Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Day 10: Reunion

Chicago, IL (PWK) to Birmingham, AL (BHM)
654 statute miles (568 nm)
time enroute: 6:33 (including a 65 minute food and fuel stop)

Our plan for this morning was to take our hosts for a scenic lakeshore flight and then depart for Birmingham to pick up our daughter from the family where she has been a mother's helper this past week. At five-plus hours, it would be the longest day of traveling so far in the trip, and we were concerned about the possibility of thunderstorms later in the day. As it turned out, the scenic flight was not to be.

When we left for the airport around 10:00, there was an overcast at 1000 feet. Our new plan started with filing IFR to get out of Chicago. At this point, I discovered a minor glitch in my pre-trip planning. In acquiring the 17 pounds (yes, I weighed them) of charts and instrument procedures I might need on the trip, I overlooked Indiana. It turns out that the direct route from Chicago to Birmingham flies right down the length of the state. I had Kentucky covered, so I could have filed to somewhere south of Indiana, but I took the more cautious approach and chose to fly slightly to the west, staying in Illinois. I picked Fairchild, IL as a destination, with the idea of either canceling IFR once the weather cleared or getting a clearance to a further destination while enroute.

Flying IFR out of Chicago meant waiting while they fit us in to the busy area traffic. While holding at the run-up, we saw this classic B-17 arrive.

After a 10 to 15 minute wait, we were cleared for takeoff for the first IFR flight of the trip. Our initial clearance was 3000 feet, which meant we were smack dab in the clouds. They kept us there for the first 20 minutes of flight, until we were clear of Class Bravo traffic. At that point, we were cleared up to 8000 feet. That altitude kept us above clouds for most of the flight, although we ended up asking for higher eventually. The clouds below us were pretty solid, so we gave up on going VFR. After checking our sectionals, we changed our destination to Sturgis, Ky (TWT). Once we were cleared down to 4000 we were at the bases of the clouds and we were able to get a visual approach into Sturgis.

On the ground, we were offered a crew car and directions to Dempsey's Dew Drop Inn, where we grabbed a quick hamburger. Fuel was pretty cheap so we filled to the brim and pointed the nose at Birmingham.

The first hour of flight was relatively easy, but as we got to Tennessee the clouds started piling up. We got a pop-up IFR clearance and before we long we were in and out of clouds. For the last 30 to 40 minutes, we didn't see much clear air and the NEXRAD on the Garmin became our very best friend. Our tiny ship was tossed and turned (well, just a little, it was the roughest segment of flight but probably not more than steady light turbulence). We got another visual approach--so far the approach plates in the baggage compartment have been good for insurance and a little aft CG. Still, we needed to be IFR for a lot of the flight and approach-capable to do that.

I think today's flight was the most challenging of the trip so far. It got the juices flowing but never crossed the line to anxiety-inducing.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Days 7 through 10: On The Ground in Chicago

We arrived in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon and left on Saturday morning. Two full days is not enough time to experience a city of this size. Based on the recommendation of a friend who lived nearby, we chose Chicago Executive Airport (formerly Palwalkee). It was a smart move because it put us close to them and gave us pretty easy access to the city by train. Wednesday was our anniversary and we were set to celebrate with dinner at Charlie Trotter's restaurant. Our advanced plans included a reservation on Saturday night but we were able to change on short notice for a 7:00 on Wednesday.

Last year on our 25th anniversary, we ate at The French Laundry in Yountville, CA. It was the singular most sensational dining experience we have ever had. Perhaps it set the bar too high, but we hoped for the same kind of meal at Trotter's. As it was, the food was exquisitely prepared and several of the dishes were world-class. My singular favorite was probably the New Zealand cockles. However, it seemed to depend more on edgy ingredients like stinging nettles, cockles and pickled lamb's tongue, where The French Laundry creates perfection with outstanding examples of more familiar foods. We also felt like the service was a little more reserved and the setting more confined than at the French Laundry. This might be a sign that after a dozen years living on the west coast, our sensibilities are changing.

A nice touch was a personal tour of the kitchen, where we got to see the magic behind the meal. I imagine other restaurants would honor a request for such a tour, but it was nice touch that the offer came without our having to ask.

Sated and tired, we headed back to our hotel on Michigan Av.

Thursday we were up at the crack of 10:00 and found our way to the El for a trip out to Oak Park. I am a long-time fan of Frank Lloyd Wright's work. I had seen the exterior of the Robie House on a previous visit to Chicago and toured the Hanna House at Stanford, but the chance to visit his home and studio was a real treat. We began with an hour-long self-guided walking tour of about fifteen houses in the neighborhood. After that, we had a guided tour of the home and the studio. There were rooms like the children's playroom that I have seen in pictures countless times. Standing in the actual room and seeing how the space and the light work was like a dream.

On the way back to the El we stopped at Unity Temple, which may have been his first public building. It was so far ahead of its time that one can't imagine where the vision came from.

Thursday night we saw a live taping of our favorite NPR radio show, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me. The three panelists on hand were our personal A-team: Paula Poundstone, Mo Rocca, and Tom Bodett. The Not My Job guest was Jim Dale, voice of the Harry Potter audio books. I forgot to wear my "Don't say a word, I haven't read it yet," t-shirt, but luckily there were no spoilers. It was fun to see them all interact live and to observe all the stuff that never makes it past the editing process. Paula attended my high school and was a friend of my sister. At the end we snuck up front for a quick exchange of pleasantries.

Saturday morning we enjoyed a tasty breakfast at the Corner Bakery Cafe, at Michigan and Jackson. While we waited for our food, I captured this picture that confirmed we had journeyed up to the terminus of the Mother Road.

After breakfast, we crossed the street to the Art Institute. One painting we hoped to see, Hopper's Nighthawks, was on vacation in Boston and Washington, but there was still a lot to see. The collection of O'Keefes was great. We saw Grant Wood's American Gothic. Also, we really enjoyed an exhibit of Jeff Wall's photography.

From the museum, we returned to our hotel, grabbed our bags and caught a train out to Barrington to meet up with friends from college. We hadn't seen them in over 15 years, which led to the usual assortment of reflections and recollections.

We spent the night with our friends Paula, Dave, and Katia. Paula and John worked together for about a year but this was the first time that most of us met live. My offer to take them all for a lakeshore flight before leaving Chicago was squashed by the Saturday morning overcast. Katia, you have a San Francisco Bay tour waiting on your next visit to California.

Paula drove us to the airport and we prepared to depart for the first IFR leg of our vacation.

Day 7 Follow Up

Lebanon, MO (LBO) to Chicago, CA (PWK)
444 statute miles (386 nm)
Elapsed time: 3:57

This was our longest non-stop leg to date. I guess once we had the target in site, we were inspired to press on. Aside from the flight over downtown St. Louis and the Gateway Arch, there wasn't much to see, and the flying was quite routine.

It's fun to look at this map and see how much territory we covered. We could probably have driven this same route in seven days, and someday I might. We could have flown it commercial in about four hours. Others have flown it before me, in more interesting planes and have seen more of the route both in the air and on the ground. This trip wasn't about doing something new or doing it better. I did this for myself, to have the opportunity to set and achieve a personally meaningful goal.

I am approaching 500 hours in my logbook, which means I am moving from new to mid-time pilot. However, most of those hours have been within 100 miles of home and before this trip I had never flown out of California. Proportionally, not much has changed, but in human terms it is all very different. I think this trip was as much a landmark as my first solo, or my first time flying alone in clouds.

Over the last week, I have experienced accomplishment, frustration, beauty, anxiety, tedium and tranquility. I've taken off from high, hot desert runways and small strips surrounded by cornfields. I have definitely extended my competence and my confidence as a pilot. I know now that a trip like this is within my ability and I will be comfortable to take others in the future.

This entry concludes the Route 66 adventure phase of my summer trip, but I have more to see and more places to fly. I will be heading to Birmingham, Carbondale and Salt Lake City to visit with friends and family before finally returning home. I will continue to post updates along the way. Thank you for letting my share my experience.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Day 7: We Made It!

Lebanon, Mo (LBO) to Chicago, Il (PWK)

I am temporarily away from my GPS, so I can't post the distance or map, but here I am in Chicago. We woke in Lebanon and headed to the airport. We fueled the plane with avgas and ourselves with home-baked banana bread at the airport office. We were ready to leave on a leg that would take us to Springfield, Il when a series of small events sent us through a replanning exercise. After considering a range of options, we concluded we were ready to finish this expedition. We fired up the engine and pointed to Chicago.

We didn't see a lot along the way, but one treat was our transition through downtown St. Louis at 1600 feet.

The Gateway Arch is an amazing site from close up. After St. Louis we flew up through Springfield, Il and on into Chicago. Entering the Chicago terminal area was busy but manageable. We landed at Chicago Executive and surprised our friends here by calling a day early for a ride from the airport to the train. A short time later, we were checking in to the Hilton and looking back on the whirlwind events of the preceding week.

We have been in nine states, flown about 1700 nm, and logged over 20 hours of flying time. We are looking forward to seeing Chicago and visiting friends over the coming days. After that, our trip continues with a flight to Birmingham, Al to pick up our daughter Sarah and visit with friends where she has been staying.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Day 6: OK to MO

Weatherford, OK (OJA) to Lebanon, MO (LBO)
424 statute miles (368 nm)
Time enroute 3:54

This morning we took a few minutes to drive through downtown Weatherford and see sites from the Route 66 guidebook.

There was the Greek Temple building which later became the German Bank and is now a clothing store or thrift shop of some kind.

Then there was the blacksmith shop.

After that, we drove to the airport and prepared to depart. Once we were ready, we decided to take a quick peek at that General Tom Stafford Air and Space Museum. since we only had a minute, we convinced the attendant to let us pay $4 for both of us, where that is normally the fee for one fly-in guest. Land-arrivals normally pay $5 each.

Inside we were amazed at the size of the facility and the range of exhibits. You need a human reference to appreciate the immense size of one of the five rocket engines from a Saturn V booster.

We were equally surprised by how small the Apollo capsule turned out to be. Can you imagine three grown men leaving in that thing for over a week?

We were so impressed that we ended up adding $6 to our original $4 and paying the equivalent of full walk-in price. If you ever have the chance to go or to recommend this place to others, please take it. All in all, Weatherford was a great little stopover. The fuel was only about $3.60/gallon, the people were great and the museum was a bonus.

Once in the air, we headed east for Oklahoma City. With a few minutes of calm in the cockpit, I took this pilot's eye view shot of what I have been looking at for the last 18 hours.

The weather was all VFR today, but I did have to do a little cloud avoidance around Oklahoma City. The GPS track tells the story.

Looking east, there was a layer of clouds building, but the weather on the 396 made it sound like it was just in spots. I decided to go up and over the top. As I proceeded, I had to go to 7500 and later 9500 feet. I was making sure to keep my options open, including going IFR or turning back fron spreading clouds. When I realized that I was soon going to be on top of a layer, I took advantage of a big but funny-shaped hole and squiqqled down to get below it.

Leaving Oklahaoma City behind, our next destination was Kansas. Route 66 just nips a a fifteen mile bit out of the southeastern corner of Dorothyland. The only airport near that stretch is private. I made a half-hearted attept to reach the owners and get permission to land. When that didn't work, I opted to make Oswego, KS (K67) our next waypoint.

Kansas was my second all-new state of the trip. After landing, I took in the cornfields surrounding the airport.

It was pretty quiet at the airport. Airport listings say there are about 50 operations a month, which comes out to just under a flight a day.

I don't know if this old Ercoupe accounts for any of those operations. To my eye, it wasn't in flying condition, but I noticed that there was air in the tires so it isn't totally abandoned.

From Oswego, we headed due east to intercept 66 again in Joplin, Mo. Along the way, we passed this drive-in in Carthage, Mo.

This distinctive building seems like a county courthouse or municipal building.

We ended our day in Lebanon, Mo, between Springfield and St. Louis. The airport runways and facilities were excellent. We picked Lebanon because of a recommendation to stay at the Munger Moss Motel, an old Route 66 stand-by.

It was novel, but unfortunately it seemed like munger moss was something growing under the rug in our room. The room was clean and well-maintained, but the pervasive mustiness was a bit of a let-down. We dined at Dowd's Catfish House, where I fell in love with the pickled tomato relish.

The evening ended with the discovery of a wi-fi enabled Starbacks that appeared just as we had given up the search and pulled into a parking lot to return to the hotel.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Day 5: Into the Great Plains

I will update this post with some photos soon.

Whether it was the after-effects of our spa experience or just exhaustion catching up on us, we slept until about 9:00 this morning. After rousing ourselves, having some leftovers for breakfast and checking out, we began our car ride back to Albuquerque around 10. With a couple of stops along the way, including one to refuel our rental car and ourselves, we rolled into Seven Bar Aviation after noon. The staff there were as helpful as ever and after Lisa had finished sitting on her lunch and getting changed, we took off at around 1:00.

Now an old pro at taking off with only 13000 feet of runway, I was in the air with about two miles to spare. Climb-out was the usual slow haul and I had to ask departure for a 360 to gain some extra altitude before following I-40 out of town to the east.

Our first stop of the day was Santa Rosa, NM (I58). According to the guide books, there is a lot to see, but we had a very narrow mission. Runway 6-24 is actually a section of the old Route 66. We landed, taxied back, and were quickly back in the air.

Our next waypoint, Tucumcari (TCC), got even less respect. I wanted to say I had landed there, so we planned another quick stop. I hoped for a touch and go, but didn't want to run out of runway on takeoff. However, the landing was nice and short, and with most of a 7000 foot runway ahead, we gunned it and were back in the air.

It would have been nice to spend more time at some of these locations, but we had a fairly ambitious plan for the day. Combined with a late start and worries about afternoon thunderstorms, it seemed best to forge on.

We finally did stop at Amarillo (AMA) for a bathroom break and to take on fuel. This stop was more or less mandated by the need to get a landing in Texas for the logbook. The folks at TAC Air were very accommodating, even when I changed my mind about buying fuel after originally declining. The woman working the desk had her copy of Harry Potter and so did a woman waiting for her husband to show up. Both of our kids have finished it already. They are under strict orders to not say a word, under threat of disinheritance. I think I will be the last person to get my hands on it.

On the ground in Amarillo, we realized that we had missed one of our objectives, the Cadillac Ranch. It is west of town and after considering the time and weather, we had to pass on it. We reluctantly pointed the plane east for Oklahoma.

By now, the afternoon storms were cropping up on Nexrad. We managed to circle north around one long line that started growing right in our path and stayed well clear. It looked like if we had been much later, we would have been stopped short. We saw some lightning at a distance, but nothing anywhere near us. After circling the clouds, we flew direct to Stafford Airport (OJA) in Weatherford, OK. Between the loss of an hour crossing time-zones and the weather diversion, we were on the ground at 7:00 pm, an hour after the airport services closed for the night.

This was no problem. There were keys to a courtesy car in a lock-box and a quick call to Greg who answers the after-hours calls provided assurance we were free to take it. This was my first experience with a courtesy car and it was a great convenience. Stafford has a very well maintained facility with a nice tie-down area. It is unique because there were no ropes on the tie-downs. I taxied in circles trying to decipher what to do until I noticed that all the ropes are kept up by the airport office on a fence. This is nice because it avoids any danger of taxiing through a tie-down and sucking a rope up into the prop.

We drove to the Best Western and checked into our room. We dined at The Mark, a restaurant right next door. We might have been happier if we had taken the desk-clerk's other recommendation, a place called Lucille's that was a short drive away. We discovered afterward that it had a nice write-up in one of our Route 66 guide books. Oops, don't forget to read the manual before!

The day ended with a bit of a sad note. Part of our eagerness to make progress today was to get close enough to Dallas that we could hopefully make a day-trip down to visit an old college friend who is ill. Unfortunately, when we called from the hotel, he reported that he was doing badly and wasn't up to a visit. We are sorry to miss him and will keep him in our hearts as we continue our own journey.

Day 4: Meditation and Marination

Day Four was a non-flying day. After our late arrival at 10000 Waves on Saturday evening, we slept in until it was time to go up to the spa for our scheduled array of treatments. The spa is in a beautiful Japanese style building. We started our treatment with a soak in a hot tub. After that, we met Claire and Wolfgang, our massage therapists, who escorted us to a room with two massage tables. Over the next two hours, we experienced three separate treatments, which dissipated all of the tension of the trip and probably anything left over from the last 20 or 30 years.

First we were wrapped in hot, moist, herb-infused towels and then sealed up in foil cocoons. Our bodies marinated like this while our heads were kept cool with cold towels and we received massage of the head, neck and shoulders. At the conclusion, we showered briefly in brisk, cold water. The next hour was a conventional massage By the middle, my mind was far away and I was drifting in and out of a sleep-like doze. The conclusion was a "Salt Glow" treatment. First we were rubbed with hot oil. Then we were sprinkled with salt and received a brisk rub. Now I know what a lamb chop feels like before going on the grill. We finished with a warm water rinse to remove the salt but leave the oil. Slippery and dreamy, we staggered back to our room and collapsed.

This was an expensive experience but well worth it. 10000 Waves is featured in the book 1000 Places to Visit Before You Die, and I can see why. However, a small caution.

After a few hours of vegetative relaxation, we summoned up our energy and headed into Santa Fe. Lisa had never been, and my previous visit was a drive-by lunch on business in 1981. It is a very pretty city but a little quiet. On a tip, we visited the Loretto Chapel, which features a so-called Miraculous Staircase. It was beautiful, but anyone who has visited our house will understand why we weren't sold on its miraculous properties. We stumbled on to one of the more appealing restaurants only to learn it was already booked for the night. After driving to two other neighborhoods and finding ourselves uninspired, we had a mediocre mexican meal at a rooftop cantina and returned home. One last little treat for me--awake in the middle of the night, I wandered out on to our back porch and experienced a fabulous starlit night, capped by a flaming meteorite.

Day 5 will be back in the air.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Day 3: The Story Can Be Told

Gallup (GUP) to Albuquerque (ABQ):
143 statute miles (124 nm)
time enroute: 1:21

Today was the most eventful of the trip to date. The plan was for a short flight over to Albuquerque International, where I would meet Lisa's Southwest flight from Las Vegas at 3:05. Afterward, we would make the 40 nm hop up to Santa Fe, rent a car and drive to 10000 Waves Spa and Resort, for a day of relaxation and massage.

I arrived at the airport around 9:00 and the folks at Gallup Flying Service brought my plane out from the service hangar, where it had spent the night enjoying its new wiring. During my preflight, I was treated to the arrival of an open cockpit Great Lakes biplane. The pilot was on his way from Long Beach, CA to Oshkosh for AirVenture. I departed at 10:02. At 5300 feet and about 80 degrees F, the density altitude was almost 8000 feet. I was ready for a long takeoff roll and I got one. Once I was in the air, I experienced a sedate 500 feet per minute climb. The biplane pilot getting ready to depart behind me seemed to notice, because he asked how the climbout went.

After takeoff, I continued my climb up to 9500 feet. I'm happy to say that the charging system seems to be 100% okay now. The short flight to Albuquerque was quiet and scenic. I snapped a few pictures of Grants, NM, including what I think was the uranium mine I visited back in 1981. Albuquerque itself sits right on the green swatch of the Rio Grande.

Desert and Sky

Uranium Mine

Arrival at Albuquerque was a little exciting. It's a Class C airspace, but it wasn't too busy at the time. I was cleared for Runway 3 and then on two to three mile final they asked me to maintain best possible speed for a Pilatus arriving from the north. I know it is my choice but I did what I could and found myself crossing the threshold at around 95 kts instead of my usual 65-70. Luckily the approach was stable and the runway very, very long, so I just bled off speed until the plane decided it was ready to land. Even at that I made the first turn-off which pointed me right at Seven Bar Aviation. After tieing down the plane without buying any fuel, the staff gave me a lift over to the airline terminal to wait for Southwest 2670.

I had gotten in early enough to beat the afternoon buildup of thundershowers, but after a mediocre lunch in the terminal, I saw watching the sky grow messier by the minute as I waited for Lisa's arrival.

In the end, her flight was racing a thunderstorm to the airport. She got in just before the deluge. It wasn't as great as it sounds because as soon as she landed, they issued a lightning hold on ground operations. That meant that the luggage sat and waited for the storm to go by. By the time we got the luggage and got picked up the Seven Bar driver, it was after 5:00.

A check of Nexrad in the FBO briefing room showed a lot of activity at Santa Fe and north, and the FAA briefer seemed to be choking back disbelief when I asked for a weather update from ABQ to SAF. As we pondered our situation, a Cessna R182 showed up. The pilot had come from Las Vegas, NM via the Santa Fe area and said we would be just fine. Since the weather around Albuquerque was gloomy but manageable we decided to give it a try. This was going to my first time sharing the sky with thunderstorms and I intended to be very, very careful.

Albuquerque (ABQ) to Albuquerque (ABQ):
143 statute miles (47 nm)
time enroute: 1:21

The map more or less tells the story. After a long taxi to Runway 8, we were cleared for takeoff. There was a solid crosswind, supposedly blowing at 10 kts, but I'm pretty sure the anenometer was in a hangar somewhere. From the time we loaded the plane through the entire flight, there was a brisk wind.

Albuquerque airport is at 5355 feet elevation. With the outside temperature around 80, the density altitude was over 9000 feet. This was even higher than in Gallup. However, Runway 8 is over 13,000 feet long, compared to the 2000 I am used to at home. My mighty Continental engine had us in the air within not much more than 1000 feet. Since this was Lisa's first high-altitude flight, I warned her that we would climb slowly and probably have to bank to the right for a bit to stay over the runway. Those warnings were well advised because that's exactly what happened. We got off the ground and climbed leisurely for the minute or so it took us to actually pass the end of the runway. After that, we made a gradual turn to the north and headed for Santa Fe. As we flew, we paid equal attention to the weather ahead and that behind, making sure we didn't get trapped with nowhere to go. We made it about 25 nm to the north and were just rounding the end of the Sandia crest, when we concluded that weather ahead was getting worse not better. With a steady diet of bumps and bounces, it was time to give the round to Mother Nature. We made our U-turn and headed back to the field. They gave us 17 for landing, which was more or less directly into the wind, and we had an easy landing and return to Seven Bar. Around this time, we must have seemed like the weird relatives you can't get rid of. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, they were very helpful with a lift to the Hertz counter where we changed our car pickup from Santa Fe and headed off.

Albuquerque, NM to Santa Fe, NM (by Toyota Corolla):
54 statute miles
time enroute: 1:21

The drive by car was only about an hour, but we stopped for a surprisingly tasty and unique dinner at The Range Cafe in Bernalillo. We got to 10000 Waves spa at 10:30, found the key in the lockbox and retired gratefully to our room, Full Moon.

Despite the diversion back to Albuquerque, the late night arrival, and the fact that we ended up leaving the plane behind for two days, it was exciting and new. I'm still enjoying the unique discoveries of flying the southwest, which is so different from the Bay Area. I had a chance to push my personal limits safely and then back of before I regretted what I was doing. And we did get the chance to drive along the route of the historic 66, even if it was done on an Interstate. On any trip, it's the unplanned challenges and surprised that become the lasting memories.

After flying out of my home state for the first time ever, I now had two new states and a lot of miles under my belt. And much more to come.

In my next post, the spa experience and our visit to Santa Fe.

Day 3 Coming Soon

Various circumstances have kept me from posting the last two days, but I should have time later tonight. Today's flight is from Albuquerque, NM to Weatherford, OK via Santa Rosa and Tucumcari, NM and Amarillo, TX. It should be about three hours of flying time enroute.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Day 2: Addendum

406 statute miles (350 nm)
time enroute: 3:17
average speed: 107 kts

It finally occurred to me to look for image files on my hard drive. It looks like all the high-res images from yesterday are still there. I just need to convince Aperture.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Day 2: Bullhead, AZ to Gallup, NM

~approx 300 nm
time enroute: ~2.5 hours

I am sitting in the lobby of the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, NM. Day two has been a total immersion in the cross-country experience. Yesterday, have the terrain I covered, both of my departures and one of my arrivals were in familiar territory. Today it was all brand new. It was a great experience, which in the blended some beautiful scenery and flying with a little anxiety and aggravation. It's amazing that a single two and half hour flight and all the accompanying activity fills a day.

The day got off to an inauspicious start. I slept poorly, so I ended up dragging my feet getting out of the hotel. As a result, it was a toasty 101 when I get to the airport around 10:00. I'm not at all sure it would have been much cooler at 8:00. I had the same cabbie going back to the field as when I came in last night. He claimed there were nine cabs in service in the greater Bullhead metro area, so I guess it was just luck. As a result, I had a chance to thank him for his dinner recommendation and share my trip plans with him. After a helpful and courteous send-off from the folks at Encore, I loaded up the plane, remembering to get the charts I would need from the back this time.

Hotel El Rancho

After starting up the plane, I enountered the first misfortune of the day. The low-voltage light was on, indicating that the system wasn't charging. The ammeter had shown a charge at first, but quickly stopped. I have a new alternator so I started wondering what might be the problem. I decided to taxi out to the run-up and see if things got better. They didn't. The system seemed to be sort of charging a little, so I considered just taking off. There was certainly no danger to flying in clear daylight when there were airports every 30 minutes along the route. In the end, I considered how inconvenient it would be if I found myself stuck at a field that had no shop to work on the plane, so I taxied back to Encore.

Guess what? I was already at a field that had no shop. Luckily I didn't bother shutting down. I talked to the woman at encore over the Unicom and she confirmed that there was a shop at my next stop, Kingman. I decided to depart and evaluate my options enroute to Kingman.

Departure was relatively uneventful. The airport serves jet traffic, so I only used a fraction of it, even in the heat. Once of the ground my cylinder head temps climbed up over 400 and stuck there, so I opted for a long, slow climb. My original plan was to gain altitude going south and then turn east through a pass toward Kingman. I was climbing so slowly that I found myself most of the way to Needles, CA before I felt comfortable leaving the flat open dessert and heading over the ridge.

A watched pot may never boil, but a watched low-voltage warning light will go out. Well before Kingman the light was out and I decided to forge on. There were thunderstorms forecast to the east later and I didn't relish the idea of stopping and losing the morning flying time if I didn't have to.

Typical Route 66 Indian Craft Shop

As it happens, the light came on periodically throughout the rest of the day. This, along with the possibility of weather, made me decide to fly non-stop to Gallup. I wanted to get in early enough to have a chance at having the plane worked on.

The terrain rises slowly and steadily from 700 feet at Bullhead to over 7000 at Flagstaff. If you don't know to read the charts and plan for it, you can easily find yourself dangerously low. I built several 2000 foot step-up climbs into my plan so I was fine. All the same, it feels weird to be at 9500 feet and only 2000 above the ground. I've flown high over mountains in CA, but it is different over flatter terrain.

All of this was complicated by the weather. I never had to deal with thunderstorms and the clouds were always at least 2000 feet above me, but there was a haze looking east into the sun which for a while limited visibility. You can't tell how far away anything is out here, but I think it was 20 miles or so. That wasn't a risk to flight, but I could never tell if it was getting worse or see what might be hiding in it. I stayed supercautious, making sure I had a turn-back option, and eventually all cleared up.

The next setback was photographic. I took a ton of pictures from the air. I don't think I captured anything that the previous million people who have photographed this country missed, but it is my personal journey after all. I downloaded the pictures this afternoon and when I went back to look at them in Aperture, it seems like I have only the thumbnails, not the actual images. I didn't knowingly do anything different, and pictures I shot before and after are both fine. So for now, I wait and hope I can get them back.

Two Shots of The Mother Road

The next and last minor frustration is that the tracks I downloaded from the Garmin have also gone missing. It's a strange coincidence, but I can't really so how that would have happened. I know I can download them again, but the hotel only has internet in the lobby so it will have to wait. That's also the reason I am guessing at the time and distance covered today.

I arrived in Gallup around 2:00 after crossing into Mountain Daylight Time. I've tripled the number of states I have flown in and to in the last two days. The arrival was uneventful, as it should be. I'm glad I flew straight here. The Gallup Flying Service did have a mechanic available and they looked at the plane this afternoon. The good news is that they found two intermittent wiring issues and now the plane seems fine. They get mucho cred from me for checking after repairing the first. Otherwise, I would still be having problems.

I spent the afternoon decompressing and taking a short walk along the actual Route 66. Today is the first time on the trip that I actually am on the road and not just over it. The road runs alongside the Santa Fe railroad. Hopefully tomorrow I will have some more to add.

Tomorrow I fly to Albuquerque where I meet Lisa at 3:00 and then we hop up to Santa Fe, weather permitting. Over and out.

Eastbound Freight

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Day 1: Santa Monica, CA to Bullhead, AZ (523 nm)

Palo Alto to Santa Monica:
333 statute miles (289 nm)
time enroute: 2:39

I'm on my way. I left Palo Alto this morning around 10:00. I managed to fit everything in the plane with room to spare (except Sarah, she was just there to see me off). After getting everything set, I discovered where the plastic nut I found on my floor yesterday came from. It was part of the bracket that mounts my portable GPS to the window screen. Lisa was still on her way home from the airport when I found it, she graciously made another trip to bring it by. The only other thing missing so far is my little homemade "Scott Stauter altitude reminder". I can live without it.

The flight from PAO to SMO was routine. I've done it about five or so times by now, I'm starting to recognize the landmarks. The one thing that was interesting today was the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) for brushfires north of Santa Barbara. Confession to those who know better: I didn't get a briefing before leaving. Luckily, I thought to check for TFRs using the satellite weather on the Garmin. I just had a small deviation around the edge.

In Santa Monica, I landed and parked, so that I could declare this the official start of the trip. I even filled out the landing registration, which will earn me a six dollar bill from the airport months from now.

Santa Monica, CA to Bullhead, AZ
270 statute miles (234 nm)
time enroute: 2:08

In a perfect world, I would be able to avoid flying between noon and evening, but not today. I left Santa Monica at a little after 2:00. I flew out along the I-10 to San Bernardino and then made a hard left up along the I-15 through the Cajon Pass toward Victorville and Barstow. Low and slow wasn't a good option. I needed to get up high to stay out of the rocks, so I flew this leg at 7500 feet and later up at 9500. After Barstow, I deviated a little from the historic route. My final destination was Bullhead, AZ (although I didn't realize it was Arizona until I landed there), which is a bit north of the route. It didn't make too much sense to fly to Needles and then back again, so I shaved an edge off the route. In the morning, I will head southeast to reconnect with the route somewhere before Kingman.

It's fun to look at the route and see how it really does come prety close to the highway. I want to load it in GoogleEarth, but for some reason it won't let me at the moment.

The purple line is the route I entered in the Garmin ahead of time. The blue lines are Garmin's version of highways. I-40 is the lower line going east and runs along the route. The green line is my actual track.

Bullhead is a small city that seems nowadays to exist as the Arizona base for a fast-growing gambling city across the Colorado River in Laughlin, NV. I ate dinner at Earl's at the Castle, an outpost of local home cooking. Now I'm back at the room and feeling just tired enough to get a good night's sleep and an early start tomorrow.

Morning of Departure

Today is the day. I just checked the weather for Santa Monica:

Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS)
Output produced by TAFs form (1343 UTC 19 July 2007)
found at http://adds.aviationweather.gov/tafs/index.php

KSMO 191251Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM CLR 17/15 A2984 RMK AO2 SLP102 T01720150
KLAX 191250Z 00000KT 10SM FEW020 18/15 A2984 RMK AO2 SLP101 T01780150

KLAX 191120Z 191212 VRB04KT P6SM FEW011
FM1600 25008KT P6SM SKC
FM1900 25012KT P6SM SKC
FM0500 24007KT P6SM SCT006

For the non-aviators, the wind is calm, visibility is 10 miles and the sky is clear. The forecast for nearby LAX shows that clear skies are expected all day.

I am hoping to be in the air around 10:00 and on the ground in SMO by around noon. After a short break to stretch my legs, I will be back in the air headed east. Unfortunately this means entering the southwest furnace in the heat of the day, which is not great for flying or comfort. The good news is that my goal is modest. I want to get out to the AZ border. I am actually planning to divert from the route for an overnight in Laughlin, NV (KIFP). There aren't many places to stay at airports along the route between Barstow and Kingman, AZ.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Packing Day

Over the last week, I've been collecting the stuff I want to bring and staging it to a pile in the dining room. I don't want to realize later that I forgot an items that was going to be important to the comfort or success of the flight.

If you are a pilot, you will recognize much of the stuff in this picture. At the back left, I have my charts. They completely fill the flight bag that used to be my entire flying kit. I've got 14 sectional charts, six VFR Terminal Area charts, five A/FDs, ten sets of approach charts, and six IFR enroute charts. This is in addition to my regular Jeppesen charts that cover CA.

The back right is my flight bag. I've got the usual kneeboard, Jeppesen, guide and various accessories I use in flight, including my handheld backup radio. At the back center, some "personal comfort items." Headsets and electronic accessories, including my Garmin 396 portable GPS, make up the rest.

I guess this is a clothing optional trip, because I haven't start packing anything to wear. Based on the expected temperatures for many of my destinations, it won't take much.

I will be loading most of this stuff in the plane today so that I have less to do tomorrow morning. My intent is to get up and out early, so that I can be in Santa Monica for the official start of the trip in time to get some distance along the route.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Three days until launch

It turns out there isn't much to report during the preparation of a trip like this. It could be that there isn't that much preparation. That's all changing because I am almost ready to go and now there is a lot happening.

The plane is all set. It had a clean annual in June as well as getting the WAAS upgrade on the Garmin 530. I had a 50 hour service done last week, which should last just about long enough to get me where I'm going and back.

I also had the good fortune to get a new-to-me camera, a like-new Canon 20D that I bought from a co-worker. I hope I am up to the task of getting some great photographic records of the trip.

The itinerary is pretty much finalized. It looks like this:

Day Date Route Distance (nm)
1 7/19/07 KPAO-KSMO-KIGM 536
2 7/20/07 KIGM-KGUP 271
3 7/21/07 KGUP-KABQ-KSAF 155
5 7/23/07 KSAF-KOJA 394
6 7/24/07 KOJA-KDAL-KMIO 494
7 7/25/07 KMIO-KSPI 348
8 7/26/07 KPI-KPWK 160
11 7/29/07 KPWK-KBHM 515
13 7/31/07 KBHM-KMDH 280
15 8/2/07 KMDH-KSTL-KLNK 400
16 8/3/07 KLNK-U42 694
17 8/4/07 U42-KPAO 509

Hopefully I will have almost daily updates of my progress from here on.
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