On Santa Flights and Community Service

It’s part of doing your part to make the world a better place.

This weekend, I flew Santa in my helicopter to two destinations.

The first, on Saturday, was to a private home in Leavenworth. It was a for-hire job; I picked up Santa in Cashmere, WA, killed some time with a short scenic flight in the area, and touch down right on time in the front yard of a beautiful log home on the Wenatchee River. There were a lot of people there to welcome us. It was a great flight on a great day. You can read more about it here.

N630ML at Pybus Market
My helicopter is parked inside Pybus Public Market this week.

The second was on Sunday. I did a repeat performance of last year’s flight to Pybus Public Market (which I apparently didn’t blog about last year). I took along my friend Kathy and her grandson Dominick. We picked up Santa at Wenatchee Airport and flew to Pybus, landing in front of an audience of at least 200 people. Afterwards, we pulled the helicopter indoors so folks could get a good look at it. The people who run Pybus do their best to have interesting things to see inside the building and I don’t think you can get much more interesting than a helicopter.

Although both Santa flights had a community service aspect to them, it’s the second one that I’m most proud of. You see, for the past two years I’ve offered to do this for Pybus without compensation. It’s my way of giving back to the community, of making things just a little special for others without expecting anything in return.

Sure, I have some company literature in front of the helicopter and yes, I’d be thrilled if someone picked up a rack card and called me to book a flight. But I did this last year, too, and it didn’t lead to any business. Based on that experience, if business was all I cared about, (1) I wouldn’t leave the helicopter parked inside Pybus for nearly a week and (2) I probably wouldn’t bother doing the Santa flight in the first place.

(In the interest of full disclosure, this year the folks at Pybus surprised me by giving me some money to help cover the helicopter’s operating costs for the flight. I think I appreciated that even more than they appreciated me bringing Santa in.)

I’ve done other community service flights with my helicopter. Although I did a completely unappreciated golf ball drop in Wickenburg a few years back, I also did several fly-in presentations at schools in Arizona: Congress, Salome, and Wickenburg. In each case, I arranged in advance to fly into the school grounds with students on hand to watch. Then I made a separate presentation to each grade group, telling them about the helicopter and pilot careers and how important math and science and geography were for pilots. And I answered questions. The way I see it, if even one kid on the brink of making a bad life decision makes the right decision instead because of something in my presentation, I’ve got a total win.

I’ve done community service without the helicopter, too. The most memorable was a presentation about being a writer that I did for an English class at Wickenburg High School. It was a very eye-opening experience. I learned two things (1) kids don’t seem to care much about education these days and (2) we don’t pay teachers enough money.

I’m trying hard to get into a construction job for Habitat for Humanity here in Wenatchee, but so far the only thing they’re interested in is having me work in their store. While I’m happy to give them a full day of work once a week, I want to work on a home so I can learn more about construction. It’s a give and take situation.

Why bother doing community service at all? Well, there certainly is a feel-good aspect to it. For two weeks leading up to my Pybus Market event, the Santa flight was widely advertised on all local radio stations, as well as in flyers and digital info boards around town. And it worked! As I mentioned earlier, there were at least 200 people of all ages waiting for our arrival. The kids gathered around Santa as he left the landing zone and, as soon as my blades stopped, folks gathered around the helicopter to look at it and take photos with their kids. Without me, none of that would have happened. How can I not feel good about playing such a major role in their day?

But community service goes beyond that. It’s a way to make your community stronger and more vibrant, without donating hard cash and wondering how it will be spent. It’s a way to meet your neighbors and make new friends. It’s a way to learn more about your community and help it achieve goals that you have the skills or know-how to help them achieve. It’s a way to make a positive impact on the lives of others — and your own.

Community service opportunities are all around you. It’s all about volunteering. Schools, non-profits, charities — they can all use help. Pick the one that means the most to you — or the one you think you could help the most — and ask them what you can do for them.

I promise — you won’t regret it.

A Flight with Santa

Amazingly beautiful weather makes this flight extra memorable.

I flew Santa in to a private home in Leavenworth yesterday. The family has a huge Christmas party every year and Santa always arrives by some sort of “unusual” transportation.

I was contracted about a month ago to do the flight. I got the address and, just last week, drove up with a friend to check the landing zone. I found a beautiful log home on the Wenatchee River with a huge front lawn near some other homes and an orchard. A perfect LZ.

I watched the weather closely all this week. In Arizona, weather was seldom an issue, but here, in Central Washington State, things are different. Sure, the late spring, summer, and early fall are usually full of clear days, but the other half of the year — this half of the year — is a different story. We could have one day after another of sun and blue skies or one day after another of fog or low clouds or even rain or snow. This week was forecasted to be one of those second kind of winter days, with rain or freezing rain or snow in the forecast almost every day. I watched Saturday’s forecast change almost hourly, it seemed.

When the day finally dawned, I saw what I’d been dreading: low clouds over Wenatchee with still air and an 80% chance of rain. Temperature would not be an issue — 38°F was forecasted. But when I went out to check the condition of my driveway, I found a mix of slush and ice, about 1/2 inch thick.

Deck View
The view from my deck outside my bedroom door yesterday morning. At this point, it was flyable, but who knew what it would be like in 2 hours?

I texted my client and asked about conditions there. She reported back that it was overcast, but the clouds were at least 700 feet up. She said her son told her and he was a pilot. That was good news. I told her I’d keep watching and let her know if I had to cancel or postpone. I was supposed to pick up Santa at10:45 AM.

I went at my driveway with my snow shovel, scraping much of the slush to one side or the other. Then I grabbed the bag of ice-melt I’d bought some time ago, opened it, and spread about half of it on my driveway. Let science do the hard work. I watched the weather get better and then worse and then better over the next hour or so. I took a shower and dressed in black jeans with a red sweater — about as “holiday” as I get. Then I went into the garage and preflighted the helicopter.

Helicopter from Above
Here’s an unusual view of my helicopter in its parking space, shot from the roof of my RV when I happened to be up there the other day.

My garage temperature never drops below 30°F. It was about 40°F that morning — a lot warmer than my uninsulated hangar in Arizona would get on cold winter nights. Still, I’d put a battery charger on the helicopter that morning and disconnected it just before pulling it out. The battery is pretty new but I don’t fly very often in the winter and didn’t want to get stuck out on the platform with a helicopter that wouldn’t start while Santa was waiting. I disconnected all that, moved my space heater aside, and got the ATV’s engine going to warm it up. Then I opened the big garage door and pushed the helicopter out onto the driveway.

Helicopter on Driveway
I uploaded this shot to Twitter with the comment, “Where’s Rudolph when you need him?”

Although I might have had enough fuel to do the flight, “might” is not good enough when you have to fly in questionable weather. I wanted at least 2 hours of fuel on board. That meant stopping at the airport to top off the main tank before heading up to Cashmere. I could see the airport beyond the low clouds, so I knew I could make it there. I put away my flag, closed up the garage, locked the door, and climbed on board. The helicopter started on the first try. It was apparently more eager to fly than I was.

Pangborn Airport (EAT) is a 3-1/2 minute flight from my home. At an elevation of 1249 feet, it’s about 400 feet below my home’s elevation. I departed over the orchards to the north, ducked down under a broken cloud layer over the river, and climbed back up to the airport. I crossed the approach end of runway 30 and landed at the fuel island. As I fueled, I noticed how bright it was out to the west in the direction I was going. The sun was out there, not even 10 miles away. Things looked good for my flight.

Monitor from the Air
Orchard West of Cashmere
Cashmere
More Cashmere
Here are some of the photos I took along the way. Somehow, my phone’s camera got switched to square photos, so that’s all I have.

I finished fueling, started back up, and headed west. I flew over East Wenatchee and then downtown Wenatchee, past Pybus Market where I’d be bringing Santa the next day. Then I was flying over a ridge at Horselake Road and the Wenatchee River Valley was before me.

It was beautiful.

The sun was out but wispy low clouds floated here and there, sometimes tangled in the trees in the mountain foothills. There was fresh snow on the ground and in the pines. The sky was blue and the shadows of the clouds added a certain texture to the scenery that made it seem more alive than ever.

I turned on my phone and took some photos right through the plexiglas bubble. Taking photos while flying a helicopter isn’t easy, which is why I so seldom do it. I was kicking myself in the butt (figuratively, of course) for not setting up the GoPro nosecam, but with the weather so iffy back home, I never expected such beautiful scenery.

It was a 10-minute flight to Cashmere Airport. I set down alongside the taxiway in about an inch of slushy snow. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the mountains around me looked and couldn’t wait to get out and take a proper photo.

Santa
Santa poses outside my helicopter at Cashmere Airport.

I’d just shut down the engine when Santa showed up, driven by his cousin. We introduced ourselves and his cousin drove away. He had at least a 15-minute drive to get back to Leavenworth so he could watch us land. I took a photo of Santa outside the helicopter, gave him a preflight briefing, and helped him get in. (I don’t know why Santas need to be fat, but the pillows most use are a real pain in the butt when strapping into a helicopter.)

We were running early and I didn’t want to land before schedule. Santa suggested a little tour and since my client was paying for a full hour, I thought that was reasonable. I started up and took off along the runway, tracing a leisurely flight through Cashmere, past Dryden, and up near Peshastin. At exactly 11 AM, about 3 miles away from the landing zone, I headed inbound.

We flew right past the place, as we both knew we would. I circled back, found it, and then made a descending circle so Santa could wave at the crowd. And what a crowd there was! There had to be at least 100 people down there, all standing at the end of the landing zone waving up at us.

Santa Arrives
Santa’s arrival from my seat as I shut down the helicopter.

I made my approach between two pine trees and settled down into the snow-covered grass. Then I helped Santa release his seatbelt and open his door. He stepped out and headed toward the crowd while spectators waved and took photos. It was a really fun scene.

I shut down the helicopter and used the rotor brake to bring the rotor blades to a stop. Although my primary purpose for shutting down was to get paid, I didn’t see any reason not to let folks get a closer look at the helicopter. Although most parents and small kids headed inside with Santa, at least 50 people remained behind. As I climbed out, they came around the helicopter for photos. I let kids climb into my seat so their parents could take photos through the open door or plexiglas bubble. I handed out Flying M Air postcards (which feature an air-to-air photo of the helicopter over Lake Pleasant) and answered questions. Lots of people thanked me. My client gave me a check and a hug.

At Santa's Destination
It was a fun scene at Santa’s destination. By the time I took this photo, most of the spectators had gone inside.

I felt really good flying back to Wenatchee and home — despite the weather that awaited me there. It was just as overcast and gray as when I’d left. The fog, although thickening, was not too thick to find my home. I made a nice, slow approach to my landing pad, set down gently, and adjusted its position while I was still light on the skids. I shut down and locked the blades in the forward/aft position before getting out. A few minutes later, I was backing the ATV into the big garage. I got the helicopter lined up perfect on my first try and pulled the big door closed behind it.

An hour later, the fog was so thick I could see only whiteness through my windows. It would be a few hours before it cleared out again.

Got my fingers crossed for Sunday’s flight. So far, it’s looking pretty much the same.

The Appliance Order

I order appliances for my new home to take advantage of Black Friday deals.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

I went to Home Depot yesterday to order appliances for my new home. Although I’m not ready to take delivery of those appliances yet, I wanted to get my order in so I could take advantage of Home Depot’s Black Friday deals. I’d been told months ago by a Home Depot employee, during another appliance sale at Home Depot, that Black Friday was their best deal time and that if I didn’t need the appliances back then, I should wait for Black Friday. I waited.

Home Depot Appliance Sale
From Home Depot’s website; there were lots of good deals.

Refrigerator
Dishwasher
Range
Washer
Dryer
My appliances (not to scale).

The deals were — actually are — the sale doesn’t end until tomorrow — great. Not only were most appliances 25% or more off their retail prices — and yes, I know only idiots pay retail — but there were also additional savings when buying multiple items. For example, since I was buying 5 appliances — refrigerator, washer, dryer, range, and dishwasher — I could save an additional $300. And if I put the purchase on my Home Depot credit card, I could save another 5%.

I’d stopped in last week to take a look at what was available and get an idea of what it would cost me. I wound up going with Samsung products all the way: French door refrigerator, dishwasher with “Storm Wash technology,” and slide-in range with self-cleaning dual convection oven, and front loading washer and drier that could be stacked. I chose a stainless steel finish on kitchen appliances and white finish on laundry appliances. The only thing I didn’t buy was a microwave because I still have the one my parents bought me as a housewarming gift for my first home years ago and I really like it.

In every case, the appliance I bought was a huge upgrade from the Jenn-Air crap I had back in Arizona. Yes, I know that Jenn-Air is supposed to be good stuff, but I think it’s seriously overrated. The dishwasher was loud and didn’t do a very good job washing dishes. The oven had a loud fan that kicked in at temperatures over 325°F. The refrigerator was loud, too — I could hear it run, I could hear the ice maker refilling. And the idiotic electric grill on the range was better for filling the house with smoke than cooking anything other than grilled vegetables. (I made the mistake of grilling salmon on it just once.) Of course, I didn’t pick my old house’s original appliances. I lived in what had been a spec house and the builder had included what was considered “high end” appliances. I’m sure the next owner will be suitably impressed — until she has to live with it.

Samsung products are generally highly rated. The only thing I worry a little about is the dishwasher. Although Consumer Reports gave the one I chose a pretty good rating, reliability seems to be an issue with Samsung dishwashers in general. But I liked the styling, the feature set, and the spacious interior, which fit my rather large dinner plates and bowls without any problems. Since I plan to do a lot of entertaining when my home (and its deck) are complete, having a large capacity dishwasher was vital. This one fits the bill. Let’s hope I don’t have to test the warranty.

Yesterday, I went in to finalize the order and give them my credit card. With all the discounts applied, my appliance purchase, with free delivery and installation, was remarkably affordable. I’d originally budgeted about $8,000 for appliances, but wound up spending far less. Timing is everything, I guess.

And speaking of timing, I have about 3 months to get the place ready to receive all those appliances. This winter might be busier than I expected at the Flying M Aerie.

Thanksgiving at Friday Harbor

New friends and great food on a busy weekend.

Since I live so far from family, I’ve gotten into the habit of spending Thanksgiving with friends. Although I got four Thanksgiving invitations this year — thanks, everyone! — I accepted the one I got first, well over a month ago: to accompany my friend Bob to Friday Harbor for Thanksgiving at his friends’ home.

The Trip Out

Friday Harbor is on San Juan Island at the very northwest corner of Washington State. It’s so far north, in fact, that it’s north of the lower end of Canada’s Vancouver Island. Getting there requires a 3-hour drive to Anacortes followed by a 1+-hour ferry ride — and that’s if Route 2 through Stevens Pass is clear and open. If Stevens is closed, add another hour to get through Blewett and Snowqualmie passes on Route 97 and I-90. Back in August, when I spent a week with a friend out at Lopez Island, I’d elected to take the helicopter out to avoid the long drive. But in winter, that didn’t seem like a reasonable possibility given the usual low clouds over the Cascades and real possibility of bad weather so I didn’t even suggest it.

San Juan Island on Map
San Juan Island is the farthest west island on this map, which also shows the mainland to the east. The black line you can see in the left top and bottom of this image is the U.S.-Canada Border.

Penny and I packed up on Wednesday and spent the night at Bob’s house. We were making an early start to catch the 8:30 ferry out of Anacortes and Bob wanted to leave at 4 AM. It was my job to keep track of the conditions in the passes so we could pick an appropriate route. WADOT offers a wealth of information about its highways and passes on its Website, including up-to-the-minute pass information and webcams. Fortunately Stevens looked good so we headed out the most direct route in Bob’s pickup. Although I’d offered to take my 4WD pickup on the trip — its tires had less than 5,000 miles on them — Bob had prepped his 2WD pickup with a set up studded snow tires, just in case weather turned bad along the drive.

Penny and Bob’s dog, Skip, settled down in the back seat for the long drive. There was no one on the road. Well, no one going our direction, anyway. We did pass a few cars coming east on Route 2. The road was clear and dry and other than a few foggy areas, easy to drive. Crossing Stevens Pass was a non event and we headed down the west side, still in the dark. The days here are short this time of year and it wasn’t until we got near I-5 that it started getting light.

We stopped for coffee at one of Washington’s ubiquitous drive-up coffee stands — honestly, how do coffee-drinking people live without these? While I chatted with the girl at the window — who was working a 6:10 AM on Thanksgiving Day, mind you — Bob took the dogs for a quick walk. Before leaving, I thanked the girl for being there and gave her a big tip to really show my appreciation. The eggnog latte was good and hot.

We stopped at Safeway in Anacortes before getting on the ferry queue. We’d brought along the fixings for quiche — 15 eggs from my chickens, along with chopped ham and scallions from Bob’s fridge — but needed a pie crust, cheese, and half-and-half. I ran in to get all these things while Bob waited with the dogs. I also bought a small Poinsettia for our hosts. I hate going anywhere empty handed — not that we were going empty-handed. In addition to our quiche ingredients, I’d brought 2 bottles of wine, a bottle of local hard cider, and a jar of honey and Bob had brought 6 bottles of Martinelli’s sparkling cider in two flavors. We had a cooler and a box full of goodies in addition to our luggage.

Inside the Ferry
Inside the ferry to Friday Harbor.

The wait for the ferry wasn’t long, but we did have time to get out and stretch our legs with the dogs one more time. Then we loaded up with the rest of the cars, winding up in the middle of the main deck on the Elwha. We hung around in the truck for a while, then went upstairs to take in the view of the islands as we sailed past. By then, it was fully light out, but overcast. The ferry boat moved along at a good clip and I used Google Maps on my phone to identify the islands as we zipped past them.

Another Ferry
Our ferry boat wasn’t the only one on the water that gray morning.

Ferry View
A look back down the deck of the ferry.

Thanksgiving Day with Friends

The ferry was an express that stopped at Friday Harbor and Sidney, B.C. only. We got into Friday Harbor just before 10 AM. From there, it was a short drive to Liz and Brad’s house on 20 acres. I think they were surprised to see us so early. Liz was just putting in the turkey.

The Pond
The pond behind Liz and Brad’s house shortly after Penny chased away all the ducks.

Bob and Skip
Bob and Skip pose for a photo at American Camp. Skip seems more interested in what Penny is doing than the camera.

After quick introductions, we established that Bob was hungry and Liz and Brad had already eaten. So Bob and I headed back out to find some breakfast in town. We wound up at a bustling local market, which was just the kind of upscale small supermarket I love, and ate breakfast sandwiches on the tailgate of Bob’s truck. Then we drove around the island to kill some time. We wound up taking a walk out at a place called American Camp, the site of an almost-war back in the 1800s. It was a good opportunity for the dogs to run around. By that time, the sky had cleared and it was becoming a beautiful day. We got as far south as the lighthouse I’d flown over back in August before heading back to the house.

The Turkey
The turkey tasted as yummy as it looked here.

Back at Liz and Brad’s house, we relaxed while the turkey cooked. Liz and I popped open that bottle of hard cider and drank almost all of it before the other guests began arriving. And there were a lot of guests. Soon the house was crowded with adults and young people drinking cider and wine and munching on crab dip, salmon spread, and hummus, chatting and having a good time.

Party Time
I took a break to snap this photo, not realizing that only half the guests had arrived at this point.

Brad carved the turkey and Liz set up a buffet line at her kitchen island. Soon, 15 of us were sitting at a pair of tables put together on an angle to fit in the dining room. The food was great — as you’d expect a Thanksgiving dinner to be — and there was a ton of it. Fortunately, I was boxed into my seat so I couldn’t easily get up for seconds. I made up for that by trying both the homemade cheese cake and apple pie for dessert.

Cleanup went quickly with so many people helping and about half of us went into the living room to watch the football game. The local team, the Seattle Seahawks, were playing the San Francisco 49ers — the perfect game for a Washington crowd. The game had started about a half hour before and Brad had DVRed it so he could fast-forward through all the commercials. I settled down on the floor with Penny on my lap. But since I’d been up since 2:30 AM — thanks to Penny needing to take a pee at Bob’s house — I was exhausted and fell asleep. I missed most of the game but woke up at the end to find the Seahawks victorious again.

The guests left in small groups after that. Soon it was just Liz, Brad, Bob, and me. We cleaned up a bit more, then retired to sleeping quarters. Penny and I were staying in the “craft room,” which was where Liz does her quilting and Brad builds large scale radio controlled airplanes that he flies on a grass strip in his back yard. The walls of the room were covered with quilts and Brad’s photos of wildlife and airplanes.

Craft Room
One of Brad’s projects in the craft room.

Black Friday — without Shopping

I slept reasonably well, waking up only once to wonder where I was. Hearing noise outside my room, I put on my slippers to join Liz while Penny went looking for and eventually found Skip. Soon Liz and Bob and I were drinking coffee while I was whipping up two quiches — one with cheddar and the other with mozzarella. I was horrified to see that I’d bought fat-free half-and-half — I mean, what’s the point, right? — but that quiche turned out just as good as the one I made with Liz’s regular half-and-half. The three of us polished off a whole quiche. Brad missed out; he had to go to work.

Afterwards, we dressed and went out for a drive in Bob’s car. It was cloudy again and cool. Liz took us to see the lavender farm, which was closed, and a handful of parks. Then we drove up to the top of a ridge where some private developer had tried (and failed) to sell 20-acre parcels that were virtually unbuildable for $210K+ each. The land now belonged to the San Juan County Land Bank, which buys up land in the area to prevent development. In the future, it would be a park with trails. We drove through Roche Harbor, where I’d flown in by helicopter for dinner with my friend Don years ago, and then headed back to Friday Harbor.

Back in town, we met up with Liz’s son Chris, his wife Kelly, and their two kids at a local holiday market. There were about 30 artists and other vendors there, selling their wares. It was refreshing to attend one of these that wasn’t full of the same southwestern stuff I’d seen over and over in Arizona when I lived there. I bought a beeswax lip balm and some locally sun-dried sea salt. I was sorely tempted by some wall sculptures, but held back by my new rule: No buying anything for my home until it’s done.

Afterwards, we went with Chris and Kelly to a house Chris and his partner are refurbishing. (Chris is a carpenter.) Originally built in the 1940s, it’s a small place with a lawn that goes down to the harbor and has the added luxury of its own boat dock. With lots of trees on its end-of-road lot, it was a pleasant location. They’d gutted the house and rebuilt it from the inside out. Although they’d been working on it for about 16 months, they were still at least a few months from completion. I looked around and got some ideas for wood trim around my windows and flooring. The countertop material, PaperStone, was amazing and I will definitely check it out for my own kitchen countertops.

From there we went back to Roche Harbor to look at another house that Brad is overseeing the construction of. This was an upscale home, 3800 square feet, with vaulted ceilings, sweeping staircases, and lots of extras. Pretty amazing for a 2-bedroom home. The two projects — Chris’s and Brad’s — couldn’t be any more different. Here, I took mental notes on the great room’s ceiling, which was tongue-and-groove cedar planks, and bathroom tile work. I also liked the track lighting, which I’d already decided to use in my hallway, which would double as a photo gallery. The home’s owner was there, fiddling around with his computer and the various light switches that made up his smart home system. Although I plan to include some smart home accessories in my place, I don’t expect to do it to the extent that he did.

Loft Ladder
I shot this photo of the ladder to the loft in Chris’s house so I could remember some of its details. My home also has a loft — mostly for storage — and I’ve been thinking of how it could be easily reached from below.

We headed back to Liz’s house and took it easy for a while, just chatting in the kitchen over tea. Later, when Brad got home from work, we headed out to Chris’s house for a taco dinner. His family lives in an expanded cabin at the end of a long, steep dirt road. We arrived and departed after nightfall, so I didn’t get a chance to really see it. But it was cosy inside, with an eat-in kitchen, sunken living room, and wood-burning fireplace. After dinner, I got so comfortable on the sofa that I almost fell asleep again.

The Trip Home

We were up at 5 on Saturday, packing up for the trip home. Bob wanted to get on the 8 AM ferry and we’d been advised to get the car on line by 6:45 at the latest. We headed out there and got the first spot in lane 3, then walked up to The Hungry Clam, which was already almost full by then. Apparently, the place exists for ferry traffic meals. Liz and Brad joined us for a big farewell breakfast.

Outside, it was very cold and very windy. There were whitecaps on the harbor. We paid the bill just as the ferry rounded the corner and headed into the dock. We said our goodbyes with a lot of hugs and promises by Liz and Brad to come see us on “the dry side,” then hurried down to the truck. Poor Penny and Skip needed a lot of hugging and rubbing to warm up!

Because the second car in line 1 was empty and there was a truck in line 2, the ferry loaders waved us aboard as the second car on the boat. This positioned us right at the front — although they didn’t load us all the way to the line. (It later became apparent why they didn’t have us drive up closer to the edge.) Ahead of us, the water was more than a little choppy and the wind was mostly blowing right in. I got out to take a photo closer to the edge and thought I was going to get blown away.

Choppy Water
I got got right up to the pedestrian rope to take this shot. It was wicked windy and cold!

We stayed in the car for the whole trip, mostly so we could periodically start it and warm it back up for the dogs. I was glad we did. The water got progressively rougher as we got closer to Anacortes. About 30 minutes out, a loudspeaker warned of the rough ride ahead. The boat rolled in the waves and we could clearly hear waves breaking across its side. Occasionally, the front end would dip down just enough to send a wave of water onto the deck. One wave came so far into the boat that it splashed the hood of the truck. There was water sloshing around all over the deck. Several of the chocks the loaders had placed around the front tires of the cars at the head of the lines got loose and washed back and forth. I think a few might have gone overboard.


This minute-long video gives you an idea of what we experienced. A larger wave than these washed over the hood of our truck, which was at least 50 feet back from the bow. You can see Mount Baker in the distance throughout much of this video.

After hearing about so many ferry accidents overseas, I admit that I was more than a little nervous — especially when the captain kept cutting power to slow us down more and more. But then we got closer to Anacortes and the water calmed a bit. Soon we were pulling into the dock and the crew was moving the ramp into position. I was very glad when Bob steered us off the boat and onto dry land.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of our homeward bound adventure. All morning long, I’d been checking conditions in the passes. Stevens Pass, our preferred route, was reporting 24° with compact snow on the roadway and snow falling. Restrictions were “traction tires advised, oversized vehicles prohibited.” But things were worse at Snowqualmie: falling snow, areas of low visibility, and chains required. It looked as if Stevens would be our route.

All around us was fresh snow that had likely fallen overnight. It was beautiful to see — I don’t think they usually get much snow on the Seattle side of the mountains. There were a lot of cars on the road, too, but not enough to make what I’d consider “traffic.” We got on Route 2 eastbound and stopped at the Sultan Bakery for some baked goods to snack on along the way. One more stop at a park-and-ride nearby for the dogs to take a break. Then back on the road for our climb up into the mountains.

Soon it was snowing on us. The road looked remarkably as it had in the webcam photos I’d studied all morning on my phone: covered with snow with just patches of pavement showing through. Bob’s studded snow tires came in handy as we followed the other cars up the mountain. Snow fell all around us. I was glad Bob was driving. I absolutely detest highway driving in the snow.

Snow on Highway 2
Snow on Highway 2 on our way to Stevens pass and beyond.

We were both very surprised to see most of the cars turn into Stevens Pass ski resort, which I didn’t realize was open. The road was worse on the west side of the pass, but soon cleared up, although snow continued to fall past Coles Corner. By the time we got to Leavenworth, it was mostly sunny — a beautiful day with fresh snow on the ground and in trees. There was less snow in Wenatchee and, when Bob dropped me off at home, I estimated only about an inch of fresh stuff at my place.

I’d had a wonderful weekend away with Bob and his friends. Not only had I met some great new people, but I’d come away with a lot of new ideas for finishing my home. It was well worth the drive — and the adventure that had gone with it.

Skating Away

I take to the rink.

I went skating with a friend on Tuesday. It was a Meetup event that I’d planned and although five people signed up, only two of us showed. I suspect that had a lot to do with the weather, which was rainy and cool all day.

This was the first time I’d been skating in at least 15 years. I think the last time might have been at Rockefeller Center in New York back when I lived there. It might have been when I was in college, which was a lot more than 15 years ago.

Skating is offered at The Rink at Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee. It’s a huge, well-maintained skating rink for hockey, skating lessons, and even curling events. Most weekdays there are open hours for public skating. I planned our event for midweek, to avoid weekend crowds.

The Rink
The Rink isn’t very crowded on a weekday afternoon.

Tim was my companion for skating. We paid the $5 fee and the extra $2 for rental skates. The skates were in good condition but were figure skate style, which included a toe pick: the little teeth at the toe that skaters use when performing certain maneuvers. Although this is the kind of skate I always wore, it would come back to bite me later.

We laced up and got out on the ice. I was terrible: stiff and wobbly at the same time. I got the hang of it again slowly, picking up speed. When the stiffness in my legs and hips started to go away, I realized it was all coming back to me.

Tim Skating
Tim skated as if he’d done it just last week.

Tim, on the other hand, looked as if he’d been skating for years. Nothing fancy, but none of the stiff wobbling, either.

I’d started skating back when I was very young — too young to actually remember my start. Back in my home town of Cresskill, NJ, there was a skating rink near the high school. It was a big, shallow pond that, in later years, had a concrete curb around it. In the summer, it was mostly empty, sometimes puddled in places with rain runoff. I remember catching tadpoles in it as a kid. But in the winter, they’d use a fire hydrant to fill it with water and let it freeze. It was never more than a foot deep anywhere and it usually froze pretty well, although I do remember one side that was never quite as smooth as the rest. There was enough space for small hockey games on one end and family skating at the other. Sometimes someone would build a big bonfire and we’d get warm around it after coming off the ice.

I skated with the Girl Scouts, too. There was an indoor rink somewhere in Tenafly or Englewood that the Girl Scouts used to rent time on once in a while. It was good quality ice, smoothed over with a Zamboni. It was there that I started skating rather well. No figure skating, of course, but good control and maneuverability and I was even starting to skate backwards, which was a pretty big deal for me.

Of course, I did have a nasty fall there. I fell on my right side with my right arm up. My arm popped out of its shoulder socket. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, you know how painful it is. I screamed good and loud. They rushed me off the ice, but not before my arm popped back in where it belonged. When they took the x-rays, convinced I had a broken collarbone, they found nothing.

It wasn’t the fall that made me stop skating. It was growing up. Having other things to do. Going to school, building a life, having a relationship. Skating was a sport that didn’t appear on my list of activities. Although I did take up roller skating in college and did some in the early 80s, even that didn’t last.

So on Tuesday, I was quite rusty when I started off. It felt good to relax and pick up speed as I made my way around the rink. It felt really good to see that I skated better than a lot of young people struggling just to stay vertical.

Of course, I expected to fall and I didn’t disappoint myself. It was kind of funny when I did. I’d been moving along at a good clip when that damn toe pick caught unexpectedly in the ice and threw me off balance. I made a spectacular fall, hitting the ice with my left knee and sliding forward. A little girl skating with her mom asked me if I was okay and two of the guys that worked there skated right over. I guess seeing a middle-aged woman sprawled on on ice set off alarms. But I was okay. I did accept a hand up to my feet. Then I took a break on the bench and watched Tim skate.

I bashed my knee pretty good, but I could still walk. That was a plus.

Later, after a rest, I got back out on the ice and did a few more laps. Tim skated up to me. “You know what they say about falling off horses,” I told him. I wanted to end the skating session on a positive note. I didn’t fall again.

Would I do it again? I’d like to! It’s a great winter exercise and quite pleasant on an uncrowded ice rink. I was just getting to the point where I felt as if I were getting real exercise when I fell. I’ll be back — but I’ll also be wearing kneepads. My bones aren’t quite as resilient as they used to be.

Oh, and next time, I’ll rent hockey skates.