Thursday, July 23, 2015

Redneck Riviera

Last week my husband and I embarked on a long journey over 900 nautical miles, from northeast US to the southernmost edge of Alabama in our airplane “Bravo”. 

We awoke before sunrise to get an early start, but endured a few hours delay until a storm system passed through Virginia.  At last we loaded up and took off. Loaded to near max weight and the summer temperatures rising, Bravo climbed much slower than usual.  At least the natural air conditioning kicked in soon (temperature drops 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit every 1000 feet).

We journeyed west to avoid DC airspace and Camp David, then turned south.  The cloud layer kept us lower than we hoped and created some mild turbulence. At the second fuel stop we were in Tennessee and feeling hungry. It was also approaching evening so we decided to find a hotel and take up our journey the next day.  The airport was deserted, though, and in the middle of a rural area.  A quick call to the friendly airport manager, and we were driving a few miles to the nearest town in search of food. We filled our bellies with pizza and ice cream (hey, we stuck with what we knew) and found a nice hotel.

The next day, clouds again delayed our trip for a couple hours. This town was in the middle of a valley. Valleys tend to collect ground fog which needs the sun to quickly melt away.  Climbing in the air again, we headed south, dodging hills and small rain clouds.  At one point we passed near Talladega, a nice airstrip next to the famous racetrack.

Yes, I sang a few lines of that Eric Church song….

Over Talladega, boys raised up,
Whiskey in your glass, here's to turning up,
Slowing down and cars that go real fast,
We were laughing and living, drinking and wishing,
And thinking as that checkered flag was waving,
Sure would like to stay in Talladega.

Funny thing about flying with another pilot. You can share flying duty (control of the yoke), but only one person can be pilot in command. LOVE that aspect because it was still ME on this trip. He wanted to climb above the clouds, but I exercised my judgment and stayed lower. Those cumulus clouds were building and given the weather front I worried that the cloud layer would close and we wouldn’t be able to find a hole to duck through to land at our destination.  [Gotta work on that instrument rating so clouds won’t be as much of a factor.]

Somewhat later, we watched the coastline emerge in front of us and landed safely at our destination airport near Gulf Shores, AL.  A blast of heat and humidity greeted us as we climbed out to tether Bravo to the ground. Then our friends pulled up in their SUV of air conditioned comfort. A short drive later we arrived at the beach front hotel.

Our week of activities began. Museum tours of USS Alabama Battleship, USS Drum Submarine, Pensacola Naval Air Station. Waterville water park. Shrimp boil at Jack Edwards Airport. Dinner and drinks with friends in the International Cessna 170 organization. Pictures with our traveling gnome Frank.

And my favorite….long walks on the beach. Feel your body relax as you gaze on the gorgeous sunset.

A friend of mine calls the Gulf Shore area “Redneck Riviera”.  Seems rather derogatory for the beautiful, white sand beaches we saw.  One really nice feature was their practice of flying specially-colored flags to let swimmers know how safe the water might be – from sharks or jellyfish.  No shark sightings in the area (must have been visiting the Carolinas), but there were plenty of jellyfish.  I stayed out of the ocean and swam only in the lovely hotel pool. Or hung out at the bar drinking mai tais.

All too soon the week was over. It was time to head home. Once again we hopped in the airplane and started north.  The Military Operations Area by Pensacola was “hot” which meant we needed to keep watch for fast military trainers. We adjusted our flight plan slightly to scoot out of the airspace as quickly as possible. The weather was cooperating with us, although still keeping us below 5000 feet and sending a bit of clear air turbulence to hold our attention.  Headwinds made the first part of our journey slower than we wanted, yet we made up that time with a nice tailwind across Maryland and Pennsy. Three fuel stops and we were almost home. Will we make it before sunset?  It was close but we made it!  What a relief to be back safely and sleep in our own bed.

Vacation is over.  Back to the household routine and unfinished projects.

My niece’s t-shirt quilt was waiting for me. I need more pellon to stabilize the remaining shirts and just the right border fabric. Oh, and some idea of how I want to handle the sashing. And eventually I need to put the binding on my king-size Celtic Solstice.

My garden was filled with TONS of green beans, cucumbers and squash, plus a few tomatoes. I canned 8 quarts of green beans, 8 half-pints of sweet pickle relish.  I baked zucchini bread and cooked homemade spaghetti squash.  And I still have a counter full of produce to cook, preserve or give away. 

Ah, it’s good to be home!

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