When Home Isn’t Home Anymore

How I feel about living in a town that was my home for 15 years without actually living in the house that was my home.

My visit to Wickenburg again this winter brings up something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately: how Wickenburg was my home but isn’t my home anymore. This wasn’t really an issue in past visits, but is really on my mind this year.

What’s different? Well, I made friends with the folks who bought my old house.

New Friends in My Old House

It was Mary who started the dialog earlier this year. My wasband had left behind a metal sculpture she thought I might want. She tracked me down online; between this blog, my business website, my Twitter account, and my Facebook account, I’m really not that difficult to find. I didn’t want the sculpture and explained why. We started a dialog in email. I thought she and her husband might like my friends Jim and Cyndi (who I house/dog sit for in Wickenburg) so I made introductions via email. They really hit it off. We became friends on Facebook. And the other day, when I arrived at Jim and Cyndi’s, I got to meet Mary and Jeff in the flesh. I think it’s safe to say that we hit it off, too.

We’ve been hiking with the dogs at least once every day since I arrived.

The other day, I went to their house (formerly my house) to lead a hike on one of the horse trails I used to take. I thought it would be a nice introduction to the trails near where they lived. (That turned into a bit of a fiasco when the trail was longer than I remembered and obviously hadn’t been used in some time so it was hard to follow. And what’s with the fences?)

Palm Tree
This Mexican fan palm, which was about five feet tall when we planted it in 1999, is easily 30 feet tall now.

I’d flown over the house in October on my way to Chandler to drop off the helicopter for overhaul. That was the first time I’d seen it in 3-1/2 years. Oddly, I didn’t feel any emotional pangs looking down at it from about 500 feet up. It was just a nice looking house with a well-kept yard and a very tall palm tree.

Still, I thought I’d feel weird about actually going to the house. After all, it was what the court referred to as my “marital home.” But again, the weird feeling never really sunk in.

Mary and Jeff have made some changes to the house and yard that really improve it and make it look better than it ever did while I lived there. They’d increased the height of the wall around the yard and installed some really pretty yet simple metal gates where needed. Whatever vegetation had survived since my departure in May 2013 — a lot died when my wasband turned off the irrigation before deserting the place in the summer of 2012 — had really grown. The single palm tree, the mesquite (Spot’s tree) in the back yard, the two saguaros, the desert willows, and the palo verde that I’d nursed from seed were all at least twice the size I remembered them being. All the overgrown plants and weeds had been cleared out and everything was nicely trimmed.

All these things combined made the house seem different.

Is that why I didn’t really feel any weird emotions while I was there?

Or is it because my mind has completely closed that chapter of my life? Because my mind closed that chapter on the very last day I was there, when I drove away for what I thought would be the last time?

Marital Home?

In all honesty, it really wasn’t much of a “marital home.” How could it be? More than half the time I was there during my short, ill-fated marriage I was there by myself while my wasband played house in his Phoenix condo with a roommate or went back to New York to spend time with his mommy. It was my home, the home I’d painted and furnished and decorated the way I saw fit. Where I worked and played and relaxed, mostly alone.

There had been very little input from the man who occasionally lived there with me before abandoning it for a walled-in tract home in a decaying Scottsdale subdivision. The man who, for some reason, tried to keep me out when I returned that last autumn by changing the locks and fighting me in court when I got in anyway. (As if an $8 lock would keep me out of my own home.) The man who was so desperate to get me out after the divorce trial that he agreed to give me every bit of personal property in the house and his condo that I wanted. The man who wanted it so badly in the divorce that he eventually paid me half of its court-appraised value.

And then he never moved into it, neglected it, incurred huge expenses getting it ready for sale, and wound up selling it for less than his appraiser told the court it was worth.

(Yeah: I made more money on the sale of the house than my wasband did. I did mention elsewhere in this blog that he made a lot of really stupid decisions, right?)

Anyway, although I thought I’d feel weird about going to the house, I didn’t. It was just another house. Sure, I’d lived there for fifteen years, but I’d moved out and I’d moved on. Any fond memories I had about the place had been pretty much erased by the abuse and neglect I dealt with after I married the man who seldom lived there. My mind was on my current home, a home not haunted by a failed relationship and false marriage. My old house was no longer my home and I had absolutely no regrets about leaving this one behind. I was much happier where I lived now.

The “Then” Photo

One of the things I did before leaving home this November was to track down one of the framed photos that had hung on the wall in my old house. It’s an aerial image of the house, shot in 2000, not long after I’d started the landscaping in the yard. All the trees and other plants I listed above are still quite small. My horses are down in the wash — you can see almost all of Cherokee, but just Jake’s butt sticking out from under the shade that is no longer there. I’m standing near the front door, holding my aviation radio, wondering why a helicopter is hovering over my neighbor’s house.

I packed the photo that last winter mostly because I didn’t want to leave it behind, but when I got to my new home, I had no desire to hang it. So I packed it when I headed south.

The other day, I remembered to give it to Mary and Jeff. Part of me was worried that they’d think I was just getting rid of my old junk. I was prepared for a very unenthusiastic response. But to my surprise, they liked it.

I promised them a helicopter ride to get another shot just like it, so they can get a sort of Then and Now comparison. (I hope Mary or Jeff won’t mind riding with a door off to get reflection-free photos.)

I thought I had the original floor plans for the house, too. I distinctly remember them being rolled up and stowed away in one of the poster tubes I had in my office closet. But when I went through the poster tubes I packed and brought to Washington, I couldn’t find them. Maybe my wasband has them. Maybe when his old whore reads this — she follows my blog and tweets because her own life isn’t very interesting — she’ll ask him to look for them and send them to Mary and Jeff. He knows the address.

More likely, he threw them away, as he threw away the rest of his life.

How Do I Feel?

So how do I feel about being back in Wickenburg? Great!

My hosts here have given me a very comfortable place to stay while I watch their dogs and house. I get to enjoy daily hikes out in the desert I know so well and drive my truck down the desert roads I used to bump along in my Jeep. I get to eat at the restaurants I remember and like — the pollo asado burrito I had at Filiberto’s the other day was just as amazing as I remember it and I can’t wait to get up to Nichols West, “the best restaurant in Wickenburg.” (The joke is, it’s not in Wickenburg.) I get to see old friends who are all genuinely glad to see me. And of course, I get to soak up the sunshine in warm temperatures that let me wear t-shirts so I can start working on my summer tan.

What’s not to like?

Best of all, I don’t have the burden and responsibility of owning a home here. And I don’t have to deal with local politics and policies, which are apparently as close-minded, crooked, and skewed to favor the “good old boys” as they ever were. (Seriously, Wickenburg: do you really think hanging a digital sign on the Community Center is going to get the Phoenix/Vegas drivers to stop? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: people stop at destinations. Hanging a tacky sign does not make Wickenburg a destination.)

I’m not tied to Wickenburg anymore and I like that. When I’m ready to move on — or my friends start hinting that I’ve overstayed my welcome — I’ll put my camper back on my truck and head out to explore other places. And when all my friends die or move away, I’ll likely stop coming here. By then, I’ll have other places I prefer to spend my winter time — possibly places a lot farther south than Arizona.

So “home” really isn’t home anymore — and I don’t have a problem with that at all.

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Two people helped me get started in cherry drying.

Yesterday, I got an email message from someone I hadn’t heard from since 2009. His name is Rob and he’s one of the two people who helped me launch my cherry drying business here in Washington state.

The first person, of course, was Erik Goldbeck. Erik contacted me way back in 2006 about joining him in Washington for some cherry drying work. It was Erik who explained what the work entailed and why it’s done. He tried to get me up to Washington from my home in Arizona in the summer of 2006 and again in 2007, but he was unable to guarantee me work or the standby pay I needed to make the trip financially viable. It wasn’t until 2008 that Erik got enough contract work to bring a second pilot on board with guaranteed standby pay. He chose me and I prepared to come north to join him.

At Pateros
Here’s my helicopter, parked on the lawn beside a motel in Pateros, WA where I worked for 10 days that first cherry drying season.

Then two things happened. First there was a late season frost that destroyed half the crop. Suddenly Erik only needed one pilot. But Erik was not going to be that pilot. Almost at the same time, he was diagnosed with cancer. When I met him in person for the first and only time, he was in the hospital recovering from surgery, relearning how to walk. He sent me to Quincy, WA to handle the remaining cherry contracts he’d gotten for us. I was only there for seven weeks that first year and only flew five hours total.

The following year, 2009, Erik was out of the picture. (He died that summer; his illness and death had a profound effect on me.) I prepared to go to work for the same company he’d contracted with for much of the work the previous year. I had two contacts: Rob in the Quincy area and Dan in the Chelan area. They worked for a man named Ed, selling helicopter services to orchardists and getting helicopters to do the work.

About a month before my season start, Ed apparently decided he didn’t want to be in the business anymore. He shut down without any notice, leaving Rob and Dan unemployed, dozens of orchardists without any protection for their cherry crop, and more than a few pilots wondering what the heck they were going to do. I got in touch with Rob, who seemed disillusioned and fed up. He told me he was going to retire and then he did something I’ve always appreciated: he gave me the phone numbers for a bunch of orchardists in Quincy and Wenatchee who might need helicopters.

I worked the phones. I got enough orchardists interested in hiring me to make it worth coming north on my own. I created a contract based on the one Erik had with me. I collected standby pay. And in late May, I hooked up my old RV and headed north to Washington for the summer. I even managed to extend my season with a new contract that had me in the Wenatchee area until mid August.

At the end of the season, I sent Rob a “commission” check to thank him. I think he was surprised.

Each year, I built up my client base to add clients and orchards. By 2011, I had enough work to add a pilot for about three of my eleven weeks. The following year I added one for four weeks. The next year, there were three of us for a while. Then four. This year, which is my ninth season, I have four pilots helping me for my busiest part of the season: two in Quincy and two with me in the Wenatchee area, where I’ve been living full-time since May 2013.

But without the leads from Rob, I would never have been able to come back that second season and I wouldn’t be where I am now — living in a place I love, surrounded by good friends and friendly people, enjoying a life I’d only dreamed about having.

I tried to contact Rob a few times, mostly just to say hello. But I never got a response.

Until yesterday’s email, which was sent using the contact form on my blog.

I’d taken his two granddaughters, aged 6 and 3, on a helicopter ride during an event at the airport on Saturday. They “wanted to fly with the girl pilot.” He was writing to say hello and thank me. He mentioned that he was still retired and living at his orchard but he occasionally did some seasonal inspection work. I wrote back to tell him how good it was to hear from him and to thank him again for helping me get started.

Rob probably doesn’t realize how much he helped change my life for the better. Cherry drying was the good paying work I needed to make my helicopter business thrive. It gave me the excuse I needed to get away from Arizona’s brutally hot summers. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it also gave me a chance to enjoy a few months of freedom every summer, living like a single person and making my own decisions. I fell in love with this area over those summers and it was a no-brainer to move here full-time when my marriage fell apart.

Rebuilding my life here has been one of the most pleasurable challenges in my life — and it wouldn’t be possible without the business I built here with Erik and Rob to help get me started.

Cross Country Flight: Sacramento to Seattle and Wenatchee

A look back at a memorable flight.

Since the winter/spring of 2013, my helicopter has spent two months each year in the Sacramento area of California on a frost control contract. I fly the helicopter down in late February and fly back in late April. I usually take along a fellow pilot who does most of the flying to build R44 time and shares the cost of the flight. Most of these people are relative strangers and although they’re usually nice guys or gals that I stay friends with after the flight, I admit that I prefer flying with people I already know pretty well. So this spring, when it came time to start thinking about that return flight, I started thinking about who I could invite to join me.

The answer hit me like a lightning bolt: of course I should invite my friend Don.

Don’s been a pilot for much of his life and has flown airplanes and helicopters. I don’t know how much time he’s logged, but I’m certain it’s more than my 3,300 hours. I also know he has tons of cross-country experience, including helicopter flights between the Seattle area and Alaska.

Why Don?

You might be wondering why I’d invite such an experienced pilot when there were so many low-time pilots who’d likely jump at the chance to fly with me on a six to eight hour cross-country flight. There are three reasons.

First, Don is a good friend I’ve known for years. He and his wife were very supportive during my crazy divorce, and you know what they say about a friend in need. He’s easy going and has a good sense of humor. I knew I’d enjoy spending time with him.

Don't Helicopter at PHX
Don’s helicopter on the T3 Helistop at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix in 2009. After I shared my experience approaching and landing at the helistop, he often picked up and dropped off visitors there. Later, in October 2012, he dropped me off there when I was off on one of my many trips.

Second, Don had owned a helicopter very much like mine — in fact, it was only six months newer — which he’d kept in his garage at his Seattle area home. About two years ago, he sold it. I knew he hadn’t flown much since and probably missed it. He would appreciate the flight; surprisingly, not everyone I’ve invited to fly with me on a long flight has.

Third, because Don already had so much flight time, he’d actually share the flight with me. After all, I like to fly. When I fly with other pilots, they’re paying for the privilege of every minute of stick time they can get. They don’t want to share the stick with me and I don’t feel comfortable asking them to.

So I texted Don to see if he was interested. The response came almost immediately. Hell, yes!

Getting to the Helicopter

Don has two homes, one in the Phoenix area and one in the Seattle area. He made arrangements to be in the Seattle area on the day we’d go south to fetch the helicopter.

I booked my flight from Wenatchee to Sacramento, which included a plane change in Seattle. Don booked his flight from Seattle to Sacramento on the same flight. Since Don always flies First Class, I bought a First Class ticket, too. When he booked his flight, he got the seat right next to mine.

We met at the gate for the Seattle to Sacramento flight. I’d been at the airport for two hours and had treated myself to a breakfast of trout and eggs at Anthony’s. Don had also been at the airport for a while and had breakfast.

I had Penny with me, of course. She’s always excited when she sees me take out her airline travel bag. She’d gotten back into the bag at the gate before Don arrived and he didn’t even realize I had her with me until we boarded.

There wasn’t supposed to be breakfast on our flight, but there was; a nice yogurt and granola bowl with fresh fruit that would have gone nicely with the Bloody Mary I couldn’t have. (First Class on Alaska Air really is worth the extra cost. Can’t say the same for all airlines.)

On the flight, we chatted, ate, read. Time passed quickly. We were on the ground by 10:45 AM. With no bags checked and a quick exit from the plane, we were at the curb waiting for our Uber driver by 11 AM. Penny seemed happy enough to be out of the bag, sniffing around someplace she was pretty familiar with. After all, we’d flown to Sacramento quite a few times over the past four years.

It was about a 30 minute ride to the airport where my helicopter had been parked on the grass for two months. I settled up my bill for parking and said goodbye to the staff there. Don preflighted and installed the dual controls while I folded up the cockpit cover and tie downs and went to work setting up my GoPro. That’s when I realized that I’d left the Mini SD card for the camera at home. Duh-oh! There would be no video from the flight.

California to Washington

We’d discussed our route briefly on the flight down. Neither of us was in a hurry and both of us leaned toward a flight up the coast, which would add about an hour to the flight time.

Marine Layer
Here’s a shot of the marine layer on the coast of Oregon that forced us inland during a flight from Seattle to Wickenburg with my wasband in 2009.

My experience with flying the coast was varied. What I’d learned was that if I could get to the coast, I probably wouldn’t be able to follow it all the way up. The California and Oregon coasts are well known for their “marine layer” clouds. Although I’d flown the coast many times in the past, from Los Angeles to the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington, those damn clouds always made an appearance, forcing me inland so I’d never covered more than one or two hundred miles at a stretch. Last year, when I’d flown north by myself, planning on a coastal route, clouds with rain moved in not long after I hit the coast, forcing me inland for a dreary flight with more scud running than I like to do.

But nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh?

We followed Cache Creek west into the hills. I did the flying. I’d been wanting to fly Cache Creek all winter, but truck troubles had messed up my March plans and I wound up spending most of the month home instead of with the helicopter. I hadn’t flown nearly as much as I wanted to. This was my chance to get flying out of my system, flying a familiar and loved route. Somewhere in the hills, I turned the controls over to Don and he steered us over Clear Lake. Although the weather was clear where we were, there were clouds to the west (of course) and neither of us were sure whether they came into the coast or were off over the Pacific.

After flying up Highway 101 for a while, we decided to try heading west to see if we could make the coast. So we followed one of the canyons — I’m not sure, but I suspect it was the one the Noyo River flows in — concentrating on the path ahead of us. As expected, we were moving right in toward the clouds, which forced us lower and lower. But ahead of us, to the northwest, the sky was bright. Maybe it was clearing up?

We were flying about 300 feet over the road, stretching our necks to peer ahead of us and ready to turn around as the road went around a bend at a high point in the hills. We followed the bend and the road dropped away. We kept going.

Low clouds kept us flying low in the hillsides near Fort Bragg. We turned north, heading for our first fuel stop at Eureka. The coast was to our left and we occasionally caught glimpses of it as we flew over tree-covered hills with the clouds only a few hundred feet above us. I don’t think either of us wanted a trip up the coast in such conditions — I know I didn’t. But I also didn’t want to fly the I-5 corridor, which is painfully boring, especially once you get north of Eugene. We’d make a decision at Eureka.

The ceilings were much higher when we stopped for fuel at Eureka. We gassed up; Don bought the first tank. Then we went inside for a potty break. There wasn’t much else to do there — although the airport has a nice little pilot shop, there was no restaurant and nothing was within walking distance. So we climbed back on board and continued on our way, this time following the coast.

Cloudy Coast
Despite the clouds, it was beautiful on the coast.

Brookings Bridge
If you’ve driven on the Pacific Coast Highway — Route 101 — through Brookings, CA, you’ve driven over this bridge.

Near Newport
The coast near Newport, OR. I love the way the breakers line up when you see them at just the right angle.

Lincoln City, OR
A look down into Lincoln City, OR.

By this time, the scenery around us was interesting enough to take some pictures while Don flew. The doors were on, of course, so most of my photos have reflections and glare and even window dirt. But they give you a feel for what the weather was like and show a little of how beautiful the California and Oregon coasts can be from about 500 to 1000 feet up.

The coast was very rugged at the beginning, where the Redwoods National and State Parks come right up to the rocky shoreline. There were no roads in many places — just trees right up to the cliffs with lots of small waterfalls dropping down into the ocean. This is a view few people see, a view that can only be seen from the air off the coast. Don steered us along its left, over the ocean, just within gliding distance of land.

In some places, we saw sea lions stretched out on rocky beaches. I took pictures, but they didn’t come out good enough to share.

The Pacific Coast Highway hit the coast and then went inland several times. Finally, just before we hit the Oregon state line, it came out to the coast and stayed there for quite a while.

The weather got a little worse at first, with light rain pelting the cockpit bubble in more than a few places, then started to get better. By the time we got into Oregon, we saw patches of blue sky. The sun was shifting ever lower toward the horizon to the west and the light started getting kind of good.

Good Light on the Coast
Light is 90% of photography.

Waterfall
Waterfall near Otis, OR. Yes, I cropped this image; we weren’t that close.

Cloverdale
Cloverdale, OR looks like a pleasant place to live, eh?

Tillamook, OR
Don fueling up at Tillamook. The huge hangar behind him was used for airships years ago. I think there’s a chance it might be an air museum now.

We made our second fuel stop at Tillamook, OR. Don pumped while I paid. It was just after 5 PM and the airport office (and restrooms) were closed. It was also chilly. I let Penny loose to do her business, then called her back to get back on board. We didn’t hang around.

Oregon Coast at Seaside
The Oregon Coast near Seaside.

By now, we were hungry. Two breakfasts had filled us before noon, but skipping lunch hadn’t gone unnoticed. Don had been texting back and forth with his wife who would have a hot dinner waiting when we arrived at their Seattle area home.

We continued up the coast a bit more before heading inland not far from Astoria, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. This was, by far, the longest stretch of the Pacific Coast I’d flown in one day: more than 400 miles.

Don navigated northeast toward his house. It was all familiar territory to him — I didn’t fly much west of the Cascades. We flew east of Olympia and right over the top of the airport at Puyallup. From there, it was only a few minutes to Don’s place.

My iPad, with Periscope running, broadcast the approach in typical low-def quality.

Don let me take the controls and guided me in. I’d flown to his house before a few times but honestly couldn’t remember much about the approach. He had to keep pointing out landmarks and reminding me to slow down. It is tight — that’s for sure — with a steep approach between tall trees into a clearing beside his garage. I had Periscope running on my iPad in its cradle and recorded the whole thing.

And then we were on the ground, the long part of my journey over.

Resting Up

We went in and had something to drink while Don’s wife, Johnie, finished making dinner. Penny played with their new dog and ran around their grassy yard occasionally taking a detour to terrorize their chickens through the fence.

After dinner and a nice dessert, I went out to the barn with Don to see the two cows they’d “rescued.” They were huge. I really wish I’d had the presence of mind to take a photo, but I was so shocked by what I was looking at that I simply didn’t think of it.

I hit the sack in the guest room pretty early. I was still fighting a cold I’d had for at least three weeks and was exhausted. I slept well with Penny at the foot of the bed.

Seattle Area to Wenatchee

In the morning, after letting Penny out and then taking a quick shower, I dressed and met my hosts for breakfast. It was overcast and questionable (as usual) as to whether I’d make it across Snoqualmie or Stampede Pass. The automated weather station at Stampede was reporting half-mile visibility, which was enough to get through legally. But what about the rest of the flight? There was no accurate weather reporting in other places in the mountains. The only way to find out whether I’d make it was to give it a try. If I couldn’t get through, it was a long flight around the Washington Cascades to the Columbia River Gorge. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to go that way.

Don's Heliport
Another cloudy morning at Don’s place.

After thanking my guests and saying goodbye, I did a quick preflight, added some oil, and climbed on board with Penny. Then I started up and warmed the engine, setting up my iPad and iPhone with weather resources and Firelight maps to guide me while I waited. When the helicopter was ready to go, I picked up into a hover, turned 180 degrees over the driveway, and climbed out through the trees the way I’d come.

I had ForeFlight’s track log feature enabled during the flight, so I know exactly how I went. Originally, I thought I’d hook up with I-90 and follow that through the mountains at Snoqualmie Pass, which is at 3004 feet. But that would require me to head north quite a bit before heading southeast. It didn’t make sense to go out of my way. So instead, I followed the course of the Green River up into the mountains, aiming for Stampede Pass, which is higher at 3800 feet, but had that handy ASOS weather station. The weather there was reported at 1/4 mile visibility with mist, but I knew that could change at any time.

My Route
An overview of my route from the Seattle area to Wenatchee. Not exactly a straight line.

In the meantime, the flight was pleasant, even under the clouds, taking me over the Howard A Hanson Reservoir and a few communities that were no more than named points on the map. The area below me was thick forest, for the most part, with a road following the river for part of the way. I wish I could have taken pictures, but I’m a terrible photographer when I’m flying. I really missed my GoPro on that flight.

I steered up another canyon to the left just past Lester, heading for Stampede. The only roads were forest roads now as I climbed with the hills, getting ever closer to the cloud bottoms. Soon, I could see Stampede Pass ahead of me. I’d forgotten all about the wires that crossed through the lowest (and clearest) spot. I’d have to cross at a higher point a bit east where the clouds seemed to touch the ridge line. I could tune into the ASOS by that point; it was still reporting 1/4 mile visibility with mist.

My route over the pass
Here’s a closeup of my route (the blue line) through the Stampede Pass area on a Sectional Chart. I crossed the mountains just southeast of the pass, not at all interested in crossing over all those wires.

I slowed to 40 knots and creeped up to the ridge. I knew the rules I’d set for myself, rules that had never failed me when dealing with weather flying: if I could peek over the ridge and see the ground and my path ahead, I’d cross the ridge. Otherwise, I’d have to backtrack or find another place to cross.

I peeked, I saw. The ground dropped away ahead of me as I crossed the ridge near the pass and descended down into the valley beyond. Soon I was flying over I-90, past the lakes near Roslyn and Cle Elum. I steered east northeast, then due east, then northeast, direct toward home.

I crossed the mountains south of Wenatchee at Mission Ridge and made a slight detour to check out the slide damage areas at Whispering Ridge and Joe Miller Road. Then I made a beeline for the airport to get some fuel and take care of some paperwork with my mechanic.

A short while later, I was landing on my platform, which I’d left outside before heading down to Sacramento the previous day. It was good to get the helicopter put away.

Nine Years on Twitter

Twitter LogoAn unexpected anniversary.

This week marks the 10 year anniversary of the social networking site, Twitter. It’s been getting a lot of press and there are a lot of tweets from Twitter highlighting events throughout its history. I read through a bunch of them yesterday and remembered more than a few.

That got me thinking of how long I’d been on Twitter. I went to my profile page, and saw that I opened my account in March 2007. Almost exactly nine years. But what day in March? Had I missed my anniversary?

I Googled “Twitter anniversary date” and discovered Twitter Birthday, a site that exists solely to tell you when a twitter account was opened. I put in my user name. And I discovered that my account was opened on March 20, 2007. Exactly nine years before.

Twitter Birth Certificate
My Twitter “birth certificate,” retrieved exactly nine years after my account was opened.

Over the past nine years, I’ve been very active on Twitter, posting more than 57,000 tweets. I’ve formed good friendships with many people from all over the world that I’ve met on Twitter, including Andy Piper (the first person I ever followed, who now works for Twitter), Miraz Jordan, Ruth Kneale, Barbara Gavin, Shirley Kaiser, Michael T. Rose, Mike Muench, Esther Schindler, Jonathan Bailey, Chuck Joiner, Mike Meraz, Greg Glockner, Daniel Messier, Bob Levine, Ann Torrence, Bryan William Jones, Patty Hankins, April Mains, Debbie Ripps, Pam Baker, Terry Austin, Kirschen Seah, Jodene, Amanda Sargent, Ryan Keough, Steven Pass, Bill Evans, Derek Colanduno, Derek Bartholomaus, Bonnie Pruitt, Arlene Wszalek, Marvyn Robinson, and others.

I’ve met several of these “virtual friends” in person, including Andy (who lives in the U.K.), Shirley (California), Esther (Arizona), Mike Muench (Florida), Mike Meraz (California), Daniel (Arizona), Ann (Utah), Bryan (Utah), Patty (Maryland), Terry (Texas).

Barbara (Massachusetts) and Jodene (Washington) have gone on helicopter rides with me and Amanda (Washington/Louisiana) has actually flown my helicopter in Washington while I was tending to some divorce-related business in Arizona.

I wrote a book with Miraz (New Zealand) and was interviewed once by Marvyn (U.K.) for his Inspired Pilot podcast and multiple times by Chuck (New Jersey) for his MacVoices video podcast.

I’ve also used Twitter to keep in touch with people I already knew from my personal and business life. And organizations that tweet information that interests me. Those lists are too long to recite here.

Twitter has changed my life in another important way, too. In 2009, I authored and recorded the first of several video courses about Twitter for Lynda.com. This turned out to be a real contributor to my income with impressive royalties year after year as the course was regularly revised. (Sadly, I no longer do this course for Lynda and can’t recommend the current version.)

I blogged about Twitter and my relationship to it. My very first post about Twitter concerned then presidential candidate John Edwards using Twitter way back in 2007 to attract voters. That’s not a big deal today, but it was huge back then. Another post from 2007 titled “Reach Out and Meet Someone” covered my thoughts on social media and meeting people online. I felt as if I needed to explain it — it was that new. I also blogged “Four Steps to Get the Most Out of Twitter,” which, nine years later, is still valid. You can read more of my posts about Twitter by following the Twitter tag.

Nine years after joining Twitter, I’m as enthusiastic about it as ever. While it’s true that I’m not thrilled about some of the changes I’ve seen — notably the preponderance of “promoted tweets,” the Moments feature, and the algorithm now used (by default!) to sort your timeline — Twitter has remained unique enough to make it an important component of my social networking efforts. It’s still my “water cooler,” the place I turn to get social when I need a break from my daily activities.

While I lot of people just “don’t get” Twitter, I’m pretty sure that I do. And I expect to be using it for a long time to come.

Snowbirding 2016: Phoenix

Visiting with friends, running errands, preparing for the next leg of my journey.

Posts in the Snowbirding 2016 Series:
Introduction
The Colorado River Backwaters
Quartzsite
Wickenburg
Phoenix
Home
Back to the Backwaters
Return to Wickenburg
Valley of Fire
Death Valley
– Back to Work

I left Wickenburg at about 11:15 AM on Tuesday. I’d already organized everything and packed the truck, with the kayaks on top. I’d be back, but not for at least two weeks.

Although my hosts offered to let me store some things at the guest house, I declined. One thing I like about my life now is that it’s so flexible — my plans can change at any time. Although I planned to return in February, who knows what might happen between now and then to change those plans?

Lunch with a Friend

I’d scheduled lunch with a friend who agreed to meet me along my route down to Phoenix. Rebecca is a doctor and a photographer. Lately, she’s more of a photographer. Like me, she worked hard at at least one career and managed her finances so that she could follow her passion and dedicate more and more time to it. With me, my passions were writing (which became my second career) and flying (which became my third). With her, it’s travel and photography and she does more of both every year. You can see her work online at the Skyline Images website.

Rebecca had recently been to two destinations that interested me: Death Valley in California and Valley of Fire not far from Las Vegas, Nevada. I wanted to pick her brain a bit about them. I’d been to both years ago — several times, in fact — and wanted to visit again, on my own terms, without having to deal with a companion who might prevent me from doing what I wanted to do: namely, getting up before dawn to get into position for capturing images in first light. Rebecca knew all about that; she was even more serious about photography than I am.

I was very eager to visit Death Valley while the wildflowers were blooming. I’d planned a February trip back in 2012 with my wasband when I was still married, but a variety of circumstances (best saved for another blog post) made me cancel it. But since I was already down south with the Mobile Mansion and I’d eventually be bringing it to California for frost season, I thought a route that took me through Death Valley would kill two birds with one stone.

Valley of Fire wasn’t too far off the route to Death Valley. It’s a smallish state park northwest of Lake Mead, remarkable for its red rock formations. I wanted to get out and hike around a bit there with my camera and see if I could get any good images of the rocks.

I thought that with the travel time I’d allotted for myself — almost five full days to get from Wickenburg to the Sacramento area — there was a chance I could spend one night at Valley of Fire (for sunset and sunrise the next morning) and two nights at Death Valley. That would still get me to my destination a day before I needed to be there, giving me the flexibility I like so much when I travel.

We met at a Wildflower Bakery near the intersection of Phoenix’s Loop 101 and I-17 freeways. She saw me parking — how could she miss the giant truck with two kayaks on the roof? — and met me in the parking lot. I left Penny in the truck with the windows down a few inches and we went inside. Because I’d had two breakfasts already — which is pretty much unpreventable when I stay with my Wickenburg friends — I wasn’t hungry and had just a salad. Rebecca had a soup that looked very good and hearty.

We chatted for a while about life: what we’d been up to, where we’d been traveling, and what was going on in Yarnell, where she owned some land and was preparing to build. Eventually, we set aside our plates and she pulled out a Death Valley map. She pointed out a bunch of different roads and points of interest. As I expected, she knew places where few of the tourists went — I really detest being part of a tourist crowd, especially when my mind is on photography. Among the highlights were some dunes I didn’t know about and am rather anxious to see.

She also recommended an ebook by a photographer couple that provides photos and GPS coordinates for points of interest to photographers at Valley of Fire. I bought a copy in PDF format this morning and will put it on my iPad to consult it while I’m traveling. I just ordered a Death Valley map like Rebecca’s to be delivered to me while I’m on the road.

Tempe Camera

After leaving Rebecca, I continued south on I-17, following Google’s directions to Tempe Camera. I’d been having some exposure issues with my Nikon D7000 camera and was also concerned about a certain amount of “looseness” I felt in my favorite lens. Since there are no camera repair places where I live and I’m seldom in Seattle, I figured I’d drop it off at a camera repair place I knew in the Phoenix area.

Tempe Camera is one of the full-service camera stores that still exist in this digital age. Not only do they still sell film and darkroom supplies, but they have a full range of SLR and DSLR cameras, lenses, and other photographic equipment. They even do equipment rentals.

I maneuvered my giant truck into their parking lot and managed to back it into a space beside an empty handicapped space. Then, leaving Penny in the truck again, I brought my camera and its attached lens inside. The repair department is conveniently located on the first floor — they really ought to put it upstairs so people with sick equipment can look at replacements along the way, but I’m not complaining. After a short wait, the woman at the counter took the camera and lens, filled out some forms, and told me that she’d call with a diagnosis. If it could be repaired in-house, it would be ready by the following week, when I returned. Otherwise, it would have to go to Nikon and could take up to six weeks. Since that would really foul up my photography plans at Valley of Fire and Death Valley, you can bet I was hoping for an easy fix.

Back at the truck, I took Penny out for a quick walk in the grassy area near the parking lot. Then we loaded up again for our next and final stop for the day.

Hangar Haciendas

Hangars Hacienda on the Map
Hangar Haciendas is on the map — if you know where to look and zoom in enough.

My friend Mike and his wife Cheryl had bought some land a few years back at Hangar Haciendas, an airpark that no one seems to know about southwest of downtown Phoenix, just north of South Mountain. Around the time I started building my home, they were finalizing plans to build theirs. They moved into their home around the same time I moved into mine: last spring. Since then, they’ve been working on finish items, landscaping, and other odds and ends facing the owner of a brand new home.

An airpark, if you’re not familiar with the term, is a residential development that includes a runway for homeowners. In most cases, each lot will have a hangar with a taxiway that goes out to the runway. This makes it possible to live with your plane just like most folks live with their car.

Residential airparks are not unusual in Arizona. I can think of at least ten with nice, paved runways. I’ve seen one (so far) in Washington state. They can be found in just about any state if you look hard enough.

Their home is considerably more impressive than mine. In addition to the three bedroom, 2-1/2 bath house, there’s a one bedroom, 1 bath guest house and a ginormous hangar for Mike’s plane and helicopter (and a very nice looking Datsun 280Z). It sits on one side of one end of the runway, with great views of Phoenix one way and South Mountain the other way.

I’d been dying to see the house. The last time I was in town — February 2015 — the main structure was up but the walls and windows and doors hadn’t been finished. Poor Cheryl had been a bit frazzled, dealing with contractors and trying to stay ahead of the curve on the project’s construction. Now the place was pretty much finished, although there were some details that still needed attention and were driving Cheryl nuts. What’s interesting to me is that as the General Contractor for my home, I actually had an easier time than they did because I talked directly to the subcontractors and they had to deal with a general who may or may not pass along the right instructions to the subs. No wonder Cheryl was so frustrated!

When I first contacted them about a visit, I’d expected to have the Mobile Mansion with me. I needed a place to park it where it would be safe while I went home to Washington for a while. They had plenty of land and were relatively close to the airport, where an early morning flight would take me home. It made sense to ask to park it there. They had no problem with that. But when I dropped the RV off for repairs in Quartzsite instead, I just needed to park the truck. I was hoping to spend the night at their place, but was open to staying at a hotel if they couldn’t accommodate me. No problem, though. I could come with the truck and spend the night. And although they pretty much insisted that they drive me to the airport at 4 AM the next morning, I bought a ticket for a shuttle van to get me and Penny. I could never allow a friend to take me to the airport that early.

The house, as I expected, was amazing. Cheryl was working on something when I arrived, so Mike took me on a tour of the hangar first (of course) and then the house. I loved the huge windows that let in plenty of Arizona sunlight, the desert views, the big marble tiles on the floor, the ultra-modern kitchen, and the complete home automation system. I have to admit that it was the first time I’d ever been in a home with his and hers laundry rooms. And the master bedroom shower, with its five shower heads, was big enough to host a party. Even the guest house, which was probably about the size of my living space at home, was big and bright and well-designed.

We hung out and chatted for a while and Mike built a fire in a fire pit just off the back patio. A neighbor stopped by for a beer and a chat. Then we decided on Chinese food. Cheryl placed the order and Mike and I went to get it. I discovered that yes, there is good Chinese food in Arizona. You can find it at Sun Chinese Kitchen on 20th street and Baseline.

Cheryl was tired and I had an early flight the next morning, so I left them early. I pulled the two bags I needed to take home with me the next day out of my truck and locked up the truck, leaving the keys with Mike. Then I settled into the guest house with Penny.

I was asleep minutes after my head hit the pillow.