing.
I prayed. I praised. I sang more. I watched in awe of God’s creation.
A fleeting thought interrupted the bliss about whether I should play gospel the entire trip to ensure my efforts would be blessed.
Then, I stopped “shoulding” myself and dismissed the thought.
With only one redirect on the GPS, I patted myself on my directionally challenged back for making it to my destination.
Once again, I was the only chocolate chip in the cookie (Read: only Black person in a predominantly White space).
Okay, can we have a keep it real moment?
Different Black friends tell me that I do crazy White folks stuff, so is it really a shocker that I was not surrounded by Black folks? I feel happy that more of us are venturing out, and yet, can certain People of Color stop acting like White folks have a monopoly on crazy stuff… I mean, adventurous activities?
I was the only woman participating, too. There were five men from the U.S. and Canada, and the Sam (because in this post, I want to refer to myself in third person).
When training began, all of us stood in a circle.
I stood in place with a straight face, knowing I was reeling from my inner monologue:
“What is this? A cult?
If so, this is so not the time to be a minori-freaking-ty. I know my history.
Are we about to share what we are thankful for?
Are we about to battle it out in break dance?
Can we do the hokey-pokey?”
The instructor interrupted my joking to confirm who enrolled in the full or the basic class.
Now, the basic class meant you climbed and stood on top of the plane. However, the full class included walking between the wings of the plane.
All of us had signed up for the full class.
Clearly, the full class means all of us were “full-on” crazy.
Next, she inquired if all of us wanted to do aerobatics.
The men smiled and nodded their heads in agreement with verve and bravado.
I, on the other hand, started combing my memory of my communication with the training academy and my research.
Did not recall the aerobatics thing. Nope. Nope. Nope.
My nerves kicked up, and the doubts flooded my mind, “Aerobatics? Like the plane flipping around in the air, while I’m on it, aerobatics? Like at an airshow? Good Gawd A’mighty.”
My inner dialogue became vocal, as I tried to sound calmly curious, “What do you mean by aerobatics?”
Sure enough, the instructor confirmed my suspicions of biplane meets gymnastics, as she rattled off a list of stunts from loops to hammerhead or sledgehammer- I don’t remember, but all of them sounded intense.
I had mentally prepared to fly and walk on plane wings, but fruit loops, popsicles, green clover, and oopsie daisy, or whatever she called these stunts, were not involved in my mental preparation.
Then, I thought, “Screw it. Let’s do this.” I informed the instructor, “Yes, I’m in.”
Like one participant said to the group, “We have come all this way. We might as well.”
Although our thorough instructor had trained most of the wing walkers in the world and had never lost a person, I faced the thought, “What if I am the first one? There is a first time for everything. You can’t always bat a thousand.”
Certainly, today, was not the day to be that kind of first- not the first person, the first woman, the first Black person, the first Black woman, the first Amurrican, or whatever.
The only first I sought to achieve was my first wing-walking experience. Period.
Lesson 1: Be Fearless. Living fearlessly is not a life without fear. It is a life above and beyond fear. Fear will continue to show up in our lives. We can allow it to be without judgment. We can allow it to go on its own course without attachment. We can face it with grace and strength. We can live bravely.
Allowing the fear and panic to come and go without such attachment or judgment allowed peace and joy to emerge in the excitement. It allowed me to have an enjoyable human experience.
Training involved repetition. The point was to develop muscle memory of the movements and to become comfortable enough that we did not have to think much about what to do once we were in the air.
We practiced over and over and over and “someone play Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’” over.
Each flight lasted approximately twenty-five minutes.
When I heard the time, I thought it was too long to be walking on a plane, but the time flew (pun intended).
Here is a shorter video of my wing walk: Sam Goes Wing Walking
The Time Has Come
I was the third person to go. I felt excitement and nervousness pumping throughout my body.
When it was time for my first walk, I focused on each movement, controlling each moment with the gusts of wind against me.
As I stood at the top of the plane, with my feet in position and body against the stand, a flash of fear came to my mind as I looked down at the propeller, “I do not have anything holding me to this plane.”
I breathed and arched my back, as I searched for the safety belt behind me. The wind had blown it into a twisted position.
I was flying longer without being strapped in and panic began to come to me.
I thought about getting down. In a matter of seconds, I refocused, breathed and took my time to get the belt in position.
Lesson 2: Be Present. Wing walking reinforced the importance of being present in the moment.
With all the stressors of life and the potential dangers, I had a mindful experience by focusing on a particular movement in a specific moment. It felt rather meditative.
I unlatched the belt, secured it around my waist, and tightened it like my life depended on it because it did.
Finally, I was all set.
I signaled the pilot that I was secure, and we took off faster, higher, and with aerobatic finesse.
I had an incredibly amazing and thrilling experience. It was more than I had imagined it would be.
Upon completing this segment, I returned to my beloved seat.
After a breather, the pilot signaled for me to begin my walk in between the biplane wings.
I took my sweet time, focusing on each step and placement of my arms and hands.
Once I got into position, I lifted my arms to my sides like an airplane.
I and the airplane were one.
Kinda like Jesus and the Father, or not.
Then came more aerobatics because one cannot have too much aerobatics.
I kept screaming and commenting with delight.
Finally, I began my walk back to the cockpit.
I felt like I was home free.
I could not believe what I had done!
By the time we landed, my cheeks felt sore from smiling so hard.
It Is Over
By the time it was over, all of the participants shook our heads in disbelief, saying things like, “I don’t know how to top this one.”
Wing walking is hard to top.
Doing something death-defying created a sense of community that transcended race, gender, and nationality. We shared the labels from others as “idiots” and “crazies” and shared in excitement that we faced fear in an extreme way.
I felt at home. We could talk freely about our extreme ideas and share life experiences without any weird looks.
Given the time need to refuel and prep for the next participant, the guys and I had much time on our hands to practice and talk.
All of us shared stories of our adventures and exchanged ideas of what to do next.
Everyone helped each other with practice.
No one seemed to try to outdo another person, for each of us had something prove to ourselves.
Arguably, people might have more in common with others by way of personality than race and gender.
Lesson 3: Be Open. Embrace diversity, including personality diversity.
Yet, if all of my friends were like my fellow wing-walkers, most likely, not one voice of reason would exist among us. If I shared with you the ideas we discussed, you would agree. Recognizing the comfort in shared experiences, when we only surround ourselves with people who look, think, and live the same as us, we miss out on ways to expand our world.
Closing: Crazy Unique
No matter what, our fears are not our reality. Our fears, as convincing as they can seem they are not who we are. And when it comes to living, all of us are crazy, not just folks who walk on wings on a plane.
Similarly, all of us are crazy unique with a journey that requires some element of risk. To love, to dine out, or to do things like going out and about each day involves risk. It involves often taken-for-granted faith. Even more mind blowing is that each of us, in all of our distinctions, fit in humanity. And life, itself, is an adventure in living and exploring this truth.