Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer Vacation 2017 - The Further We Get, The Better

So with initial plans and arrangements made, we set off at sunrise on Saturday, June 24.  The goal was to work our way to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It was unrealistic to get there in one day, but if we could get off early, before the thunderstorms of the Southeast had a chance to really develop and got as far as we could, we wouldn't have much to go the 2nd day.  I told the family that the first day would be the most amount of flying and after that we would have much more scenic and shorter times in the plane.

We were rolling down the runway in Jacksonville (@KCRG) a little before 7 am.  We departed VFR and picked up flight following at 6,500 feet heading northwest for our first fuel stop in Savannah, TN.  The only weather we had to deal with at all that day was a larger area of thunderstorms south and east of Birmingham, AL.  We climbed to 8,500 feet and found our way around them.  Finally turning back on course over Birmingham, we remained in clear skies for the rest of the day.

We made an easy straight in approach to Runway 1 at KSNH and taxied over to the self serve fuel area.  I had last been at this airport 7 years ago when I bought the Lance.  When I went inside to pay, a familiar face was there waiting.  I looked at her and asked her if she might be the same kind lady that helped me 7 years ago.  I found our old entries in their guest book and added a new one.  I also thumbed through the internet on my phone to find the blog post from that trip and showed her the picture that my Mom took.  Sure enough it was her!  She told us the following day would be her last as she was retiring.  She is 72 and will now be able to stay home to take care of her husband.  I'm so glad we briefly crossed paths again and I wish her and her husband all the best!

From 7 years ago!!
With minimal time on the ground, we were back in the air heading for our next fuel stop.  I had originally wanted to go to an airport just on the east side of Kansas City next and stay the night, but then I noticed they were having an airshow that weekend so I need to find another place.  I also knew if we could just fly a little further than that it would be tons better.  So in an effort to give us a better break, we stopped in Clinton, Mo at KGLY, a little southeast of Kansas City.  This was the first of a few stops at airports that were pretty inactive and felt more remote than what my family has been used to.  My wife commented she felt we might be in an episode of The Walking Dead.  Ha!

Just as with our other stops, the fuel pump worked great, there were nice facilities to use, and we were easily on our way to the next stop. After about 20 minutes we were back in the air headed northwest again and looking to get to Lincoln, NE to stop for the night.  Our route took us right over downtown Kansas City, close to Kansas City International Airport, and by Ft Leavenworth, KS where my Dad was stationed and we lived when I was 12 years old.

After all we had already done, this leg was only going to be 1 hour and 45 mins.  We can do that!  Around 3:30 pm CDT and after 8.5 hours of flight time for the day, we happily called it a day and shutdown on the Silverhawk Aviation ramp at KLNK.

They kindly gave us a ride to the Hampton Inn that was right next to the airport.  We checked in and walked over to a Perkins Restaurant to have a late lunch/early dinner.  After that, we went back to the hotel to relax and get a good night's rest.  The next day would be another full day, but not flying wise.  The plan was to get going a little early and be in Spearfish, SD by lunchtime so we could really start this adventure!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Summer Vacation 2017 - The Planning

Since first buying a plane in 2008, I have dreamed about flying a true cross-country trip.  Yes, coast-to-coast.  Trying to figure out when, for all the right reasons, and then committing to it has bee hard to figure out.  But last January it became a little more obvious that 2017 would be the year.

Both our girls were at a good age.  Abby, 14, is a typical teenager, but doesn't completely despise being with us and I know she appreciates our adventures once they finally begin.  Mary, 7, is old enough to be engaged in this, enjoy the adventure as well, and most importantly, remember it.

So when?

Since my wife is an assistant at the girls' school, I knew this trip would be perfect for their Summer Vacation.  I agreed to be at work through the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays this year and in turn was able to secure the remainder of my 3 weeks of leave I had on the books for this trip.  Not wanting to just jump from the end of the school year right into this adventure, and working with my partners' schedules at work, I settled on leaving towards the end of June and returning mid July.

As my fellow aviators know, one of the things I couldn't really do with this trip was have a firm schedule for our stops.  I needed to be able to have the weather, the plane, and our desires really dictate how we moved.  That attitude was actually very easy to have since we knew there were by far many more possible places to visit than we would have time.  We would always have a Plan "B" if needed and knew that would be OK too.

So where?

Since our end goal was to get to Vancouver, WA, I focused on a few possibilities along that route.

Yellowstone, The Black Hills, The Badlands, Glacier National Park

We also decided we'd like to make a visit to our "old" home in Silverdale, WA.  Keeping with the "never been before" mantra, I figured we'd visit Mt Rainier and the The Museum of Flight at Boeing Filed.

I thought we'd keep our Washington stops short and then we'd continue south into California possibly visiting Yosemite and the Monterey Bay area.

From there I considered heading back home via the southern route with stops in Las Vegas to visit family, the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Monument Valley, and then hops home.

Spoiler alert, we didn't do nearly that much, but what we did do was amazing and worth all the effort.  I will share in the following posts more about our decision making along the way.  When we finally departed on this adventure I pretty much had Plan "A" figured out for what we would do along the way to my Mom's in Vancouver, but left our return routing up in the air.  Ha!

Accommodations and rental cars?

I knew this adventure would be expensive enough so I was hoping to keep costs down wherever I could.  I prefer Hilton or Marriott brand lodging and can usually get decent rates as a government employee, but since we wouldn't be in the rooms much, I just wanted a clean room and decent beds we could crash on.  I think over the entire trip, we only turned the hotel TV on once!  Don't be too impressed, we all have iPads to stay glued to more than needed!

Anyway, I settled on using Wyndham brand lodging mainly staying at Day's Inns.  I found it easier to use their iPhone app to search for options and make reservations.  Overall I was very pleased and will share those experiences in the following posts as well.  We were also very lucky to stay with family at both our stops in Washington which was perfect for many reasons.

The rental car arrangements went fairly smooth.  I found the various iPhone apps very useful here as well.  During the trip we used Enterprise, Avis, and Hertz.  Again, very happy with all and I will share more details later.

Prepping the plane.....and me!

My biggest planning attention for the plane was to review high density altitude operations since my plane is normally aspirated.  I originally took mountain flying training around Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Mountains in a Cessna 172, but that was going on 20 years ago.  When I bought our Lance, I purchased it and flew it back from Salt Lake City, UT in the middle of July.  It's not that I didn't know what to do, it's that I really have become accustomed to the flatlands of the Southeast.

Even though I knew what to do, I decided the best thing to do was to take one flight locally and climb up to 12,500 feet noting various parameters.  I paid close attention to manifold pressure, EGTs, fuel flow, climb rate, density altitude, and airspeed as well as just the "feel" of the plane. 

In the Southeast I am used to having to start our trips early in the morning before thunderstorms really have a chance to develop.  I would have to apply the early departure rule again on this trip to ensure we started any mountain flying in the coolest temps and therefore the lowest possible density altitudes for each departure.

OK, so for those that don't know, what's the big deal?  Well each plane has a Service Ceiling, or a maximum altitude it can fly.  The plane's performance is based on what altitude the plane thinks it's at, not it's actual height above sea level.  For example, the airport elevation at home is only 40 feet, but during the hot days of summer the plane will think it's already above 2000 feet before even leaving the ground.  The higher I go, the engine cannot produce as much horsepower and the propeller and wings aren't as efficient either.  So, lower and cooler in general the better for takeoff.

As for me, other than just being mentally prepared I needed to be prepared for the physiological effects of at flying higher altitudes.  This basically boils down to understanding the reduced levels of oxygen which can lead to hypoxia.  To deal with this, I carry a portable oxygen tank system and a fingertip pulse oximeter to ensure I use it properly.

That's pretty much it.  I thought it would be good to share my preparations, ideas, and concerns first so that now I can get on with the adventure tales and pictures!  I asked my family if anyone wanted to go anywhere or see anyone specific on this trip other than what we had already generally discussed and the only one to really speak up was Mary.  She looked at me and said, "Dad, I have never seen snow.  I want to see and play in snow!"  Even though this was a SUMMER trip I looked at her and said, "You know what?  We are going to make that happen!."

Friday, July 14, 2017

One For The Record Books

It has been entirely way too long since I have posted anything.  I have received a few emails over this time and each time I replied that I would start blogging again soon, but I never seemed to get it done.  We haven't stopped flying at all!  We have continued to make our Spring Break treks to the Bahamas as well as realize the full utility of plane ownership to visit family and other places with far more ease than if we had to drive.  Although sometimes we still had to drive anyway!

Soon I will make an attempt to go back and post about some of these trips we have made over the last 2 1/2 years since my last post.  I had to look that!  Time does fly!

So why now?  Because for years I have wanted to make a true cross-country trip and this was the year!  We returned home safely yesterday after flying coast-to-coast and back again over 20 days.  The planning for this adventure started with two very simple objectives:

1.  Fly to Vancouver, WA to visit my Mom.
2.  Try to go experience some places that none of us ever have.

I am ecstatic to say we accomplished both!  Over the next series of posts, I will look to share this wonderful adventure and how it all came together.

For those still following after all this time, thank you!  I'm sorry for my absence and I sincerely hope you enjoy what is to follow.

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