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The ultimate power trip; a helicopter ride puts things into perspective for one adrenaline junkie.

So--you've done those corkscrew rides at Magic Mountain. You've even driven your Porsche at 112 mph. But if there's any real macho in you, you owe it to yourself to defy gravity in a helicopter, preferably over a major city, so that you can do the Bruce Willis walk as you flirt with urban danger. Are you game?

I'm a high-altitude junkie--I've done gliders, parasailing, even small planes--so I took the dare a few months ago. Most helicopter rides start off in a fairly remote area. Moments Made--a company that will set you up to drive a race car, jump out of a plane or ride in a helicopter above Los Angeles--began my helicopter excursion near Pacoima, Calif., which is at the north end of the San Fernando Valley. A variety of packages are available (momentsmade.com), but I opted for the most extravagant ride, which took me all through the valley, over the Pacific Ocean and right into downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood.

When planning your trip, try to get a good seat. If you can't be by the window, take another flight; you're likely to become acquainted with the barf bag if you're sensitive to motion and you can't see the terrain below you. In fact, try to sit where you can actually roll the window down--this will make visibility much better, especially if you have a camera, and the fresh air is a real rush. And wear comfy clothes, you'll be turning around trying to catch the sights, and the last thing you want is to be hindered by your outfit.

When it was my turn to fly, I was ushered into the cockpit, and soon it felt like it was just me and the pilot with his foot pedals and radio in a bubble of glass. But we weren't alone; also on board were two gals making out in the backseat with a video camera and a bottle of champagne. I prayed they weren't prone to motion sickness as I watched them take another gulp of the bubbly. Then it was time for us to strap ourselves in (don't get excited, I'm not talking bondage here), and get ready for takeoff.

When we lifted off the ground, the copter started to wobble a bit. Oh boy, I thought. Where's my rosary? Soon, we were airborne, heading across the valley, the pedestrians below looking like ants on a furtive mission.

It's amazing how quickly you can get to the beach when you don't have to take the freeway. Within minutes, we could see the wide expanse of the Pacific, while a thin stream of cars crawled over Topanga Canyon.

"Oh, look at those dolphins," announced our pilot. "Let's take a closer look." And with that, he made a steeply banked turn and pulled up about 50 feet above the water. Soon we were flying parallel to the shoreline, zooming over the Santa Monica Pier and its circus of rides. I suddenly wished I'd taken some Dramamine. I thought this was going to be one of those AARP rides, not some Red Bull adventure.

As a blur of cars sped by, our pilot ushered us inland toward Hollywood. I fancied myself one of the paparazzi as we flew over the Spelling mansion and Britney Spearsville on Hollywood Boulevard. Tall buildings stabbed at the sky, but they couldn't reach us with their long steel arms.

The geometry of any city is pretty astounding from the air. Who plans these urban landscapes? And, by the way, while you're making that fourth banked turn, where's the barf bag, just in case?

My gal pals in back were too busy getting drunk to notice how I was doing. Maybe they were at that three-month mark where you're still going to extremes to impress each other. And what better way to do it than in a helicopter? It's cheaper than jewelry and far more exciting.

We zoomed by the Hollywood sign and over the hills into the San Fernando Valley. But what's that in the distance? Our airport? My pilot checked in with me, and I assured him I wasn't about to decorate his cockpit with my lunch. Besides, I had about 150 photos to commemorate my wild aerial trip of Los Angeles, reminding me of one of the best adventures I've had in recent years.

Whether you're off to the Grand Canyon, Maui (where I tried the helicopter ride again, for a tamer experience) or Barbados, there are many outfits that will gladly take you airborne in a chopper so that you can truly enjoy the terrain from another perspective. Helicopters are very safe and nimble and they offer a unique experience you're unlikely to forget. You can always buy jewelry next year.
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Title Annotation:I TRIED IT
Author:McGrath, Mary
Publication:Curve
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2009
Words:791
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