Fog & Sky Time-lapse

Probably the best time-lapse movie I’ve made so far.

A few weeks ago, we had an amazing day full of fog that drifted in and out for most of the day. It was a real joy to watch it from my home, mostly above the fog. But, of course, I didn’t have a camera set up for a time-lapse.

GoPro Camera Setup
I set up my GoPro on the deck outside my bedroom using a clamp mount my brother got me for Christmas last year. I have a USB power battery replacement for my GoPros that ensure I never run out of power.

Early this past week, the forecast mentioned fog for several days in a row. So I got out one of my GoPro cameras, put in a blank mini SD card, connected it to a full-time power source, and got it going taking one shot every 10 seconds.

That was on Monday afternoon.

Tuesday was a nice day. No fog. Not even much in the way of clouds.

Wednesday was kind of dreary with some clouds coming and going, but nothing really interesting.

Thursday was the same.

Friday was a bit more interesting, with clouds moving around a bit. I figured I could turn that into a time-lapse in a pinch.

But Saturday! Oh, Saturday, November 13, 2016.

Morning Clouds
This scene out the window beside my desk was my first inkling that it might be a good time-lapse day.

I was sitting at my computer finishing up a blog post about my home automation system when I happened to glance outside. My “office” window faces northeast. I see the Columbia River Valley as it narrows between cliff faces. And that morning, as it was just getting light, I saw the clouds clinging to the side of the cliffs near my neighbor’s house.

The fog was back.

I was almost afraid to see if the time-lapse camera was still running, but when it got light enough to see, I went out on the deck and took a peek. It was. Glad I’d bought that 64GB mini SD card.

I let it run. I went about my day, doing odd jobs at home and running errands in town. The camera continued to run. The fog came and went, the clouds moved around, it became a beautiful day. The wind kicked up and the clouds seemed to fly by.

And the camera continued to record an image every 10 seconds. All day long and into the night.

This afternoon, I shut off the camera and brought the SD card inside. I found the images starting at 6 AM and ending at 6 PM. I ran them through a batch action in Photoshop that cropped them to HD video size. I fired up QuickTime 7 Pro, which I have just for time-lapse work, and compiled the 4320 images at 6 frames per second. The result was too slow. I tried again with 15 frames per second. Perfect!

The result is what you see below.

Got five minutes? Take a break and watch my time-lapse. View it in full screen if you can.

If you’re wondering about the music, which seems to go perfectly with this video, it’s by Paul Avgerinos: Dance of Life from the album Sky of Grace.

Life above the Clouds

One of those days when I’m so glad I made my home where I did.

Pictures just don’t do it justice. I know because I’ve been trying to take a good picture of what I’m seeing outside my window for the past hour and a half.

It started before dawn, when the early morning’s gray light revealed the thick cloud blanketing the Columbia River in the valley far below me. It just sat there for a while, apparently still, shrouding the homes and roads and orchards that normally fill my view. I went about my morning tasks — making coffee, writing in my journal, unloading the dishwasher — sneaking peaks outside to see if the view had changed. Every time I looked, it had. Then I begin to notice the movement of the clouds, rising and falling, drifting to the south west, drifting back to the north east. For the hundredth time in as many days, I regretted not setting up one of my GoPro cameras to capture a time lapse of the movement of the clouds.

I took pictures. Dozens of pictures. I used my phone and my good Nikon. I brought the pictures into my computer and fiddled with them, hoping I could get them to show off what I was seeing. For some reason, they always came up short.

Cloud Pano
One of the first photos I shot was a panorama. Click this image to load and view the whole thing.

At one point, I watched the cloud grow and climb and drift right up my driveway to swallow my home. And then, just as quickly as it had come, it was gone.

Airport Clouds
Directly across the river from my home, the local airport is in a bright fog. Like me, it’s quite a bit above the river level.

Autumn
This zoomed in shot looking toward Wenatchee really shows off the autumn colors.

Even as I write this, now two hours after dawn, the view keeps changing. The bright sunlight plays on the autumn colors in the orchards and reflects bright white off farmhouses and shop buildings. I keep waiting for the fog to burn off, but instead it keeps drifting and rising and falling. Below the cloud, its a gray day, but above it, here at the Aerie, it’s bright and beautiful — almost springlike.

Foggy Home
A 300mm lens really compresses the distance between a home about a quarter mile away and the city of Wenatchee five or six miles beyond it.

I’m a view person, as I’ve stated numerous times here and elsewhere. I bought this piece land because of the view and I designed my home to take advantage of it. I don’t need pictures on my walls; I have windows. It’s amazing to me how often the view out those windows varies — with changes of time or light or season or weather. It’s a new show every single day, and although some days are better than others — like this morning’s show — they’re almost always amazing.

The other day, a friend came by for dinner. As we were sitting at my breakfast bar, enjoying our meal, we couldn’t help but take in the view of the city as late afternoon turned to evening and then to night. My friend turned to me and said, “I’m so glad that you haven’t taken your view for granted.”

I immediately knew exactly what she meant. My last home, in Arizona, also had some nice views. In the beginning, when I first moved there, I used to like to watch the way the setting sun turned the mountains to the north an amazing shade of copper red. After a while, however, I noticed that I wasn’t looking quite as often, even though the view was spectacular most afternoons. I had begun to take the view for granted.

I hope that doesn’t happen here.

As I was finishing this up, I noticed that the fog was finally dissipating, being burned off by the warmth of the sun. I took a quick break to shoot video of what I saw — it’s zoomed in a little so the quality of the video isn’t very good. It does give you an idea of what I was seeing and just how beautiful can be here.


A quick video from the deck.

I’m very glad I decided to make my home here.

Helicopter Flight from Washington to Arizona, Day 1: Over the Mountains, IFR

A flexible flight plan, weather, and then smooth flying to someplace other than where I expected to be.

It was overcast with a handful of low-level clouds as we headed southeast from Wenatchee Airport at about 11 AM on Monday morning. Not very promising weather for the first day of our trip south.

Leg 1: Wenatchee to Baker City

Leaving Wenatchee
It looked pretty dreary when we left the airport heading southeast on Monday morning.

We left the Columbia River for the first time at the Gorge Amphitheater south of Quincy, WA. (We’d cross the twisting river two more times before leaving the area.) The air was really smooth and I found it difficult to believe that such high winds lay ahead on our planned route. But instead of taking that route, I headed toward Hermiston, which was closer to Pendleton than our original route would have taken us. I could always steer west again if I wanted to get back on that route.

The weather in Pendleton was moving northeast — per radar on my iPad — and it looked as if it might be gone by the time we got to Hermiston. I could check the weather at various points on my iPad as I flew and I did so, trying to decide what to do. But it wasn’t until we crossed over Benton City that I pretty much decided a more eastern route would be better; the winds at Benton City bounced us around in light turbulence that had Jeremy talking about the weather again. If a few bounces like that were bothering him, he’d either be sick or terrified when we hit the moderate turbulence forecast up ahead on our planned route. And although I was unlikely to be either, I still didn’t want a long day flying in turbulence. Been there, done that.

Fortunately, the weather that had been in Pendleton had moved off. I plotted a course for the airport there. We could clearly see rain in various places around us, but there was no lightning and the air was smooth. I talked to the tower at Pendleton and was cleared to cross over the field. The runways looked soaking wet. But what pleased me to no end was that I could clearly see the tops of the Green Mountains to the east. We’d have no trouble climbing them to follow the I-84 corridor.

Yes, IFR = I Follow Roads.

First Leg
Our first leg was from Wenatchee to Baker City. This is an actual track log from ForeFlight.

The next hour or so was a mix of sun and clouds and even some light rain as I plotted the straightest route I could that kept us within sight of the freeway. I turned the helicopter’s nosecam on and off depending on how nice it looked outside. When we were flying into the sun, the pictures are generally crappy with bad exposures so I didn’t have the camera on much. I had a GoPro 3 Black up there that I could control from my phone. It was set up to record HD video with still images every 10 seconds. With a 64 GB mini SD card and USB power source, it would last the entire length of the trip. The aerial photos throughout this post are from that camera.

Meanwhile, Jeremy was shooting pictures almost nonstop whenever there was something interesting to see. I felt kind of bad that he had to shoot through the plexiglas, which I knew could be very reflective. But taking a door off would be uncomfortable and slow us down. And because we had so much junk in the back, there was no place to store it on the flight anyway. The only good thing is that the occasional rain showers we passed through sometimes cleaned the bugs off the front windows.

Skeleton Crew
The folks at Baker Aircraft are serious about Halloween decorations. Photo by Jeremy.

FBO at Baker City
Yes, the fridge at the Baker City FBO is completely covered with airplane panels. How cool is that? I’ll let you fly in to discover what happens when you open the door.

We stopped for fuel at Baker City, OR. (I always stop at Baker City, whether I’m driving or flying.) I parked to one side of the pumps and the fuel guy came out and fueled me up while Jeremy and I made a beeline for the bathrooms. I asked about the courtesy car and they handed over the keys. After paying for fuel, we drove into town for lunch. I always eat at Sumpter Junction, a great little restaurant with a huge model train that passes by the booths at one side of the restaurant and that day was no different. They have a great breakfast all day; I had chicken fried steak and eggs. Back at the FBO, I bought some snacks — Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookies and some almond chocolate biscotti — for the flight.

Leg 2: Baker City to Burley

Before leaving, I texted my friend and former editor Megg, who lives in Salt Lake City, telling her that we might be overnighting in the area and asking if she was available for dinner. I knew Bountiful Skypark from having landed there several years before, and figured we could grab an Uber to a hotel for the night. It’s always good to have a plan, even if the plan changes.

Then it was back in the air, heading southeast through Oregon along the I-84 corridor again. More sun and clouds and light rain. Some snow around us (but not on us). Lots of green. Very few bumps. I was very happy I’d made the route change.

In Oregon
Along the I-84 corridor east of Baker City.

In Oregon
A bit further along the road. The weather was constantly changing but never became an issue for flight.

Leg 2
The second leg of our flight, as recorded by ForeFlight.

After about an hour or so, we finally dropped out of the mountains into the flatlands around Boise. We were back in civilization again, with lots of airports to monitor and traffic to see and avoid. (I didn’t have the nosecam running because we were pointing into the sun and the images would have been awful anyway.) I steered us through the Caldwell and Nampa airspaces, making calls along the way, then steered us eastbound, south of the Boise Class B airspace, partly because it was the most direct route, even though it took us away from I-84, and partly because I just didn’t feel like talking to a controller. We monitored the frequency, though, and heard the planes coming and going.

Then it was back out into the mostly flat lava fields east of Boise. The sky had cleared considerably and although there were still isolated rain showers in the area, it was very pretty and pleasant flying weather.

Over Idaho
We crossed over a few wind farms, including this one east of Boise. Jeremy got a great picture out the side window as we passed one of them. This is from the nosecam.

We fueled in Burley, ID. It’s another airport I’d stopped at before. I think it was back in 2008 when I was flying from Wenatchee, WA to Page, AZ with my wasband and another pilot. We’d overnighted there in a hotel not far from the airport. This time, we just fueled up as quickly as possible.

Leg 3: Burley to Salt Lake City

Megg had texted back with an invitation for us to spend the night at her house. I was eager to see her new home and spend more time with her so after conferring with Jeremy, I texted back that we’d try to get there before sunset. We were airborne minutes later.

East of Burley, ID
The nosecam picked up this image as we climbed out of the airport at Burley, ID.

By this time, it was nearly 5 PM local time and sunset at Salt Lake would be about 6:30. I did not want to fly in that area in the dark. So I put the pedal to the metal (so to speak) and cut some corners along the way to shave off a few minutes of flight time.

The light was magnificent for photography so I turned on the nosecam and left it on for the remainder of the flight. I picked up more than a few nice images along the way. The air was still smooth and we had a bit of a tailwind that hurried us along. We broke from the freeway corridor when we entered the Salt Lake basin, mostly to shorten up the route and avoid other airports along the way. There was fresh snow on the mountains and parts of the lake that we flew over were smooth enough to reflect the sky.

Heading toward Salt Lake
Heading south along on I-84 toward Salt Lake City in late afternoon.

North of Salt Lake
Although I cut some corners to save time, I was never very far from the freeway.

Salt Lake Basin
Dropping into the northeast corner of the Salt Lake Basin.

Reflections in Salt Lake
This is my favorite photo of the trip. I am such a sucker for reflections and will actually plan a route over water if it looks like the nosecam might get a few good shots.

I did have to talk to two towers along the way. The first was Ogden, which is north of Salt Lake City. To keep things simple, I asked for a transition along the I-15 freeway. The controller directed me to overfly one of the runways, basically cutting the corner and shortening up my flight path. He then handed me off to Hill Air Force Base tower, where I got clearance to continue my transition along I-15. Easy peasy.

Leg 3
Third leg of our trip, as recorded by ForeFlight.

We made remarkable time to Skypark. I tuned into the frequency, heard another plane in the pattern, and kept clear until I could see him. Although I probably could have darted across the runway to land on the ramp before he turned final, doing so would have had me looking right into the sun, making it difficult to see where I was going. So I joined the pattern in the downwind and followed him in to land.

Landing at Skypark
We landed at Skypark about 20 minutes before sunset. Can you see the plane landing in front of us? He’s about halfway down the runway.

I taxied over to self-serve fuel and topped off the tanks while Jeremy and Penny stretched their legs. I texted Megg to let her know we’d arrived; she said she’d be with us in 30 minutes. Then I fired up the helicopter and repositioned it over to an end parking space near the taxiway, leaving enough space between me and the next tied down aircraft to prevent complaints.

At Salt Lake City

Zero-Mike-Lima at Bountiful
Zero-Mike-Lima, parked at Bountiful Skypark at sunset after a long day of flying.

We unloaded the helicopter and I locked it up for the night, leaving the GoPro on the nose right where it was. We waited for Megg by the main terminal building. The light in the mountains to the east was spectacular.

Megg came and we exchanged hugs. I introduced her to Jeremy. She tried to pet Penny, but Penny danced around as usual. We loaded our luggage into Megg’s car and headed off to pick up her son at Boy Scouts. I could not believe how much he’d grown! He was 13 now — hell, I remember when he was born! — as tall as me, and had ditched the glasses in favor of contact lenses. We all went out to dinner at Cafe Rio. Then it was back to Megg’s wonderful little house, which was originally built in the 1890s and fully modernized. While Jeremy worked with his photos on his laptop and Penny dodged and teased Megg’s three big dogs, Megg and I chatted about things going on with both of us. It was really great to see her and I urged her to stop by my place for a day or two on her way to the Seattle area for a visit with her dad in July.

Then, with Megg needing a very early start in the morning for a meeting and me feeling pretty tired from a long day at the controls, we split up and hit the sack. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillows.

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Helicopter Flight from Washington to Arizona: Logistics and Flight Planning

Planning my last big cross-country flight before overhaul.

Last week, I flew my helicopter down to Chandler, AZ from Wenatchee, WA with Penny the Tiny Dog and my friend Jeremy. I needed to deliver it to Quantum Helicopters so they could get the helicopter’s first overhaul started by November 1. I’d need it back by mid-February at the latest and overhauls typically take 9 to 12 weeks.

Here’s the story of my two-day flight to Arizona, split into three parts for readability. It’s surprising how much I had to say about the flight — and how many photos I have to share. Enjoy.

Logistics and Flight Planning

With various activities scattered all over my October calendar — including a weekly wine tasting class on Wednesday nights and a weekend-long mushroom foray at Mount Rainier — I didn’t have many options to make the trip. I wound up letting Alaska Air pick the dates by searching for the best deal on a return flight to Wenatchee that would fit my schedule. That return flight was Wednesday, October 19, at 6 AM. Since I wanted one last oil change before I headed south and my mechanics usually don’t work weekends, that meant leaving late Monday morning and getting to Chandler before Quantum closed at 8 PM on Tuesday.

Some folks wonder why it was so important for me to get an oil change before making the long flight. After all, it was going in for overhaul. Surely it wouldn’t matter how dirty the oil was when it arrived. But only 8 flight hours before, on a 50-hour inspection, my mechanics had found more metal fragments in the oil filter than usual. (They had begun finding very small amounts of metal from the aging engine about six months before, but nothing to cause alarm. This was different.) Yes, the helicopter had gone a full 50-hours between changes so the amount of metal would likely be higher than usual. But was it critical? The only way to see how bad it was was to get one more oil change and take a look at the filter. They’d do this the morning before my departure and if things looked bad, I’d scrap the flight plans and arrange to trailer it down.

Fastest Route
The fastest route from Wenatchee to Phoenix. There aren’t many fuel options and there’s a lot of empty desert.

The fastest route between Wenatchee and Phoenix is a nearly straight line with fuel stops in Burns, OR; Elko, NV; and Mesquite, NV. I’ve taken this route several times and it can get me to Sky Harbor in eight hours with a light load and a nice tailwind. But at least 50% of this route is over empty desert, miles and miles from any road or town. There’s one stretch in particular where for 90 minutes all you’re flying over is grass and sagebrush, with herds of wild horses galloping away at the sound of your approach — no roads, no buildings, nothing else. If the engine got iffy, we might have to land someplace where getting help would be difficult. I honestly didn’t want to deal with it.

Planned Route
Our planned route was at least four hours longer with a handful more fuel stops along the way.

So I told my passenger, Jeremy, that he could pick the route. He got very creative. He suggested an overnight stop at Sacramento with friends of his on Monday night, then stops at the Hiller Museum at San Carlos Airport (south of San Francisco), and Santa Barbara for lunch with his daughter. That lengthened the route considerably, but kept us near roads, towns, or cities for much of the flight. I started working up a plan. Sacramento before sunset was doable — I’d done it in less than a day more than a few times — but we’d have to leave early and skip the San Carlos stop to make it to Santa Barbara with enough time for lunch before heading east. By that time, I’d also made early dinner arrangements with some friends in Wickenburg, AZ, and we needed to meet them by 4 PM to have an unhurried dinner and get to Chandler by 7 PM. (I had to chat with the mechanic and unload the helicopter before they closed and I certainly didn’t want to hold anyone up.) I plotted the new route, trying hard to find airports with decent fuel prices. Tuesday would be a long day, but I kind of looked forward to flying through the high desert north of the Los Angeles area, which I hadn’t done in several years.

Meanwhile, the weather wasn’t looking good. A pair of storm systems were due to arrive in the Pacific Northwest on the Thursday and Saturday before our trip. Cliff Mass, the Northwest weather guru, was predicting a storm equal to the famous Columbus Day Storm that had hit Seattle back in 1962. Jeremy, who lives on that side of the mountains, was getting nervous. While I was aware of the storm — heck, we were supposed to get a ton of rain in the Wenatchee area on both days — I also knew that storms come and go. The forecasts had it clearing up by Sunday and we weren’t due to leave until Monday. Monday’s forecast called for just 20% chance of rain and forecasts for our entire route, which I began tracking on Friday, looked pretty much the same. Worst case scenario was that we’d fly through some rain. And I’d done that enough times not to worry about it.

The storms came and went, pretty much as predicted. We got over an inch of rain here. Seattle and the coast got hit harder, but not nearly as hard as the weather folks expected. There were some scattered power outages and downed trees, but not the catastrophic storm damage expected.

Sunday was mostly cloudy here but there wasn’t any rain — at least not to notice. I picked up Jeremy at the bus station — he took a Greyhound (!) from Seattle — we had a late lunch, and headed home. I spent some time prepping the helicopter for the long trip, getting my GoPros hooked up and pulling out any equipment I wouldn’t need on the trip or after I picked up the helicopter in January or February. Jeremy made Manhattans and opened a bottle of wine he’d brought for dinner. My friend Alyse came for dinner — I cooked up some ribeye steaks and we had them with garden potatoes and carrots.

Eventually Alyse went home and, after chatting for a while, we turned in for the night.

A Change of Plans

I woke up early, as I usually do, and immediately used my iPad to check and file my flight plan. That’s when I got my first surprise: It would take more than three hours to reach our first fuel stop at Bend, OR. That wasn’t right. I woke up a bit more and took a closer look at the flight plan. The plan accounted for 25 knot headwinds.

Shit.

I checked the rest of the flight plan. High, gusty winds from the south were predicted for much of our route to Sacramento. Chances of rain had increased a bit, too. I started exploring other routes that would take us to Sacramento before nightfall. The high winds stretched far to the east, into the empty desert I’d been hoping to avoid. To the west, near the coast, rain was likely and, I knew from experience, visibility would be poor. The weather briefing backed this up, forecasting moderate turbulence inland and mountain obscuration along the coast.

So if we took the route I’d planned on, not only would we be bouncing all over the sky, but we’d be in the air an extra hour or more because of headwinds, with at least one additional fuel stop. I was looking at a miserable day of flying with a passenger who was already worried about the weather. It would not be a good day — certainly not the kind of pre-overhaul flight I was looking forward to.

At breakfast, I reported my findings to Jeremy. That only made him mention his previous weather concerns more. But it wasn’t as if I could call off the flight, or even postpone it. The flight was doable and I already had all my plans made for a return flight that would still get me back for my wine tasting class on Wednesday. (I do have my priorities straight.) I decided that we’d depart on schedule and see how things looked to the south.

So a while later, I was spinning up the helicopter while Jeremy watched from my front yard. I took off and headed to the airport for that oil change. Jeremy drove my truck to the airport so I’d have a way to get home from the airport on Wednesday.

I did treat myself to a nice tour of Wenatchee before heading into the airport. I needed to warm up the oil, after all. It was a beautiful morning with scattered low clouds. Through a gap in the clouds, I could see snow at the top of Mission Ridge. It was the second snowfall they’d gotten up there and I knew my ski-loving friends would be thrilled.

At the airport, the three mechanics of Alpine Aviation were waiting for me. I shut down and we pushed the helicopter into the hangar. They did the oil change while I chatted with the folks hanging out in the FBO lounge and consulted ForeFlight on my iPad for options. There was stormy weather to the east, near Pendleton and Walla Walla. One route I’d taken in the past climbed the Green Mountains near Pendleton and followed I-84 through the mountains and Boise beyond. It was a good route, but I’d also been stuck at the foot of those mountains, blocked by low clouds. It would be a time-wasting detour if that happened again.

The oil filter showed some more metal fragments, but not enough to cause serious concern. The engine was, after all, 2068 hours old. (And that’s based on the collective-based “maintenance” Hobbs — it likely had well over 2,200 hours of actual engine running time.) The engine would not cause a flight cancellation.

Penny on a Box
Here’s where Penny would sit for the entire duration of our trip south. She sleeps most of the time.

By 11, I was fueled up, paid up, packed up, and ready to go. I put Penny in her travel bed behind me on top of an empty wheeled box I’d brought along for storing helicopter equipment during overhaul. (I couldn’t bring all of that stuff home.) Jeremy’s wheelie bag and camera bag and tripod filled the space behind him. I shoved my day pack and jacket in the foot space behind my seat. Jeremy climbed into the passenger seat with his camera ready and buckled up. I got the front GoPro’s wifi fired up, climbed into my seat, buckled up, and started the engine.

We felt very heavy when I pulled pitch — was the engine really that tired? — but had no trouble lifting off. Soon we were heading southeast along the river. Our trip had begun.

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Living with Cheap Power

When conserving power seems silly.

I live in what’s referred to as North Central Washington State, an area on the east side of the Cascade Mountains with a high desert like climate. If you’re familiar with Prescott or Flagstaff, Arizona, you know exactly what the weather here is like: four seasons with very little rain, some snow, and relatively mild summers and winters. Sure, summer temperatures can get over 100°F, but not often or for long. Likewise, winter temperatures can dip into single digits (F), but not often or long. It’s actually a lot like where I grew up in the New York Metro area, but with a lot less rain and a lot more sun.

Washington Map
Here’s a satellite view of the State of Washington with an X where I live. The closest city is Wenatchee (98801) about 5 air miles away.

(When I looked at that map, I realized that I live pretty darn close to the center of the state. So I Googled “What is the geographic center of Washington State?” and discovered I’m just eight or so miles away. So I really don’t know why they call this area North Central Washington when we’re really just Central Washington.)

Washington State power companies have huge investments in hydroelectric and wind generation projects. I live just 2 air miles from the Columbia River and there are two dams (Rock Island and Rocky Reach) with hydroelectric plants within 10 miles of me. Reach out another 20 or so miles and there are two more dams (Lake Chelan and Wanapum) with power plants and a huge wind/solar facility (Wild Horse).

It should come as no surprise that my area has one of the cheapest electricity rates in the country. (I’ve been told that Chelan County is actually the second cheapest in the country with Douglas County, across the river, being the cheapest (currently 2.33¢), but I haven’t confirmed that.) Our rates? 2.7¢ per kilowatt hour.

My Electricity Cost
My electric bills for the past 13 months, charted. Not sure what was going on last winter. (Note to self: talk to house sitter.) Even with those two peak months, the average for the period is only $45/month.

I see this on my monthly electric bill. While it’s true that we had a mild summer this year, my air conditioning did run. I heard it. I even cranked it up a few times. But you wouldn’t know it looking at my electric bill; it never topped $32 for any one month. Indeed, it was higher in the spring — and I still can’t figure out why. And it did get over $100 in February for January’s usage.

What’s your local electricity rate? You can look at your bill or even Google it. Or if you want a statewide average, here’s a handy table. The rate where I last lived, in Wickenburg, AZ, is currently 11.96¢/kilowatt hour — about 3.4 times what I’m paying now. And where I lived before that, in Harrington Park, NJ, the rate is currently 15.40¢/kilowatt hour — 4.7 times what I’m paying now. The national average is 12.73¢/kilowatt hour. These are all residential rates, of course. Often the rates are different for commercial and industrial users.

This is great for me — obviously. It’s wonderful to have such a low monthly electric bill. More money in my pocket, right?

The trouble is, it takes away most of my motivation to conserve power. After all, if letting the air conditioning or heat run 24/7 isn’t going to cost much more than making sure it’s turned off when I’m not around, why should I bother?

People might argue that it’s better for the environment to conserve power. Normally, I’d agree. But with most — if not all — of my power coming from renewable energy sources like hydro, wind, and solar, why conserve? These renewable energy sources are producing more than enough power for my area. And with loss in transmission, even sending the power I could save into the grid wouldn’t make a difference.

And yes, that’s the reason I didn’t cover the huge roof on my home with solar panels. There isn’t any point. I’d never save enough money to cover the cost of such an investment and there’s no need for the extra power generation in this area.

It’s also why if I bought a new car while I was living here, I’d definitely buy an electric car.

Now don’t get the idea that I waste energy. I’m the person who turns out the lights in rooms I’m not in, uses a programmable thermostat, and runs full loads in the dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer. All my appliances are “Energy Star Compliant” — as if you can get them any other way. I live in a small space and although all my appliances are electric, there’s just one person using them. But still! 2.7¢/kilowatt hour? It would be difficult to get the $200+ electric bills I saw every winter and summer in Arizona.

All this might make you wonder why the country isn’t investing in more renewable energy projects. Sure, not every river can support hydro projects. And yes, wind generators can be unsightly. And all large-scale energy projects impact the environment in one way or the other — ask me about the raptor surveys I did for wind projects in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.

But renewable energy resources can reduce or eliminate our dependence on dirty fuel, non-renewable energy like oil, natural gas, and coal. It can reduce the cost of energy, which would have a positive economic impact on people who struggle to pay utility bills. It would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, further reducing our use of fossil fuels and helping to clean our air.

This is a no-brainer, folks. Don’t let politicians pandering to the coal and oil industries tell you otherwise.

Now just don’t talk to me about my water bill. That’s a whole different story.

The Mobile Mansion is Gone

Another chapter of my old life ends.

On Monday, I delivered my 36-foot fifth wheel Montana Mountaineer RV, affectionately nicknamed “the Mobile Mansion” to its new owners. Yesterday, I met them at the bank to have the paperwork notarized and get my check.

Early Life of the Mobile Mansion

I bought the Mobile Mansion brand new back in 2010 in Quartzite, AZ. I got a great deal on it. The Great Recession was killing RV manufacturers and dealers; by January 2010, Quartzite dealers were desperate to unload brand new RVs.

Mobile Mansion in Quincy
Here’s the Mobile Mansion parked at the golf course I stayed at in Quincy, WA, for about two months each summer. (I now hire pilots to work my Quincy contracts.)

It was the second — well, fourth if you count the popup camper and horse trailer with living quarters — in a line of RVs I’d owned since the early 2000s. Like its predecessor, a Starcraft hard-sided camper with pop-out beds, It was a business asset for Flying M Air: I bought it as a place to live when I traveled for my flying work. I’d begun working in Washington every summer in 2008 and wanted an affordable and comfortable place to live while I was there. The Starcraft was affordable but not comfortable. The Montana was very comfortable mostly because it was very large. I got a big one because I expected that I’d be living in it for four to six months a year with the man I was married to and our mid-sized dog. I wanted us to have plenty of space. I wanted it to be a true home away from home. When I bought it, I blogged that it was the “perfect” RV.

A Temporary Home for the Homeless

When my marriage fell apart in June 2012, I was living in the Mobile Mansion in Washington State, where I was working for the fifth summer in a row. I didn’t bother bringing the Mobile Mansion back home to Arizona at the end of the summer. Instead, I stored it in a friend’s garage, along with my boat. I’d need it in Washington the following year no matter what happened, so it made no sense to bring it home.

I did move it down to California in February 2013 for the frost control work I started there that year. It was a lot of fun to live part time at an airport with my helicopter parked a few hundred feet away.

At Watts-Woodland
The Mobile Mansion parked alongside a hangar in the Sacramento area. You can see my helicopter parked on the ramp at the left side of the photo.

In May 2013 when the court stuff was finally done and my wasband finally agreed to a division of personal assets in our Wickenburg house and Phoenix condo, I moved out of Wickenburg permanently. By that time, the Mobile Mansion was back in Washington, settled in for my summer work, and I moved right back into it.

I lived in it for most of the next two years. I traveled a bunch in the winter, as I usually do, and had a three-month housesitting job during the coldest months of the winter of 2013/14 when living in the Mobile Mansion parked outdoors would have been tough. The following winter, the shell of my new home was finished and, when I wasn’t in Arizona or California, I lived in the Mobile Mansion inside the RV garage. I had a full hookup in there: 30 amp power, water, and sewer. It was comfortable, but cave-like — sort of like that Phoenix condo I’d hated so much — and it really motivated me to finish up my living space upstairs.

Mobile Mansion in Construction Zone
The Mobile Mansion was my home and base of operations while my new home was being built. I even set up a time-lapse camera on one of the slides to record the whole building process.

In early April 2015, I moved upstairs, sleeping on an air mattress on the bedroom floor. The shower wasn’t done yet, so I still showered down in the Mobile Mansion in the garage. But by the end of the month I was mostly moved in, with my furniture in place. Although my home wasn’t 100% complete, I was done living in the Mobile Mansion.

Or so I thought.

The Mobile Mansion stayed in the RV garage until July. I’d been playing around with AirBnB, using the full hookup campsite at the edge of my driveway as a rental and getting some activity. But in July, I moved the Mobile Mansion back outside and parked it near where it used to be. I pulled all of my personal items out of it, leaving only what was needed for guests. And then I put it on AirBnB. Amazingly, I was able to rent it almost every weekend right into October, getting $80/night with a two night minimum.

Mobile Mansion
People paid $160/weekend to live in the Mobile Mansion with it parked right where it is in this photo. (And no, the helicopter usually wasn’t parked in the side yard.)

(I could probably write a whole blog post about squeezing money out of assets without a lot of headaches. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.)

Mobile Mansion for Sale

By September, I had decided I definitely wanted to sell the Mobile Mansion. I wanted to travel for the winter but I wanted a smaller rig. I’d already started shopping for one. At the time, I was thinking of a much smaller bumper pull. I listed the Mobile Mansion in various places, hoping to sell the truck with it.

After that last AirBnB rental, I took everything out of the Mobile Mansion, gave it a good cleaning, and dropped it off at an RV sale lot in East Wenatchee. The folks there were pretty confident they could get my price.

They came in with two offers, both of them very low. Bargain hunters looking for “motivated” (read that desperate sellers.) I didn’t have to sell the Mobile Mansion. It was fully paid for and not costing me a thing to keep. I’d even made nearly $2K using it as a rental for part of the summer.

By December, I’d decided to go south for the winter. My friends were camping out in the Colorado River backwaters and I wanted to join them. I figured I’d sell the Mobile Mansion while I was away and come home with a different rig. So after my Christmas skiing trip, I went to the sale lot with all the gear I’d need for the winter, packed up the Mobile Mansion, hooked it up to my truck, and headed south on what was supposed to be a three-month trip.

Old Ford
The last of the snow melted off the roof when I reached Blythe, CA.

Despite the in-transit trials, I had a great time. It was good living off the grid with my friends, soaking up the sun, fishing, paddling, horseback riding, and shopping for deals in Quartzsite. I almost sold the Mobile Mansion once — I had a decent deal to trade it for a truck camper and still get cash in hand. But I wasn’t mentally ready for such a huge downsizing. I made some improvements to the Mobile Mansion, thinking I might keep it after all.

Mobile Mansion Parking
Living in Arizona along the Colorado River in the Mobile Mansion last winter was tough. Not.

I regretted not taking that offer when I left Arizona in February and started my trip to California for my frost control work there. Truck trouble stranded my truck and the Mobile Mansion in southern California, really screwing up my plans. I went home, fetched the helicopter for my contract, and spent some time in the Sacramento area with it. But without the Mobile Mansion to live in, I didn’t want to be there. I went home, leaving the helicopter, my new used truck, and the Mobile Mansion scattered around California. It wasn’t until April that I was able to fetch everything and bring it home.

After cleaning the Mobile Mansion out yet again, I brought it right to a sale lot in North Wenatchee. Once again, the sales guy told me how sure he was that he’d sell it — possibly even within a few weeks.

But I didn’t wait for the Mobile Mansion to sell before getting on with my plans. (I am so done waiting for someone else to do something to move forward with my life.) I bought a truck camper to replace it and almost immediately put it to use. After an overnight “shakedown tour,” I put it to work housing one of the pilots who worked for me in Quincy. (I suspect he would have been more comfortable in the Mobile Mansion. Oh, well.)

The sales lot guy was unable to sell it. I think it’s because he was asking so much more than it was worth, hoping to turn a tidy profit on my rig. And the fact that when he didn’t feel like coming to work, he didn’t — so the lot was closed more often than it was open. (Needless to say, he won’t be seeing me again.)

It Pays to Wait

Fortunately, I hadn’t stopped telling the people I know about it. And two of them were interested — but not for the price the guy on the lot was asking.

We agreed on a price. Ironically, it was more than the price my wasband had accepted on our jointly owned 40-acres of vacation property in Northern Arizona the month before. (Desperate sellers will take anything. Yes, I accepted the low offer, too, but the only thing I was desperate about was finally ending any ties I had to the sad sack old man I’d married 10 years before. The money was nothing. Almost literally.)

And I didn’t have to split the proceeds with anyone.

I delivered the RV to the new owners on Monday. I let one of them use my truck to back it into their hangar, which was just deep enough for him to back it in. I showed them how to unhook it. I gave them the full tour, including the “secrets” I’d learned about it in the five years I’d spent so much time in it. That took nearly an hour. I had mixed feelings as I was doing it, but I think the overwhelming feeling was that of relief.

Yesterday, I met them at the bank where we signed and notarized the title and other papers and I got my check. After handshakes and even a hug, I left them and went right to the bank to drop off the check.

Although I’m a tiny bit sad about closing the Mobile Mansion’s chapter in my life, I’m also very happy to do it. To me, the Mobile Mansion was a constant reminder of broken promises, miscommunication, and lies. Although I’ll miss its spacious comfort when I travel, I’m very glad it’s gone.

The First Mushroom Hunt of Autumn 2016

Limited success and a bunch of new mushrooming resources.

Cooler weather is upon us and that means the chanterelle mushrooms are coming into season.

Last Friday morning I went out for a hike/mushroom hunt with my hiking friend, Sue. Sue knows all kinds of things about plants and animals and even rocks, so going on a hike with her is a great learning experience. And although she doesn’t eat mushrooms, her husband does and she’s always game to go hunting with me.

The Hike

We chose a trail we both like up Icicle Creek beyond Leavenworth, WA. It’s a bit of a drive — about 50 miles from my home, including more than 10 on gravel. Another mushrooming friend of mine claimed she’d found chanterelles right on the trail. I was doubtful and I think Sue was, too. So as we hiked, we took occasional forays into the forest on one side of the trail or the other, right where we thought chanterelles might grow. I did find a very nice coral-type fungus that we believe is edible; I took it with me to examine more closely later.

Then it happened: Sue found a golden chanterelle mushroom growing right alongside the trail. While she harvested it, I combed the area looking for more. She joined me. We came up empty.

I should mention here that chanterelles are pretty easy to identify. They normally have sort of misshapen caps and the gills on the underside are more like ridges or wrinkles than regular mushroom gills. They normally extend down the mushroom’s stem. You can find photos on WikiMedia. There are some “false” chanterelles and a similar looking poisonous variety called Jack O’Lantern, but it’s pretty easy to distinguish these from real chanterelles, which are prized as tasty mushrooms. If you’re interested in hunting for chanterelles, study up first and make sure you know what you’re looking for and where you might find them.

We got to a point in the trail where we were within a quarter mile of a place I’d found chanterelles the previous year and took a little detour to check it out. I walked us over to where I found them and we searched the ground. It seemed too dry. I gave up quickly and moved off to another nearby spot, but Sue stuck with it. Soon she called out “I found one!”

I hurried back. She pointed it out and I took a photo. Then we saw one nearby that was just poking out of the forest duff.

And that’s when I started seeing little mounds all over the place. Lots of young chanterelles just popping out of the ground.

Young Chanterelle
A young chanterelle mushroom, just poking out of the ground.

I used my new pocketknife — I bought one with a bright orange handle so I wouldn’t lose it while mushroom hunting — to dig a few out and put them in my bag. They were all a yellowish white color with a relatively regular looking cap. I showed one to Sue and she confirmed that they were chanterelles.

We continued to hunt in that area before getting back on the trail. Sue found some other mushrooms in various stages of decay — russulas. None of them were worth keeping, even if they were of edible varieties.

We finished our hike and headed home, stopping in Leavenworth for lunch and to buy smoked meats (Cured), wine (Ryan Patrick), and cheese (Cheesemonger).

Uncertainty

If there’s a golden rule to hunting for edible mushrooms, it’s this: never eat a mushroom you find unless you are certain that it’s edible.

side of mushroom

top of mushroom

mushroom gills

inside mushroom
Several views of one of the mushrooms I harvested on Friday. When trying to get help with identification, it’s important to show as much detail as possible.

When I got home, I took a closer look at the five chanterelles I’d found. They were all smaller and much more “perfect” looking than any chanterelle I’d ever seen. What if Sue was wrong? What if they weren’t chanterelles and I ate them?

I combed through my mushroom books. None of the pictures matched what I had. I started to write Sue a warning email.

I posted some photos on Facebook, trying to see if any of my friends could advise me. Then I looked for and found three different mushroom identification groups on Facebook and signed up for each of them. I couldn’t post photos until I was approved for membership, though.

Then, as usual, I got sidetracked by something else and didn’t give it another thought until morning.

On Saturday morning, I was thinking about a chanterelle mushroom omelet. So I took my morning coffee to the computer and began searching the internet. I knew there was something called a false chanterelle, and I looked it up. That’s where I learned that false chanterelles have normal fin-like gills while real chanterelles have the wrinkle- or ridge-like gills. There was another chanterelle look-alike called a jack o’lantern that was definitely poisonous, but what I’d picked had very little in common with that. (Keep in mind that although I’m linking primarily to Wikipedia articles here, I consulted many sources.)

I finished the email to Sue and sent it. Then I kept researching. I wanted so badly to eat my mushrooms but I didn’t want to get sick. I’d been approved for all three mushroom identification groups on Facebook so I took and sent photos, including the ones you see here. I kept researching while I waited to hear back.

Around that time, I found a trio of photos on the Mushroom Forager website’s page about Hedgehog Mushrooms. It illustrated three similar mushrooms. The middle photo was almost identical to what I had.

Mushroom Gills
This image, which can be found at The Mushroom Forager website, helped convince me I had chanterelles.

I started cutting up my chanterelles for an omelet.

Then I checked back with Facebook. The mushroom identification group members were starting to chime in. The first few were pretty sure that it wasn’t chanterelles. I put the mushrooms away in a container in the fridge and had an omelet without mushrooms.

Throughout the day, more responses trickled in. And this is where the group dynamics really come into play. Some were sure that they weren’t chanterelles. Some were sure that they were. So I really wasn’t any better off than I’d been before consulting the groups.

Finally, late in the day, some folks who obviously knew a lot about mushrooms started responding. They identified the type of chanterelle with its genius and species: cantharellus subalbidus. While some group members argued with them, they were firm. They provided additional information about the area in which they grow: old growth forests like the one I’d been in. One even provided a link to a page that illustrated it.

I should mention here that of the three groups I joined, the Mushroom Identification Page group seemed to have the most knowledgeable participants, although none of them were free of people who offered incorrect information based on limited facts. (I really need to do a blog post about Facebook group dynamics.)

I should mention that by this time, Sue had also responded to my email. She was certain it was a cantharellus subalbidus, too. She has some resources where she looked them up. I guess she didn’t want to poison her husband!

Feasting on My Find

That evening, I sautéed some thinly sliced veal and prepared a chanterelle cream sauce for it. I had it with a side of fresh steamed green beans from my garden and glass of sauvignon blanc. Delicious.

I finished up the mushrooms the next day by cooking them into an omelet with some scallions and buckboard bacon. Very tasty.

This was my fourth mushroom hunting trip and the second for chanterelles. (I hunted twice for morels this spring.) I marked the GPS coordinates for my find and plan to return this week. Although it hasn’t rained, I’m hoping that cool, shady area of the forest is damp enough for the chanterelles to grow.

I really enjoy collecting my own food, whether it’s foraging in the forest for seasonal mushrooms, gleaning from an orchard after harvest, tending my own garden, or collecting eggs from my chickens. There’s something very special about having that kind of connection with your food.

But best of all, you can’t beat it for freshness.