It was an epic journey. A lone Warrior travelling most of a continent, battling the elements and the terrain, encountering strange tribes, making new friends, and some enemies along the way. In the end it was a journey of self-discovery.
Well. maybe not so much. In actuality, it was a couple middle-aged guys in a Piper Warrior making the trek home from New Orleans, LA to Seattle, WA.
Many months before the flight my plane partner suggested that he fly the plane, a 1979 Warrior, N2175N, right out of annual inspection, from the Seattle area to New Orleans, more specifically, from Harvey Field, Snohomish, WA (S43) to Lakefront Airport, New Orleans, LA (NEW). I've a business interest in NOLA, and would preceed him on a commercial flight spending a week before his arrival on business. He would fly home commercially, and I would fly back to Seattle. In the end he flew to Chicago to pick up his girlfriend, then they flew down the Mississippi River to NOLA. A non-pilot buddy of mine wanted in on the adventure so he flew commercially down to NOLA a few days before we were scheduled to leave. J and I made the flight back together.
My longest prior flight was to Gooding, ID about 600 nm miles from home. This flight would be just over 1900 nm and given perfect weather would take 3 days (2 nights). This would give us a few days to stop in Billings, MT for some flyfishing. My flight planning was extensive. I evaluated 3 routes, southern, middle, and northern, eventually deciding on the northern route for a number of reasons. First, we were over low, flat land from NOLA to Billings. Second, the Rocky Mountain crossing was short, about 4 hours from Billings to Coeur d'Alene, ID. Third, from Billings we would be basically following I-90 west giving us a place to put down in an emergency.
I used 2 software aids to plan my flights. TopoUSA is a topographic program with routing and drawing and GPS functionality. Display is shaded relief so the topography is immediately discernaable. Memory-Map is a map display that will work off of the FAA supplied digital TIF aviation charts. A ful set of FAA TAFs and sections is about 4 GB of file storage. Memory-Map also supports GPS moving map functionality.
Once the gross route was chosen the details were worked out with use of the above programs, plus a lot of online resources, such as AirNav, and a myriad of weather sites. There is a list of links below. The Warrior has 50 gallons of fuel capacity with 48 gallons usable. At a book value of 9 gallons per hour I assume a maximum endurance, that is to fumes, of 5 hours. I have never gone more than 4 hours and plan my fuel stops for 3.5 hours. This timing works quite well as it is also close to my comfortable bladder capacity.
After careful honing the maximum terrain elevation for the planned route was down to 6800' MSL, MacDonald Pass just west of Helena, MT. The second high point was Mullan Pass West of Missoula at 6100'. From New Orleans I plotted position fixes every 50-100 nm yielding 42 fixes. Each fix had a sequence number, a name, its latitude and longitude, at least one visual reference, and between 1 and 3 VOR fixes as you never know when a VOR will be out of service.
Pretty standard navigation logs were completed for each leg, containing takeoff, headings (true course, true heading, magnetic heading, magnetic course), origin and destination airport information. The nav log is linked below.
A summary of the final flight plan called for a nearly NW course out of NEW, with a first day fuel stop at 345 nm at Mena, AR (MEZ). We would continue on and overnight in Hays, KS (HYS), for a 700 nm first day. Second day would have us continuing NW 367 nm, stopping for fuel in Douglas, WY (DGW), and continuing another 232 nm to Billings, MT (BIL) to spend a couple of days flyfishing. We would leave Billings to the west, overfly Bozeman, MT (BZN) turn north and fuel up in Helena, MT (HLN) for a short 177 nm leg. We would leave Helena to the west until we met I-90 then follow it NW, overflying Missoula, MT (MSO) and continuing to Coeur d'Alene, ID (COE) for another short 219 nm leg. Fuel up at Coeur d'Alene and head due west (true) crossing Steven's Pass through the Cascade Mountains, and home to Harvey Field, Snohomish, WA (S43) for final leg of 218 nm and a total trip length of 1908 nm.
Well, so much for plans.
With J and I, my bag for my NOLA stay, his bag, the fishing gear, survival gear, toolbox, and full fuel the plane was at its maximum gross weight. The panel sports dual comms and dual VORs, DME, and a moving card ADB. On the yoke was my plane partner's Garmin 295 GPS, and in the center of the backseat secured with a bungee cord was my laptop with 15" display running TopoUSA and Memory-Map with a DeLorme Earthmate USB GPS receiver suction-cupped to the window. The laptop gave us a moving map with both shaded relief terrain data, and our course along digital sectional charts. Our intended course was programmed into both programs, which ran simultaneously off the same GPS receiver.
Let me finish this introduction by noting that my flying companion, J, had the yoke for about 50% of this trip. Though not a certificated pilot, he did solo in his youth and has flown with me enough to hold a course, make course corrections, and climb and decend. Having such a flying companion was a GREAT asset, so thank you J for coming along. Our route was richly planned with multiple layers of redundancy, and managing all the data was at times a full time job. At those moments J was invaluable. He was also an easy and knowledgeable travelling companion, and good in a bar fight. I did the takeoffs and landings.
Now let's go have an adventure!
METAR: KNEW 021453Z AUTO VRB04KT 10SM CLR 27/21 A2984 RMK AO2 SLP103 T02720211 51009 TSNO=
I arrived in NOLA on 22 May 2005, spent a week doing real estate and simply enjoying the time with my business partner and good friend K. The weather and schedule never cooperated such that we could go fishing, but on the day we left he caught 18, 2 to 4 pound trout. He called later to rub it in. The weather in New Orleans was HOT for the first few days then cooled and stormed for a few days. J flew in on 30 May, Memorial Day. Our plan was to enjoy the city for a couple days then depart on Wednesday, 01 June. So much for planning. Thunderstorms and low ceilings delayed our departure by a day.
Thursday, 02 June 2005, dawned clear and blue and calm in New Orleans, LA. However, 200 nm NW at Monroe, LA a low ceiling hung on into the late morning. J and I decided to pack up and head out to Lakefront Airport (NEW) to wait out the weather. Took a cab from the B&B to Lakefront Airport. http://www.airnav.com/airport/KNEW MillionAir was great. Plane was safe, the people were friendly and accomodating. The local weather was good, hot and clear, but up in north Lousiana, Monroe, there were low ceilings forecast to lift somewhat.
Being a VFR flight we hung out at MillionAir for over an hour waiting for the northern weather to lift some, then at 1000 CDT (1500Z) we took off on runway 36L and climbed out over Lake Pontchartrain. We passed over the world's longest concrete bridge over water which runs north-south and cuts the lake in half. We climbed out over the lake to 3500' where the skies were clear, visibility was about 15 nm and the horizon was hazy. On the far shore the clouds formed a layer of broken cumulus at about 2500' AGL so we descended and continued under the cloud deck. The land is flat, verdant green, and the earth hazed out 15-20 nm ahead. The uneven heating of the ground through the broken clouds meant we cruised in bumpy air at about 2000 MSL. Most of what we were flying over was lightly populated, 0-300' elevation terrain and much of it was raw swamp. The concern was that the ceiling would lower. We could see the cloud shadows so knew that 10-15 miles ahead the cloud layer was still broken. We fretted about the ceiling and pressed on.
The flight plan called for nearly a NW course out of NOLA, with a first day fuel stop at Mena, AR, then overnight in Hays, KS, for a 700 nm first day.
METAR: KHEZ 021555Z AUTO 31007KT 9SM FEW019 BKN025 BKN032 26/21 A2985 RMK AO1=
At 115 nm from NEW I decided to divert slightly and take a bio-break at Natchez, LA (HEZ). Nice little airport with two open, crossing runways. We took 31 and my first landing in about 3 weeks, was great, aligned and smooth. We drained our bladders, filled our water bottles, and headed back out into the hot and humid air off runway 31 at 1130 CDT (1630Z).
40 nm NW of Natchez we became weary of the bumpy air and decided to climb and go over the top. We cruised at 6500' MSL in smooth air with unlimited visibility. 85 nm later the clouds started to close up and get higher ahead. I certainly did not want to get stuck on top. We still had clear sight of the ground could see the ceiling under was sufficient, so I started a steep circling descent in a large hole dodging clouds and trying to manage airspeed which ranged from 115 to 154 kts.
We continued on course at 2500' in bumpy, annoying air. The cloud layer remained broken so we would have been fine remaining on top. Lesson learned is when on top grab as much sky as possible for maximum visibility ahead.
We made all our expected visual and VOR waypoints. The land was flat with everything under 500' MSL and looking the same in every direction. The horizon faded away into haze and at times it seemed we were hardly moving.
About 3 hours into the flight the terrain started to gain some relief and we knew we were approaching what passes for mountains in Arkansas, the Ouachita National Forest, with folded hills running east-west and topping out at 2700'. The skies had been clearing for the last 30 nm so we had good visibilit as we crossed the "mountains" on our approach to Mena Intermountain airport. We approached from the SE in calm winds and warm air. The CTAF was nearly silent, so I rolled onto a 4 mile final for a straight in on runway 27. Touchdown about 1345 CDT (1845Z) Another near greaser!
METAR: KMEZ 021908Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM BKN042 BKN049 BKN070 28/24 A2983 RMK AO2=
We taxiied to the gas pump, which was not a typical fuel pump, but only about 3 feet tall, short enough to fit under the outboard portion of the wing. I've never seen one like it and I liked it. A ramp guy came out, and started to fill the tanks. We headed inside to drain ourselves, fill our water bottles, and check the weather on the available computer. The weather to Hays, KS was fine.
We spent about 20 minutes on the ground in Mena, then in continuing calm winds took off at 1410 CDT (1910Z) on runway 9. We climbed to 4500' and re-aquired our previous course at a groundspeed and airspeed of about 110 kts. Just 20-30 nm out of Mena, we encountered scattered cumulus clouds and dropped to 4000' to maintain a legal clearance. The terrain in the area was all under 1000' MSL.
Our airspeed held fairly constant at 110-115 kts but our groundspeed slowly rose as we continnued NW. We were picking up a tailwind!
All of our waypoints were made and as we approached Tulsa we were asked to turn from our 305 heading to 270 for traffic avoidance. Groundspeed was now 130 kts so we were getting about 15 kts for free. After 10 nm we were allowed to resume our previous course. Tulsa Approach also informed us of a convective SIGMET had gone up for our route of flight. The weather north of Wichita was pretty bad, but most of the SIGMET was for north of our route. We keep a wary eye. The tailwind now began to make sense. The weather was sucking us in!
Our altitude varied between 4000' and 4500' depending on the ceiling. At times we diverted a bit to the west to avoid lower clouds and or rain squalls. In the 600 nm so far traveled and as we passed Wichita 20 nm to the NE the terrain elevation in the area was only 1500' MSL. We were now cruising at 3500' with a groundspeed of 140 kts. Wichita Approach confirmed the convective SIGMET and said things were getting pretty bad a bit up north. ATC said most of it seemed to be NE of our route and precipitation radar returns were light for our route. We could see that the weather was deteriorating to our right, and there was only a 115 nm to Hays, KS. With the tailwind that was much less than an hour flight.
METAR: KICT 021856Z 14018G21KT 10SM SCT042 SCT250 28/17 A2975 RMK AO2 SLP060 T02830167
Groundspeed continued to increase and as we passed Hutchinson, KS we were pushing 150 kts at 4500'! I felt like a Mooney. Ahead the skies grew steadily more hazy and our groundspeed rose above 150 kts. Some sort of weather was sucking air to the NW. Although we could not see it we could almost smell Hays, KS ahead. We rode in on the field's VOR. About 20 nm our of Hays we saw our highest groundspeed at 158 kts. Given a cruise of 115 kts that is nearly a 43 kt tailwind!
METAR : KHYS 022215Z AUTO 14019G26KT 10SM CLR 26/18 A2967 RMK AO1=
The elevation at Hays is 2000'. The winds were 19 kts with gusts to 26 and aligned within 20 degrees of runway 16. Our GPS log shows the effect of the winds. Downwind past the threshold had a groundspeed of about 105 kts. I hold a 80 kt airspeed attitude at that part of my pattern. After the turn to final groundspeed drops to a steady 53 kts though I held about 70 kts of airspeed. The most fascinating part of the GPS log is short final, flare, and touchdown. On short final groundspeed drops steadily past 50 kts, then past 40 kts, slowly decreases from and stablilizes at 33 kts, and finally at 29 kts the groundspeed quickly decreases to taxi speed. My experience of the landing was an extremely slow ground speed with a gusty crosswind component from the left which moved us well off the centerline. During the flare I was adjusting the throttle to compensate for the gusts and failed to keep to the centerline. Groundspeed was so slow and the runway so wide (100') that I thought it better to get on the ground safely rather than get on the ground prettily. We touched down 20 feet to the right of the centerline with almost no bump and no roll out. It was like the tires touched down in glue.
Shutdown the engine at 5:15 PM CDT (2215Z), Hays, KS. 6.7 hours flight time.
That was the last day we flew our flight plan.
2005 June 02
While we unloaded and put the cover and bird plugs on, a truck came out to fuel us up. ATC at Wichita had mentioned damaging hail, so I asked the gas guy what he had heard and it was news to him. I asked about hangar space and got a shake of the head. We would have to take our chances.
The airport at Hays is very nice. A large, well appointed lobby for a GA airport (free Wi-Fi!), clearly they support some commercial traffic. There were even a couple of car rental desks, a number of displays of some industrial products of Hays, a very nice pilot's lounge with PC, and a bathroom with shower. We called the hotel and a shuttle was on its way.
About 30 minutes later the shuttle arrived, and we had a nice chat with the woman who was just along to navigate for the young, 20ish driver. Apparently Hays is the home of the best west Kansas regional hospital and the airport is a common means of arrival and departure. There is some high-tech in the area too.
We booked into the hotel, though it looked more like a motel to me. Most of it one story, with a 2 story block in back behind the pool. The sky was getting dark and angry. We still harbored fantasies of taking off tomorrow morning.
On the way in we asked about the best place in town to get a steak. "The Professors" was mentioned. Another place was mentioned, but we decided to try the Professors. The reception desk had given us the phone number of the cab company in Hays - Access Transportation, so we retired to our rooms to freshen up before going out.
I called the Access number and a taciturn man answered. It seemed as though I was disturbing him. I had an image of him sitting in a lazyboy, feet up, with remote in one hand and a beer in the other. What I couldn't figure out is how he was holding the phone. He reluctantly scheduled a pick up in a few minutes at the lobby. In a bit J and I rendevoused and headed for the lobby looking for a taxi. No taxi. Walked past a shuttle bus and looked around the corner. No taxi.
I looked at the shuttle bus. "ACCESS TRANPORTATION" was painted on the side. The driver, long and lean, a little weathered in the face and wearing jeans, button down shirt, and a baseball cap, had a clipboard on his knee and was looking at me through the open door from the driver's seat.
"You Domenick?", he repeated.
"That's me", as I stepped up onto the bus.
I gave it. He wrote it down.
"You staying here at the hotel?"
I gave him 3 dollars.
J stepped up behind me and we repeated the verbal drill. J asked the driver what all the information was for.
"In case you show up missing."
I wondered how many newcomers to Hays "turn up missing". An episode of the X-Files came to mind, where the crispy fried chicken, wasn't.
Door closes, shuttle pulls out of the parking lot and J asks, "where do you get the best steak in town?"
"Don't eat out much."
"We heard the Professors was pretty good".
"Haven't eaten there in years".
"How about the Other Side?"
"Never eaten there."
Meanwhile the bus is weaving its way through the town in the most convoluted and confusing route imaginable. I have no idea where we are in relation to where we were. We pull into a concrete plant/gravel pit entrance, then a right onto a residential street, then into a back backing lot. As we drive around to the front of the aging building I see a painted sign on the side, "The Perfessors" (sic), with a cartoon of an Einsteiny guy in a graduation cap.
The parking lot is empty. The front door is closed. It's after 6 and I think the place is not open.
I ask the driver if we can call back for a pickup.
"Not after 9:10 PM. Not 24 hour service." He notes the drop off on the clipboard, we deplane, door closes, and he drives off. J and I look at each other then at the rather sad looking establishment. Chintz curtains in the door and flanking windows. Kind of a faux western portico/porch with a wagon spokey rail. Now it's starting to feel like an episode of the Twighlight Zone. The punchline to the classic episode, "To Serve Man", bubbles up from the back of my mind. "Mr. Chambers! Don't get on that ship! The rest of the book, To Serve Man, it's... it's a cookbook!"
We pull open the door and walk in.
Small gift cubby to the right of the entranceway, cash register to the left. Beyond and a couple steps down is the bar dining room, to the left the physical bar, and to the right the dining room proper. The back wall of the bar dining area has 3 "booths" that are actually high tables with high chairs surrounded by chintz curtain screens from the bar and adjoing booth. Tables and chairs continue the faux western motif. A couple of pink-clad girls were at the bar and a few employees were milling about. Perhaps they eat late in Kansas. The few heads turned as we walked in and the place went quiet. A young, small, redheaded waitress in shorts and with her hair pulled back and secured asked us where we want to sit. One of us asked if we could smoke in the bar. The answer is yes, so we headed for a high tabled booth.
She was a perky little cutie, no doubt, looking just like an athletic Julia Stiles in shorts, and with a midwest long vowel accent to die for. "Hiighhh, wilcome to The Purfessors. Yewww boyz new in towwwn?"
Good lord, corn fed women.
J explains that we flew in from NOLA for the night and were ultimately headed to Seattle by way of Montana for some fishing. We chatted for a bit. She was a music education student at Fort Hays State University, living of off campus in an apartment.
We ordered a couple of steaks and baked potatoes. Pilots eat REAL food. We also ordered a couple Budweisers. Pilots drink whatever they can get, and, always, 8 hours bottle to throttle.
Julia brought the beers and we chatted her up some more. I just wanted to hear her talk, J was actually looking for information. "Any place to shoot some pool in town?".
She leaned forward on the back of a spare high chair and put her leg up on the chair's rail, bit her lower lip, and scrunched up her little face. "Well, there's the Quewww, ... anne the Sit and Spe-innn." She turned toward the kitchen. "Hay, Larry! Come own ouwt here!"
A young, skinny guy, early twenties at most, came out from the kitchen to the table. He had a bulbous bandage on one of his thumbs, the result of an encounter with a meat slicer. He had a roguish smile for Julia and when he saw the new blood in town he perked up to us as well.
Larry got the abbreviated story of our journey and our current night's quest for pool and beer. Larry also suggested the Cue. It turned out to be the "Magic Cue", and it was some distance away. He also mentioned the "Sit and Spin", which I thought sounded like a converted laundromat. The pink girls at the bar were brought into the discussion and the consensus was the Magic Cue over the Sit and Spin.
After the convoluted Access Transporation ride through unfamiliar territory to the Perfessors I was hopelessly disoriented as to where we were in the surprisingly spreadout Hays, Kansas. "How far of a walk and how do we get there?" Larry said, "If you can drive three-on-the-tree take my car." J and I looked at each other. We could both drive a three-on-the-tree. One of us asked, "What kind of car?"
"Old Ford Galaxie 500." Of course, that's the only kind there is. His generosity stunned us and rather than take him up on his offer immediately we continued to chat. Julia went off to collect our food, and Larry headed back to the kitchen. We discussed Larry's offer.
"Maybe it's a setup."
"New guys in town. Come in by private plane, so obviously rich. Hotel points us at Access Transporation. Access Transportation gets us lost. Larry offers his car. Cops pick us up a few blocks away for stealing it. We max out our credit cards buying our way out of lock up."
"So, the whole town is in on it?"
"Think she'd visit me in jail?"
"Let's take the car anyway."
Julia brings the steaks. "Inythang else Ai kin do for yew boyz?" Be still, my beating heart. The steaks were pretty good, a bit fatty, but flavorful. The sides were baked potato (mine, naked), and green beans. We ate rather quickly, on the high chairs in the tall booth created by chintz curtains. Julia stopped by a couple times, and we continued our chat. We asked if Larry was serious about loaning us his car. "Yeah, Larry's a character. Take his car."
She gets Larry back to the table. "Larry, I think we'll take you up on your offer of the car."
"Great. Know how to drive three-on-the-tree?" All three of us raised our right hand simultaneously and go through the motions of shifting a three-on-the-tree. Larry, watched us. "Okay, and reverse is back and up."
"We got it."
"Oh, and the clutch is a little loose. Doesn't engage until the last little bit. Don't worry about the car. Got for a couple hundred last year. When it ices up we take it out in the parking lot and slide it into shopping carts."
"Cool", I said appreciatively, having similar experiences in my youth. The plan was for Larry to catch a ride to the Cue with one of the cooks after work, about 9:30PM. "Keys? Where's the car?"
"Keys are in the ignition. Car's parked to the right, out front." His waves off to the right.
"How do we get to the Cue?"
Now it appeared that Julia and Larry had a difference of opinion on how to drive the mile or so to the pool hall. "Leave the lot to the right, turn right on main, turn left on (whatever), then right on ..."
"Geez, Larry." She shoved him off stage. "Just right out of the lot, straight until you hit main then right, it's up a couple blocks on the right."
Reluctantly we departed the Perfessors, saying goodbye to Julia and see-you-later to Larry. We walked outside where it is still light. The car, an indeterminant previous shade of blue, was to the right with windows wide open, the keys in the ignition. The long front bench seat was covered with an old bedspread and shrewn with cash, change, CDs, cell phone, and inhalers. Guess Larry was asthmatic. The CD player was sitting exposed on the transmission hump with wires hanging down to it from under the dash. J is captain on land, so he took the driver's seat. I scraped a spot clear and set myself down. The car started right up, and J authoritatively grabbed the shift lever, pulled it back then up into reverse. Idle was a bit problematic. Larry had warned us against a sticking throttle. The car was nose to a wall and J revved the engine and let out the clutch. The engine revved higher and higher and higher, then lurched backward a few inches and died. J released the hand brake, and restarted the car. He revved the engine as he let out the clutch. The engine revved higher and higher and higher, then lurched backward a few feet and J put in the clutch a quarter inch to recover. Larry was right, all the clutch action was in the last half inch of pedal play.
Now that J had the feel of the beast he expertly continued to backup, stop, and shift into first by pulling back and down. We left the parking lot waiting for the flashing lights to pull in behind us. J had a distinct advantage in driving this beast, as he is a long time boat captain, and the beast handled like a boat. Clearly the shocks were totally shot, so the body was just floating on the springs. Okay, so there we were in Hays, Kansas, driving a stolen car and looking for a pool hall.
The old part of Hays is quite nice and we easily found the Magic Cue. J pulled into a parking spot in the nearly full lot and we discussed in what condition we should leave the car. Locking it seemed an insult to the community, but leaving the keys in and the windows open seemed too much of a personal liability. In the end we decided to roll up the windows, using the rationale that thunderstorms were certainly in the area, but left the doors unlocked. This decision made, we entered the Magic Cue.
Big place, high ceiling with ceiling fans on high created quite a breeze. Ten pool tables, in rows of 4, 4, and 2. TVs were high on the walls behind and opposite the long bar. A large tabled area about half full of folks filled the area between the bar and the pool tables. Once we came into full sight and were making our way to the bar, all eyes turned to our new faces. We bought Budweisers, staked out the inboard table in the two row, and while J racked the balls, I organized the cigars. Tonight we were smoking Cuban Partagas Coronas Seniors en tubos. These are tubed, largish coronas, machine bunched, but hand finished. They are very pleasant smokes if allowed a few weeks in the humidor out of the tubes and smoked as slowly as possible.
J and I are fairly evenly matched in our pool skills. When we first started shooting pool together I was taking most of the games, but in the last year J has stepped up his game and now we tend to trade nights.
Our plan was to take off in the morning and make it to Billings, MT by evening, so neither of us was interested in getting hammered. We had a few Buds over a couple of hours and savored the cigars. These smokes are initially very mild becoming fuller over the smoke. As such, not much to this smoke in the first third, but it mellows and sweetens nicey primarily with a woody flavor profile. A touch of cinnamon and vanilla in the latter half. A good, simple smoke that could use a year in the humidor, but a good choice for traveling sticks. I brought 23 on the trip and came back with 3. A number were smoked in New Orleans.
About 9:30 PM Larry showed up with a tattooed member of the kitchen gang from the Perfessors. We spotted them to BIG Buds, 24 ouncers, and chatted a bit about life in Hays. We inquired as to the pedigree of a blonde who had been sitting at the end of the bar since we had arrived. Beautiful and trim, in tight jeans and white stretch top, she clearly had an attitide problem as she hadn't smiled all night. J was rather taken with her, I was still mourning Julia our waitress at the Perfessors. Larry knew who she was and was not impressed. All of 22, he said he was a fan of farmer's daughters, and blew some smoke in our direction. It was harmless and we let it slide.
As we were leaving in the morning, we said we were calling it a night. Larry asked us how we were getting back to the hotel. We were planning to walk. Naw, he'd drive us back, so we piled into the beast, J in back, me in front, rolled down the windows. Larry choose one of the myriad of seemingly unmarked CDs and carefully inserted it into the player on the tranny hump, and with music playing we headed out. I asked Larry what he was doing and what were his plans. He had a farmer and some professionals in his immediate family and was seriously considering becoming an ophthalmologist. I thought that was a great eye-dea, as your patients rarely die and you can make a ton of dough. Seemed a lot like dentistry to me. Both J and I encouraged Larry in his endeavors and I slipped him a twenty for his hospitality - but I made him promise not to spend it on smokes, except cigars.
Back to the hotel and rest.
2005 June 03
The day dawned miserably in Hays, Kansas, gray skies, strong winds, and intermitant hard rain and lightning. Weather forecasts were poor. We held out pointless hope despite being clearly grounded. I got up early as is my want and fretted over the weather forecasts available on the web. The Hays Best Western had free high speed Internet access in the rooms which made weather fretting easy and continuous. No doubt, the weather sucked, and would remain so all day. 9-ish we met at the diner and cashed in our $1 off breakfast coupons. I shared the bad weather news and we explored our options. In the end we decided against any decisions until after noon.
After breakfast we headed back to the rooms where I wanted to continually fret the weather until after noon. After noon, the weather still sucked and would clearly remain so, so we confabbed again, and this time came to a decision. I would nap and J would go for a run.
Some time later, J returned, showered, and we confabbed again. The weather was periodically nasty, with horizontal rain, near and distant thunder, lightning now and again, and low, black, ominous clouds that certainly were just aching to spawn a tornado or two. We decided to go to the movies. We spent sometime with the yellow pages, and found a theatre a couple of blocks away at "The Mall" showing Star Wars 18: "The Interminable Out of Sequence Story". It started at 4 PM (in about 20 minutes) and we hoofed it across wet ground and under angry skies. It was a Thursday and we got there just as the previews should have started and walked into a completely empty theatre. I saved the seats and J went for popcorn. A few patrons wandered in and lusted after J's saved seat, but I fended them off with dirty looks and cleaning my nails with a folding knife.
The movie started, then sometime later, thankfully ended. The mystery of the origin of Darth Vader was revealed. He was a bad dude, a war-mongering, baby killing, power-hungry, madman. J figured him for a republican. I pointed out he had been driven to it by love and a mamby-pamby, feel-good, self-help, pseudo-zen-lite anti-religion religion, relativistic morality, and excessive tolerance and blindness to the evil in others. In the end we agreed he was a bad dude. We also agreed if Yoda and Obie-Dawon-Canoli would have used the force for something useful, and looked into the future, they probably would have drowned the twins and spared the world the other 17 movies.
Back to the Best Western and plans for dinner. Someone, somewhere along the way had recommended a new sports bar to J, and we decided to find it for dinner. Just to keep him off balance J called our talkative Access Transporation driver, and again a short time later we met the short bus in the parking lot.
The driver just nodded, hardly even glancing our way. No "name, rank, serial number, address, and mother's maiden name", this time. We had become old friends.
J said, "We're going to try The Grille Sports Bar. Heard of it?"
"Yah. New place. Expensive." He starts the bus and we pull out onto the street.
"They have good steaks?"
"Never eaten there", straight face, and looking straight ahead.
"How about "Barney's?"
"Nope, never been there", with a short shake of the head.
"Your wife must be a good cook."
The driver looked up with narrow eyes at J in the rear-view mirror. "How so?"
"You don't eat out much."
Keeping his face straight just about killed the guy. You could see his mouth tighten just a bit and his eyes widen almost imperceptibly, but back there behind the mask there was a guffaw. We had gotten him at last!
The Grille was a smoke-free sports bar. Shit. No local color. It could be anywhere in America. It was completely bland. We ate some unremarkable food and drank an unremarkable beer, then decided to check out Rosie's Bar next door.
Upon opening the door to Rosie's you are greeted by a larger than life-size poster of a scantily clad Budweiser shilling cowgirl. Ahh, this was more my kind of place. A long, wide hallway extended to the left, and the long wall on the left and far end of the hallway were covered with simliar posters. I felt right at home. At the end of the hall we turned the corner to the left and walked onto an immense, deserted hardwood dance floor. A waitress was doing something indeterminate way in the back. Hmmm. J and I studied each other's reaction, took another quick glance around, restudied our reactions, and turned heel and exited. We did dawdle a bit as we walked back down the hall.
Outside we confabbed. Cuban cigars were itching to be put to flame and we were looking for a place to alight. I mentioned that I saw the Sit & Spin on the way to The Grille and it seemed close. We headed in what we thought was a likely direction. Down the street and on the other side of the railroad tracks on a parallel street to the tracks was the Sit & Spin.
As we walked in the door I heard a large "thud" on the wall to my right. I walked past the end of the wall and looked into the pool room beyond. Three pool tables, an electronic dart board, and benches around a couple of the walls. A couple of girls were sitting on one of the benches. They were watching a guy trying to get up into a handstand against the wall. Ahh, my kind of place. I staked out one of the 3 pool tables while J went for a pitcher of beer. As I was locating cues and chalk and getting settled the guy against the wall drops back down and comes over to me.
It wasn't a comment on my roots; it was a hiccup. Not knowing what kind of greeting a hiccup requires in return, I just nodded.
The guy's eyes were pleading, tortured, bloodshot, and kind of wandering around in the wasteland of his eye sockets. I nodded again, and got a good grip on the pool cue.
"I've (Hic) ... got the (Hic) hiccups!"
"Yes. So you do."
"(Hic!) ... Shit! I've had 'em (hic) ... a long time (hic) ..."
I thought a pool cue to the gut would cure him, but I wasn't sure he would appreciate my effort. I answered, "Bummer. How long?"
"(Hic!) 'Bout 45 min-(Hic)-utes. Got 'em when the (Hic) wife ...", he cocks a thumb and glances at the brunette on the bench, " ... (Hic!) told me she was (HIC!) pregnant!"
I put down the pool cue. The guy wasn't nuts. He was an emotional disaster. About 22 years old, she dropped the bomb on him, his whole life flashed before his eyes and his diaphragm jumped into his throat. Who could blame him. I felt like picking up the pool cue and whacking him for not using a rubber.
"You tried drinking upside down from the other side of the glass?" This was a trick that J (the little woman and the other J in my life) always used to great effect. Cured her every time, but you couldn't just take little pussy sips of water from the glass, you had to drink the entire glass down in one upside down breath. Usually there was some clean up involved in this cure.
"(Hic!) Yep, tried that."
I started to explain that you couldn't just take little pussy sips of water from the other side of the glass, when a friend of his came into the room and the guy hiccupped over to him. Obviously, not a deep thinker. I finished the table, pool, and cigar preparation. J returned with a pitcher and 2 shots of Jack Daniels. The Jack was a free special for buying a complete pitcher. The hiccupping guy and his wife were sitting on the bench with the other couple. I took one of the shots and walked over to him, and handed it to him. He took it, but looked at me confused.
I said, "It's Jack."
"(Hic) Will it help?"
"It can't hurt." He knocked it back. He looked around. He looked at the glass. He looked at me. He looked at the glass. He looked back at me. I was a fucking hero.
J and I played a few rounds of 8-ball, smoked our El Rey Del Mundo Choix Supremes from a cabinet I had acquired recently. "Choix" is pronounced "Schwa", and it's frog for "choice". They were a mighty fine choice that evening. On a trip to the john I looked for any evidence of the place being a reincarnated laundromat. Besides the pool room there was a bar around the corner where half a dozen folks sat, and on the other side of the room from the bar was another room, as large as the entire rest of the place, and completely empty. The decor of this larger room was decidedly different from the other parts of the place with a couple of cages flanking a small stage with a vertical, floor to ceiling pole. The "spin" in "Sit & Spin" had nothing to do with washing machines or dryers. It was a pole dancing strip club.
Seeing as how neither J nor I wanted to get hammered, and as we had hopes of getting out in the morning, and there was no stripping going on, and we had cured the guy of his hiccups, we decided to cash in early, donate the remaining beer to the father-to-be, and finish our smokes on the walk back to the hotel.
Photo is of HYS with Hays, KS in the background. The obvious white concrete runway center-left is the short HYS runway. The main asphalt runway is "behind" and at a 45 degree angle to the concrete one.
2005 June 04
Takeoff time (HYS) : 11:30 AM CDT
By the way today is J's 43rd birthday.
We were hoping to beat the thunderstorms, but were delayed by some low clouds northwest of Hays. Decided to go anyway figuring to get as far as we could. We got out of Hays, KS (pop. 22,000) about 11:30 AM and launched into cloudless blue sky, knowing that we had some weather ahead.
Clear skies slowly transitioned to broken puffy clouds, then 1.5 hours and 200 miles out of Hays, 50 miles ahead we could see the broken clouds turned to solid, black overcast. We could see the thunderheads towering above the overcast. Beneath it was black and ugly and ominous. We kept very aware of where the airports were and I decided to make for Ogallala, Nebraska. It's a largish town with a good sized airport (OGA) and another smaller town and airport on the flightpath. As we passed the alternate and with 15 miles to go to OGA, the the local AWOS had conditions pretty ugly at OGA, and we could see a lot of lightning. Not a good thing to flirt with thunderstorms. I whipped back around and made a straight in landing at Grant, NE. The wind was whipping, mostly aligned with the runway. Grant is in the SW corner of Nebraska.
Landing time (GGF): 12:15 PM MDT, 1.9 hours flight time.
We taxiied to some tie-downs, and I got out and introduced myself to the airport manager, Bill. He answered with a Boston accent. As we were chatting in the 25 kt wind, a guy in a pickup came tearing up the taxiway and lurched to a stop. He leaned out of the truck, pointed toward the black clouds, and shouted, "Hey, Bill, it's a 4, and it's coming this way!" Bill waved back, and the guy gunned the truck and tore out. Category 4 thunderstorms are nasty, spawning tornados and hail.
Bill offered to take some photos, so he got a few with his hangar as the backdrop and I took a few of the weather bearing down on us. Bill looked at the black sky to the north punctuated by lightning, and suggested we move our plane into his hangar. We jockied another couple of planes around a bit and managed to get the Warrior into the hangar and get the door closed. The plane was safe from anything except a direct hit by a tornado. I slept much better that night because of Bill's generosity. A tornado watch was up well into the night. Apparently there were 29 tornados sighted in the NE, KS, OK area. Very weird shit.
Bill gave us the keys to the courtesy car, a pure white Crown Victoria previously owned and operated by the Nebraska State Patrol. It had "U.S. Govt" plates, and Bill said it would easily do 140 mph. We drove into Grant, at much less than 140, had a quick lunch, and called a few ASOS on J's cell. The weather everywhere we wanted to go was ugly. My cell phone had no reception in Grant (Nextel). J's had reception everywhere (Verizon). We got back into the car and while I napped, J drove up and down every street in Grant, looking for a rumored B&B. He did find it, knocked on the door, but no one answered. We thought Hays was small at 22,000, but it was a bustling metropolis compared to Grant with a population of 1200.
We got back to the airport and Bill and his wife Bobbi suggested we drive the 20 miles north to Ogallala, NE where there were h/motels and real restaurants. Bobbi said that the owner of the B&B was probably home when J knocked, but afraid to answer the door because it was a stranger. Who might knock on the door of a B&B? I wonder how often people they know stay at the B&B? Bill and Bobbi suggested a couple of Chinese restaurants in Ogallala. The weather along the drive was alarming. The wind was ripping at about 40 kts, the rain was going sidewise, and the clouds were sprouting teats trying to spawn tornados. In Ogallala we checked into a very nice western motif Holiday Inn with Wi-Fi knowing that Chinese food and Cuban cigars were in our future. Ogallala was the end of the cattle trail from Texas, and the end of our trail for the day.
Ogallala was a considerably larger town than Grant, but still not so large as to make driving every street a major undertaking. We located the Golden Village Chinese restaurant, and as luck would have it, across the street was a western motif saloon. I had images of a huge bar, peanut shells on the floor, floosies in flowing skirts, and draft beer.
The Chinese food was great. Having spent considerable time in the orient, J ordered and impressed the owner with his smattering of Mandarin. We both impressed the proprietor with the prodigous amount of food we put away. With our bellies full we left in anticipation of a short walk across the street to an appointment with a couple of Cubans.
It was late evening and the skies were a completely gray overcast. Winds had calmed and the temperature was about 60 F. The parking lot of the Saloon was hard packed dirt, recently wetted by hard rain. A couple cop cars were doing the worm in a corner of the lot and they eyed us with somewhat bored interest. The Saloon was at the end of a row of shops made up like an old west town, with wooden sidewalk and high, flat, straight topped facades. We mounted the sidewalk and our tennis shoes made little sound. I wished I had worn my boots and could enter the saloon sounding like A High Plains Drifter. A tug on the door of the saloon found it locked. Peering in through the window, I could see a room of people facing a small stage. A teenager was dressed like a pear-shaped clown, big orange feet, painted face, and a large red nose. I backed off from the door, then went back for another look. Also on the stage was a teenaged girl with stripped knee socks sitting in a huge straight backed wood chair, and swinging her legs like a child.
We walked to the next door which also opened into the Saloon. It too was locked. There were flanking windows that revealed some sort of gift shop. The Saloon was not a saloon, but a tourist trap selling trinkets and serving as a stage for a high school play. No floosies in flowing skirts, no free-flowing liquor, no smoke-filled room, and no pool tables. Just virgins and their parents. Damn!
So it was back across the dirt parking lot, past the worming cop cars, and into our U.S. Govt car. J started driving up and down the city streets looking for a bar. We started optimistically at the railroad tracks hoping to find the wrong side, but there was no wrong side of the tracks, only a highway. As we worked our way up town, and soon ran out of the central business district, we began to dispair. J turned left onto a main street and started up a small hill through a residential section. Sometimes the raunchy places were on the outskirts of town. Not this time. We passed a few cars and trucks leaving a low cinderblock building, but upon cursory inspection were disappointed by some sort of radio station or small government installation. We pulled off the road to consider.
Consideration did not conjour up a bar, so J pulled back out and continued up the hill and away from town. The road curved a bit, and J wanted to see what was around the bend. Then he wanted to see what was over the crest of the hill. Then he wanted to see what was at the end of the straight section. J is a "what's around the bend" type of guy, and left to his own proclivities we would have ended up somewhere in Wyoming.
It was getting dark and after about the third bend and second hill I was in despair. After another hill and another curve I was ready to call it quits. J wanted to press on. It wasn't like I had another appointment, so we rounded the bend and out of the corner of our eyes saw a lit neon Budweiser sign in the window of another low, cinder block building. The tires screeched. J threw the white Crown Vic into reverse and laid a bit of scratch backing onto the dirt parking lot for a possible quick getaway. A young woman poked her head out the door and checked out the squeal. We were home again.
Inside the ceiling was low, the walls and interior grimey. It felt much like someone's very large, self-renovated basement. There were 3 pool tables oriented and scattered where ever they would fit, bar, tables, and booths on one side and one end, with a small dance floor in the opposite corner. We snagged the last booth along the outside wall. The waitress came over and the beer selections was Budmillercoors or Budmillercoors light. We each ordered a Budmillercoors.
On the menu for the evening were a couple Rafael Gonzalez Lonsdales, 42 x 6.5" Cubans. We snipped the sticks, lit up, sipped our beers, and vultured for a pool table. As we smoked the place began to fill up. A DJ setup on the dance floor. A guy setup for airbrush tattoos. And, a keg was tapped just off the dance floor.
J & I snagged the pool table closest to the dance floor and next to the keg. We played a few games, rotated in a few locals, and discovered we had crashed a birthday party for the tattoo artist. For $5 you got all the beer you could drink, some sort of Budmillercoors, and you got a tattoo. This was appropriate as it was J's birthday too. I ponied up for his birthday.
While shooting pool a guy from California walked up to me and asked for a hit on my cigar.
"You want a hit on my cigar?!" I asked.
"Yeah, lemme try it."
"Hey man, real men don't hit off other men's cigars. They go get their own."
A girlie man for sure.
While shooting pool and drinking beer the RG was giving me some burn problems so I carefully, or obsessively, nursed the thing with constant spit and occasional flame. The crowd was liquoring up and getting looser and louder. Another guy came up to me after watching me nurse the burn on my bandless cigar for an hour. He said, "Hey man, that can't be tobacco."
I had no idea where this was going. "Ahhh, How so?"
"You're being way too careful with that thing. It's got to be something more valuable than tobacco." Wink, wink - nudge, nudge.
"No, man, it's just tobacco."
Guy shook his head, "Can't be. You ain't missing a toke. It's too valuable."
I held up the cigar and looked at it, then him, and said, "It is valuable. It's a Cuban."
For a moment he was startled. Then he leaned forward and looked closely at the stick, and standing back up straight, nodded, and said, "Yeah, it looks like a Cuban."
Beer almost came out my nose.
During a lull in the pool games, J and I walked over to get tatted up. I chose a spread eagle on my right bicep. He chose his wife's name. The tattoo "artist" lays a stencil on your arm and uses an airbrush and black paint. It's cold going on, then he powders it with talc to dry it. I am standing near the pool table with my sleeve rolled up displaying my new tat and I notice that right next to me is a guy in a sleeveless leather shirt with the same tattoo, but on his other arm. We leaned close together for a picture and I noted that my eagle looked better than his because the wings met at the back of my arm. He flexed his bicep to accentuate our difference and grinned a toothless grin. None of us were feeling any pain.
The Californian comes back. He picks up my beer, pours it out over the ice around the keg and proceeds to fill it for himself.
"Hey, man, that's my beer."
"Whhaa?" Pretty far gone.
"That's MY beer".
"Whaa?" Actually, totally gone.
"Keep it." I snag another glass.
J shot a hot stick that night, so I had some downtime between rounds. The girls started dancing together to the music the DJ was spinning, so I sat down at a table at the edge of the dance floor with a couple of other folks. The girls were getting down and shaking it. And when they discovered they had a willing and appreciative audience the long, lean corn-fed women went for broke.
Good lord, I let my cigar go out.
The Asshole Californian wandered back into the room. He was completely blotto'd. His eyes no longer tracked together. Clearly there was something much more than beer coursing through his bloodstream. He picks up my coat, shirt, and buttpack (smoke kit) and throws it on the floor, knocking my cigar on the floor. I've had enough of this ass and after retrieving my cigar I get in his face and ask, "Hey, man, you got a problem with me?"
"Whaa?" One eye may have briefly focused on me. The other kept wandering.
I jabbed my finger at him, "You want to suck my cigar, you steal my beer, then you throw my shit on the floor. You got a problem with me?"
"Whaa?" And he stumbles off, never to be seen again.
Sometime later, after more pool, more beer, and more dance appreciation we headed back to the hotel.
The above photo is of Grant, NE airport, GGF.
2005 June 05, Sunday
Took off from Grant (GGF) at 10 AM MDT into blue skies. Did a photo circut of the airport and headed off to intercept our intended course and then turn to a 313 heading. In about an hour we passed Chimney Rock (photo below),
and Scottsbluff, NE (BFF) (photo below). The terrain started to get interesting with flat rock and canyons.
In 2 hours, at midday, we made Douglas, WY (DGW) for fuel. As we had a good weather window, we did not dawdle here, but just took a bio-break, filled water bottles, and filled the gas tanks. This is the only airport at which I had Density Altitude concerns and they were well founded. The airport altitude is 4932', and it was over 90F. DA calculated to over 8000', and the plane was pretty heavy at max gross. I won't say it struggled into the air, but I will say I should not have filled the tanks, and I'm glad it wasn't a few degrees hotter. The runway is 6532' long and we used more of it than was comfortable. We only saw about 250 fpm off the runway, and then we settled some. We veered a bit off course just to stay over a road for the first 15 minutes while we nursed it into the air and took what updrafts presented themselves and fought the downdrafts.
In retrospect our first fuel stop should have been Sheridan, WY (SHR) at only 3800' altitude, but the weather had me spooked and I wanted lots of fuel in the tanks for flying over sparsely populated terrain in case we had to backtrack or go around weather. Let me again put in a plug for the TakeOff Performance Computer (TopComp) described at http://www.primetab.com/flying/flying.topcomp.html. The calculated takeoff distances were accurate and I consulted it often.
Eventually we managed 10500' for parts of this northwesterly leg to Billings, MT under scattered cumulus. We easily dodged a couple isolated thunderstorms which are easy to spot. The Rockies were to the west with weather clearly visible in the distance. 45 minutes out of Douglas, WY we overflew the Crazy Woman VOR (CZI), and about 45 minutes later we overflew the Sheridan VOR (SHR). To the west of our course from CZI past SHR was the Big Horn National Forest (photo below),
and halfway between Sheridan, WY and Billings, MT is the Yellowtail Dam (photo below).
Refueled in Billings, MT (BIL) at an elevation of 3652'. Billings is an interesting town and airport. The airport lies on a long, flat plateau that splits the town in half. The photo below is from Google Earth.
Taking off from Billings the Density Altitude was noticable, but it was not the issue that it was at DGW. At Billings our course changed from the northwest heading we had been holding since New Orleans to nearly due true west. Again, grabbed as much sky as possible and parallelled the Gallatin National Forest to the south, where weather was evident (photo below).
Flight Service indicated we were racing a line of thunderstorms into Bozeman, so we kept aware of the location of the nearest airports, checked with Flight Service often for weather updates, and kept a close eye on the ominous weather to the south. The leg from Billings to Bozeman was only 110 NM, and so only a little over an hour flight time. As we approached Bozeman the Bridger Range was to our north where blue sky beckoned (photo below).
We briefly discussed the idea of diverting north around the Bridgers and landing in Helena, MT (HLN), but this would have greatly delayed our landing and given the thunderstorms more time to catch up with us. Flight Service indicated the radar rain returns were still some distance to our south so we throttled up and pressed on.
Cruising at 9500' and making a ground speed of nearly 120 kts we clearly had a tailwind. Over the Livingston VOR (LVM) and 30 NM out of Bozeman the first rain squall cleared the mountains to the south and we watched it progress in our direction. Visibility was still excellent and the plane could use a washing. We started our descent just clearing the last ridge before Bozeman as the first raindrops rattled the airframe (photo below).
Landing at Bozeman was a a straight in on runway 30 with a Citation close on our heels. The tower asked us to move it along, and I had a lot of altitude to lose, so at about 1/2 mile final we were still doing 130 kts. Pulled up, dropped 3 notches of flaps in quick succession, and crossed the threshold at close to 100 kts (my standard being 65 kts). Had plenty of runway (9000') to bleed off speed and settled nicely and gently and slowly to the runway for a very fine landing. The Citation touched down a minute behind us. We landed a little after 4PM with 6.0 hours flight time from GGF. The photo below is of BZN from Google Earth.
After we tied down on the tarmac, the guys at Arlin's Aircraft Service at the Bozeman airport were very friendly and helpful. They spent considerable time with us, recommending steak restaurants, hotels, and future fishing holes. As the weather was forecast to be inclement, they promised to move the plane indoors if the weather got really bad. J rented a Toyota Forerunner which was delivered to the plane. We loaded in and headed out.
We cruised thru town checking a few hotels on the way. At one hotel near town the moron behind the counter was chatting on the phone as we walked in. Eye contact was made. Much shuffling of feet and glancing at watches was demonstrated. All to no avail so after many minutes waiting we walked out. Ended up someplace else. A nice hotel with wireless internet in each room and a rugged, warm lobby with a complimentary computer kiosk. Internet connectivity was always high on my list of hotel features, as I was understandably obsessed with the weather.
Dispatched to our repective rooms, I indulged my obsession and checked the next day's forecast at various weather sites. The evening and next day did not look promising. J got settled in his room then went to the lobby, grabbed a pint of Moose Drool Ale, sat down at the complementary broadband connection and checked emails. We all have our obsessions. Another of my obsessions is napping, and after checking in with J, I succumbed. J drank and read in the lobby and bar.
I arose from my repose with a powerful hunger and thirst. We loaded into the Forerunner. J being our ground pilot, took the wheel and we went out in search of seared flesh. One of the places the guy's at Arlin's had recommended had a vomit splattered entry way, which, taking as a good sign, we gingerly navigated and entered. It looked less like a steak joint and more like a seedy dive with rather unkept patrons, and a sticky floor. We felt right at home. While getting our bearings a couple college-aged hotties past by, walked to the back of the bar and headed up a flight of stairs. I looked at J, J looked at me, and we raced each other to the stairs. Upstairs there was a rooftop eatery filled with college kids having a good time. Our entry close on the heels of the hotties was met with idle interest from the patrons. We found a table and within a few minutes were both freezing, so we said good night to the hotties, negotiated the narrow twisting stairwell back into the bar, artfully avoided the apparently refreshed vomit in the entry way and continued down the street in search of steak and a cigar.
We ended up at a rather fru-fru pub/restaurant/pool parlor. At this point we were both weak with hunger and settled for whatever we could find. At least it was warm. I hit it off right away with the barmaid by sending my beer back to be filled.
I'll admit to another obsession. When I order a pint, damn it, I want a pint! I don't want part of a pint. I don't want to see an inch of head or an inch of air. The first 3/4" of a standard pint glass in the states is about 4 ounces. If I wanted a schooner I would have ordered a schooner. I wanted a pint and I ordered a pint. These so-called "pint" glasses are a pint to the absolute lip, and you better get my pour within an 1/8" of the lip. The Brits have the right attitude about a beer pour. First, they use REAL 22 ounce beer glasses. And second, in Britain it is a matter of law - the glass is filled to the line. It should be so here in the states. If our worthless politicians in the states really wanted to do something to enhance the quality of life, they would take time from their shell games of taxes and social security and medicare, and pass a Pint Law.
Adding insult to injury the place was non-smoking - in Montana of all places. No Marlboro men in sight. What are we coming to? We made an early night of it, and retired to the hotel sans a cigar.
That night we had some serious weather, the remnants of which hung on into the morning. Indulging my weather obsession I lived online throughout the morning and into the afternoon with frequent trips out to the parking lot to ponder the sky. Finally, around 1PM I made the call to head out to the airport and see what we could see. We were off in a flash.
As we drove up to the airport entrance to the tarmac, we found the electric gate locked in the up position so we drove out to the plane. While J performed his unload/load routine, I preflighted the plane. By then we were a well oiled machine. While returning the car and gassing up we learned the previous night's weather had taken a toll on the infrastructure. Lightning had struck the electronic gate and blew out the controls. Lightning had also hit the parking lot on the other side of the fence and left a nice burned spot. As good as their word the night attendents had gotten the tug out to move the plane, but the squall passed.
June in the Rockies.
2005-06-06, Monday BZN-ELN
Took off from Bozeman, MT at 2:15 MDT into overcast skies at about 4000 AGL, winds NW at 10 kts, temperature about 15 C, visibility good under the overcast. Our decision was too get as far as we could on our (Bozeman,MT - Helena,MT - Missoula,MT - Coeur d'Alene,ID (BZN-HLN-MSO-COE) route. There are two ridges of about 6500' on the route, the first is MacDonald Pass 16 nm WSW of Helena, the second is Mullan Pass 71 nm WNW of Missoula. Again, we would take the route one airport at a time, knowing at all times where our nearest potential landing site was, both ahead and behind. We would make good use of Flight Service for weather updates of the route ahead. This strategy had got us out of Hays, KS and safely into Grant, NE in the face of historic thunderstorms.
Weather forecasts for Helena and Missoula were pretty good with generally 5000' AGL overcast ceilings, light winds, some light rain moving around in squalls, and the potential for icing at 9000' and above. Coeur d'Alene was going in and out of low clouds when we left, and the weather to the west of Missoula was not as good. As we all know weather forecasts are often of dubious quality and the Rocky Mountains are nortorious for fickle weather. If we could not make the 75 nm to Helena, MT, the plan was to return to Bozeman or if it closed up behind us take one of the two small airports between Bozeman and Helena.
Bozeman is at about 4500' and with the cold air temperature, density altitude at 5600' was not much of an issue. As we climbed NW out of Bozeman and passed through small patches of light rain, it became apparent that the weather at Helena was better than that at Bozeman. 15 NM NNW of BZN we crossed a 5500' ridge and the Missouri River valley opened ahead of us. 20 NM in the distance we could see the south end of Canyon Ferry Lake and broken clouds and sunlight beyond into Helena.
Over the center of the south part of the Lake we turned more westward and contacted Helena Approach. Helena was under an 8500' MSL broken ceiling with visibility over 50 nm. Helena Approach was very friendly and helpful supplying us with a weather update and alternate frequencies for Flight Service. They simply asked us to report over or abeam the field, then after flyover report 15 nm out, just at McDonald Pass. MacDonald Pass is visible in the distance.
From Helena our next potential airport was Deer Lodge (38S) about 40 nm out. Our first high point on the route, MacDonald Pass was a non-event. Checked with Great Falls RCO for a weather update and not much had changed. Here the overcast was solid and flat at about 11,000 feet, so we cruised along at 10,000 feet and had visibility of 50 miles or more in our direction of travel with a 10 knot headwind. To the south of our course there was severe weather over the higher peaks of the Rockies, but it was hardly moving. At the town of Garrison the view was stunning to the south down the wide valley through which passed I-90.
A couple of rain squalls could be seen. Weather to the south was of some concern, but the ceiling looked stable as far as we could see, with spotty light rain/snow and virga. We turned slightly northward with I-90 below, and pressed on to the next airport, a turf strip at Drummond (DRU). The terrain turned decidedly more mountainous. Our next airport was a private turf strip near Ravenna, MT along I-90. It is somewhere in the photo which is looking SW. The highway is I-90.
From Ravenna, I-90 travels WNW to Missoula, MT, here visible 20 NM away under the overcast.
As we passed Missoula and checked in with Missoula approach we informed ATC of our intended route passing over the Mullan Pass VOR. The controller said, "here's a notice I've never seen before. It says the Mullan VOR is decommissioned." This points out the advisability of planning multiple navigation fixes and methods. We still had a DI and wet compass. No one expects a VOR to be "decommissioned". We tracked the Missoula VOR outbound until we lost the signal, and of course I-90 was plainly visible as was Mullan Pass.
The overcast was breaking up to the south as we approached Smelterville. Here is a photo looking SW down the Coeur d'Alene River which joins Lake Coeur d'Alene in the distance.
Here we turned more northward to finally break out of the overcast just before Coeur d'Alene. Here we are right over Huckleberry Mountain, with Hayden Lake in the distance.
We executed a 360 over Hayden Lake for separation from traffic and did a straight in on runway 23. The weather at Coeur d'Alene was beautiful, with scattered cumulus in blue sky. We gassed up, drained our bladders, filled our water bottles, and breathed a sigh of relief that the Rocky Mountains were behind us. We were on the ground at COE for about 45 minutes, most of that time learning the trick to getting the gas pump working.
Coeur d'Alene is a large untowered airfield about 30 NM east of Spokane International and Fairchild Air Force Base, both Class C airspaces. So after taking off from runway 23 at COE we contacted Spokane Approach and were vectored north of both airspaces on a westward course through some fairly bumpy air. The weather was scattered to broken cumulus and warm, a very pleasant day in Eastern Washington.
Our planned route took us nearly due west and south of Lake Roosevelt and the Grand Coulee Dam and across Banks lake, very familiar territory. Both these photos are from other flights. The Grand Coulee shot is looking south to Banks Lake, and the Banks Lake shot is looking north to Grand Coulee.
However as we crossed over Banks Lake it became apparent we had rather inclement weather over the Cascades. Flight service confirmed very low clouds on the west side of the mountains. We still held out hope, but as we approached Lake Chelan it was clear we were not crossing Stevens Pass.
A discussion ensued as to our best course of action. We had a number of airports to our east to which we could retreat, so we decided to turn south and see if we could get across the Cascade Mountains over Snoqualmie Pass. Ellensburg (ELN) was a nice alternate as we knew where to eat, shoot pool, and have a cigar in Ellensburg. We briefly discussed continuing south and going up the Columbia gorge, but that route was fraught with lots of uncertainty, potential high headwinds, low clouds, and few airfields. The decision was made to check out Snoqualmie Pass and overnight in Ellensburg if necessary, and divert to Ephrata if Ellensburg was not possible.
As we crossed the Wenatchee River and the mountains to the west of the river it was clear Snoqualmie Pass was unpassable, but ELN was fine, so we were going to Ellensburg.
I call Ellensburg's runway 11/29 "the great white way", because it is white concrete and is visible a long way off. (Photo above looking south). We tuned the ELN ASOS and found the winds rather brisk, variable, and favoring runway 07. The traffic frequency confirmed the runway in use was 07. Here I made my only mistake of the trip. As we approached 07 on the 45 a very small rain squall was clearly visible over the downwind leg to 07 moving east. We were at pattern altitude, 1000 AGL, as we rolled onto a left downwind heading west and into the squall. Immediately we started to loose altitude. It was a micro-burst, with lots of cold air being pulled down with the rain and us with it. Lots of up elevator slowed, but did not stop our descent. Then full power and maximum up elevator and we were still descending, albeit slowly. Just as I was about to turn out of the pattern to the north, we cleared the squall and started to gain altitude. As we turned to final the tiny squall could be seen moving off to the east. The damned thing looked to be only a few 1000 feet in diameter. The landing was uneventful and welcome. It was a tense 30 seconds, a loss of about 400 feet of altitude, and a humbling, learning experience.