Sunday, August 31, 2014

DAY 5: LANDER, WYOMING!

I slept for most of the night outside, under Freddy's wing.  The pilot's lounge was a bit grungy and lacking of the air quality outside, so I slept on the tarmac until I was awoken by the patter of rain on my face.  I gathered my gear and ran inside to sleep for the rest of the early morning.  At 0630, I was awake and ready to see what the troposphere had in store for me.  There were clouds all around, radar returns of rain and a few thunderstorms here and there.  But generally VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions.  So off I went!  Into a few very light rain showers.  I was able to get some weather in the cockpit, and I enjoyed the challenge of threading my way through the rain clouds.  Rain is not so bad, but the visibility and chance of downdrafts make me head elsewhere.  The rain was from my south heading north east so I turned north and flew until I could turn west through a corridor through the rain clouds.  With some maneuvering also due to some mountains, I ended up flying this way and that, quite enjoying my last leg of the outbound trip.


I landed straight in to Lander and was greeted by a good friend with blueberries!  I'd been eating the same food for the last five days, so it's a welcome break from my normal fruit, veggies, hummus, cheese, nuts and triscuts.  (Yes, blueberries are still fruit, but I did not have the luxury of having any along.)


I was greeted by the airport manager, who helped me out a few years ago when I was here, and told where the courtesy car was, which I am now using.  I fueled up, unpacked and did a little clean up of Fred.  I must say it was hard to leave the cockpit and come into town.  In the cockpit of a plane, everything is at my finger tips.  It's like a station for my mind and body.  Everything within reach.  It feels like a chair of action.  And it's been my home for the last week.  Though the trip is really only half way through, as I have to get home, I'll be out here for a week and won't have the time to fly until the week is done.  Freddy has done excellently, keeping me safe and happy and moving along to the west together despite fronts, clouds and the like.  We picked our way along.  


All told so far: 
5 days.
11 flights.
24 hours of flying.
2000 nautical miles flown.
288 gallons of aviation fuel.
$1000 in gas charges.

And the experience of piloting my way across the country instead of being herded like cats through the commercial airline system, to have explored my way across the country, instead of being asleep at 700 miles per hour, to navigate through cloud layers and thunderstorms, to have to land early, and make fuel and runway length calculations enroute, most of all to see the beauty and wonder of the sky up close was absolutely extraordinary.  I very much look forward to the return trip and hopefully I get some tail winds!  (Average speed heading west was about 95 knots or about 109 mph.)


I've now settled into the NOLS Noble Hotel, got my favorite room and am overloaded with memories of pre- and post- expeditions on land and water, in the summer, winter, fall and spring.  It's too bad, NOLS doesn't have flying expeditions.  There's a lot to be learned in the sky.


So many many thanks go to my uncle Tots, with whom I first flew as a young boy in Freddy more than 20 years ago, for igniting my interest in flying.  And to he and my aunt Lol, for holding onto Freddy all these years, and for your support and encouragement of my flying adventures.  These magical adventures would not happen otherwise.  The two of you have shared the sea and the sky with me and opened my world to all they have to teach and offer.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

DAY 4: NEBRASKA to WYOMING

Time: 1730
The night of day 3 was quite pleasant.  I stayed up late doing things that had been needing to be done, and slept quite hard.  I had a nice relaxing morning tidying up a bit, hanging my wet clothes out to dry on the struts of the plane, and having a nice breakfast in the shade up Freddy’s wing.  There was no fuel in Superior so after a run to check out the town and stretch my legs, I flew to Holdrege, Nebraska where there was cheap fuel.  I watched some sky divers there then headed into Wyoming. 



The flight was relatively smooth.  No cloud cities.  The haze continued and the terrain below became less populated with people and more populated with cattle in dark brown square pens.  No grass feed beef out here apparently.  On the way in I listened to the automated weather broadcast at Guernsey and heard the density altitude was 7,800 feet.  This means that while the airport is around 4,000 feet, it will feel like a 7,800 feet airport due to the combination of pressure and temperatures in the 90’s.  I haven’t landed at an airport close to 8,000 feet so I quickly had to pull out my aircraft manual and work my way through the charts.  I felt I could land alright, but I needed to make sure I could take off again!  Factoring gross weight, temperature, wind speed and direction, density altitude and calculated my ground role requirements.   Add a few hundred feet just to be conservative and I’d still have extra runway to spare.  Landed easily, knowing I should be able to get skyward again. 
 
America's beef!  Pack 'em in and don't give 'em any grass!

I wonder what it's like to grow up in a town like this.
Irrigation is pretty strange.

I’ve never had to make sure I could get off the ground before.  Freddy doesn’t need much in good conditions.  Two years ago, however, I wondered whether I could get on the ground.  I was somewhere near Arkansas and the winds picked up to where I did not want to land with that kind of cross wind which make landing more challenging.  I searched around for an airport that was oriented in the right way but they were all oriented the same, for the prevailing winds which were not the same as these gusty winds I had.  I would dial in each airport to try to listen to the automated wind direction in hopes some local features channeled the wind into a favorable directions and eventually found one and was very happy to be on the ground.  It is very strange to be up in the air wondering how to safely get on the ground.  Thankfully I was able to figure that one out and a little extra in the tanks meant I did not need to panic. 

So now, stuck in Guernsey, WY, hoping the thunderstorms will clear out and I can get to Lander.  Another deserted airport.  But with WiFi, a couch, outlets, and a courtesy van!

1930

On the ground for the night.  A corridor opened up (maybe) to Lander but it would have meant landing 45 minutes after sunset at best.  Darkness and potential for some lingering bad weather are not a good mix.  So here I stayed.  Went for a bike ride to see the local area.  And now must call it a night.  Very much looking forward to bed. 


Good to be on the ground.

This little one caught my attention.


Wouldn't it be a lot easier if everyone just had a few solar panels?

A few days ago, Taylorville, the woman at the office said with a somewhat quizzical look, "Is that your skateboard?"  I said yes, to which she replied, "That's a first!"  I explained how excellent a skateboard is to get around the tarmac of an airport, but agreed most pilot types are not skateboard types.  Here's to a new mold.


DAY 3: ILLINOIS to NEBRASKA

DAY 3: Illinois to Nebraska

No hail!!  I had some nervous moments watching through the window, hoping not to see the tell-tale bounce of a hail stone.  Just down pour after down pour and thunder all around, but thankfully never right on top of us.  I took the liberty and risk of a lightning far off lightning strike and had my first shower of the trip.  As I was the only one at the airport, I stripped down and outside I went for just a brief moment. 

The night went well mostly.  No more storms, I could rest in relative peace as I slept inside the office on my sleeping pad.  Relative peace except for exceptionally loud crickets at 4:30 in the morning!  They are crazy.  I would yell at them and they would go silent for about 10 seconds.  And then they’d start right up again, and I’d yell, “What did I just say!!!”  To no avail.  They quieted a bit later after I dragged my sleeping gear into a different room and got a little more rest.

I wasn’t able to get right off the ground in the morning as there was very little visibility, so I did some other things and eventually got off the ground at around 10:00am.  It was an uneventful flight though I landed early because the airport I was planning to land at had huge thunderstorms in front of it.  I had hoped the airport was going to be in the middle of a gap in the stormy front, but things were moving more slowly to the north than I had hoped.  I quickly found an alternate, Lake Ozark, Missouri.  Storms all around within an hour and I was happily eating my lunch as it poured outside.  No hail!  There were thunderstorms all around so I relaxed a bit and then went for a bike ride to the lake as I had landed in the middle of a state park!  Good hills and good roads.  I found the lake went for another very fast swim as more storms were approaching.  There were a few others swimming and obviously paying no head to the thunder.  Two of the three were making out in the water and the third indicated he’d just smoked some good weed, said they were going to party tonight and then asked how big my dick was.  Back to the plane! 

This one reminded me of Cloud City in Star Wars. 


I got poured on as I stood under a tree with my bike hoping the lighting part of the storm wasn’t going to come right overhead.  It thankfully did not and I braved light rain as I climbed back up the steep hill to the airport.  I got the plane ready, changed my clothes, bought a quart of oil and was ready to leave before the next storms rolled in.  The two guys at the office, and the ones who refueled Freddy, asked me, “You okay?”  I said I was fine.  “You go for a bike ride?”  “Yeah, down to the lake and then back around past the airport.”  “Aren’t you tired?!”  with a tone to suggest, why would anyone get exercise, because then one is going to feel tired…  I chuckled and explained I had been sitting most of the day and had a bit more sitting to do.  They wished me well, and we said goodbye. 

Off I went leaving the storms behind, bound for Nebraska.  After an hour I was finally through the stationary front!  It seemed to have taken a whole day.  But then up at 8,500 feet I noticed the hinge rod to the cowling flap that covers part of the engine was starting to work itself out.  It had done this before and I had tried to prevent it by taping the end of the hinges.  This had worked for a few flights but it must have vibrated itself through the tape.  I did not want the whole rod to come out as then the cowling would have flapped in the 94 knot breeze maybe torn itself off, maybe damaged part of the tail as it flew off. 

So after watching it closely I determined it might be coming farther out, so I explained to the controller who was following me that I was diverting to land at the airport that was only a few miles away.  He asked me if I needed to declare an emergency, and I said no, but he nicely had me contact him after I was safely on the ground.  Very nice to have a controller ready to do anything it took to help me safely on the ground.



I landed in Kansas and was refueled by a nice guy named Rodrick, I belive it was, who may be reading this now.  He is a pilot and it was fun to discuss the joys of flying.  I asked him how he likes living in Lawrence, Kansas, and he said he loves it because of the sunsets and the people. 


Off again I went, fly around the heavy precipitation that looked like a wall of water, then headed into Nebraska toward the setting sun.  All was quiet, the air was calm, no other planes and a beautiful sunset.  I laughed out loud as I was flying along thinking of how much I love to fly.  The radios, the headsets, the dials and gauges, the sunsets, the moonrises, all the buttons and knobs, the exploration…
Sunset and the moon is up!
I landed at Superior, Nebraska and being that no one was at the airport and there was no automated weather broadcast over the radio, I did the old school: fly over the airport, look at the windsock, and land appropriately.  I saw the windsock indicating a breeze from the North, so I landed accordingly into the wind after first taking a spin around the small industrial town and checking out the football game which was undoubtedly the town activity.  Friday night lights!  As I came in on my final approach, I clicked the mic 7 times and the runway lights came to life as if I was landing the space shuttle.  I always loving turning on the lights like that.  It’s as if the airport is saying, “WE GOT ONE COMING IN, LET’S BE WELCOMING AND READY FOR HIM!”

Within a few seconds of engine shut down, I heard the cows in the distant.  Welcoming again.  I’ve checked out the little office.  Bathrooms, outlets, sink and table and couches.  Not a bad little spot for a beautiful sunset touchdown.  As I stand at my standing office with computer on the horizontal stabilizer, I see lighting far off in the distance.  No thunder so we may be alright.  I’ll have to check the forecast before I pick inside our out for sleeping tonight. 

Freddy’s all put to bed, tied down with an old climbing rope.  Now to try to get myself ready for bed.  I’m now within striking distance of Lander if tomorrow’s weather is decent.  Looking forward to being there but have been loving this voyage in the sky. 
Thanks for reading if you’ve gotten this far.  Much happens in the course of a day in the sky.


There’s a pretty cool website that tracks flights, can send alerts, and show graphs of speed altitude.  For any interested it’s www.flightaware.com, they also have an app for iPhones/iPads.  On the lower left of the website is an orange box that says “LIVE FLIGHT TRACKER” and then “PRIVATE FLIGHT TRACKER”   Put in “N7202G” where it says “Flight/Tail#”  It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty awesome.  That’s enough out of me. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

DAY 2: PENNSYLVANIA to ILLINOIS

DAY 2: Clarion, PA to Taylorville, IL

Flying out to NOLS HQ, I feel like I’m on a NOLS or Outward Bound course.  The first day and night are always chaotic, but slowly, there becomes order and organization and efficiency.  I still have a long way to go, but made some progress after waking up from my resting spot in the grass next to Freddy.  I flew the first of two flights today to Marion, Indiana.  It was a beautiful flight and after taking off I had to fly through a long corridor between clouds to gain my cruising altitude.  From there I stayed mostly above the clouds but made sure I was going to be able to get down, either through a big hole or by checking in with a Flight Service Station to find out the conditions at my destination. 





The second flight took me into Illinois where I am now.  I was hoping to get into Iowa, but I put down early because of wicked haze and thunderstorm activity.  I debated setting down early for a bit, but I find when I’m debating it, it’s often best to just put down.  I landed in Taylorville and am now the only one here.  All the other planes are in hangars, which I assume is because of potential for hail damage and I now type with the computer on the tail watching lightning on all four sides.  I can’t hear any thunder, so I know it’s a ways away but it is disconcerting nonetheless.  I don’t want hail damage to end my journey and damage Mr. Fred. 


There’s a pilot’s lounge here that’s open 24/7 with wifi, snacks and the like.  I met the chief of police who was hanging out on his motorcycle at the airport in civilian clothes and he told me to sleep inside for the storm.  Earlier I went for a run and played some pick up soccer with some folks until the lightning came and ended all the sports in the park.  It was 90 degrees when I landed and it’s cooled off a little bit but not much.  The local soccer players say this is normal.  Hot and humid.  I was hoping to get a lot of sleep tonight, but I’m not sure if that’s going to be the case.  I’d be happy in the air conditioned lounge snacking on popcorn, charging up all my things but with all the other planes packed into hangars, it feels like Fred’s a sitting duck.  I suppose better to deal with this kind of thing on the ground than in the air.  The heavens do not seem to be happy.   I love the look of the airport lights, but I don’t like the darkness of the sky all around.  Here’s to a safe passage through the night.  


896 nautical miles left to Lander...838 miles made good.  Just about half way there...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

DAY 1: MASSACHUSETTS to PENNSYLVANIA

DAY 1: Martha’s Vineyard to Clarion, PA.


It is time again to be “By Sky” for a bit.  I took off today from a wonderful night on Martha's Vineyard to see family and friends and pointed Freddy to the West.  I am bound for Lander, Wyoming to take a refresher course for my EMT certification followed by the NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute staff meeting.  Though I love aircraft, I have come to despise going to a commercial airport.  There’s too much security hassle, too much waiting around, and too many memories of sad goodbyes.  So off I go in a little 1970 Cessna 172.  I’ve taken the other three seats out so I can sleep in the plane if I need to.  I have my bike along, a few days worth of food, camping gear, and my flight bag amongst a few other things to keep me busy on a rainy day. 



I flew first to Monticello, NY which has been the customary first stop on all my air voyages to the West.  It has a long runway, which I like for the first stop but is not a place I want to hang out for too long.  So into the sky I went after refueling from the self serve 100LL (100 Octane Low Led), planned the next leg, got a weather briefing and into the sky Freddy and I jumped. 



The weather briefer and I had mostly discussed the thunderstorms across my route of flight and how to avoid them.  I listened and then went into the sky to see if I could asses the situation better from the sky.  I started at 4,500 feet, but some scattered clouds were about that level so I climbed dup to 6,500.  (Aircraft flying west not instrument flying are required to fly at even thousands of feet plus 500’.  East is odd plus 500’.)  I could see the storms were but I couldn’t quite pick them out of the haze until I was closer. 


And that’s when I saw the gates of Heaven.  Some of the most beautiful cloud formations I have seen.  Towering cloud pillars on either side and a miles-long ramp of puffy comfortable clouds leading to a little gap between the pillars.  At this point I was surrounded by clouds, though there were still holes that I could descend through if I needed to go down.  I couldn’t quite see how tight the ramp was and didn’t want to be over a solid cloud layer, and I couldn’t quite tell what was on the other side of the gates.   I looked to my left and saw a large hole in the clouds that I could fly through and it looked clear on the other side, so hard to port I went. 



It was far from straight and level flying and I loved it.  Exploring a temporary and so beautiful world that exists right above us.  It was one of my favorite bits of flying I have ever done.  It felt like a fantasy world, or another planet.  And so I made it through the two thunderheads with space to spare and nary a bit of turbulence and continued to weave my way up and over, side to side, under and out around the clouds. 




I landed at Dubois, PA, but was told I could not sleep in the plane, so I hoped back in without refueling and flew 15 minutes to the west and landed right around sunset at Clarion, PA.  I refueled from the self service pump, and then got a bit of welcome exercise pulling Freddy over to the edge of the ramp by the picnick tables.  I’m the only one on the airport tonight and it’s relatively quiet.  I had a dinner of chips, a tomato, some zucchini, lettuce and cheese, and I’m now ready to call it a night.


Fuel is more expensive than auto fuel, but one hour of flying works out to be about equal to an hour of tree work.  Happily, I enjoy them both.  What a treat I had today to witness such a glorious part of our planet.  There are beautiful stars out tonight, looking slightly different…a little more familiar in a way, after spending the day in the space between the ground and the stars.  

Tomorrow...west again!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Palmer Wrap Up

I have long since left Palmer Station and am heartily enjoying the New England summer.  I had a wonderful time there.  Boating was the high light, but I had a lot of fun with friends and especially my two co-workers.  Here are a few highlights:

Double Rainbow!  What does it mean?!!


The "recreation" hut a short hike from the station. I slept on the little porch one of my last nights. 
One day went for a beautiful coastal hike around the station. 

One of my favorite days involved going outside of the normal boating limits, driving the boats through various degrees of brash and open water and landing our zodiac on the side of the island in packed ice slowly surging up and down as the waves under the ice reached shallower water.  It was a foggy day and we had to rely our on our GPS to get us back to the station.  So foggy we could not see land at some points, just ice and water.  I loved it.  I drove with safety glasses on so I could keep my eyes open through the falling snow.  I felt like we could have been in the middle of an ocean.  No one else wanted to drive so I had the helm to myself.  It was one of those days, where I have to say to myself, again and again, I'm getting paid right now!! 

A beautiful iceberg, connected underwater. 
Our galley, during the international day of jazz.

Had to drive our boats through a mess of brash ice and small icebergs.  Amazingly clear water. 


On our way home we got to go through the Lamaire Channel to drop off a cable at a Ukranian base.  This channel was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen and I was very happy and felt very luck to go through it.  Huge mountains on both sides rise out of the cold ocean while penguins and whales cruise about.  One humpback whale even swam with us for about 20 minutes.  Back and forth under the boat.  We could see the white underbelly as it turned its belly upwards as it swam under the boat and we all rushed to the other side.  It was a remarkable place.  If only for a day to stop and explore on foot!




 The ride home we cam across "Drake Lake" as it is known when it is calm.  We were very thankful for an easy ride home.  Antarctica continues to be an amazing place to explore.  Palmer was no exception.  It was amazing to be on the boats, to see elephant and leopard seals and penguins up close.  Continuous on the job laughter made the already exciting work lots of fun.  I hope to go back next spring, but will have to wait and see if my number gets picked again.  Here are a few time lapse videos I made while down there...Enjoy!

Working on a 100 foot tower.

Building a 40 tower.

There are more if interested on my YouTube channel.  Thanks for reading and watching!