As I write this, I just finished a shift at the store and as you can imagine, it’s a lot like pandemonium with only a few days left until Christmas. I am happily sitting at home with the day behind me knowing well that tomorrow will be just as chaotic. It is cold outside and the earth has been blanketed in a frosty white coat for some time now. I just cracked open a bottle of Pinot noir and life is good.
My thoughts have been wandering to the season past lately and for good reason. It was, after all, one of the most challenging and rewarding seasons that I have lived in my two decades on the circuit.
The season started with a training camp in Oklahoma. When I go there, I am reunited with one of the best friends that I have ever known. Kevin opens up his hangar, land, tools, experience and heart to me every single time. These times have been numerous and I hope never ending. He had no idea a decade ago how long I would be a major pain in his butt. I am thrilled that no one told him. Ben opens up his home to me. He is always happy to see me show up and I feel so welcome there.
I was joined there this year by James. Kelly, Mike and Rick. With their help, dedication and hard work, Third Strike Wingwalking was ready to once again hit the road after the trying ordeals that 2016 had served up. I also met a really nice woman named Dasha who is really just a burst of sunlight wrapped up in human form. She helped tell our story to the world and has become someone I truly respect and enjoy.
I rode James particularly hard during training and he stayed the course quite solidly. I was and remain incredibly proud of his progress. Next training camp, Kelly and Mike will be getting the blunt end of me and I have little doubt that they will perform admirably.
But then the season, just as it was starting, took a turn for the surreal. It mostly stayed that way throughout. Our first air show of the season was epic. I blame it all on Dar. I showed up and no sooner were my feet on the ground when I was told to come to the house for dinner. Rick, Dave, Steph and everyone else was there. A calm dose of civility in good company was exactly what I needed after the serious dose of road rash I had just lived. The truck went into the shop and the show went on. I flew, I danced, I laughed and I lived with these wonderful people for a time that seemed so magical yet so short. On the last day, our hosts offered us a real treat. Myself and the remaining performers were taken into the majestic nature of British Columbia and we played. We just bloody played like tomorrow didn’t matter. It was just one of those days that will be etched in my memory forever as perfectly perfect. This feeling saturated the rest of the year for me and the feeling remains completely accessible to me now. Dar is my hero for many reasons but that day tops my list.
On to the next show and the truck broke again. I jumped in a rental as James was transiting the aircraft and left everything behind save the essentials. I started running down the road, a day late when I crested a mountain ridge in Idaho. I had to stop just to take in the beauty of it. I was kind of happy not to have the rig that day. I arrived at Fairchild and waited for my pilot to arrive. Then I waited more. Then I panicked. As it turns out, he was dodging smoke from several fires that were gorging on the west coast landscape. He arrived on the last possible day with little daylight left behind him. James was safe, so was Rhapsody. Her alternator was trashed though. We had some great help chasing down the issue because of some seriously dedicated and knowledgeable airplane lovers. I was lucky to have the rescue possee at my disposal.
On the last day of the show, the base had to kick me out because I only had approval from the pentagon to be there for show dates. I removed to the civilian side. Left the aircraft there for further diagnostics and headed back north to collect my rig. Upon my return, they had diagnosed the problem and helped me disassemble for my next gig.
Not a state and a half out… you guessed it…the truck was overheating. I stopped at a turn out to let the engine cool with plans of hitting the next truck stop. While perched precariously on the mountain side, a car pulled up to offer assistance. Out of this car climbed two Conans and a red headed German girl. Well, I couldn’t run away so I listened. One of the Conans, Barry, seemed to know what he was talking about so before you know it, my trailer and airplane are on his ranch and my truck is in his shop. The easy and fast solution was to rip the condenser out of the truck and forego air conditioning in 100 plus degree temp…..so of course, that is what we did. I was offered a bed in his house for the night. I would normally turn this type of thing down but my airplane was there. Running into Barry, Donna and their family was nothing short of a true blessing. Their home is full of love. So full that they willingly share it with stranded wingwalkers. We shared pancakes and stories until the wee hours. It was incredible. I awoke looking at a mounted Buffalo head, had a coffee, talked with their ducks, dogs and horses and hit the road again. My one wish for these people is that nothing should ever change for them. They are living a harmony with man and nature that few of us could ever dream of achieving.
I made a good days run and was pulling into park for the night when I got distracted by a puddle….yes a puddle…..and drove right into a freight liner. Poor guy was just filling in his log book and I ruined his weekend. After profusely apologizing and exchanging insurance info, I finally climbed into a ferociously overpriced bed (Sturgis rally time). The next morning, the trucker that I had so erroneously vexed was there to make sure I got off okay. My heart melted at this. I ripped the insulation off the wires of my turn signal light, taped them back together and was ready to roll when I noticed that one of my rear tire threads had separated. Another half day gone in the wind. I finally made the east coast with no time to spare all the while, checking in with updates to those I had left in my rear view mirror.
Westfield welcomed me like a long lost friend. Eric was top notch in making sure that I was happy, when In fact, it was my job to make him happy. They gave me a crew of incredible guys to work with and everyone was just so happy that we were there. I was happy to be there. I felt so appreciated by everyone on the base as well as the fans. It reminded me of how easy it is to affect someone simply by Wingwalking and being available to them. It was a great experience that reminded me how easy it is to connect with people.
A strange thing happened after this show, I started getting text messages from different numbers of men who claimed that I had been “with them”. Unfortunately, I had to tell them that although they had likely been with someone, that it was not me. Yes. I am Carol. Yes. I am the wingwalker. No. I did not do any of that with you. Some of them were crushed. I swear, it was not me. My congratulations do go out to whoever was using my identity. This was ingenuity in it’s purest form. I would however, humbly ask the interloper to not give my actual phone number to her targets next time….please. Whoever you are dear lady, I lift my hat to you. You were a busy little beaver.
A few days of home life and I was off again, headed to the maritimes and cell block seven. Colin came to my rescue after I got lost and even gave free tickets to the chap trying to get me turned around. I ran over a mail box at some point but managed to get back on track. In Airshow speak, I arrived before the storm and had the chance to sit down to a nice meal with Colin. I have known Colin for over a decade and he is as solid as they come. A good, good man. Cell block seven got turned into party central after James and I decked it out. After being blocked at every military gate in the U.S, my counterpart was amazed at my instructions for getting on base: “Drive through the gate and go into the first parking lot”. He was stunned. I am humbled each and everyday by the Canadian Forces personnel who do so much with the assets they are given. We are forever indebted to these people who rise and rise and rise. My crew at this show was special, in their midst was a bagpiper called Bruce. He played his bagpipe from atop my wingwalk stanchion. That was something you don’t see everyday. Huzza! I got to see Rose laugh out loud, I watched a fight with 100 plus of my closest friends, I played house with Dano, watched the Skyhawks drop on us every night, hung with Ken and sailed back to the mainland on the Fundy Rose with some awesome guys who knew me via television and assured me that they would take care of my plane.
Somewhere along the way, a new venture was proposed to me. I was offered a very substantial amount of money, by a very diplomatic young man to create an adult video for a private collection. Apparently, opportunities for air show performers are more numerous and diverse than I had originally imagined. The offer was sincere, genuine and extremely respectful. So much so that part of me felt bad when I obviously had to decline. This was definitely in keeping with the surreal nature of the year.
Normal life ensued for a while and then it was ICAS time. I met Isla for the first time. She fills the world with love. Her parents are pretty cool as well. I met an Israeli soccer player, booked some gigs, lost some gigs, gave some grief to Francis, got some candy from Dar, got some love from Kelly, James and Mike. Tried and failed miserably to get more face time with Steph, Ramona and Indira. I hope they can forgive me. I also met a new friend from Australia; Paul. Paul was nice enough to try and help put together a foreign circuit for me…..just because he could.
For me 2017, was the year of incredible people. Many that I encountered are not named here but that does not diminish the contributions that they have made to my life. I am humbled by the quality and caliber of the individuals that have strayed into my path this year. The people I have worked beside, played with and met this year are a constant reminder of how much I owe humanity.
Beyond ambition, beyond desire, beyond limitations, beyond the guest for perfection lies only the knowledge that you can achieve more, give more and be more. Strive for it. I am so grateful for all of you. Thank you for being part of my life.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.