Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Putting my Head in the Clouds

I am down in Goldsboro, NC working towards my instrument rating. It is nice to be down here in the sun and warmth compared to the freezing rain that was coming down in Lawrenceville when I left there yesterday morning.

An instrument rating allows you to fly in weather that is cloudy or rainy as opposed to the visual/good weather flying that I am limited to now. I passed my written exam last week in Princeton and now I am down here wrapping up my instrument flight training in Glodsboro. It was an interesting first day and my mind is starting to get wrapped around the information (and it is a LOT of information). I finished up the day with flying 3 perfect ILS approaches in a row. God, that feels really good.

Looking forward to what tomorrow brings...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Spirit of St. Louis

Well it has been way to long since I have sat down to add to this blog. I am thinking that I will start again today and try to go back over the next week or so and fill in some of my adventures since August; there have been a lot!

Right now it is early morning and I am sitting in St. Louis about to fly a friend's plane back to NJ for him. It is a great Piper Cherokee 180 that he bought last week down in Houston. We flew it up from Houston to here in St. Louis as we made our way along the western boundary of a large storm system that was moving up the east coast. Now a few days later I am here in St. Louis again at the Spirit of St. Louis airport on the SW edge of the city.

I am hoping to make it back to Lawrenceville this afternoon but hazy conditions persist over the whole region and as a VFR pilot I need to have good visibility for a safe flight. I will be taking it easy and will try to follow the good weather as I head east bound. It looks like I will try to head towards Lexington, KY and then over to West Virginia and north up the west side of the Appalachians to Pennsylvania and then turn east for home. The cloud base will keep me low it looks like (3000' and below) so I will need to be aware of towers and mountains along my route of flight. Neither one of those interact very favorably with an airplane. :)

Alright, I am going to walk over to the airport and get this show on the road, er... I mean in the air!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Technical Difficulties

Our trip has been wonderful so far. We are in Alberta and should be in British Columbia by tonight.

We stayed in Edmonton last night and were able to witness the electrical power of a super-cell storm over the top of us. 3 storms converged over the Alberta prarie directly over Edmonton and unleashed their fury: rain, hail, lightning and wind. I watched it all unfold from the picture window of our 7th floor hotel room.

Canada is much more desolate than I expected. The fabled Trans-Canadian highway is not the interstate that I expected but just a small 2 and 4 lane highway with little traffic. Computer access in a number of places has been unreliable and the WiFi in our hotel last night did not work. I am typing this up again on my phone at 75mph (120 kph) while Amy drives. We are just outside of Fox Creek, AB.

A more detailed post when I can do it...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Terrace Bay

We drove 900 miles today! Twice we went for stretches that were 180 miles with no gas station. One of those stretches only had two structures the whole way! It was beautiful and Amazing.

Amy and I are both struck by the beauty of the north shore of Lake Superior. The terrain here is so rugged and remote. Cliffs dropping down into the water a shoreline that goes for miles and miles with no houses or boats in sight. It looks like the Maine coast or the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound. Who knew? :)

As we drove along one remote section of the highway a black bear came out into the road right in front of us. It was so cool and cute. It turns out that it is the first black bear that Amy has ever seen. She was exited and worried for it at the same time. A cool experience and sure not to be our last.

We are now camped at a site in Terrace Bay, ON. I am sitting by the tent and typing this up on my phone in the dark. There is a large trailer with "Live Bear Trap" printed in big letters on the side with the door propped open. Is this a sign??? :) We have a big drive ahead of us tomorrow and I will type more when I get to a spot where I can. Now to sleep under the stars...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Neverland Farm

Ok, so we got sidetracked! That is what happens when the magical powers of Neverland come into your life. You throw your cares to the wind and end up following whimsical fantasies that take you to wonderful places. That is what happened for us today.

First, let me back up to the shores of Lake Erie where we found ourselves this morning. We had a great time at our friends' home and slept like babies. In the middle of the night a wonderful rain storm came through and dropped a tropical amount of rain with hardly any wind. The rain just poured down and in the distance, out of ear-shot, lightning flashed and danced.

We had a leisurely start to our morning and I went for a swim in the waters of the great lake before me. Having grown up on the salty waters of the Gulf of Mexico it caused a bit of cognitive dissonance to swim in an "inland ocean" but not have the familiar taste of salt on my lips. It was like a dream: almost familiar but something was off. Regardless, it was a little piece of heaven.

We loaded up the car and anticipated the big day of driving before us. We got about 30 min down the road and saw the signs for Niagara Falls. "Wait a minute! We have got to see the falls!" So, off we went on a little side trip over to the falls.

Water moves over the falls in a northerly direction as water from Lake Erie moves through the Niagara River on its way to Lake Ontario. There are no good words for me to describe the natural wonder that we laid our eyes upon. It is power exemplified. It was beautiful to behold but we had to move onward so our time there was short. We will be back for sure as, Jerry, my travel partner on my trip last month has told me that it is a great place to fly to from our home.

As we drove out of the brash and gaudy commercialism that surrounds this natural wonder, I gave my friend Jess a call to say that I was sorry that we were not going to get to see her on this trip. Jess is from Toronto and had spent the majority of the summer there and just by random chance had left only days before to head back to her teaching job in the states. When I gave her a call to say "bummer" she extended the opportunity for Amy and I to head to her family's summer home in the hills an hour and a half northwest of Toronto. With a little talk of "Hmmm, should we?" we decided what the hell, let's go!

We pulled into Neverland Farm in the early afternoon and were literally just stunned into silence at the beauty of this little Victorian house on 60 acres sitting high on a ridge. It's perch is a thousand feet above the valley below and the view is simply arresting. We whiled away the hours walking on the paths, swimming in the pond, sleeping in the hammock, and just soaking in our time together. Sebastian slept in the grass and looked like he never wanted to leave; neither do we.

This house is steeped in Jess' family's deep love of this place. Pictures of family, loved ones, and every friend that has ever visited the place (literally), decorate the walls. It is a shrine to love and to family and to living a good life. To walk here is to walk on hallowed ground and we feel blessed that we have been invited to do so. Thanks Jess and Andy.

Tonight, as we retire, Neverland Farm has one more childhood fantasy awaiting us: there is a pristinely restored bright red caboose in the yard converted into the ultimate guest house. Jess told us that we could use any room in the house but where do you think we are going to sleep? All aboard...!!!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Alaska or Bust!

Amy and I are on the road and headed for the great state of Alaska via Canada! We left today around noon and made good time on the road towards our first stop at our friends' house south of Toronto on Lake Erie.

We have our husky Sebastian with us in the car and he is doing great as always. He is so mellow on a road trip and is going to finally make it to the state where he should have lived in his doggy fantasies.

Then, five miles outside of Buffalo, NY, a moment of painful clarity hit us: we forgot to bring the paperwork for Sebastian! Here we are about to try to cross the boarder into a foreign country and we have no documentation on this canine in the backseat. Oy!

As we sat in line at the boarder crossing we were working out all of the possible outcomes in our minds; everything from having the vet fax documents to us in the morning to driving across the US instead and leaving Sebastian with a friend in Washington State.

Fate would have it that we ended up with the coolest boarder agent that I have ever encountered in all of my travels! A few quick questions, a "relax, it's okay" smile, and 5 min later we were cruising into Canada and at our friends' house 20 min later. Amazing! Thank you, thank you, thank you...

The view from Dave's family's place is so peaceful. After wonderful drive down a little enchanted lane you come to their summer home. The house sits high up on a sand dune with a vast vista of Lake Erie spread before it. This is the kind of place where you could stay awhile.

We had a great meal, wonderful stories and laughter, and chats that went into the night lit by candlelight. Now, as I prepare to go to bed and type up this post on my cellphone (no internet here) Sebastian lays curled up at my feet, Amy sleeps in the bed beside me, and the first day of our trip comes to a close. I wonder what tomorrow has in store?

In the morning: headed towards Winnipeg...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Home Through a Cloud Forest

Clouds have always been intangible objects of the physical world; we can see them but they evade our touch high above. If they do happen down to kiss this earth then our hands and our minds fumble if we try to grasp hold. A mystery surrounds us whether we are gazing from afar at their lofty hights and billowing shapes or if we are wallowing within their grey envelope spread across the land.

That to me is one of the most magical things about flying; clouds are no longer wonders in the distance but rather cottony companions in the boundless sky. They spread out below you like a shining white sheet; underneath lies shadow, above a brilliant white. They billow and create mountains and canyons on every side, a new adventure around every corner. They separate into delicate layers and when you ride in between them you feel as though you alone are privy to this secret world. Then, with a jolt of adrenaline, you race towards them tearing across the sky at over 200 mph and in the instant that your brain anticipates a collision, the world disappears and you are surrounded in a soft white; slight jolts of internal air currents rocking your wings. Is there anything closer than this to living in a dream?

This was my world as Jerry and I left Oshkosh and headed home: a world of white. A tailwind blew out of southern Canada and pushed us along 41 knots faster than our little engine could. Our groundspeed topped out at 300mph. It was to be our fastest leg of the whole trip. As I gazed out my window to the south I thought of this trip and our time spent seeing this country and family and friends along the way. In three weeks we had pushed ourselves, our plane, and the boundaries of what is conceived to be possible. What was so special about this trip? Only that we did it. We did not let a dream of an experience fade away into the dustbin of the day-to-day. It is incredible what you can accomplish when you just simply do what you want to accomplish. It is that simple act alone that that can transform your life. It is all about choices; everyday you can start anew.

As we began our decent from 17,000 ft towards our loved ones waiting for us below, a cumulus layer came fast upon us. The bases were probably 5 or 6,000 ft above the ground; the tops of a few of those clouds stretched 5,000ft above that. It was the perfect picture of a forest, only in white. It was a wilderness which I have yet to explore. I have had the good fortune to live a significant part of my life in the wild lands of the world. Now I turn my face to the sky and eagerly anticipate my next level of pilot's licence (instrument) and my ability to dance with the clouds at will.

Now to dance into the arms of my wife Amy...

My next adventure begins on August 3rd when Amy and I depart in our car to drive across Canada to Alaska with our dog Sebastian. We will spend a month flying a small plane all around the state. Tune in then for more blog updates! All the best to you...


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Spirit of Aviation

The day started early for me as I rolled off the couch at Cindy and Mark's at 5:30am.

For the past 20 plus years, Cindy and Mark have been opening their home to EAA AirVenture travelers during the last week of July. Now they orchestrate a little compound in their neighborhood consisting of 3 houses. They rent out every available sleeping place within going from bedrooms to couches to the foam padded tops of hot tubs. It is a great community of people that gather and we all share in the hospitality that Cindy and Mark offer. Their house is only a mile away from the airport and they give us rides over to and rides back from the event and provide us breakfast and set up dinners with the group. It is great fun for everyone and a good community of friends.

Anyway, back to 5:30am. You may wonder why in the hell I needed to get up that early. It was not was not because I was bouncing out of bed to see more planes. My early rise was due to the fact that months before EAA had sent out an email to it's members requesting that if any of us were going to be around for AirVenture they were wondering if we would be able to help them out modeling some clothes for their annual clothing catalog. I responded and now fast forward 5 months and the reality of the situation was staring me in the face way to early in the morning!

One of my fellow housemates, Tex, drove me over to the grounds at 6am. I met a great couple from Texas who were getting photos at the same time. The three of us went out in the early morning light with the photographer and the coordinator and had our 2 min of fame in front of a few cool old warbirds. By 7:30am it was all over and another day of soaking it all in was in front of me.

I met up with Jerry and we headed down to the ultralight area. Even though I was here last year for an entire week with my dad I never made it down to the ultralights. There is just so much to see that in that whole week I felt like I only saw 60% of what was available, if that much. Jerry and I checked out a lot of cool things but we never did find what we were looking for. Jerry used to have a powered parachute years ago (http://buckeyedragonfly.com). We found the powered parachutes and such but we never did find the the powered paragliders. This is what I am interested in. Any time you want you can just strap one on your back and go. This is what I want to do! Enjoy the music! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYhYkrQ18_Y&feature=related. Oh well. I am still getting one! :)

Later in the day Jerry and I took advantage of a free helicopter ride that we had come about the day before. It was short but great to get up above the crowds and see the whole event from the air. Today's picture is from that 5 min ride.

After looking around at a few last things I joined my friend John Eckel to watch the day's air show. We were amazed as always. At the end of the air show they opened up the airport again to landing traffic. As we began to walk back to the car a little after 6pm we heard an unusual sound from the runway we turned around and saw a business jet making a very steep left turn to the runway only a couple hundred feet above the ground. It was unusual but the jet seemed to recover and descend to the runway. We continued on our way but then heard another unusual sound. We turned around but could not see anything because of the parked planes. We just continued on and wrote it off. When we got back to the house we found out that it had in fact been Jack Roush (famous NASCAR team owner and aviator)and that he had crashed his plane on landing. Both he and his friend survived the crash but the plane was totaled and he was hurt pretty bad. Seems like he will be okay but a scary situation all around. We won't know what happened until the investigation is completed but from the little bit that I saw it seemed like he was far from a stabilized approach. I wish him the best of luck in his recovery.

We finished up the evening at a great restaurant called Kodiak Jacks. As we were eating we realized that they were starting a karaoke night! Jerry was excited and jumped up in no time to sing a song and dedicate it to his wonderful partner of 14 years, Susan. Very sweet. later after a few more drinks and many more laughs Jerry sang a song to our hostess Cindy. Cindy has a personality bigger than any room that she is in and an incredible sense of humor. That is why Jerry knew that he could get away with singing her the song, "That Lady is a Tramp". It was a riot and the whole restaurant was laughing so hard that they were wiping away tears at the end. In the end I tried my hand at the karaoke mic for the first time in what has to be 15 years. Let's just say that it left a lot to be desired. :) The last time that I even saw karaoke was when I was crossing the north Atlantic on a merchant ship in 2002 and the Philippino crew would get drunk and sing "The Rose" while sobbing and crying. It was quite an experience. :)

This was my last day in Oshkosh for this year but no matter what I will be back next year for sure. How could I not come? This place truly is the spirit of aviation and that same spirit resides within me.

Tomorrow: home and into Amy's arms.

Monday, July 26, 2010


There is simply no way that I can put into words the size, scope, and excitement of the largest aviation gathering in the world. Jerry asked me a few days ago, "How big is this event? How many football fields do you think it would cover?" After thinking about it for a minute I responded with, "10,000." I should have added, "At least..."

For the week of the event over 8,000 airplanes land at the Oshkosh, WI airport making it the busiest airport in the world. In fact, the FAA gives a special waiver to the event and allows up to three separate planes to land at one time at three separate spots on the same runway. This happens nowhere else in the world.

Instead of trying to describe it to you I am going to find some links and videos so that you can discover it for yourself. Even better, bring the yourself or your family out Oshkosh and experience it first hand. Even if you know nothing about flying you will absolutly love it.


A great overview of the planes:
A video narrated by Harrison Ford. Has great aerial views of most of the event:

The best aerobatic performer in the world. A fantastic video:
Incredible. Notice the vertical takeoff. Mindblowing:

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Jerry is a dentist and he and his assistant have found that they have had to find ways to say certain things in front of patients in order to convey information that they really don't want the patients to understand. They have come up with various codes, one of which is FO1. Well, today I found out the true meaning of what it means to be FO1.

Ben, the owner of the FBO, picked us up at our hotels in Custer (we could not find two rooms at the same place) at 7am. We made our way over to the airport to get things ready for our departure we saw a handful of hot air balloons floating over the ridge. They had gone up early for a sunrise flight. How cool is that? As we approached the airport we saw that one of the balloons had landed right at the end of the runway and was sitting there with its balloon fully inflated. That would be considered an obstacle right? Lori, Ben's wife, had made these incredible buttermilk-blueberry muffins that were literally the best muffins that I have ever had. We finished up our final details, went to the bathroom, and decided that we were ready for the flight to the Oshkosh area. We settled on arriving at the Appleton, WI airport because my friend Cindy (who was going to be our hostess for the next few nights along with her husband Mark) had said that she could come and pick us up there.

As we taxied out to the runway I realized that I already had one major problem; I realized that I already felt like I had to pee again and we had not yet even departed! Add to that that this flight from Custer, SD to Appleton, WI was going to be our longest leg of the trip yet to date: 4 HOURS!!! Oh, this was bad...

Well, off we went heading east. As we cruised over the agricultural lands of the Great Plains we enjoyed passing the time telling stories, looking out over the vast landscape below, and singing along with bluegrass music streaming in over the XM radio. All of this was helping me stave off the growing pressure in my bladder. At two hours after departure I was thinking, " Wow, this is starting to be really uncomfortable." At three hours in I was thinking, "Dear God." By the fourth hour there was really nothing else on my mind. It was almost transcendent, kind of a like a meditation on pain. Think: walking on hot coals or hanging from from body piercings.

Our arrival into Appleton was as smooth as could be. It was very easy and well organized. We were able to get a tiedown on the asphalt like Jerry had wanted. As soon as we pulled off the runway I had my seatbelt off and was ready to jump out. That is just what I did as we turned off the engine. Sweet relief!

Cindy picked us up and we headed back to their house in Oshkosh. After a little down time there and the arrival of three more guest who had just flown up on a DC-3 from Georgia we all headed out to the locally famous Wendt's on the Water for some fresh fried perch and Moose Drool beer. It was wonderful. As we all finished up with our dinner and the conversation was winding down, I walked out onto the restaurants dock alone. Lake Winnebago spread out before me, its waters smooth like glass. Seagulls called in the distance from the little island where they roost overnight. As I reached the end of the dock, the full moon began to rise above the distant opposite shore. Everything was absolute calm and peace. It feels so good to be here again and to feel the excitement the night before the opening of the largest aviation show in the world. Last year was my first time here and now just one year later if feels like the old familiar.

Tomorrow: to the show!

Oh, and what does FO1 stand for??? Full Of #1 (Pee)!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Faces in the Stone

What does forever mean? Nothing really last forever, we all know that. But there are ways that we humans try to preserve the meaningful moments of our short existence here on this earth. Thoreau wrote in his book Walden that he believes a person writes down what is immortal to him/her. The words on a page (or on the internet) can live beyond the existence of the author, and the marks of a chisel taken to stone last well beyond the time of bones turning to dust. These are some of the thoughts that floated through my mind as my eyes gazed upon the faces carved into the granite of the 14 million year old Black Hills of South Dakota.

Mt. Rushmore was the vision of sculptor Gutzon Borglum. The granite chips began to fall away in 1927 and by the fall of 1941 the last boulders had rolled down the hill. There, gazing east over the nation from their high perch, the faces of four of the most influential founding fathers look with a quiet resoluteness at the plains below. It is an arresting site to behold; it is also a controversial one.

The sacred Black Hills of South Dakota were granted by treaty to the Lokota tribe in 1868 in perpetuity. Just eight years later the USA reassessed the meaning of "perpetuity" and took the hills again by force in the Great Sioux War of 1876. Then fifty years later, in what was seen as the ultimate slap in the face, the bust of four of the nation's presidents (all of which presided during the expansion of the nation and the subsequent domination of the west) were forever carved into the holy hills of the Dakotas. As I take in this awesome sight before me there is no way that I cannot be cognisant of all that it represents: joy, valor, pride, vision, horror, tears, and blood.

On the other side of the Black Hills another monument is taking shape. This one will be the largest mountain carving in all of human history. It is the mighty chief Crazy Horse atop his steed. He too faces the east but the rising sun falls on his stony eyes after the four white men before him. Will his horse ever allow him to catch up? I guess only the passing eons will tell.

Jerry and I departed Jackson Hole early in the morning for our flight to the east. As we climbed over the mountains into the rays of the morning sun, we made our way over the last mountain range of our travels (after being out west for these two weeks the Appalachians are going to look like beautiful hills when we cross them on Wednesday), the fabled Wind Rivers of Wyoming. This is a relatively small range but its ruggedness makes it look like it was transplanted here from Alaska. In fact it's sharp peaks held the only glaciers (albeit small glaciers) that we saw on our whole trip. Then just as fast as they were there, they were gone; slipping behind us in the west and waiting for our next travels to explore their secrets.

We continued on and soon found ourselves passing over our destination airport of Custer, WY on our way to overfly Mt. Rushmore. I have to say that I always thought of Mt. Rushmore as this massive monument visible from hundreds of miles away. it is not. It does have a size that creates an incredible sense of awe from the ground but from the air the 60' high faces are hardly discernible and it took us a good 10 minutes of changing vectors from ATC before we could make out this legendary sight. Good thing that it has a big parking lot otherwise I don't think that we would have found it! :)

When we landed at Custer Airport the couple that ran the FBO (Sierra Delta Aviation) Ben & Lori Baum could not have been more helpful and accomadating. They were set up with food and refreshments for pilots on their way to Oshkosh and they went over the top to get us what we needed. They are set up for camping on the field with showers in the office and everything. So, all you pilots out there, make sure that you put down Custer as a stop on your next adventure.

We headed into town and got some of the last rooms available. With Sturgis right around the corner Custer was a happing place. We contacted a local tour company and after a little negotiation they picked us up and drove us over to see the monument 30 miles away. I have already chronicled my feelings about being a this amazing place but it was truly incredible. Jerry and I both agreed that our driver Tom was the perfect representation of small town SD life. He was great and took us on some roads that we would never have seen otherwise.

Sleep will come fast tonight. It has been a long day and I look forward to my dreams of the faces carved in stone...

Tomorrow: across the planes to the largest aviation gathering in the world, Oshkosh's AirVenture!

Friday, July 23, 2010

They Call it the Great Basin

Imagine an inland sea that stretched from the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California all the way to the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. 14 million years ago majestic Lake Bonneville was just that; a vast expanse of water filled with all kinds of wonderful creatures. Eventually the earth continued its metamorphosis and most of the lake drained away. Today you can still find the last remnants of this natural wonder in the briny waters of the Great Salt Lake. It has left other unique features like the Carson Sink and the world famous Bonneville Salt Flats. Well, today we were able to cast the shadow of our little plane from one side of this ancient sea-floor to the other.

Under the oceans of the world there are great expanses of sand broken occasionally by mountain ranges here and there. Volcanoes and geothermal hot-spots bubble and smoke in the great depths. This is what our eyes looked upon for the duration of our flight today; a sea sucked dry. Mountains smoothed by the constant motions of water over their peaks, deserts with varying colors and textures, black lava flows and eroding craters. Occasionally we could even make out the demarcation where the shoreline used to be. It was all stunning.

We departed Lake Tahoe early in the morning. The light in the fresh alpine air made all the mountains around us stand out in stark relief. We climbed out over the lake (which is as long as the English Channel is wide) and made a gentle bank to the right and Nevada. As soon as you cross the lake the ground falls away into the Great Basin. Reno was to our left and Carson City to our right. The landscape that I described above just scrolled by underneath us.

We crossed over into Idaho after a short while and could easily see Twin Falls 30 miles to the left. The mountains of Idaho stretched away to the north and I thought of the special time that I spent in them last October while on my 40 day 40 night solo backpacking trip (vision quest) in the Bitterroot Mountains. We headed on towards the West Yellowstone airport in Montana. As we were getting closer we suddenly noticed the sharp teeth of the jagged Tetons 100 miles in the distance reaching up darkly into the haze.

We continued on and soon had the West Yellowstone airport in sight. We landed, rented a car, and drove 35 miles into Yellowstone National Park. Neither Jerry nor I had ever been there before and we were both really excited to see some of this country's greatest natural wonders. We had to make a couple of stops on the way but soon arrived at Old Faithful to see if she would be faithful once again. She was, and with perfect timing. Not 3 minutes after we arrived at the observation area Old Faithful burst forth with all of her glory for us and the thousands of other people who had been waiting 90 minutes to see her display.

Soon afterwards we headed to another location and had a wondrous time walking around the Opal Pool and the Grand Prismatic Spring, the later of which had one of the most unusual and striking features that I have ever seen. The steam that rose up from it's 160 degree waters actually was colored. Not like the colors of a rainbow but it refracted the intense hues of the spring below: red, aquamarine blue, lime green. I have absolutely never seen anything like it.

After our great experiences in the park we headed back to the airport for the second leg of our trip to Jackson Hole. As we were preparing to get in the plane one of the helicopters fighting a small forest fire in the park took off. It was an Erickson Sky Crane and was an absolute monster! Very cool to see this incredible bird in action. www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwkBVX1-uDO&feature=fvw

As we flew over to Jackson Hole we circled over Old Faithful and the prismatic pools in the park below. Then we flew along the jaw-drooping Tetons and into Jackson Hole airport. I have had the good fortune to have traveled all over this amazing country and I think that the view of the Tetons from across Jackson Lake is the most scenic that I have seen outside of Alaska.

We found a good place to stay in town and a place to get a bite to eat. After the restaurant took a couple of tries to get our order right we had a good conversation and a number of laughs. We were eating at the famous Wort Hotel dinning room which has some special family history for me because my sister Leslee and her husband Craig were married there at the hotel many moons ago. Every time I find my self there I love to send Leslee a text telling her that I am thinking of the two of them. As we made our way back to the hotel around midnight we ran into a nice couple that happened to be from right outside Bethlehem, PA. All four of us had a nice chat and then Jerry and I had a fun time walking through the streets of JH on the way back to our hotel. We had lots of fun and even a little friendly help from a police officer. :)

Tomorrow: on to Custer, WY and an overflight and ground tour of the grand Mt. Rushmore...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Day at the Lake

This has been a nice and quite day. I slept in till 8:30 which was totally amazing. I really needed that. Then I just took the morning real easy and watched a bit of TV. For those of you that know me you know that Amy and I don't watch TV. The last time I was watching TV Seinfeld and Friends were the two most popular shows. That was around 14 years ago. So, I am a little out of the loop. I watched a show "House" this morning; it is a kind of medical drama. Interesting. The main character was dealing with a patient on a commercial flight. It was all a bit over the top. Never saw the captain once and I was wondering what happened to the weight and balance of the plane when House told everyone who had one of the meals on the flight to get up and go vomit in the lavatories. About 40 people rushed the back of the plane all at once. Hmmm... :)

Jerry and I had lunch together. He is feeling sick again and decided to lay low for the day. After lunch I headed down to the lake and had the best time swimming in its ultra clear waters and sleeping in the sun on the coarse warm sand of the beaches. It was absolutely lovely. I grabbed a little dinner across the street from our hotel and then had a great long talk on the phone with my love, Amy. I can't wait to spend the month of August with her. She will be done teaching NJSP at the end of next week and then we are taking off to Alaska. We were going to fly commercially there but now we have decided to drive there by going across Canada. It will be great. We have driven across the US so many wonderful times but other than our driving tour through the Atlantic proveniences in 2004 and our motorcycle trips into British Columbia in 1999 we have not toured across Canada. Looking forward to it!

I am now going to call it an early evening and hit the sack. Tomorrow we are off to Yellowstone and then to Jackson Hole, WY... Whoo-hoo!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Turn to the East

On all great journeys there comes a point when you realize that you are now on the backside of the adventure and from now on the journey leads you home. It does not mean that everyday is not new and fresh, but it does mean that as you move through each day you are getting closer and closer to the point where the journey becomes a memory and therefore woven in to the fabric of your life story.

As we make our big turn back to the east I feel both melancholy and joy. Melancholy because I could travel like this forever, visiting friends and family and taking people for rides and challenging myself in new ways. Joy because I soon get to see Amy and melt into her arms; nothing could be better (except maybe to do a trip like this with Amy! Then I could have both!).

Jerry and I met this morning for breakfast and to discuss the day. Things were going well and then by the time we were walking back to the hotel for our ride we realized that we had hit a point of contention that we needed to discuss. We caught our ride and then when we got to Half Moon Bay (where the plane was located) we were able to work most of it out. I have to say that both of us are "A" type personalities and both of us are stubborn. It is not easy for either one of us to give way on our point of view but we are doing it. That is hard work. A willingness to process rather than to stuff grievances is what is getting us through and allowing us to have these incredible experiences together. Thanks Jerry for putting up with me.

We finally got into the air around 11am. There was a heavy marine layer of fog as is all to common this time of year (and every other time of year) so we had filed IFR. After sitting on the ground for over 40 min (think San Fran's airspace is busy on a foggy day? :) waiting for a clearance delivery from Air Traffic Control (ATC) we were finally release to start our climb. Now on the ground under the clouds it was damp and misty and cold. As soon as we were climbing we burst out on top of the clouds around 2,000 feet. What a sight, simply breathtaking. The sun ignited the cloud tops into a white cauldron of boiling soup. The hills of the coast range were right there fending off the blanket fog. They were shinning gold in the sun and right behind them the air was clear for 40 miles.

We made our may inland a little bit watching the fog blanket persist up the Pacific Coast. We were going to try to land at Shelter Cove, CA but with the fog layer it was looking like it might not happen today. Ok, I have to tell you something, this was a really special runway to us. Jerry had seen the picture of Shelter Cove on the cover of a book called "Flying the Western States" and basically said, "I have to land there!" This was what kicked of his idea for this trip in his plane. Well as we got closer and closer an extraordinary thing happened; the fog broke and just along that little piece of coast it was all VFR and beautiful for 20 miles in both directions.

We made the landing and glanced out at this fairy tale place from the plane. I thought we might stay a bit but soon realized that Jerry was ready to takeoff again. I thought that he wanted to takeoff and land again because as I was filming our landing on the way in the batteries died in the camera and he wanted to get the whole approach. It wasn't until we were positioned on the runway for takeoff that I realized that Jerry wanted to takeoff for good and head to our next destination, Ukiah, CA since he was worried that the fog may move in. Oh well, that was our furthest point west of the trip and marked our change in direction. It was a beautiful place; the California coast in that area is dramatic and steep as in drops into the Pacific as far as you can see and then there is this one little point of land slopes down to form a flat peninsula into the ocean. It is just big enough for the runway and a few houses that cling to it's rugged coast. The picture today is from the approach. The strange little black lines are just the way my camera on my phone makes the propeller look. I realized after we departed that it was only 10 miles or so from the small town of Whitethorn, CA. I went to Whitethorn in 2001 to help a friend build a cabin there. We went down to the beach at one point and that must have been Shelter Cove. Amazing.

We flew to Ukiah and landed. We both needed to get some food and the plane needed some fuel and oxygen. We headed across the street to get a bite and found an unusual place. There was a little Spanish market grocery store and you had to follow an interesting procedure to get some food. First I looked at the menu at the cash register and told the cashier what I wanted and paid for it. Then, he gave me my receipt and I walked outside to the building next door. It looked like a closed down retail establishment but there was a little Hispanic woman set-up under the overhang with a kind of out door cooking operation. I handed her the receipt then she turned to a broken window behind her and yelled into what looked like a big abandoned room, "Burrito Vegitariano!" Five minutes later a guy stuck his head out the broken window a called me over to pick up my order. The burrito must have weighed 3 lbs! It was damn good but the whole situation was damn weird!

The Ukiah airport is home to a small firefighting operation that has three planes. While we were there they taxied over and took off on a bombing run. One of the planes made one of the most stunning takeoffs that I have ever seen. As soon as his wheel were off the ground he retracted the landing gear. Then he flew along the runway about 5 ft off the deck. As he got to the end of the runway he broke left in this sweeping, graceful climb just clearing the tree tops as he banked towards the mountains to the east. It was incredible. I will never forget it.

Once we were all set in Ukiah we departed to the east towards Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe is a geological phenomenon. It is high in the mountains of the Serria Nevada and is one of the 10 deepest lakes in the world. It is over 1600' deep and holds so much water that it would cover the entire state of California with 14 inches of water. In fact if you had a canal the size of the Panama Canal running all the way around the equator of the earth the water of Lake Tahoe would fill it and with enough left over to fill a canal the same size from New York to San Fransisco. Now that is a lot of water! The water is so clear and beautiful. It is like a little piece of the carribian in the mountains.

We landed at the South Lake Tahoe airport and Michael the owner of the FBO Mountain West Aviation could not have been nicer or more accommodating. He even set us up with a great lodging deal in town. Any of you pilots that are reading this, give Michael some business if you get a chance!

Now we are here in town and ready for our day of rest tomorrow. I love this area. I was last here in 1996 on my motorcycle trip with Jason. It is just as stunning and magical now as it was then.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Change of Plans

We are still in San Fransisco and happy to be here. This morning when we met for breakfast Jerry told me that he did not feel so good. After moving all over the place yesterday I felt kind of beat and tired as well.

We decided to stay another day here in the city so we both went back to our hotel rooms and napped for a while. I have to tell you, it felt great to catch some shut eye in the middle of the day.

In the afternoon I ran some errands and then came back to the hotel and did some work for a while. Around 9pm I met a good friend, Dennis, at a wine bar next door to the hotel. We had a great time catching up. Not long after he arrived one of the women in the bar came up to Dennis. Turns out that she dates Dennis' old room mate. Anyway, as we were all winding down, We stepped outside to meet the woman's (Sara's) friends. As Dennis left they were just leaving to head to a bar and they invited me along. I had a really nice time getting to know them a bit and sitting with them at their table. Thanks for the chats outside Aaron!

Tomorrow: Shelter Cove, CA and Lake Tahoe!

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Bridge Across the Divide

A bridge is a direct connection across a void or distance. Our day here in San Fransisco has been that for me. Three wonderful spans have been crossed: connecting to my amazing cousins Jennifer and Patrick after 15 years of not seeing them, my colleagues Pier and Dana from Lawrenceville all the way over here in San Fran, and my cousin Phillip and his wife Mary and their beautiful daughters who unfortunately live on the other side of the continent from me.

I woke up this morning and headed over to Jennifer's apartment in the Ashbury Heights area (just a few blocks away from Haight-Ashbury). She and her boyfriend Rick have a beautiful apartment overlooking most all of San Fransisco. Unfortunately, the morning fog of the "June-Gloom" was keeping the view obscured. Didn't anyone tell the fog that it was already well into July? I wanted to see that view! :) Seeing Patrick and Jennifer was a treat beyond measure. We went to breakfast together at a great place called Zazie. Jennifer had to head to work in a hour and as she said, it is hard to catch up on 15 years in 1 hour. So true. After she left, Patrick and I went back to her apartment. Patrick drives a motorcycle, a badass (!) Ducati. Then he said the magic words to me, "Do you want to take it for a spin?" About 4 seconds later I was decked out in his black leather jacket with red leather skulls and crossbones sewed to it and his helmet with flaming skulls emblazoned on the top snugged around my chinny-chin-chin. Why di I not get a picture of that!?! If you had told me this morning that I would be zipping around San Fran on a crotch-rocket I would have never believed it but it was a dream to drive!

When I cam back to the hotel I connected with jerry and then we caught a cab to go see my friends Pier and Dana and their boys. They were over near the Marina area and when we found them we all headed over to the beach near the Golden Gate Bridge. I think that perhaps only the people who know what our lives are like at Lawrenceville will understand how incredibly nice it is to see friends from there outside of the Lawrenceville bubble. It was a breath of fresh air to my soul to see this family that I love with a different background spread out behind their welcoming faces.

Afterwards Jerry and I headed back to the hotel for a while. As we were trying to get back and could not find a cab it was a hilarious sight to see Jerry try his idea of trying to thumb a ride on the streets of San Fransisco. It was unsuccessful but he gave it his best to the quizzical looks of the locals! :)

After our bit of downtime we headed back out towards the neighborhood of Cow Hollow where I had visited Phillip and Mary years ago when they lived ther. They had just moved into a new place in their old neighboorhood and they love it. It is a great place with two stories and a beautiful view of San Fran Bay and the Marin Highlands. We had a wonderful dinner and lots of laughs. I really love Phillip and Mary and only wish that we all lived closer together. I told Phillip that he and I need to get out for a weekend together in the mountains sometime and I am going to hold him to it! :) Their daughter Madeline kept saying, " Clark is pilot!", and wanted me to fly her around the room. I promised her that when she was a little older we would go flying together for real. I can't wait for that... :)

Jerry and I got back to the hotel and called it a night. I headed to my room to start on my blog entry and wind down. Just as I sat down I got a text from my cousin Jennifer saying that she had got out of work early and was home if I was able to come over. Absolutely! On went my clothes and out the door I went. I was able to get some good time in with Jennifer. Her friend Jackie was there as well and it was just great to hang out with them and hear of their stories over the past 18 years. As I was leaving I Patrick walked in the door and I got to give him a last hug.

It truly does amaze me that in the past twenty-four hours here there have been three bridges of the heart that have been constructed in my world. I feel luck for the connections and know that I can stride across those spans as my heart desires. How lucky am I?

Video: Landing at Leadville

I will start posting the videos of places that we landed as I can. This is the landing at Leadville, CO on July 12th, 2010. Leadville is the highest airport in all of North America. Field Elevation 9,980ft. There was a 31 knot crosswind on landing. Pretty cool!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Land of the Golden Gate

Today we started on our journey as if in a dream. Catalina Island is of course surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. The cool water has a rather consistent effect on the moist air right above it; it causes the moisture to condense into a fog otherwise known as a marine layer that is a couple hundred feet think. This creates a situation where the tops of the mountains on Catalina all extend above the fog into the bright sunshine above. The airport sits on the top of on of these mountains and so the overall feeling is that the island and its airport sit floating in a billowing, twirling, roiling, sea of white and that the rest of the world's existence is but a figure of our imagination.

We headed northeast and soon were right over the top of LA. It really did sprawl in every direction and it instantly reminded me of the sight of Mexico City that I had seen from a plane 12 years ago when Amy and I were visiting there. 747's were lining up on their approach to LAX and we just cruised over the top of them. We crossed into some very dry terrain and then in the distance we could just barely make out the hulking mass of the Serria Nevada with their snow fields here and there. We drew nearer and nearer and finally with a climb up to 16,000ft we cruised over the tops of the range with the highest mountains only 1,500ft below us. Incredible.

We came over the backside of the mountains and set up for a nice and smooth landing into Mammoth Lakes, CA. Again, we found ourselves surrounded by stunning scenery as the land of the High Sierras rose up all around us in dramatic fashion. We after getting some fuel, we got a ride into town and grabbed some food. We were hoping to be able to drive into Yosemite but found out that the drive was two hours at least each way. Oh well, we would get to fly over it! While we were in Mammoth I was able to call up my friend Clay Tyson and he came over and joined us at the end of lunch and gave us ride back to the airport. I met Clay 7 years or so ago in Hamilton, NJ where he was the manager of the local climbing gym, Rockville. We have been keeping in touch here or there and when I joined FaceBook last week Clay mentioned that he was now living in Mammoth Lakes for a year (following his dream!). It was great to see him and see the great energy that he always has just pouring out of him. Way to go Clay!

By the time we got back to the airport we were already getting tired. The flying, traveling, and shuttling from here and there do take their toll. The winds had picked up and were gusting to 25mph but they were coming right down the runway (which for you non pilots is a good thing "down the runway" helps the situation a lot). Our plane (which Jerry long ago named Super Shirley) was all the way down at the other end of the ramp (parking area)and we had a long walk to it in the gusting wind. I was trying to call a friend and so I started walking out to the plane backwards to block the phone from the wind-noise. Jerry was ahead of me walking towards the plane. Because I was walking backwards, as I progressed the planes parked to my right slid by one by one. I had passed about 7 or 8 planes when I came to the Columbia. There was Jerry trying to open the hatch to the baggage compartment. He was working the key and kind of pounding on the door a bit to get it unstuck. For a second I was thinking, "Wow, we got to the the plane faster than I thought." That is when I realized that Jerry was trying to get into the wrong plane! When I called out to him over the wind there was a brief moment of shock and then we both just started cracking up! It was REALLY funny! :) Did I mention how tired we were? :)

We departed from Mammoth Lakes and spiraled up over the valley to get some altitude. Then we headed west towards San Fransisco. As we crossed the Sierras again Yosemite valley lay just to our south. Half Dome rose into the sky and caught the afternoon light in the most glorious way. Now that we had flown over many many mountains you could see just how unique and special the rock shape and formations were in this sacred valley. What an amazing place. We flew over the central valley of California and made our way through the class Bravo airspace around the San Fransisco Bay area. We headed to the coast and made a landing at a nice little airport right on the water at Half Moon Bay. As we got our luggage out I noticed a guy sitting in a car talking on his cellphone (there was really no one else around). Jerry suggested that I go see if he would give us a ride so I did. His name was Eric and he said that he would give us a ride to the BART station. Very cool. We hopped a ride with him and it all worked out nice and smooth from there. Thanks Eric!

By the time that we got to the hotel both of us were beat. As many of you saw when I sat down to write this entry the first time around, I kept falling asleep at my computer! :) I would wake up and realize that my finger had been resting on some random key and that the whole computer screen would be filled with "yyyyy" or "fffff" or as many of you saw "eeeeee". I decided that I would wrap it up for the night and finish the post later. It felt really good to get some sleep!

It feels good to be in San Fransisco. I love this city and the different vibe of all the various neighborhoods. The land of the Golden Gate cradles us and I look forward to spending tomorrow here and seeing my various friends and family that call this place home.

Video: Landing on Catalina

Well, with the help of Jerry and my sister Gigi, we figured out the glitch in the video that I have been taking. Watch our landing on Catalina at the link below. Sorry about the swearing at the end. It was hard to suppress! :)



Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Many Layers of Friendship

Today was a day of rest in Avalon. The mystical name is a perfect representation of this magical place. The town is tucked into a protective cove with steep hillsides rising up all around it. Beautiful, bright bungalows crawl one above another all clamoring for their view of the clear waters of the Pacific. Hundreds of boats are neatly arranged on their moorings, and the town's few city streets are filled with happy people soaking in the rays of a warm July sun.

So many people enjoy being here in a place that does not hold many, that when Jerry and I called yesterday morning to get a couple of hotel rooms for two nights we found that everything was booked right up. The only thing we found available were two places that had one room for only one night at the bargain rates of $359 and $270 a night. Ouch! Well those were not options for me and they would not have worked anyway being that they were only for one night.

We were running out of options but Jerry put his bargaining prowess to work and when he called about the tenth place they said that they only had one room left (it was at a much better rate than the other places). Then Jerry asked them if they were sure that they did not have another room. Nope, no other room. Do you think Jerry let it go at that point? Nope. He asked one more time, "Are you sure?" The guy said, "Hold on...", and when he came back, what do you know... they had another room!!!

When we arrived it turns out that they had a room that had just gone through a deep cleaning (do I want to know why??? No. :) and the floors were still wet and there was no furniture at all in the room! By 7pm they had it all put together for me and I have a cozy little place to lay my head at night even if the carpets are still damp from the shampooing. :)

Today as I walked around I thought of all the blessings in my life. I laid down in the warm sand with the shadows of palms trees slowly moving across my body as the earth rotated around its axis and the sun slid westward. I swam in the cool waters of the Pacific and I marveled at the conversations that were transpiring all around me. As I walked around near the famous Avalon Casino (think James Bond style casino, not Las Vegas) I saw that there was a place renting snorkeling and scuba equipment. Since I left my scuba certification at home I thought it would be fun just to grab a snorkel, mask, and fins and cruise around the kelp beds for a while. When I asked, the guy told me that they were already closed-out for the day and that I would have to wait for tomorrow. There was a girl standing nearby and she spoke up, "Hey, you can use my mask and fins!" So cool!! Her name was Brandi and she was just waiting for her cousin Jeremy to finish up with his scuba dive. She watched my bag as I jumped in the water for 20 min or so. It was perfect. When I got back I chatted with her and her cousin for a while. They were both really great people. A true act of kindness and a great example of the beginnings of friendship.

Jerry and I are building a friendship that is deepening everyday. We are very different people: different in age, different in lifestyle, different in the way in which we approach the world. However, we both have one powerful thing in common that is rare to find: we want to be better people. We are both willing to stretch ourselves and that willingness can only result in growth. Thank you Jerry.

My wife Amy is my best friend in the world. The two of us have build our relationship on the qualities that I just described but with the depth that can only be found in your most intimate companion. 14 years of challenge, love, pain, reflection have lead us both to examine our most essential selves and grow anew. She is my clearest mirror and in her I can see the way to the person that I want to be. Thank you Amy. "So close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep." http://poemless.eatingchaos.com/pn11.htm

I think of the students in the the New Jersey Scholars Program whom Amy is teaching every day this month while I am away on this trip. They were almost all new faces to me just weeks ago but then I was able to speak with them about my 40 day solo backpacking trip this past fall in the mountains of northern Idaho. In our time together my story melded with their's and already the dreams of our futures are forever intertwined. For them: they have responded to me with statements of inspiration and new understandings of exploring the unknown. For me: they laugh and learn and love in the presence of Amy and therefore the other half of me. Blessings to you NJSP.

The intangible qualities of FaceBook kept me away for a long time. That, coupled with the intensity and time commitment of being a faculty member at Lawrenceville (www.lawrenceville.org), left no room for more digital engagement. However, now that I have stepped down from the faculty, room has been created for me to use this new tool in my life. I am now 5 days into the experience and I can say that I am completely dumbfounded at the joy I feel from getting quick notes of love and support and the ability to lay eyes on friends' faces (and their new families) that I have not seen in decades. It is a wonderful blessing.

Finally, I want to say to all of you that are reading this blog and following the daily updates that I feel we are building a relationship. You are starting to know me. Maybe you have known me a little bit here or a little bit there or maybe we have never met. But, now you are starting to see inside of me; the things that I think about, the way that I process, and what I am looking towards. I welcome you on this journey with me. We are going to keep having a great time looking around the next bend or over the next cloud together and building upon our layers of friendship.

Tomorrow: We leave in the morning for Yosemite and then we are off to San Fransisco via Half Moon Bay...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Where There be Dragons...

Cartographers of the past would fill in the uncharted waters of the oceans with sea serpents and dragons. Well after thousands of miles of terra firma under our little plane the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean filled the space beneath us. The photo is from right after we had crossed the edge of our continent with the blue of the Pacific and the California coast behind me.

Before we go further I should back up and say a little bit about our departure this morning. Mom drove us to the Sedona airport and saw us off. I had given her my big SLR style camera so that she could mail it home for me; I just was not using it. Well as we prepared to depart, there she was on the tarmac shooting away with it :).

The red colored rock of northern Arizona faded away and the stark landscape of the Sonoran Desert spread out in ever direction. There are large flat areas divided up by small wandering ranges of dry, crumbly mountains. They almost look like hardened sand dunes rather than the grey stone mountains of Colorado.

We headed to the small airport of Berrego Springs just west of the Salton Sea. I had read a few years ago that it was a great area for "flight-seeing". Turns out that the authors were right, this place was stunning. Mountains rising up all around, the landscape rippling with geological unrest, and covering it all was the most vibrant yellow scrub-grass. Just beautiful.

We landed but found out that they had no fuel unless it was and emergency. Who knew? Maybe I should have read the info in the flight guide a bit more carefully? :) So we took off again and continued to head west to the class delta McClellan-Palomar Airport. We found what we needed and got a good meal. As we were preparing to depart for Catalina we had our first problem of the trip with the plane. We were doing something called the run up when we realized that we had lost the heading indicator on our instrument panel. After some troubleshooting Jerry reached out to a "lifeline" and called one of his many mechanics/Columbia/Cessna specialist on standby to figure it out. In no time they had diagnosed the problem: lots of rebar in the concrete throwing off the reading. Sure enough, as soon as we took off, all was fine. Those guys are good!

A slight mist hung over the ocean and the hills of Catalina Island rose up on the horizon. The scene fit the story of King Aurthur's mythical island of Avalon for which the town on Catalina get's its name. Catalina is repeatedly named the most beautiful airport approach in the US. They literally blew the tops off of two small mountains and filled in the gap in-between to make the runway. The cliffs on both ends fall straight down to the crashing Pacific Ocean below. To add to the drama the runway is only 3,000 ft long, really narrow, and humped in the middle so that when you touch down you can not see the other end. Kind of fun!:) It felt really amazing to complete our westward part of the journey surrounded by the Pacific.

Jerry and I have a full day of rest tomorrow and it is needed. We are getting along really well but it takes a willingness on both ends to sit down and talk out the difficult issues that come up here and there. I told Jerry before we ever left on this plane trip that the hardest part of a major mountaineering expedition is not the mountain but the people that you have to interact with everyday for 3 months. By talking to each other about what comes up between us we diffuse a lot stuff early. We are both learning lessons from each other in this regard. These lessons alone are well worth the journey.

Sunday morning we start heading north for San Fransisco. Till then, I am going to play with the dragons...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sacred Places

People have been drawn to the desert landscape for millennia for its stark beauty. It is the world laid bare and as we gaze into its distant horizons we ourselves are laid bare. Today I looked into one of my most distant and sacred horizons; I flew above the very places where I met my wife Amy 14 years ago (June of 1996) in the deserts of Arizona.

I was 19 and on a motorcycle trip across the country with my great friend Jason Biggs. We traveled through 22 states and 8,000 miles. As we were driving on this small remote road through the Red Mesa Desert in the northeast corner of Arizona we passed this little white car going in the same direction. It had two people in it and was going a little slower than we were. As we got closer, Jason and I pulled into the other lane to pass them CHIPS style (for those of you that remember the old TV show :). Now, I have always referred to this road as a "car commercial" road because it stretched out 30 miles into the horizon and there was not another car on it. Anyway, as we passed them they sped up and passed us and then slowed down. I thought, "What a bad driver!" so we passed them again. This went on back and forth as we started realizing that there were two cute girls in the car.

Jason rode beside them for a while at 70 mph and chatted with them, then he pulled up to me and said that we should stop at the next town and maybe they would follow us. I said that I had to stop at the next town because I needed gas anyway. Well, the next little town that we pulled into was Tuba City, AZ: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuba_City,_Arizona

The girls pulled in behind us and it was Amy and her friend Sara Lewin. We all stood there at the gas station and chatted for about 45 min before I suggested that we head across the street to the Tuba City Truck Stop Cafe for some lunch. We all went over there and had an incredible conversation. It was so real and so deep with such little effort. Near the end of the meal Jason and I asked them if they wanted to follow us over to the Grand Canyon and camp out with us that evening (they had been camping for the last two weeks in the Navajo Indian Reservation). They thought about it for a minute and then said, "Sure." They followed in their car behind us as we made our way to the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. When we got to the national park we were told that all of the camping sites were full. We all drove into the park and went to this old stone observation tower on the southern rim. We were all there and talked about our options and we decided to get a hotel room at Bright Angel Lodge right on the rim of the canyon.

It was incredible! We all stayed up until 4am talking and singing and meditating. Amy had just returned from almost a year in India where she had studied meditation in the Himalayas. I can promise you that it was the first time that us two Alabama boys had ever meditated! We read from a copy of the Tao Te Ching that Amy had with her which happened to be one of my favorite works of spiritual literature. It was just a very special and cool night with new friends.

The next day the 4 of us did some sightseeing on the motorcycles. After lunch we traded phone numbers and addresses and headed off in different directions; Jason and I headed towards California and Amy and Sara headed back to Sara's home in Scottsdale, AZ. When Jason and I got back to Alabama after the trip Amy and I exchanged some letters and 4 or 5 phone calls. Then I told her that she should come to Alabama to visit because I would really like to spend some more time with her. She ended up coming to Mobile on Sept 7 of 1996. By the end of the first week that she was there we were head over heels in love with each other and she never left!:) We have been together ever since; we never had a date and we have never not lived with each other. It has been 14 amazing years of love and growth and I am as passionate about her today as I have ever been.

What an incredibly lucky person I am and it all started that June day in the desert and canyon that I flew over today; truly a sacred place.

I took pictures of the town of Tuba City and can actually make out the gas station and the truck stop. I saw the stone tower that we climbed that day 14 years ago and I saw and took a picture of Bright Angel Lodge where we stayed that night. Bright angels were certainly surrounding us and still do...

After we passed over this memory filled landscape Jerry and I then set up for the approach into Sedona, AZ. I can say without a doubt that I have never seen a more dramatic and stunning approach than Sedona. The runway is on the top of a mountain that nature has sheared off into a flat top. 1,000 foot cliffs are at both ends of the runway and it looks like you are landing on an aircraft carrier. However, rather than a sea of water surrounding you there are red and gold cliffs and rocky spires shooting up all around you. It is nothing short of magical.

Jerry executed a perfect landing with the stall horn going off as the wheels squeaked on the asphalt. As we touched down and rolled out I looked over at Jerry and he had tears flowing down his smiling cheeks from the shear overwhelming beauty of it all. How wonderful to see this man living his dream. He visualized this trip for himself and now unlike so many others in life we have made choices and have seen it through. The moments that we as individuals can look around us and realize that we are truly immersed in a dream realized are few and far between. These are sacred places within us...

My mom drove up from Phoenix today to have dinner with us! It was so great to see her and spend some time with her. She is driving us up to the airport tomorrow morning and is going to stick around to see us take off!

The three of us all got rooms at this fantastic place that I highly recommend if you ever find yourself in Sedona. The name of the hotel is the Orchards Inn (http://www.orchardsinn.com ). My room is #106 and it is great!

Tomorrow: out over the Pacific ocean and landing on Catalina Island

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

From Mountains to Desert

Today we woke early and departed. We climbed into the air over Salida as the sun climbed into the sky in the east. It painted the mountains in a surreal light and filled the world below in a holy glow. Little did I know that this breathtaking beauty was just the beginning of a day almost beyond description.

We flew west over the mountains and ATC had us climb to 17,000 feet. We flew out over the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and then turned south to begin the approach to Telluride. Telluride airport is located on a mesa that has a 1'500 cliff and it has mountains around every side. As we approached the end of the runway the cliff just dropped away into the valley below us. Stunning. We headed into town for some great breakfast and there were hundreds of prairie dogs along the side of the road scurrying all around. We departed Telluride and headed southeast VFR.

The terrain as you head west from the rockies quickly becomes high desert. As we flew on, the scrub below started to fade away and the reds, yellows, blacks, purples of the landscape swept from here to there from horizon to horizon stunning us into statements pretty much beginning and ending with, "Wow". We flew north of the Four Corners area were I meet Amy 14 years ago. Very cool. Then we headed over to Monument Valley. My God. Those red rocky spires sticking up into the heaves had up turning the plane this way and that way so that we could see them from every angle. We turned west and flew over to Glen Canyon and Lake Powell. Jaw dropping. I have included a photo from this portion of the trip because seeing the deep azure waters creeping through the red rock canyons is beyond description. Finally we turned to the north and prepared for our arrival at Bryce Canyon.

This little airport is about as neat and tidy as any that I have yet seen. We landed, called a hotel and they sent a van out to pick us up. As we hoped in the van to head to the hotel Jerry says to me, "So why are we staying here in Bryce Canyon?" I was like, "What?!" I told him how it was his idea to stay there when we were making our plan. He seems to remember it differently. Go figure! We almost had the driver turn around and take us back to the plane so that we could fly on to Sedona, AZ but instead decided that we were to beat and hungry so we headed on into town. We had a nice meal and both of us took it easy. Then as evening rolled around tonight Jerry and I walked up a dark (mostly unused)road into the woods and laid down on the still warm asphalt to look up at the stars. It was beautiful and serene.

Tomorrow over the Grand Canyon (Whoa!!:) and then into Sedona. My mom is coming up for dinner and staying the night. I can't wait to see her! Till then...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Heart of the Rockies

Salida, CO is nothing short of heaven to me. Spending a day here cradled by the Presidential range, the Sanga de Christo range and the Arkansas River valley is pure bliss. Salida is a real mountain town with great people. There is no flash here, no bling. This is not Aspen or Telluride and I love it for that. Amy and I have so many great memories here and I have to say that 5 days into my trip I really wish that she was here with me. <3

Having a day off to just relax and enjoy the place you are in is grand. I woke up this morning and walked down to the river to have some coffee and oatmeal in the crisp mountain air. Then around 9:30 I headed back to the house. Dave had to come into town to run some errands and he stopped by. The three of us jumped in the courtesy car and headed up to the airport for something that Jerry needed from the plane. Now I need to stop for a minute and explain what a courtesy car is for you non-flyers. Many small airports around the US have a car or two available for pilots who are flying through. That way the pilot does not have to rent a car for just a couple of hours and the airport is likely to sell more fuel because more pilots will be attracted to the airport for the convenience. Well, Salida airport has 3 courtesy cars all of which are stripped down early '90's cop cars. Yeah baby! :) So the three of us are cruising around in this monstrous Chevy Caprice Classic with this great flowing American flag motif decorating both sides. I feel so bad ass!!!

While we were at the airport showing Dave the plane two other gentleman came over to have a look as well. They are partners in a nice Grumman Tiger together an we had a real nice time talking with them. Jerry got a kick out of showing them the remote control for the plane. That's right: Jerry can unlock the plane as we are walking up to it with a little bleep-bleep! Read about the plane here: http://www.planeandpilotmag.com/aircraft/pilot-reports/columbia/congratulations-columbia-400.html One of the guys, Pat, was very enthusiastic and had great energy. He is a student pilot with around 20 hours so far. Learning to fly in this environment is going to make him one hell of a pilot though, that's for sure.

Afterwards, we dropped off Dave and then Jerry and I drove up to Monarch Pass at 11,300 ft. It was beautiful and much cooler than the valley however Jerry realized that driving mountain roads was not for him. He would rather fly over the top! :) Jerry has not been feeling so well for the past few days. He has kind of lost his voice a bit and has some congestion. I told him that I hope the congestion goes away quickly but not to get his voice back to quick; I kind of like him that way! :) He opted to head back to the house and rest up for the afternoon. It worked out well because Dave and I were able to head out over Poncha Pass to their place in the San Louis Valley. Shannon and Dave have 115 incredible acres up on the side of a mountain with views that deify belief. They are truly living their dream.

Dave and I had the opportunity to walk the property for a couple of hours and share some photos and stories. He is a great brother-in-law and I feel luck to know him. Shannon came home full of energy and life as always; they are such a beautiful couple. We were able to catch up for about thirty minutes before I had to scoot to get ready for tomorrow.

As I drove away the sun was getting low in the sky and casting long shadows across the rippling land and lighting up the mountain tops with an ethereal glow. I thought about how blessed I feel in this life to have a deep, thriving love with my wife of 12 years, wonderful friends and family, and the opportunity to travel this world and pursue my dreams. It is all about choices. There are many things that I don't have in this life but in love and experience I am rich beyond measure.

Tomorrow we depart at 7am for Telluride. Then we fly down into Monument Valley, UT and over Lake Mead and Glen Canyon and then up to Bryce Canyon, UT for a few days. What bliss...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Can You Say Mountains?

First, I need to say that I think my post yesterday was sub-par. I literally fell asleep at least 4 times while I was writing it. There is just so much energy that is expended with long distance flying. It is wonderful but you definitely need to recharge and by last night I was beat. Tonight is better! :) I am sitting in a nice quite, chill bar in Salida, CO (The Victoria) typing away and drinking a Pinstripe Amber beer. So now, for a breakdown of the day... Whoa! Wow! Holy Sh%t!

We departed Roswell this morning with a low pressure system clearing out to the east. To the west was all blue skies and beauty and our first true mountain of the trip. Roswell is really in the middle of nowhere. It is 180 miles in all directions to the next large town. This is very apparent from the air right after you take off. We headed north to Santa Fe, NM a made a beautiful approach to runway 33. The colors of the desert landscape started to peek through here and there.

After some discussion on the ground we decided to to go ahead and try for the mountains of Colorado. Everything looked good so why not? We departed and climbed to 14,000 as we headed up the San Louis Vally. It is surreal to see the terrain just climb and climb in front of you. It is an incredible approach to the mountains of Colorado. Jerry wanted to fly an IFR route but I wanted to go VFR. After a bit of back and forth we decided on the IFR. Regardless we came into a beautiful approach to Leadville, CO. This is the highest airport in all of the North American continent! The field elevation is just 80 feet shy of 10,000 feet. Incredible. Jerry made the landing in a 31 knot crosswind and did a great job. Having the twin turbocharged engine in this plane is almost like cheating. After some time on the ground where we got certificates and tee shirts we headed down the valley to one of my favorite towns, Salida, CO. Everything was really perfect. Our friends, Kim and Olen, let Jerry and I use their house and we are loving it. I was able to briefly see Amy's sister Shannon when she dropped off the key for the house. It was so great to see her! We will hopefully be able to see her and her husband Dave for a bit of tomorrow.

Now I am beat tired again. We are spending the full day here so I am hoping to get some good rest. Till tomorrow...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Westward Ho!

We have made the great turn to the west to follow the sun for a while. We departed from Lakefront Airport this morning and headed out over Louisiana bayou country. My god is it vast from the air! It is an almost an endless stretch of green and water. It is the world of alligators, spanish moss, and cypress. If you closed your eyes you could almost hear the creole rising up from the river bends below.

Before long we were making our transition to land at Austin, TX. Because we could see that some weather was going to move into the Roswell, NM area we decided to just fuel up, grab a quick bite, and take off again. The flight from Austin to Roswell sees a gradual but definitive change from the Texas Hill Country to the scrub desert where Roswell is located.

Jerry wanted this stop on the route so that we could check out the thing that Roswell is know for which are all the UFO sitings in the area since WWII. After our 30 minute visit to the "International UFO Museum and Alien Research Center" we both were like, alright that was enough. That means that we have just had some good down time here. Tomorrow off to the mountains...

Tomorrow, I am going to work on getting more photos in here... technical dificulties. :)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Big Easy

A day relaxing and exploring in one of my favorite cities in the world with the added benefit of it feeling like home...

Most people don't think of the fact that my hometown of Mobile, Al is only a little more than two hours from New Orleans. The two cities have way more in common than Mobile has to anyplace two hours north within the state of Alabama. The Gulf Coast and the lasting legacy of rule under 5 nations (Spanish, British, French, Confederate States, and the United States) have left their mark on the all over the architecture, music, food, culture, and people. This region is my home, and my body and soul memory slide easily into the rhythms of the known. It feels good.

Added to all of the above was the great treat of being there with my sister in the place that she and Shannon now call home. I slept on their comfy couch and then headed back across the river to meet up with Jerry for breakfast while Gigi and Shannon slept in. Jerry and I road the streetcar into downtown and explored the French Market for a little while. Then Gigi met up with us around lunch time and we went to a great jazz brunch at The Court of Two Sisters. Fantastic food and great jazz. After that Gigi and I headed off to have some brother-and-sister time till dinner. We had a great time and Shannon was able to join us for a bit and we all watched a some World Cup action.

We all had a great dinner and on the way home swung by Bourbon Street so that Jerry could see it. Gigi and Shannon dropped us off and Jerry and I walk for 4 blocks down Bourbon. It was only 8:30pm but the energy of that place on a Saturday night was already electric even though we were still 4hrs or so away from when the place would be packed. There are so many memories for me on Bourbon. Everything from me trying to perform a little impromptu tap dance when I was around 5 or so, to high school graduation night (lost a lot of those memories in the process), to searching for Amy's cousin Ben in 1996. There is no place like Bourbon in the world. It is a world unto itself...

Friday, July 9, 2010

In the Air

Well, we are off! We started with a 5:30am phone call to see what the weather was like. It looked like the ceilings were going to be real low and we were thinking of holding off a few hours. It turned out to be just fine so we both headed for the airport. We were set for a 7am departure but we had to hold on the ground for 15min while we figured out an same routing issue with our clearance. As we were sitting there in the plane with the engine idling all the sudden we hear this loud banging. We were both thinking, "Holy Crap! We just lost a cylinder!" or something to that effect. Then about five seconds later we realized it was Bob Cherry, who taught Jerry IFR, banging on the wing tip. It scared the crap out of us but we got a good laugh after seeing the trip flash before our eyes. :)

Once we were up it was pure magic: smooth air, the rising sun illuminating the cumulus clouds all around us. At one point I looked over out my window and saw the sun casting a shadow of our plane surrounded by a rainbow on a white cloud below us. What to say other than blessings for that auspicious omen at the beginning of our trip.

We got into Atlanta with 4 hours in the air and stooped at PDK to gas up and have lunch with Dad and Anne. It was great! After a couple of hours on the ground and showing them the plane we were off again and headed to New Orleans. I was hoping to overfly Mobile Bay and see the bay house ( my childhood summer home on Mobile Bay called) but we ended up dodging thunderstorms the whole way. Towering cumulonimbus were like popcorn all over the southeast and it kept us busy as we weaved in between them. We arrived at Lakefront airport right on Lake Pontchartrain and my sister Gigi met us just a little while latter. So good to see her! We set up Jerry at this great hotel that Gigi recommended. It is called The Columns on St. Charles. Then we had a drink there on the patio and headed out to a great dinner. Afterwards we headed over to Gigi and Shannon's neighborhood at Algier's Point to a very cool local bar and shot some pool. On the way over Jerry was marveling at the ferry (his first!) and seeing the Mississippi River for the first time.

It has been a long but great day for the kick-off of our trip...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Night Before

Well, as planned Jerry and I met this morning at 7:30 to finish the packing and do a complete weight and balance on the plane. After both us made some hard choices on what to leave behind (I had to leave behind my cowboy boots! Ouch...)we got to a place where we both feel good. All packed up and ready to go.

Now as the night starts to draw to a close the reality for Amy and I that we are once again about to endure 3 weeks apart sinks in; it is always tough. We are both pursuing our passions though: she is teaching NJ Scholars and I am spreading my wings to stretch myself and explore deeper into my aviation dreams. For the past 14 years of our time together the words of a Metallica song has summed it up for us, "So close, no matter how far." I remember nights in 1996 when we listen to that song over and over on repeat. How could we have know that it was speaking so eloquently to what would be our paths in life. Supporting each other in our goals and dreams while at the same time making room for ourselves together and apart. The words of Kahlil Gibran come to mind...

The last bits of my bag are strewn over the couch. I am going to put them in their bag and head to sleep. Jerry and I are talking at 5:30am to see what the weather looks like. We are planning on a 7am departure but it looks like we might have some low ceilings to contend with. We will see. By any case we should be off by 9am at the latest. The plan: Trenton to Atlanta at 8,000ft in 3 hrs 45 min. We will have lunch with my dad and Anne at PDK and then off to New Orleans via Mobile Bay and my hometown. We will be seeing my sister Gigi and her wife Shannon while we are there. I can't wait. ETA for New Orleans is 4pm. Let's see how things turn out...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Today I find myself in familiar territory, preparing to be gone for multiple weeks and trying to take care of all the last minute things. There is always a little bit of a pressure wave right here before the departure as everything that needs to get done needs to get done in this small space of time. However, as soon as I walk of the door on the day of departure all those things not done are just "not done" and life goes on... :)

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to present to the students in the summer program that Amy is teaching (NJ Scholars Program) about my 40 day 40 night solo backpacking trip that I took this past fall. Afterwards, the whole group stayed for an additional half an hour of Q&A. So many thoughtful questions came from the room. It was a real treat to share with them some of my experiences and to see in their eyes the flames of adventure kindled bright. What incredible journeys lay before them; it boggles the mind.

Tonight I am finishing up packing my bag for the trip, then tomorrow Jerry and I meet at 7:30am to weigh all the bags and gear and calculate the plane's final weight and balance. Then a few last meetings and time with Amy and then Friday we are off!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Clark & Jerry's Big Adventure

Here comes my next big adventure! This Friday, July 9th, my friend Jerry and I will embark on a flying trip extrodinaire. We are taking his 2007 Columbia 400 and flying it around the US for three weeks. We will be landing at 30 airports in 19 different states as we circle the country in a clockwise fashion.

Since I am working towards my commercial pilots licence I need 250 hours of flying time. I figured if I am going to spend money to accumulate these hours I might as well do it while having an adventure at the same time. I found out that Jerry was looking for a partner to fly with on this great trip and I threw my name in the hat. Now, here we are 2 and a half months later and we are just days away from departure. Very cool.

Jerry and I have been working on the preparations for a while now and we feel ready. We had a meeting this morning to work out some information database details. We are meeting one more time on Thursday morning to pack the plane and then Friday we are wheels-up at 7 am. Excellent.

Keep tuned in here for the final preparations and the daily updates and photos during the journey.


Hello Everyone!

Welcome to my new blog! This is a place where I will be sharing thoughts, photos, and other random info from my various adventures. As my life unfolds day by day, I thrive on exploring the unknown. That may be the unknown of a new place, a new friend, or the unknown inside of me; all three are grand adventures.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey as these postings blossom on the page...