Jun 212014

After a couple weeks’ worth of vacationing with my family in my own town (we even got to participate in a local parade), it was time to get Moose to his final home in Arizona.

Cousin in local parade

During the down-time, I took Moose to a nearby airport to get the transponder looked at. The avionics technician said they had taken it out for a bench test and that it was working just fine. They also took a look at the number 1 radio since it had been very scratchy. Both the radio and transponder received a VFR certification and I thought everything was good to go.

But no sooner had I taken off than the tower said that my transponder appeared to be inoperative. I acknowledged that observation, but kept going – I knew that from here to my destination, I wouldn’t need to make any significant deviations to stay out of airspace that required a transponder.

Mt. Rainier

I then proceeded on with the Volcano tour – first flying by Mr. Rainier at 6:30 am on a clear morning. Early morning fog was starting to lift and the day promised to be a beautiful one.

Mt. St. Helens

Next on the tour were Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams (you can see Mt. Adams in the distance behind Mt. St. Helens) with her blown off top. The unmistakable profile is a reminder of how unpredictable mother nature can be and yet still remain stunningly breathtaking on a clear day like today.

Volcano tour

At one point I could see Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Hood all at the same time – what a sight! But, it was time for my first fuel stop.  I didn’t get fuel in Renton because I left so early, the FBO wasn’t open yet.

Mt. Hood

So only after an hour of flight, I landed at Twin Oaks, just southwest of Portland, OR. Twin Oaks has a tiny runway of less than 2,500ft x 48ft, but the airport had everything I needed – self serve fuel, restrooms, and some friendly mechanics starting out their work. But, it was a brief break and soon I was off to my next volcano on the volcano tour.

Mt. Shasta

I passed closer to Mt. Shasta than to any of the other volcanos and felt quite a few bumps of turbulence due to her protruding presence into the sky, even at this early hour of the morning. Just south was the Shasta National Recreational Park, it looked amazing and I definitely want to go there someday to play around.

Shasta National Recreation Area

Landing in Red Bluff about an hour later, I was starting to get parched. I’m used to drinking nearly a gallon of water a day, but during these ferry flights, I limit my water intake since restrooms are few an far between. The temperature was rising and the dew point was still super low which meant it was getting really dry.

Red Bluff

I was relieved when I found a soda machine that offered bottles of water. I had just enough change to buy a bottle, but as soon as I put the coins in and before I could make a selection, a can of Mountain Dew fell out. I picked it up and was so thirsty that I popped it open right away and took a couple of swigs. It was so refreshing, but then I looked at the nutrition label and almost spit out my last swig when I saw that it had 46 grams of sugar!!! Good Lord! Who needs that much sugar in just 16oz of fluid?!!

I poured out the rest of the soda and refilled the can with water from a water fountain. I finished the can and refilled it again to go. Of course, since you can’t close a can like you can a water bottle, I had to strategically place it on my lap during takeoff so that it wouldn’t spill.

From Red Bluff to my next fuel point in Porterville, CA it was a lot of the same landscape. A big mountain range on my left, and a lot of flat fields on my right broken up by a couple of cities and military bases. One highlight was looking out towards Yosemite National Park – it looks amazingly pristine, even amongst the rest of the mountain range. I love the thin fog that usually hovers near the surface giving it a mysterious “je ne sais quoi”.

I had originally intended to just get fuel in Porterville, about an hour north of Palmdale, CA and then proceed to Arizona. But after fueling, it was so hot and I felt so dehydrated that I decided to spend the night in town. Of course, as is typically the case, the biggest part of a ferry pilot’s adventure takes place on the ground. It seemed this town was the proud owner of a single taxi cab. And when the driver finally decided to answer my phone calls, he mentioned something about a truck, which I didn’t pay much attention to because all I cared about was that he come out and pick me up.

I was sitting on the grass under a tree with my luggage waiting for the cab when an old truck that looked like it came straight out of the 60′s pulled up. The driver said his regular cab had broken down with a leaking radiator and it was in the shop. So, instead of leaving passengers stranded, he was using his truck to pick people up. I surely appreciated his resourcefulness since, otherwise, I would have been stranded at the airport which is 3 miles from the closest hotel.

My resourceful cab driver

The old truck was an International, he said. I told him I’ve never heard of that manufacturer, but that I liked the truck. He said it had some oddities and he was the only one that could drive the thing. It had a standard transmission with weird looking stick, but besides that I didn’t see anything peculiar about driving it, so I asked what was so odd about the truck.

“Wehhll,” he said, “for starters, if ya try to put it in neutral too soon, it might lock up on ya. It has a hydraulic clutch ya see, and if you go put it in another gear when ya’re tryin’ to come to a stop…it’ll just keep goin’!”

I didn’t exactly understand the mechanics of it all, but I took his word for it, because then I started to notice he would pump the clutch when coming out of certain gears and do a little dance with the stick before it finally engaged. Plus, he had jerry-rigged a handle that stuck out of the steering wheel, perpendicular to the plane of the wheel, so he could grab it with both hands to make sharp turns – kinda like grabbing a big wooden spoon to stir the soup in a huge pot.

International dashboard

Then he told me about one of his “regulars”. A lady that lived up in the mountains in some trailer. She was a widow and after her husband had died, she had moved up there for some peace and quiet. She would call him regularly to buy groceries and liquor…mostly liquor. But, she paid him $160 each time, so he didn’t mind having to drive all the way up there to get her.

“So she makes a trip every couple of months, then?” I asked.

“About once a month…sometimes every three weeks….depends on how fast she drinks!” he chuckled. “She goes through that stuff pretty quick sometimes.”

After a few minutes we pulled up to the Best Western in Porterville, CA. He dropped me off and asked for $10. I handed him $15 and thanked him. I asked if I could call him early in the morning to take me back to the airport. He said of course, just give him 15 minutes heads up and he’ll come and pick me up.

The first thing I did after checking in at the hotel was ask the front desk agent for a bottle of water. She handed me one and before she was done getting my room keys ready for me, I had drank the entire bottle and asked her for another one. She kindly obliged and I finally started to feel better.

The second thing I did was take a shower to freshen up before heading over to Denny’s for some dinner. I picked up a copy of the local paper and read while I ate. It seems Porterville and its surrounding neighbors in the county of Tulare are really trying to bring tourism in.

They’ve been campaigning and even have a new Professionally 3-day guided tour of the Majestic Mountain Loop just northeast of Visalia. Sounds like a lot of fun, but with the intro rates starting at $849/person (it includes transportation, lodging, and meals) I think I’ll pack some trail mix and sandwiches, and ride around on my motorcycle myself for a fraction of that cost. Of course, I’ll have to make it down on my motorcycle first…but, now I know exactly where to go.

So, tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep, I hope to make it to Arizona in about 3 and a half hours. After that, I’ll find a good book at the Phoenix airport and wait for my flight in the afternoon.

Click Here for Part 6

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