Sunday, May 17, 2009

Even when you're not flying, you're still a pilot

I spent my weekend with pilots, but didn't fly at all. One of the most compelling things about becoming a pilot is that it is a lot like joining a fraternity (or sorority, of course), albeit without the hazing and, for the most part, the drunken debauchery. Because of the relative scarcity of pilots in the general population, it is one of those avocations that instantly defines you to the non-flying masses, and makes you easily and readily approachable by others in the club.

How often have you been introduced to someone thusly: "Harry, this is Sally. She's a pilot." I've seldom been introduced to someone whom the introducer felt compelled to mention as being "a bowler" or "a philatelic." It's not that there is anything wrong with those interests, you see, it's just that they don't seem to have the same conversational ice-breaking strength of flying. It is rare indeed to find the person that doesn't either share any and all experiences that they've had in small airplanes, mention some relative that is a pilot (although they never know what kind of plane he/she flies, or have any number of questions they'd like to ask about flying. And, on the even rarer occasion that you are meeting a fellow pilot, well, you're assured of good conversation for hours.

My weekend spent with pilots started early. Just before beer-thirty on Thursday afternoon, the phone rang and presented me with a CallerID number that was completely unfamiliar to me. That nearly always means that it is someone calling to sell me something, or a call for the co-owner. Note, if you will, that those are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In any event, I'm loath to answer knowing full well that the call isn't for me, and even more reluctant to do so when the co-owner isn't home. You can't just let thing ring, though, can you? Just.Gotta.Know. So I picked it up and issued forth with my patented gruff "I ain't buying nothing" version of hello. Hey, why encourage them, right?

"Hi, is this Dave Gamble?"

[switch to "Who's asking" tone] "Yes, yes it is."

"Is this the Dave Gamble that writes The PapaGolf Chronicles?"

[Run through the normal litany of thoughts: Who did I piss off? How did this guy get my number? I wonder how much I'm going to get paid for my autobiography.] "Yes, that's me."

"Hi! My name is [Minnesota Paul] and I'm here in town on business. I've been reading your blog for quite awhile, and I wondered if you're not busy tonight if you'd like to get together for dinner." (Note: paraphrased from memory)

[Hmm. I'm actually not doing anything tonight, and it would be a nice night to go over to JP's BBQ and watch the planes fly. And really, wouldn't this be an overly elaborate ruse just to serve me with a subpoena?] "Ok, how about JP's?"

Minnesota Paul arrived at the airport with a business compatriot that we'll call Pennsylvania Rick. Both pilots. One always wants to know what the other guys are flying, much in the same way that dogs like to know what each other had for lunch, although we have an easier way of determining what we want to know, if you catch my drift. In any event, Pennsylvania Rick somewhat grudgingly admitted to flying lowly Cessna 172s, as if there were some shame in that.

I asked him about that and he said it always seems like other people are flying bigger, faster, or cooler airplanes. Well, that's true. With relation to a 172, Papa satisfies two out of three of those. But even with an RV-6 in the hangar, there are still plenty of other types for me to be jealous of myself. That never ends. Even Harrison Ford has to look at someone else's plane now and then and sigh, "I wish."

I find that with airplanes, it's not a matter of having what you want, it's a matter of wanting what you have. Flying is flying, and flying any airplane at all is better than not flying at all. Just ask any of the 99.9999% of people that can't! And besides, there are times when I would be jealous of a 172. Sometimes I want to carry four people. Sometimes I want to fly IFR. Sometimes I just want a nose wheel!

So, assured that we'd have plenty to talk about, we proceeded to do exactly that. I gave them the dollar tour of Papa and did my RVer duty of trying to sell them on the idea of getting one themselves. Well, two. One each. It's an easy sale: they fly great, they're fast, they're commonly available, and you can do as much of the maintenance yourself as you're comfortable with.

Then, to dinner. JP's is one of the very few places that I can find a good sausage meal. I'm not sure why sausage seems to only be available at breakfast, and even then it's hard to find a good polish sausage. JP's is the exception: they have a thing called a King Bull. It's 1/4 pound of polish sausage deep fried, put on a bun, and covered with chili and onions. I like it with the Au Graten potatoes. That and a cold Blue Moon. Oh yeah!

I was busy yammering about one thing or another, and completely forgot to thank Minnesota Paul for picking up the tab. Careless, that. So, thanks Paul!

On Friday I learned (well, was reminded) that Co-pilot Egg was going to be gone for the night, off to a sleepover. This provided the rare opportunity for a night on the town for myself and the Co-owner, but I was bereft of ideas as to where to go or what to do. I was poking around on the computer Googling various options available in the Columbus Arena District when I impulsively checked my Facebook page to see what was going on in that little world. And what did I find? Wingman Ted (RV-9A) was coming to town with his wife to spend the night before a 5K run in the morning. I sent him a message telling him that we were planning on being downtown and could meet up with them, if there was any interest in doing so. He answered in the affirmative so I started getting ready to go.

Unfortunately, my planning was woefully inadequate. I failed to determine that not only were the Columbus Clippers hosting a game in the new baseball stadium in The District, but that the Ringling Brothers Circus was in the Nationwide Arena. Had I bothered to check on that, I would have known that we would want to give that area a wide berth. Because I didn't, we had to deal with the traffic, the climb to the 9th floor of the nearly full parking garage, and the fact that we weren't going to be able to get into any of the jam-packed restaurants that I had so carefully researched. We dealt with all of that by walking the five blocks to Ted's hotel, and then walked a few blocks more to find a good place to eat. In that, we succeeded. We had a nice dinner (crab manicotti and a good heffe-weizen for me) and a nice conversation.

Here's a description of the beer:

This traditional unfiltered German-style weizen has banana and clove flavors not typically found in American versions of the beer. The yeast is the sole producer of the spicy character as no spices or fruit is added to the beer. Served with a lemon wedge.

I'm taking their word for the banana thing. I swear I could taste it, but that may have simply been the power of suggestion.

We finished up dinner and headed back to the parking garage. We got there to find that the circus had just finished. Ninth floor of the garage to the exit in a solid line of slowly moving cars.

Sigh. Could have been worse, though. I'm betting the kids in many of those cars were tired, wound up, and cranky. We were just tired.

Sunday provided me with a dilemma: a Weather-out-the-Window™ forecast that was good for either flying or kayaking. The registration for the guest kayak had arrived in the Saturday mail and Papa really needs a tank of gas, so I opted for the kayaking. A change of pace being in order, in my opinion. Co-pilot Rick agreed, so we planned on getting an early-ish start. It's been my experience that it's nice to get out on the water before the beer-fueled crowd can crawl out of bed. All we needed to know was where to go.

We had flown over Alum Creek, a big reservoir north of Columbus, on our way back from Cleveland last week. From our vantage point a few thousand feet above I was able to pick out a spot where it looked like we would be able to park and get the boats into the lake. We drove up there and found that the area that I had seen from the plane was in fact suitable to that purpose, so off we went for a three hour tour. Yes, a three hour tour. And truth be told, the weather did start getting rough.

Actually, I think we went one inlet further north than depicted, but I got tired of drawing red lines.

Ok, the "rough" weather was only 10 or 12 knots of wind, but amongst the many things that I learned about kayaking today, one of them is that it can be added to the lengthy list of Things That Are Not Improved by Wind. See, there's this thing called weathervaning... something I was already aware of from things like, say, taxiing a taildragger or taking off with a crosswind. It turns out that weathervaning also is a factor in kayaking, and can be referred to as "the thing that makes it hard to steer a kayak in the direction you want to go." Just as with an airplane, the boat wants to turn into the wind. You can correct for that with a rudder if you have one, but if you don't you have to try to manage it with paddling. That can be tiring. As is heading into the wind - that's no picnic either.

Other notable lessons learned:

  • it is easier to drift down a river for three hours than it is to provide your own motive force.
  • it is even harder to provide your own motive force when faced with a headwind.
  • it's a bad idea to lose your seat cushion, particularly if that is not an area in which you are physically well endowed yourself.
  • power boats are a pain in the ass, but only metaphorically. For a literal pain in the ass, see previous item. Power boats are loud, smelly, and make uncomfortable waves for tiny little boats riding only a few inches above the water. That said, Alum Creek is a no-horsepower-limit lake and I knew that. It's up to me to find a more kayak-friendly body of water - it's not hard to do.
  • if it is comfortable to kayak when it's 59 degrees, it's likely to be miserable at 89. Something to remember...
  • it's easier to take pictures while flying an airplane than it is to take pictures from a kayak. Still, I managed:

Rick took a few too. I think this was his most common view of me:

My boat is lighter and faster than the guest boat. It's not that the guest boat doesn't have an advantage of it's own, though. It has a rudder. That turned out to be quite useful. See 'weathervaning' above. Plus, Rick got to pretend he was flying!

Do you see the tire on the bank in this one?

It was a really old white wall. It probably came off of a Packard or something of that era. It looked like it had been there for awhile. It was anything but uncommon to see floating bottles and other crap littering the lake. Sad.

Still, when we could get out of the chop and wind and wakes from rambunctious power boats, it was very quiet and relaxing. We could hear birds chirping and woodpeckers pecking, all accompanied by the periodic honking of Canada geese. We're already planning our next trip to a smaller, quieter lake. We may even make a river run. It turns out that I'm kind of partial to the idea of letting the water do the work of moving the boat.

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