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She Found the Faith to Fly Free

A couple with disparate interests plan a vacation that challenges and inspires them both.

Susan Karas zip-lines above the trees in Alaska

I stared longingly at the posters in the travel agent’s office. Cruise the Caribbean! Journey to Jamaica! Relax in Tropical Paradise!

Now that my husband, Bruce, and I had retired from our lawn-care business, we could finally go on the vacation of our dreams. Something relaxing, restorative, romantic. A second honeymoon.

There was just one problem. Bruce’s idea of a dream vacation was totally different from mine. Totally different.

“We can get a motor home and road trip across the country,” Bruce had said that morning. I almost choked on my coffee.

We’d done that when our kids were younger—piling into the car at the crack of dawn, Bruce conquering the miles as we begged him to stop for breakfast, lunch or the bathroom.

Set up the tent, gather firewood, cook dinner over the campfire…. It was more work than staying home! A road trip was not a vacation. Neither was sitting in a boat for hours waiting for a fish to bite, or tromping through the woods on a hike—aching thighs, snakes, mosquito bites. No, thank you.

My idea of getting back to nature? Lying on a white sandy beach with the latest best seller and a fruity drink with a cute little umbrella.

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“How about we go to an island?” I suggested.

“Forget it,” Bruce said. “I’d be bored out of my mind.”

We hadn’t taken a vacation together in years. One of us would stay home to run things while the other went away. I went to spas, boutiques and restaurants with my sisters. Bruce fished, hunted and camped with his buddies.

Did we have common ground anymore? Without child rearing or work? Maybe our business had been an excuse to take separate vacations and avoid our differences.

I summarized for the travel agent: “He wants adventure. I want to be pampered. Any ideas?”

The agent pulled out a brochure. Cruise Alaska. A gorgeous, gleaming ship, a romantic stateroom with a balcony. I could picture us out there with champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries.

There was a spa onboard for me and enough action-packed side trips for my husband. The perfect compromise.

Back home, I pitched the idea to Bruce. “A cruise? No way,” he said. “All you do is eat, eat, eat.”

I poked at his slightly protruding belly. “And the problem with that is?”

“Very funny! I can’t be cooped up on a ship all week.” Yeah, unlike the freedom of a fishing boat.

“Look at the brochure,” I begged. “You can go salmon fishing, bear watching, kayaking…”

Bruce grabbed the brochure. “Kayaking? We’ll have fun doing that!”

“We?” I said. “I was thinking I’d have a spa day while you…”

“If I’m willing to be stuck on a ship for a week, you need to be up for a little adventure,” he said. “Look at this: zip line through Alaska’s rainforest!”

“I’m not zip-lining anywhere, Bruce. That’s way too scary!”

We booked the cruise, and for weeks we hashed out the details. The mere thought of doing any of Bruce’s Indiana Jones adventures was daunting. After all, I considered sunbathing an outdoor sport.

The night before the cruise I could barely sleep. Lord, how am I going to enjoy any of this? What have I gotten myself into?

Then we boarded the ship and I almost forgot my worries. My jaw dropped as I turned a slow circle in the main gallery. Glass elevators, chandeliers dripping with crystals, winding staircases. I couldn’t wait to check out the spa and the pool.

But the minute we dropped our bags in our stateroom, Bruce hurried me to the rock-climbing wall.

He scampered up, rappelled down, then climbed up again. At least I didn’t have to join him. Finally, I grabbed his hand. “Come on,” I said. “We have just enough time to relax in the hot tub before dinner.”

“All right,” Bruce said grudgingly. We threw on our swimsuits and slipped from the frosty air into the hot, bubbling water. We laughed at the puffs of steam coming from our mouths with each breath. “This is actually pretty nice,” Bruce admitted.

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Back in our room I fussed over my hair and makeup for the Captain’s Night dinner. I put on a black and white cocktail dress and Bruce wore his suit.

We made a dashing pair strolling into the dining room. Tuxedoed waiters with white gloves fanned out our napkins. Piano music tinkled softly in the background.

“This is great, honey,” I said. Bruce fiddled with the knot of his tie. “Don’t take that off,” I said. “We have dancing later.”

“And kayaking in the morning,” Bruce replied.

A tippy little boat in the freezing water. I put it out of my mind when we hit the dance floor. How long had it been since we’d slow-danced? “Isn’t this romantic?” I said. Bruce pulled me close and whirled me around the ballroom.

The next morning was cloudy. We left the ship and gathered by a row of kayaks lined up on the rocky shore. “Sorry, folks,” the guide said. “The weather looks iffy.” Good, maybe the trip will get cancelled, I thought.

No such luck. We shoved off in an amazingly tiny two-seater kayak. I swallowed hard. Bruce paddled like a madman. I dug my paddle into the water, trying to keep pace. Rain started coming down. My muscles ached. My hair was soaked inside my clunky helmet.

The guide prattled on about the fascinating history of the Icy Strait, but I couldn’t concentrate. I was sure we’d tip over or I’d pass out. I was tense for the whole outing, praying I’d make it back to the cruise ship alive.

“Wanna get a massage?” I asked Bruce the next day. My neck and lower back were killing me.

“No time, honey. We anchor in Skagway today.” He held up two tickets. “We’re going zip-lining!”

“Zip-lining?” Dear Lord, we never actually agreed on that.

“Don’t worry,” Bruce said. “You’ll love it.”

No, I wouldn’t. It would be worse than the kayak. A bus took us to the edge of a rainforest in Skagway—a thick, dark Arctic jungle of tall pines. I looked at the narrow walkway and the rope bridges we needed to climb up to the treetops. No way, no way. Bruce took my hand.

Finally we stepped onto a platform high above the canopy of pines. In the distance, beyond a river snaking through the woods, I could barely make out the other end of the zip line. Bruce jammed on his helmet and hopped into a harness.

“Ready?” the guide said. Bruce nodded. The guide gave him a shove, and Bruce was off, hurtling across the chasm toward the other platform.

No way! I thought. Bruce waved from the other side, smiling. Why was he making me do this?

“Ready?” the guide asked.

No, I wasn’t really. Any more than I’d been ready for so much of what we faced in our married life: raising kids, taking care of a house, running our business, our empty nest and now retirement. But hadn’t God been with us at every point?

I stepped forward with faith, like I needed to do now. “Okay,” I said.

The guide gave me a push. Suddenly, my feet were dangling in the air. I screamed. The wind whipped my face. But then, I took another look around me and something magical happened.

Wow! I felt like an eagle, soaring over the trees, the water, all of God’s creation. What a wonderful adventure! Like our life together proved to be, both of us taking each other into unknown territory, and more often than not, liking it. Loving it and each other.

The platform approached. I squeezed the hand brakes and extended my legs. On solid ground again. I wiggled out of my harness. “Bruce, that was…awesome!” I shouted.

He hugged me tight. “Doing it with you is what made it fun,” he said. “That’s what really matters.” He looked at his watch. “Think we can get back in time for a massage before dinner?”

“That would be nice,” I said, taking his hand. “Really nice.”

View photos of Susan and Bruce’s romantic Alaskan adventure in this slideshow!

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