During my winter season in Jackson Hole back in 2018/19 I followed one of my dreams and made it come true – FLYING. I scheduled an introductory flight over on the other side of the Tetons in Driggs/Idaho, a small airport where I could connect with Colleen who is in charge of the flight school Teton Aviation.https://www.tetonaviation.com/
Since then I put my focus on earning and saving money as flying is expensive and it shouldn’t be just a hobby, it should become a profession. In September 2021 I left Austria and set sail to Florida. Why Florida for a mountain person? Well, I wanted to give my body and mind a break from winter and skiing and looking back, it was a great escape into such a different world. Living close to the sea, snorkeling with manatees, stand up paddling at Rainbow River, one of the most beautiful and clearest rivers I have ever seen and learning to live next to alligators, one of the most common animal species in Florida. Of course it’s super spectacular to see a gator, wow what a creature.
In terms of flying Florida is perfect to collect flight lessons during winter as the weather is quite stable there. My homebase in Florida from October to February was Inglis, close to Crystal River, that is famous for the cute manatees. Located close to the Gulf of Mexico, one and a half hours drive north of Tampa.
I organized an intro flight at Crystal River Airport with Patrick, who has been a professional CFI/Certified Flight Instructor for many years. It was October 2021, a clear, sunny and hot day, great for flying. Before taking off, we did a pre-flight inspection, checking if the airplane is airworthy. He explained me everything I had to take care about and then off we went – wohooo, airborne. So overwhelming but at the same time lots of fun.
Finding the perfect flight school is a challenge. Especially if you are not familiar with everything connected to flying. I’m a total newbie in that field. There are thousands of different flight schools in the USA. And in Florida there are more than 85 flight schools to choose from. With my intro flight and all the surrounding at Crystal River I was happy but I didn’t want me to put me into part 141. Means Part 141 flight schools have a strictly defined training environment that must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These flight programs are typically created for the career-minded pilot and offer a curriculum designed for career progression. Would have been an option but in terms of studying I’m slow and need my own pace, so I decided to check out another flight school.
So I started to fly with James, a cool, patient CFI who was working at Right Rudder Aviation in Inverness. After the intro flight and a couple of flight lessons later, I figured that flying isn’t the most difficult part. It’s all the theory background you need to know and then being able to apply it while flying. So I stepped back a little, continued to study online ground school during the week and kept on going with one flight lesson per week. And here is a short video after a couple of flight lessons…
Flying can be really overwhelming, especially when you start talking on the radio to other pilots and have to keep control over the joke but when it all comes together it’s really cool. I’m still in the learning process but my experience in sports has shown me that it’s important to stay calm and know exactly what you are doing. Also it’s important to work with an instructor you feel comfortable with and who knows how to educate you. My highlight at Right Rudder was definitely the Tailwheel hour in the Piper 1946. Wow, unbelievable that this monster is still flying. But it gave me the highs in flying. High above the ground, open windows, the wind in the face, left me with a big smile.
During the time in Florida I wasn’t that lucky with my housing situation but I will write that story a different time. I still wasn’t sure where I was going in terms of flying. I knew I could go for it but how will I finance everything? Could I commit and stay somewhere and go through the whole education? Should I stay in FL? Well, my saved money wouldn’t bring me through that process. And my big dream was ALASKA. Flying in Alaska, over the huge ice fields and glaciers, getting to know those ripping female pilots, why not going there and finding out, talking to people in the field, etc. So I drove with my car all the way from Inglis, to Jackson Hole to Anchorage. 5241 miles. 8434 km. 86 hours – estimated driving time suggested by Google maps. I’ll write about this adventurous ride in another blog post…
Made it! To Alaska! Unbelievable!
Driving all the way to AK – it made me humble, made me feel small in this huge country of land and nature. Only those who have seen it, gone through here can imagine the beauty. Amazing.
By the end of March 2022 I arrived my final destination for an unknown period of time. Soon I was lucky to connect with Michelle, a young, super helpful and fun pilot to hang out with. She lives and flies up in AK and loves it up here. She organized a ski day with other female pilots where I was invited to. So on a beautiful April day I could join Kathryn (CFI at Blue River Aviation), Dolena (first female native pilot in AK), Maria (CFI at Blue River Avi), Carly (ongoing student pilot) and Michelle for skiing in Girdwood. Wow, stunning views to the ocean and the snowy mountains. Dolena and Maria were total beginners, so I stayed with them to teach them who to ski. They did quite well, especially Dolena, who is a courageous woman. Within a couple of hours she managed to ski down a blue run.
I took an intro flight with one of the new pilots of Blue River Avi but wasn’t that happy with his performance. Days later I could fly with Dolena which was fun but unfortunately it was one of her last days at Blue River as she started her new job in her hometown Bethel, where she was really proud of. Nevertheless it has been an amazing experience. Here are some impressions.
I made it happen. Flying in AK became reality. Wow. Amazing. Was really proud.
So how to continue? For the Private Pilot License I needed to sit down and study hard. But I was in AK. I couldn’t sit inside and study, I wanted to continue exploring. It was clear for me that if I commit, I would need a job, proper housing and a loan. I could go for it but the money factor stressed me out. In that case I’m to Euro and to less American. I put a lot of stress on myself. My thoughts kept spinning around and my mind got in my way. I started overthinking. Of course I missed friends and family back in Austria. Why not go back to Austria, continue with teaching, working in a meaningful job, be happy with what I have, which I am, for sure. Security vs. Adventure. I always went for adventure, this time for security. A secure job, a nice appartement – why not give it a try. Well, months later I know, it was the wrong decision. But I had to give it a try. Now I know better. And know I will return to AK next year. Because we only live once and it’s the greatest gift to explore and live your life. You have to take chances and seize every moment. So I flew back to Austria, organized a life back here, applied for diverse jobs in school and got a job for September at the middle school in Woergl. In December I already planned travelling with my friend Lulu in AK, so in July we returned to AK. It’s been an amazing trip. Five weeks travelling the country, exploring, fishing, biking, hiking and last but now least we flew into the Knik River Valley. With Kathryn and a float plane. An unforgettable adventure. Took off from a small lake, flew to the glacier and landed on the small lake close to Wasilla again. It’s been amazing.
Will I continue flying? I will definetely work on it and will see where my path is leading me to. But for now, let’s keep chasing our dreams, dream big and live your dreams. They can become reality if you are brave and work hard for it.
By the way. In June 22 I took part at the ground course of paragliding in Osttirol. A different feeling in the air. I felt very fragile but by the second day we already flew more than 300 altitude meters. Crazy. Well, everything is possible. Really. You just have to go for it!