The Great Cross Country
One late June morning a few years ago now I received a phone call from my friend Steve asking me what I was up to during my coming days off. I replied that I didn't have much of anything going on, except for maybe screwing around and being lazy. I'm wicked good at both screwing around and being lazy, and if you catch me on a good day, you'll see both done at the same time. At that time Steve was in his final year of school at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. He had just bought a Piper Cherokee and wanted to come home for a visit. His father and mother wanted someone else to go with him, they'd just feel better that way, and offered to fly me out to Arizona to fly co-pilot on the two day trip back. So clearly I said yes. I mean, what aviation fan in their right mind is turning that adventure down?
So I think that it is only fair to Steve to state right up front, that he is an excellent pilot, who now holds multiple ratings. He runs the flight department for a private corporation and has an office bigger than the biggest bedroom I've ever had. I think he has his own bathroom in that thing. I know for damn sure he has snacks, because as you'll read...he always has snacks.
I left from Portland, Maine (KPWM) on a United flight, which would take me down to Dulles. I packed light, just a back pack with some flying gear and a change of clothes. Now, I soloed at 16 in a Piper Cherokee, so I've always had a soft spot for the little low winged beast. True, you couldn't see squat below you because the wings were in the way, but you had great up and forward visibility. The best things about the Cherokee was that you couldn't spin it, you couldn't stall it, and it was rugged. I decided that I would re-read the manuals for the darn thing on the short hop to Dulles. As it turns out, the guy sitting next to me was a non-rev passenger. He was a Delta pilot headed to work. We had a great chat about flying and his unique "fly to work to fly for work" life style. It was really eye opening about airline pilot life. A secret note was made inside my head that I wanted to do that.
To add to the extra special nature of this trip, when I got to Dulles, it seems that all the regional jets did not get a jetway, you just deplaned via little airstairs and walked across the tarmac and inside. Pretty cool stuff if you stopped to take a couple of pictures really quick without managing to get arrested or draw too much attention to yourself. A quick shuffle inside the terminal and a ride on the famous double ended buses that take you across the airport and I was sitting on a United 757 ready to head Phoenix. I took a good snooze for most of the flight and ended up in Phoenix around 7pm local time, 10pm body time. Steve met me inside and as we headed to the car he warned me that it was a little warm out. He wasn't shitting. It was like walking into a blow dryer; I was in love. I love dry heat.
The Crash Pad and Departure from Prescott
On the way from PHX to Prescott, I got to see something I had always wanted to see, and hadn't yet despite a recent trip to Vegas. A tumble weed! Maybe it was a long love of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns, but I had always wanted to see one. I mean, the west in general has been a love story for me. From the moment I first flew over the painted desert, high bluffs and plateaus, canyons, and rivers I was hooked. To see it from the sky truly sets my mind free.
The second important item on the way to the Steven crash pad was IN-N-OUT Burger. At this very moment I would do unspeakable things for an animal style double double and fries, and if you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, you're missing out. Big time. I guarantee Steven is laughing out loud reading this right now, because he knows how intense I get about my airplanes and my IN-N-OUT.
So after all of those exciting sights and cuisine, we arrived at a nice little development to a single story residence. With fake grass and all. It was as dark as a boot. Steven had a little Chevy Nova that was his around town car. It wasn't a cool Nova, like an SS Nova. It was the remake, the economy Nova. If you've been in aviation any amount of time, everyone knows you have an airport car, one you take to bum around the airport and your plane, and a normal car, one you take to normal people stuff. The Nova was Steve's airport car. It was a deathtrap on wheels. I'd have trusted one of the first DC-10's over this thing. At the same time, it was legendary. Probably because it was spray painted like the General Lee...google it, you'll laugh if you don't already know. So we went off road in this s-box really quick before bed. You haven't lived until you go bombing through the sand and cactus in a 20 odd year old economy car on a gorgeous Arizona night.
After all of that fun, we got back to the house. I hadn't been inside yet, and this was the best part. There was a couch where I would sleep that night. Cool. The rest of the furniture, well, let's just say it was economical. There was plastic patio furniture in front of the fire place, the kitchen table was covered in aircraft radios in various states of repair and there were two steel propellers lying on the kitchen floor. It was really aviation heaven.
I was in Arizona for less than eight hours. Eight friggin hours out west was all I got. No more than six hours after my head hit the pillow it was time to roll. We stopped off at the gas station and grabbed a pile of snacks and some coffee. I was mindful that I wasn't flying business class, so I had a baby coffee. It seems they don't put lavatories in general aviation aircraft and I didn't feel like filling any bottles. Not to mention we were loaded down with Steven's luggage, our food supplies and I'm not kidding, eight cases of Capri Sun. Somehow, Steven lucked into one of his many deals and got the for next to nothing, so those were the drink of choice. Neat thing about those: They are hard to spill everywhere in a tiny airplane.
The desert at night is a very dark place. Compounding that issue, the early morning hours were near moonless and it was actually very cold. This was good as the lower density altitude and smooth air that the coolness provided would help our laden Cherokee soar into the early morning sky. After pre flight inspection, settling into the cockpit, and monkeying with the GPS, we did just that. Fun fact about the GPS. The bracket was broken and it sat on my lap for a good part of the way across these ol' United States. I still hate that GPS.
First stop: Dalhart, Texas. Home of a prison, a stockyard, and an airport. And not a lot else.
To be continued