The following story was written by John Bukac, an Aspen resident and Heli Ambassador who’s got adventure in his blood. From backcountry skiing in the winter to motocross and mountain biking in the summer, John never shies away from a new experience. We are proud to have John as part of our community and represent the Heli brand.
Last summer I was very lucky to catch a last-minute invite to fly with Powder South in the Chilean Andes. The invite came on the heels of a busy summer season which ultimately had me scrambling to catch my flight in Denver the following day. After one of the worst drives to DIA that I’ve ever had, I found myself waiting in line with less than an hour till departure. I asked a few people if I could go ahead of them given my situation, and finally, there I was standing in front of the agent ready for another amazing adventure to South America.
As I introduced myself and mentioned where I was going, her tone changed very quickly, “lightning storm” she says. No flights in and out of Dallas for the rest of the day, which was my connection to Santiago. “Is there anything?” I plead, she informs me because of the storm the whole West Coast is backed up and overbooked. I explained to her that the helicopters were leaving from Santiago at 4 pm the next day and if I didn’t catch them it could jeopardize my whole trip.
No sooner did those words leave my mouth when I heard a voice, “Are you going skiing?” Being fully distracted by the situation, I reply over my shoulder “Yes” without much thought.
The questions continued, “Where to?“ “Santiago,” I inform him. “No shit, I was supposed to go with my boys in July,“ the man responds. He then introduced himself as Patrick.
I follow with, “did you cancel because of the snow ?” (last year was one of the worst snow years on record). He continued, “No, I lost my middle son in June and we couldn’t make the trip. In fact, I’m here in Boulder because I wanted to be here when he would have been starting college. I brought some of his things.” Everything seemed to come to an absolute halt. I don’t know what compelled me, but my first instinct was to reach out and hug him. I myself was coming off the loss of a family member and the connection from this absolute stranger was so unbelievably comforting.
We continued to talk about Henry for a few minutes, who he was, his life of adventures, and his passion for the mountains and skiing. Right away I knew this is someone that I would have connected with. He begins to tell me about Henry’s older brother who was traveling to Europe with a pouch of silver coins which had been pressed in Henry’s memory. The family had a tradition of tossing coins in special places that they’d traveled to. “It was Henry’s thing,” he said.
At this point, both gate attendants who had been eavesdropping, were now visibly crying as they listened to the story. And then, as though a light popped on in his head, Patrick asked, “Will you do me a favor?”
I respond, “Of course.” Pulling one of Henry’s coins out of his pocket he asks, “Will you take him to Chile with you since I wasn’t able too?” Welling up at this point, I barely mutter out, “It would be my pleasure.” We hugged a few more times, exchanged contact information, and I promised him a video of me taking Henry to the Andes.
As I return to the gate attendant, she informs me that she had been able to re-route through Peru and get me to Santiago on time. And just like that, I was on my way. I ended up flying with Henry in my chest pocket for the majority of the week and not until one of our last runs did we send him off into the Andes.
After returning from my trip I shared my story with Patrick and sent him the video of our experience. Life quickly resumed on my end and the whole trip faded into the rearview. It’s funny how profound the whole event was and yet a year later, I am only now realizing that as I write this.
The fact that Patrick and I ran into each other is nothing short of a miracle. I was invited and booked less than 72 hours prior to leaving. The only reason I had the time off originally, was to go home to be with family after a death of our own. Wrong parking lots, missed busses, kind people that let me skip the line, the list goes on and on. What if I had flown American or Delta, instead of United? To be one of the few fortunate people that get to ski powder in the middle of the summer on the other side of the planet and the fact that he too had planned an almost identical trip with his boys. For us to be standing right next to each other at that moment in time, gives me chills to this day. Because of all that, I had the opportunity to give him back a piece of that, just by saying yes.
Simply put, it all happens for a reason. Life is here to be lived, and for me as a skier, that means, go skiing. If you are someone reading this and you are on the fence about taking that trip, riding that line, introducing yourself to that person, changing a bad habit, forgiving someone, or stepping away from comfortable, I hope this story resonates and gives you the confidence to choose the unknown.