(Editor’s note: some of you may have been wondering why you haven’t heard from one of our favorite WildSnow Girls, Amy Heuer. Here’s an update.)
A good friend told me awhile back, “When life knocks you down, you have to figure some way to get back up and walk again. Adventure is lurking in every shadow, behind every corner…and it’s up to you to face your fears and move on.” Bamm! This really hit home.
Three years ago I took a big leap, packed a suitcase and flew north. I was following my passions of skiing and aviation and believed I had found my calling in Alaska.
The five months that followed in Haines gave me a glimpse into my dream job as a aircraft mechanic working for a ski-plane business, and showed me what experience and hard work can accomplish. After a season of working for Fly Drake in Haines, I moved to Juneau, AK to work with Coastal Helicopters. Coastal “yellow” became my banner color, and I wore it proudly as I sat through ski premiers, watching my yellow birds drop skiers and boarders on peaks nearby, or as I worked for heli-ski contracts in the remote places outside of Haines and Valdez. It seemed as though life was finally coming together. Or so I thought.
Then, earlier this year, three friends and I were caught in a bad storm while winter camping on a peak near Juneau.
What started out as a weekend camping trip to enjoy the rare sunny skies in southeast Alaska turned into a nightmare scramble off a snowy ridge after our tent was ripped apart by the fierce Taku winds. Our gear was scattered into the darkness, and without protection, we got pinned high up on the ridge. For thirty hours, we sat exposed next to a pile off rocks the size of my neighbor’s love seat. Without food, water, shelter or adequate insulation, the four of us huddled under our one remaining sleeping bag until the voracious one hundred mph winds died down enough to allow us to crawl off the ridge.
The results of that thirty-hour hellish experience were severe frostbite to both of my feet, a med-evac flight to Anchorage and five months of healing on my parents’ couch in Carbondale, CO. I eventually had six toes amputated and have been recovering from surgery and lingering nerve pain back in Juneau since mid-July.
The mis-adventure as I’m calling it has brought about huge changes in my life, and rather than get stuck in a rut, my husband and I are moving on. We’ve been given a rare opportunity, a second chance to live life with a different outlook. I don’t want to waste it.
My first step toward facing my fears and moving on was to fly my Cessna along the coastline of Alaska/Canada back to Colorado. With my dad as my co-pilot, the trip took us three days, ten fuel stops, a jump start from a taxi, an eighty dollar international call, and a visit with Canadian and US Customs. It incorporated over seventeen hours of flying. This trip has always been a dream of mine, ever since my dad first flew up to Alaska for a fishing trip with his buddies years ago. Not only is the scenery beyond beautiful, but the experience necessary to complete the trip was a huge test of the skills I’ve been sharpening while flying in Alaska.
At such a time when the future is so uncertain, and when rehab is going slower than I would have thought possible, it was an incredible feeling to accomplish a life-long goal.
I realize now, more than ever, that life’s hiccups make us grow.
Adventures sharpen our skills, prioritize our lives and lead us down new paths to explore. I may not be able to walk fully at the moment, but I am finding new ways to soar.
WildSnow Girl, Amy (Heuer) Helm, grew up in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. When she wasn’t skiing, she was flying small planes with her father. After pursuing both passions in Alaska, where she worked as a helicopter mechanic, she’s now road tripping through North America, exploring new terrain and getting stoked for winter.
Week in review — WildSnow posts from October 5th through October 9th: