by Jill Meyers
It goes without saying that the past two weeks have been very challenging for many people around the country. Wildfires in the west have produced red-hot flames and thick black smoke, destroying hundreds of thousands of acres and causing fatalities in Montana, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, and Utah. In the opposite corner of the country, many of my friends and colleagues were impacted by Hurricane Irma, not to mention the folks in Houston still reeling from Hurricane Harvey. I decided not to publish a blog episode last week since some of the Dreams Soar and FlyGirls teams live in Florida and were dealing with more important things like staying safe. This week I am going to write about taking things one day at a time, an important way to maintain one’s sanity in the wake of multiple and overlapping crises.
For me, the past two weeks were centered around two things. The first was filling in for Lyndse Costabile, our Dreams Soar Board of Directors Chairwoman, who was stranded on a Caribbean cruise due to the hurricane, with very limited access to Wi-Fi. Much of my effort was spent trying to keep in contact with our team members in Florida, along with our new Advisory Council member who lives in Antigua, an area hit very hard by the hurricane. I was first trying to determine who had evacuated (and where to) and who stayed behind to weather the storm Then I struggled to reach everyone afterward due to power outages and lack of cell service in affected areas. In the end, everyone was okay, but it was a bit stressful during the “not knowing” period, which lasted for days. I got through it by taking things one day at a time, and often just one hour at a time. I had to realize that all of this was out of my control, and I needed to stay positive and keep trying to reach everyone, and just hope for the best. And it worked.
Meanwhile, Shaesta was monitoring the weather along her route from Hawaii to California, with daily support from our friends at Universal Weather. The only issue seemed to be the wind -- it was blowing westerly, which I am told is not normal for that crossing. Even with all six fuel tanks filled to capacity, Shaesta needed to wait for the math to work out and needed the flight computations to be convincing that she could get all the way across based on the average wind component across the entire 2,119 nautical mile route. On September 7th, all looked good! Shaesta departed from Honolulu and was on her way! I was so excited! But then a little before two hours into the flight, I received a message from Shaesta that she was turning around. OH NO!! It turned out that some weather built up out of nowhere and the winds aloft increased during that brief time she was in flight. Shaesta made a very difficult but correct and admirable decision to do the SAFE thing and go back to Hawaii. So, we all went back into “wait mode”.
Shaesta continued to rest and monitor the weather, and the rest of us waited. For the first few days, I had to deal with a flood of Dreams Soar team members, sponsors, supporters, partners, and the public in answering questions regarding her status. This would have been stressful in itself but now I was handling this on top of dealing with the oncoming hurricane. But again, I just took every call and text and email one at a time, took a lot of deep breaths in between, and reminded myself that everything happens for a reason and that it would all be okay in the end. And it was.
It was another week before the winds behaved! On September 14th, Shaesta got back in the Bonanza and took off for Hayward, California! It was perfect weather and the wind computations looked good. Shaesta was in a super positive mood and was so excited to finally be doing this crossing! Her flight time was 14.5 hours, a daunting task for a solo pilot. One of the things I do to support Shaesta is to monitor her flight, which has me logged into a system that allows me to follow her speed, altitude and exact latitude/longitude position at all times. Why is this important? Well, because the publicly-accessible flight trackers either lose tracking over open water, or the data they provide is not accurate or is time-delayed. On these long open-water flights, I feed the aircraft position data to the Universal team, so they can provide Shaesta periodic updates to the winds and weather. And in addition, by knowing her position and altitude, I know she’s OK. As a solo pilot, especially while crossing an ocean, Shaesta has a LOT to do in that cockpit. If something did go wrong, she would probably not have time to contact me, at least for a while, so I have to stay on top of things. So yes, I spent 14.5 hours watching the tracking data, in addition to being available to communicate with Shaesta when needed. It was a long day for us both! And how did I handle doing that for 14.5 hours? One hour at a time.
Shaesta successfully crossed the Pacific Ocean this month and crossed the Atlantic Ocean in June. And crossed many seas in between. And crossed five continents and visited 20 countries. By the time this is posted on Sunday, September 24th, Shaesta will be just a few days away from arriving home in Daytona Beach, Florida. She will have completed her around-the-world trip, the Dreams Soar Global Flight for STEM. She will have met with and inspired 3,000 young girls and boys, letting them know that they too can let their dreams soar. And I bet if you asked Shaesta how she survived this four-month long journey, she would tell you… one day at a time.