35,000 Feet Above the Beaufort Sea

I love flying.  I always have.  There are few experiences in this world that leave me more elated than the feeling of driving to the airport with a packed bag.  (I’m talking manic smile, tell everyone I pass “GOOD MORNING!” enthusiastically, bounce-walk through the airport level of excited.)

The fact that we live in an age with tools to get to the other side of the world in less than 30-hours just blows my mind.  Seriously.  If we take time to actually think about what we are doing, the experience of physically TRAVELING to a new location can offer experiences that are just as memorable as your time at the actual destination. (Crying babies and tiny airplane seats notwithstanding.)

I used to think it was pretty bad luck to be a person who simultaneously loves to travel to far off places and sucks at sleeping on airplanes (especially when your husband is an absolute airplane sleeping pro).  Over time though, I’ve realized this is not such a bad deal. If we can swing it, I will pay extra for the window seat and I’ll look out the window almost the entire time. Luke and I often purchase late night or early morning flights (cheaper), and so I have been gifted sunsets, star-lit views, and sunrises over some pretty amazing locations.

I remember watching a sunrise over the Swiss Alp’s in 2011, the rays of light shining in long beams across the landscape and the fluffy lakes of clouds.  I remember a 2013 sunrise over the foothills of the Andes mountains, flying low over Peru, en route to Cusco.  The pink and golden streaks of light were bright against the dark silhouette of the hilly Earth.  I didn’t have a window seat that time, but I made friends with the girl who did. We had a friendly chat and drank our coffee while we “Oo’ed and Ahh’d” at the sun as it began to light the day (Luke snoozing away on my other side).  I remember flying low over sepia toned Spanish villages, grey Indonesian volcanoes and the endless green expanse of the southern Amazon rainforest.  I’ve gazed at the twinkling lights of countless cities passing beneath me as we flew away from the familiar and toward something new.

Sunrise over the Swiss Alps, 2011

Our journey to Indonesia holds one of my favorite memories of experiencing travel.

Our flight left mid-day. Our itinerary included a 16-hour flight to Seoul, Korea, a 2-hr layover, a 6.5-hour flight to Denpasar, Bali, and a 45-minute drive north to Ubud.  Even with this intimidating travel schedule, I was rocking my bounce-walk while Luke and I wandered the Detroit Metro Airport and talked excitedly about where we were headed.

On most international flights, the seat in front of you is equipped with a small monitor.  You can watch TV shows or movies, play games, listen to music, and track the progress of your flight along the planned route, which is displayed on a world map.  When we settled on the plane, I flipped the monitor to check out the route to Seoul and was surprised to see that we would be flying in a long arc over the northern expanse of Canada, the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska, and south to Seoul.

We followed the sun through our journey, so we did not experience dusk or night as we traveled across the Earth. As we flew over the northern reaches of Canada, the sun blazed through my half-open window. Since it was technically the middle of the night in Michigan, most of the plane was asleep. I sat drinking white wine and stared out the window completely mesmerized, and honestly somewhat grateful that I can’t sleep on airplanes.  I would be missing all of this.

The Earth’s surface was strange to see.  The land was an endless expanse of red clay, cracked and uninhabited. It was wild and barren. I couldn’t see any plant life from our height. It looked almost alien, with only the occasional gorge from streams that weren’t blue, but a milky-white. I marveled at the sight for a long time before deciding I should try to sleep, at least a little bit.

After an hour or so attempting to get some rest, I glanced at the flight map to see that we were flying over the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska.  I re-opened my window to views of a sea strewn with huge chunks of ice. I couldn’t take my eyes off it!  Snow crystals had formed on the windows and the sun was bright in the clear blue sky.

It’s an interesting experience to realize how much of the Earth humans don’t inhabit.  Where the world is still wild and raw.   Even more, it’s a strange feeling to be a tiny human perched in an airplane, far above it all.