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Grand Canyon 2I’ve never wanted to get into a helicopter because there’s this thing about the helicopter people needing to know how much I weigh. Something about making sure the weight is distributed evenly in the helicopter. That, or just the plain joy they must get in humiliating people.

Oh, and there’s also that thing about helicopter crashes.

People don’t talk much about the helicopter crashes, but I know about them because on some Saturdays I might get sucked into some cable channel TV show about helicopter crashes in between binging on episodes of “Locked up Abroad,” which, to be honest, freaks me out just a little bit more than hearing about helicopter crashes.

But when husband, Steve, suggested we take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon during our weekend stay in Las Vegas part of me thought it was cool and the other part of me was frightened to death—mostly about the being weighed thing. You see, I adore my husband and he can suggest pretty much anything and I’ll go for it. After nearly six years of marriage I’m still like the smitten gal he first met who wanted to impress the socks off of him.

Yet, there was no way I was going to discuss my weight with him or anyone else. I don’t care how official they were and how it impacted a helicopter ride.

Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

All the way to the little helicopter airport, I went over in my head how I was going to address the weight issue. It’s not like my driver license where the weight listed there is a complete lie. You see, I wrote that down years ago and never really corrected it. But to tell someone at the little helicopter airport? Out loud? If I lied about my weight, I’m certain the airport person would survey me up and down with her eyes and I’d get that “oh, you’ve got to be kidding” look. I couldn’t face that.

I was wringing my hands in the airport in Boulder City, Nevada—which was smaller than my local DMV—and I was still trying to plot out this whole thing. If I just said it super speedy, maybe husband and others would never hear how much I weigh. Or I could write it down on a Post-it Note and give it to the gal behind the counter after I folded it up into a tiny piece the size of a dime. Yeah, that’s what I would do.

Astonishingly, I didn’t have to do any of that. I didn’t have to lean over the check-in counter at the little airport and whisper my weight into the ear of the lady. No, I just had to stand on the magic tile on the floor in front of the counter—a tile that looked like all the other tiles on the floor—and it weighed me and secretly put my weight number into her computer. Not on a big, flashing display for all to see, or shouted out to the whole airport, like I feared. My weight number just magically slipped through some tiny wire or cable into the lady’s computer. It’s like I didn’t weigh anything AT ALL. The number was imaginary. I could pretend I was 30 pounds lighter if I wished. And the lady didn’t look at me in a judgy way either.

It was our secret.

It’s actually possible to feel lighter than air

Riding in a helicopter

When it was our time to go, we loaded into the helicopter by assigned seats, which I’m told had something to do with our weight. I couldn’t figure out the rhyme or reason as to who sat where and the math of it. I was just happy they didn’t make me wear my weight number around my neck or on a shirt. After a brief instruction and snapping into the seat belts, the helicopter lifted straight up as if we were pulled by a string. No barreling forward at high speeds like a jet to race up to the sky. Some skilled (and giant) puppeteer had us by a string and was taking us for a ride on a beautiful day with cyan skies above the reddish-brown landscape. I felt light! I was up in the sky and apparently wasn’t so heavy that I kept the helicopter from rising.

I followed our helicopter’s shadow over the dusty desert of Nevada as we headed toward Arizona. This desolate area was free from the shiny, glittery loud Las Vegas we just left. In the headphones our pilot narrated where we were, but mostly I heard the whirring engine of the helicopter and felt like a baby who was comforted by the vibrations of a car. The only reason I wasn’t lulled to sleep was I couldn’t keep from looking out the window at the tiny rocks, mountains that looked more like hills, and itty bitty cars on what few roads there were.

Of course, I’d been in a gazaillion airplanes and have looked out the window at tiny Monopoly-sized homes and streets and baseball diamonds, but being in a helicopter provides a certain intimacy with the ground. Airplanes are so high maintenance and complicated to get up off the ground and back onto it. Helicopters, on the other hand could take off and land in a jiffy. No matter how much I weigh. (Actually, that’s not true. I’m sure there are limits.)

We hovered over the Hoover Dam and took a peak at the wall of concrete with its arms wrapped around it’s little section of the great Lake Mead reservoir. Having just stumbled upon birding over the last seven years, I wondered if this was what it was like to be a bird, soaring over the earth. I know being in a helicopter is not exactly soaring, but it’s not a jetliner either. To be above the earth and feeling weightless was startling to me. Startling that I ever cared about the weight thing.

The 30-minute highlight

picnic at Grand Canyon

After a 40-minute flight, we landed at a part of the Grand Canyon, not in the National Park area, but at an Indian Reservation. This was supposed to be the highlight of the trip, according the tour’s brochure. We had 30 minutes on the ground at the bottom of the canyon, so we snapped a few photos, had a picnic lunch of a sandwich, Lays potato chips and a little brownie bite in a plastic cup. Not the meal of a dieter and certainly no one was weighing us to get back on the helicopter, so I didn’t care.

Our time at the bottom of the canyon felt cut short. We couldn’t hike and explore. Being in the air was what took my breath away. Peering into the canyon from the South Rim a few years earlier was heart stopping. However, being on the floor of the Grand Canyon was more about looking up and around. There just wasn’t enough time to absorb it. No time to stoop on a rock and rest my chin on my fist and do some contemplating. None of that. Just time to gobble down the cute little picnic and look quickly at my surroundings.

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Lessons learned from helicopters.

Our pilot called for us to get back to the helicopter and the propellers began to spin and we were lifted up in the air again. We didn’t take the same route back over the Hoover Dam, but headed straight toward Boulder City. I peered down at the ground, looking for Mule Deer or Mountain Sheep, but they were out of site. Unlike dramatic Saturday television shows, we didn’t crash our helicopter and, really, no one cares how much I weigh except for me. It made me think of how many other things I’ve avoided because of what I feared and that maybe I cared too much about what people might think of me or how I look or how much I might weigh. I mean, really—no one cares.

None of that matters, of course. None of it, except this:

Grand Canyon 3