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!."


  1. Those that think flying your plane is easy, need to read this. So glad the girls got to play in the snow on Mt. Hood and so glad I got to spend time with y'all. I'm glad you are home safe now and are taking time to write about your monumental trip across the U.S.!

  2. Way cool, Geoff. Looking forward to the rest!


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