I’m currently recovering from some minor surgery, and out of the cockpit for a few months. During this time, I’m digging up some memorable flying experiences from the past. Don’t worry… multiple paragraphs contemplating the ocean from 40,000 feet will be back soon!
The boat moves the through the hot, still air, the breeze caressing the plastic deck and gently flapping the bow-mounted flag generated by nothing more than our movement over the water. Our boat and the passing scenery bake under a fireball of a sun pinned in a trackless blue sky that is marred by nothing more than a confused upside down half-moon that isn’t sure if it should accelerate or slow down its orbit to once again find the night.
I lick my lips—cracked from the dry air and sun—and slide farther back into my seat, trying to compress myself into the shade that is being shrunk into smaller and smaller pockets by the unrelenting sun in a clear sky. In several weeks, huge wildfires will be burning an hour’s drive inland, turning the Sydney sky a hellish shade of orange and covering the ground with a coating of ash, but today, those future fires are no more than a potential future and high fire danger signs.
I’m on the ferry heading up the Parrametta River. There’s nothing specific in Parametta that I want to see, but it’s the last stop, where the dashed blue of the ferry route ended on the map when I traced my finger over it on the screen of my phone the night before. I often do this in a foreign city—ride the streetcar or subway to the end of the line, just to see what’s there. Sometimes I discover something interesting at my destination, but more often than not after wandering around, I get back on the train or boat or cable car and head right back to where I started, instead finding purpose in the journey itself and the people I meet or observe along the way.
This morning, I don’t have particularly high hopes for Parrametta—a town whose highlights include, according to Wikipedia, a high concentration of automotive dealerships and several noteworthy churches. But as I watch the commercialized shoreline of Sydney Harbor give way to the mangrove- and grass-lined banks of the river, I’m not worried about it. After this trip upriver, if somebody asks I will be able to say, “Why yes, I have been to Parerametta. Lovely little town.”
All of the other obvious tourists on the boat disembarked a few stops back at the Sydney Olympic Park, tightly clutching a combination of bags, picnic baskets, and kids as they walked across the gangway to dry land. There’s nobody else up front with now, and just a few regulars inside the air-conditioned comfort of the cabin, their faces buried in newspapers and cell phones. In the quiet stillness of the forward deck, I enjoy the shade, and listen to the rumble of the engines and the gurgle of water as it passes by the hull below me.
There’s a diminishing whine from high overhead, and I look up to see an Air Canada jet, its red maple leaf holding its own… in strong contrast to the blue sky… as the plane slides over the moon on its descent into Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport. I watch it glide downward, its engines most likely happy to finally be at flight idle after 14-plus hours of thrust for the constant push southwestward out of Vancouver. The ferry follows the ever-narrowing river around a bend to the right and the big jet disappears from view—like me, almost at the end of the line.