On December 17, 1903, an intimate group witnessed (and photographed) a seminal moment in man’s evolution, the day he finally sprouted wings and would no longer envy the graceful seagulls floating above him.
That day, a century ago on the sands of Kitty Hawk, tucked neatly onto the bay of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, two men spirited in a new era in human history. Orville and Wilbur Wright (despite their preposterous names) had written themselves forever into the history books as the men who would revolutionize the world. Today, as comedian Louis C.K. points out, we take the miracle of flight for granted. Absurdly complaining when a commercial flight is delayed or cancelled, forgetting that “you’re sitting, in a chair… IN THE SKY!”
Visiting this place is amazing, but only if you consider that the men in the field that day had never seen powered flight, they did not know it was possible and many thought it wasn’t. For literally hundreds of years men had worked on this idea to no avail, so what made these guys different. The answer is, not much. They weren’t particularly extraordinary, they were self-taught and this was a passionate hobby. But, what made them different was that they believed it was possible, and they did it.
To set the scene, the Park Ranger asked us to consider about what Orville might have been thinking seven seconds before he pulled the pin to launch himself down the rail towards history. Many answers followed from the crowd – fear, worry, excitement, “I wish my mom was here”, is this going to work?, “what if I die?” But of course, we don’t know. No one does. But the question effectively “put us in the moment” with the brothers. The previous day was full of failure and they were heading home tomorrow, so this was their chance to make this happen. If it failed, they’d be back to the drawing board again.
But, the Ranger expressed that one moment made this happen – despite his fears, his consternation over what “could” happen – was that Orville excitedly pulled that pin and went racing down the track toward his destiny. And, he asked us to consider taking that chance in our own life. No matter if it makes you uncomfortable, makes you unsure, the point was just “pull the pin” like Ol’ Orville, and see where it leads you. It’s a motto we’ve learned to live by ever since we made the decision to “pull the pin” on this trip, and I can tell you it’s a motto I’ll continue to live by for the rest of my life.
Seeing the memorial statue dedicated to Orville and Wilbur, a large vertical wing upon the highest dune, is an inspiration. It’s quite a hike to see it up close, but well worth it. But the most interesting portion of the memorial are the five large boulders lined up across from the parking lot.
The first large, jagged boulder is the Wright’s launch point. The four individual headstones that follow measure the length of each of the day’s four flights. Orville’s first flight lasted only twelve seconds and came down 120 feet away, the second (by Wilbur) was 55 feet longer, the third (by Orville again) exceeded the third at 200 feet. The final flight lasted for 59 seconds and measured just over 850 feet. Wilbur said that if he hadn’t run out of gas, he would’ve flown even further.