Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sometimes, a plan just gets in the way

The Weather-out-the-Window for yesterday was horrible. It rained most of the day, and the winds were strong enough to rattle the little flappy thing on the exhaust for my range hood. If I hear that flap raising a ruckus in the morning, I don't even have to get out of bed to check the Weather-out-the-Window to know that I'm not flying. Today made up for it, though. You could ask for a better day for flying, but that would be greedy. It was as close to perfect as you're likely to see in Ohio. Unfortunately, I hadn't made any plans, so the whole idea of flying somewhere was up in the air, so to speak. I keep thinking that I've done pretty much everything there is to do in Ohio, but I'm reluctant to fly much further with the gas prices being what they are. I'd like to take a trip out to Indianapolis to visit the Indy Car Museum at the track, but it's May and things are going to be heating up for the big race at the end of the month.

I figured lunch someplace was the best I could hope for, and I hadn't been down to Portsmouth for awhile to visit with my flying buddy Ted, the proud builder and pilot of an RV-9A. I know through experience that Ted gets up early and that there was a good chance that he'd get an email if I sent one. I mentioned that Co-pilot Rick and I might be looking for a destination, and that even if Rick turned out to be unavailable, I would come down for a visit. Ted replied that he would be at the airport by 1:00, but would be heading out for some formation practice. I could live with that - worst case was that I had a nice lunch at the airport diner and headed home. I'm trying to get more utility out of my flying dollar than just a lunch these days, but with the weather being as nice as it was, just the flying would be worth the gas money. Anything beyond that would be gravy.

Rick was available, so we agreed to meet at the airport at noon. We got settled into the plane and started the taxi down to runway 22, again "via Bravo to Alpha." I'm getting used to the new formality from the tower controllers, so that didn't throw me for a loop like it did last week. The ride down was smooth for the most part, although there were a couple of bumps now and then. Rather than taking a straight shot from Bolton to Portsmouth, I entered a route into the GPS that would keep me under the Buckeye MOA, whose floor is at 5,000', and far enough east to stay out of the Brush Creek MOA, whose floor runs from the ground to something high. There's also a national interest restricted zone around something or the other down that way to be careful of, but its ceiling is at a relatively low 2,500'. We'd be cruising at 3,500' so that wasn't a factor. Still, I avoid it anyway. No sense prodding the Feds, after all. I've never bothered to find out what it is they want us to stay away from, but then again, I've never cared.

Portsmouth County Airport is just to the east of a good sized set of hills, and since the wind was negligible, I had my choice of landing to the north or south. Landing to the south would have been in a direct line with our flight path, but I'm not a big fan of straight-in approaches. That, and figuring that flying the left downwind that would be required to get us to the south side of the airport for a landing to the north would give me a chance to take a look at the wind sock and see what it was doing, was enough to decide on a landing to the north. It turns out that the wind sock couldn't settle on any given direction at all; it was just kind of loafing its way desultorily through the entire compass rose. Left downwind on top of the big hills is a little nerve wracking since the tops of hills seem to attract cell towers and power lines like a dead raccoon attracts buzzards, so I stayed snugged in close to the runway. The landing itself was one of those that I get now and then when the narrow width of a county airport runway causes me to flare high and reach for the runway like a kid testing the temperature of an under-filled pool with an extended toe. We eventually found concrete with a bit of a thud, but it was acceptable given the conditions. The conditions being, of course, the having of a witness on board.

I gassed up at the Sunday cash discount price of $4.45/gallon and parked the plane to wait for Ted. Since I wasn't all that keen on formation flying, I thought to ask the line boy if they had a courtesy car that we could use to visit downtown Portsmouth. After what was to be only the first of a few "why would you want to do that??" responses I would get today, he answered that they did, in fact, have a car that I could use. Courtesy cars are a breed all their own in the automotive world, and are particularly well known for their quirks. The courtesy car at Portsmouth, I was told, has been reluctant to keep a charge on its battery, so we would have to carry a jump start battery with us. Additionally, the windows don't roll down, but that would be OK because the air conditioner still worked. Beats walking, and neither condition seemed all that onerous. As we were taking possession of the car, Ted arrived and drove back to his hangar. We followed in the beater, and I explained to Ted that I had a new car and had decided to drive down instead. He wasn't fooled for a second, of course. He knows I have a Miata, and that would clearly have been the car of choice on a day like today.

Ted took one look at the loaner and insisted that we take his Acura MDX instead. I protested in a pro forma sort of way that the beater would be quite sufficient, and might add a sense of adventure to the entire operation as well, but yet again, I wasn't fooling anybody. In the end, the Acura brought two critical capabilities to the table, the first being that we knew it would start again, and a close second being the on-board GPS navigator. The GPS turned out to be hugely helpful; the quality of the map provided with the loaner car was eerily similar to the quality of the loaner car itself. Which, in a word, sucked. Beggars can't be choosers, but that isn't to say that they shouldn't avail themselves of better opportunities, eh?

It's a 15 or 20 minute drive from the airport to Portsmouth, and quite scenic to boot. While we had the GPS to help us, we figured not too much could go wrong as long as we headed south. It was a pretty fair bet that we would reach the Ohio River eventually, so the chances of accidentally drifting into Kentucky were deemed to be nil. Once we got to an East-West road down by the river, a turn towards the west was nearly certain to take us to Portsmouth, and that is exactly the way it all turned out. Now, finding the city is not quite the same as finding things in the city, so we ended up poking around a bit without a whole lot of navigational competence on display. We did find the river, though:

As always, click on the pictures for larger images!

As we were walking around the river banks, I saw this piece of brick:

That led me to believe that at some point in the past, there was a brick foundry in the Portsmouth area. As we'll see later, I think I was right.

I had googled Portsmouth before leaving for the airport, and I saw a brief reference to a wall full of murals. I didn't see much beyond that in the description, but for want of anything better to do, I suggested that we track down said wall. How hard could it be, right? Well... we ended up at the end of a small road, confronted by a pair of orange barrels that could signify that the road was closed, but were far enough apart to allow for the passage of, say, an Acura MDX. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I don't have the bone in my foot that will enable to back up while there's still a chance to move forward, so on we went. Next thing we knew, we were right in the middle of a group of dozens of parked motorcycles, receiving stares from their riders as they tried to figure out just what kind of idiot would drive an Acura MDX past a couple of orange barrels put in place specifically to keep traffic out. Nothing for it but to press on, of course, unless one is willing to look like a total moron in front of dozens of bikers. If you ever find yourself in this situation, just do what I did: pretend to be looking at directions to try to find your friends house. You'll still get the stares, mind you, but at least you save just a wee bit of face.

Once out of the motorcycle gathering, we found ourselves on a street that seemed to be running right into the downtown area. Co-pilot Rick caught sight of a small sign on a light pole promising that "Murals" were in the vicinity. I pulled over and parked, figuring hunting around on foot might be a lower risk endeavor that randomly drifting around in Ted's Acura. And voila, there the were! Murals painting on the flood wall build after the flood of 1937, stretching almost 1/3 of a mile:

The murals depict a timeline of the local history of the Portsmouth area. It didn't take long to find one that confirmed the theory of the brick foundry:

I can't put all of the pictures here on the blog, but here is a small sampling:

This one was pretty neat in the way that it used an existing feature of the flood wall:

I asked this guy what he was doing. He says they get cracks in the murals that he has to repair. It's not as simple as just throwing some spackling compound into the crack; he has to repaint the damaged area of the mural too:

The 1937 flood left an indelible mark on Portsmouth:

The marker on the side of this building shows the high water mark of the flood:

I wouldn't have noticed it except for the fact than an older guy walking by pointed it out to me.

One of the bikers rode by:

They're apparently a bit of an institution in Portsmouth, or have a strong lobbying group. Either way, they're well represented on a mural:

This is another clever usage of an existing architectural feature:

That was the end of the mural wall. I created a web album with a lot more of the pictures that you can see by clicking here. Worth a look, if I do say so myself.

It was getting late and time to head back to return Ted's Acura. We walked past this seed shop, which for some reason I thought was photogenic:

This is not the airport courtesy car, although I suspect that they might be distant cousins:

The Ohio bicentennial barns are still being kept in good shape:

As we were walking across the ramp from where we had dropped off Ted's car, I saw this bee taking in the sun on the propeller of and old Piper Cub:

The absence of a plan reared its ugly head, though, as we realized that we had completely forgotten to eat. Well, that's not entirely true; we had decided to fore go the pleasure of Arby's while we were still in town in favor of letting Ted get home from the airport while we dined at the nice restaurant in the Portsmouth terminal. Co-pilot Rick ordered a double burger called a Skyboy, and platterized it with fries and slaw. They were running a two-for-one special on the Flyboy, so I took the extra and sided it with some onion rings. Quite delicious, and so cheap that I again question how anyone can afford to not have an airplane:

Even with the moderate temperature, Papa builds up quite a bit of heat when he sits in the sun. It's a good idea to let him breath a bit before climbing in:

The flight back was much bumpier, especially over the hills. It was the kind of ride where you'll hit a bump head on and either bang your head against the canopy or drop so fast that the straps are required to hold you in your seat. If you hit just the edge of an up- or down-draft, it will kick the wing into an unwanted bank that you have to correct for. In other words, it wasn't much fun to fly in. So I let Rick do it. I'm generous that way.

Not much going on back at Bolton and we fit back into the landing patter much easier than I had expected to. The landing wasn't too bad; a couple of not-quite-bounces was the worst of it. The tower cleared me back to the barn "via the ramp," which again is a new wrinkle. On the plus side, "via the ramp" takes us right past the ogling crowd at JP's BBQ, and I am by no means above a enjoying a few moments of pride as I taxi past the folks who look at a little plane like mine in open awe. Oh, who am I kidding? I revel in it!

So, despite the absence of any kind of plan, it turned out to be an exceptional day. Really, who needs a plan anyway?


  1. Sounds like a fun trip! You know, it's been awhile since you visited your buddy Brandon too. BTW, Google Maps "Shyville, OH" and you'll see what's under the "security interest" in southern Ohio - atomic energy. Take care!

  2. I'll have you know the courtesy car's cousin is still parked alongside the road, albeit a bit more friendly with the weeds.

    Drove right past it when I was in Portsmouth two weekends ago...