A Few More Thoughts about my Stupid Pilot Trick

A response to some of the comments I’ve been getting, along with an update.

First of all, I want to thank the over 70 (so far) people who have taken the time to comment on my “Another Stupid Pilot Trick” post. It took me about a week to write it, mostly because I was embarrassed about what I’d allowed to happen to me, and I was feeling more than a little sensitive about that. I almost didn’t leave comments open on the post. But I’m so very glad I did. The outpouring of understanding and good wishes has been amazing. I didn’t get a single nasty or hurtful comment — which is pretty amazing given the percentage of low-life scum we all see bottom feeding on the Internet. You folks rock.

What’s really weird to me is how many people came to read the post. Apparently, it was picked up on Facebook or somewhere else and went a little viral. For two days in a row, it got more than 10,000 hits. So a lot of the comments I got were from complete strangers, including a lot of pilots.

The blog isn’t the only place I got feedback. I also got some on Twitter and a little on Facebook. I got a few email messages and even one phone call. Everyone was amazingly kind and made me feel good about my friends, acquaintances, and the pilot community.

Thank you.

Why “Stupid Pilot Trick”?

First, an explanation.

A friend of mine took some offense at the title of the blog post. She said:

I have to say I don’t like the title of your blog. It made me feel like you were hot dogging or pushing the helicopter to it’s limits.

Understandable. A lot of pilots use the phrase “stupid pilot tricks” to refer to that kind of behavior.

But as I explained:

“Stupid pilot trick” is the phrase I’ve always used to refer to accidents caused by pilot error. I’ve used it in discussing other accidents so I thought it appropriate to use it when discussing mine.

She seemed satisfied with that. I hope other readers are, too.

My Recovery

I’ve had some more time to recover both physically and mentally.

One of my home projects was to replace my old, faded windsock with a bigger, brighter one. I even installed solar spotlights to illuminate it at night.

The bruises are almost gone — the one on my right leg, which my doctor says might take several months to disappear, is pretty much the only one left. (I’d include a photo of the way blood under my skin is now pooling on the right side of my right foot, but do we really need to see that? I don’t think so.) I had low-grade, nagging headaches for a while but they’re all gone now. I’d say I’m pretty much back to 100%, and that’s good. It’s springtime and I’ve got a ton of work to do in my garden and a long list of projects around the house to tackle.

Mentally, things are a bit weird. I think I’m suffering a bit from survivor guilt. You see, about three weeks before my mishap, a friend of mine was in a helicopter crash in eastern Washington state. He’d been doing some animal capture work with two biologists on board his Hughes 369 helicopter. One passenger died and my friend and the other passenger were seriously injured. No one knows what happened because no one can remember. My friend was in a coma for two weeks with a 10% chance of survival. He’s a young guy, though, and he came out of it. They did reconstructive surgery on his arms and legs. His wife recently sent me a photo of him in physical therapy. He’s got a long road ahead of him.

I didn’t want them to know about my crash mostly because I felt bad that I’d survived with very little injury and he’d very nearly died and will be working on his recovery for months (or more?) to come. But his wife found out — probably through the hoopla over the blog post. They’re okay with it — I mean, why wouldn’t they be? — and I know now that my survivor guilt is idiotic. I’m coming to terms with that slowly.

The gaps in my memory of the event are also bothersome. I still don’t remember anything from the time the helicopter went through the trees — which was very loud and seemed to take forever — to the time I was on the ground and realized I could get out. Somewhere in there, the helicopter hit the ground at least twice and turned 180 degrees but I don’t remember it at all. And no, I didn’t pass out; I had no head injury other than getting my brain rattled around a bit. I also don’t remember using the fire extinguisher, although I apparently did. And what did I do during the 30 minutes between when I texted another pilot right after getting out of the helicopter and finally calling 911? I remember parts of two telephone conversations I had during that time, but not 30 minutes worth of anything. I’ve never experienced memory gaps like that before and it continues to bug me that that time is missing.

I should stress that my memory beyond that is fine. My brain is back to functioning at 100% of whatever it was functioning at before the crash.

Counseling? No Thanks.

About two weeks after the crash, I got a letter in the mail from an organization that offers support to pilots after crashes. My response was to get angry. Very angry. So angry that I wrote an email to the guy who sent it, berating him for assuming that I needed help.

Fortunately, I didn’t send it. I grew to realize, with the help of some of my Twitter friends, that some pilots do need help getting past a crash and that the organization would probably be very helpful to them.

A lot of the comments I got from people about the crash assumed that I was seriously traumatized by it. But am I?

I don’t feel that I am and I think I know why.

You see, if you were to make a list of the traumatic things in my life and rank them by how traumatizing they were, this crash would actually appear pretty far down the list. I don’t want to share the list — jeez, why would I want to revisit all the things that have traumatized me throughout my life? — but I will offer one example: the man I lived with for 29 years, who I loved and trusted with my life, cheated on me (with a woman old enough to be my mother!), lied to me (and a judge, under oath), and then tried (and failed) to ruin me financially through a long, drawn-out divorce battle. You don’t think that’s pretty traumatizing? A helicopter crash I walked away from with just scrapes and bruises is nothing compared to that.

(So yes, my crazy divorce prepared me for a helicopter crash. Thanks, honey!)

It’s all relative.

If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: When you live life, shit happens. The more you live, the more shit happens. I’d rather deal with the shit that’s a byproduct of life than to have no life at all.

‘Nuff said.

Getting Back in the Saddle

I don’t need counseling. What I need is to fulfill my desire to get back into the cockpit and go flying.

No, I’m not afraid to fly now — although I admit I have no interest at all in flying at night. (Other than the “Moonlight Dinner Tours” I did in Phoenix between 2005 and 2011, I never really enjoyed flying at night.) Knowing what caused the crash — distracted flying at night — and what I can do to prevent it from happening again — pay attention, idiot! — takes away any fear I might have of flying again. After all, I really am a decent pilot — a “good stick,” I’ve been told. I flew my R44 like most people drive their car — or maybe even better. (Actually, probably better considering the way some people drive.) I’ve learned my lesson and am eager to get back in the cockpit.

Of course, that means getting another helicopter. I’m working on it. The week after the crash, I put in an offer on a helicopter in Canada, but the guy’s price, which I thought was high, was firm and he wasn’t interested in helping me get it into the U.S. And then there’s all kinds of paperwork to deal with when bringing an aircraft down and I’m simply not interested in dealing with any of that. So I’ve scratched all Canadian helicopters off my list.

I’ve also rethought my strategy on buying a new helicopter. Rather than getting one in the same condition as the one I lost — jeez, it was just a year out of overhaul! — I figured I’d buy one that needs an overhaul in two to five years and get the overhaul done when the time came. That meant I could buy a helicopter for cash using the insurance proceeds and save up for the overhaul. Without a helicopter loan, saving up would be possible. After all, I did it in 2013-16 after paying for a divorce, buying land, and building a home. (I do make a decent living as a pilot and still earn royalties on some of my writing work.) Then, in overhaul, I could get it fixed up to be more like the one I lost.

With that in mind, there are three candidates I’m considering. The closest is in Phoenix and I’ll likely check it out within the next week or so. I’m hoping we can go for a test flight.

I will admit one thing here: not long after the accident, when I first started thinking about buying another helicopter, there was a fleeting moment when I considered taking the insurance money, putting it in the bank, and not buying a helicopter at all. I’m a little young for retirement — although I consider myself semi-retired since I only work half the year — but financially, I’m secure enough to call it quits now if I want to. And I could still manage my cherry drying contracts every summer for a little side income. It would be an easy way out of the inconvenient mess I put myself into. But there’s no challenge in easy and I’ve come to believe that I live for challenges.

And I’m not ready to give up yet.

On Bravery

A lot of the people who commented about my blog post or contacted me other ways told me I was brave to tell my story. I’m having a little trouble wrapping my head around that.

You see, I don’t consider telling my story about what happened “brave.” It happened because I was dumb and let it happen. It’s embarrassing, but not something I could (or should) hide.

Last Photo of N630ML
This is the last photo of N630ML in one piece. I was one of a team of three frost control pilots. This was shot in the hangar we were based in at Yolo County Airport.

Like it or not, I have a bit of a public persona. Part of it dates back to my writing days when I did a lot of public appearances. Part of it is because of this blog and my general outspokenness. There was no way in hell that I could crash a helicopter and prevent people from finding out. After all, one day, I’m flying a beautiful red helicopter with my initials in the N-number and a few months later I’m flying something completely different. And it isn’t as if pilots don’t read the NTSB reports. I do.

And why should I hide it? I did something dumb. If I could admit it and other people hear about it and that prevents them from doing the same dumb thing, I might save lives. Why wouldn’t I do that?

It’s not bravery that has me writing about this. It’s common sense. It’s caring about the pilot community and the passengers that pilots carry. It’s wanting to use my experience as a teaching moment for others.

And let’s face it: I’m in my mid 50s, approaching the end of my flying career. I’m self-employed and am not going to lose my job by admitting I did a dumbass thing that could have killed me and totaled my helicopter. I’m not worried about future employment because I’ve already come to terms with this fact: very few employers would consider hiring a middle aged, outspoken and set-in-her-ways woman with only 3700 hours of helicopter flight time for any flying job that would really interest me.

So what’s so brave? I’ve got nothing to lose by speaking out.

Dealing with the FAA and NTSB

Some pilots reading this might want to know what it’s like to deal with the FAA and NTSB after an accident. Let me fill you in.

First, I have to stress how lucky we all are. First, I survived with very little injury and a decent memory of what happened. I’m not in denial about what happened and why it happened. I’m not interested in hiding the facts. No one other than me was involved in the crash. There was no property damage — other than the trees I “trimmed” on my way to the “landing zone.” (Humor does help.) The crash was never even reported in the local news. The only photos that exist are the ones taken by police — I assume; I haven’t seen any — me, and my friend Sean who was there for the recovery. All this makes it a lot easier for everyone concerned.

The NTSB was the first to get in touch. Their local guy called while I was still in the hospital. (I was in the hospital for less than 3 hours.) I think he got my number from the police. I gave him a verbal account of what I remembered over the phone. He was very kind and polite. And relieved, it seemed. By simply surviving and telling him exactly what happened I was making his job very easy. In fact, the NTSB didn’t even come out to the accident site. They got a lot of information from the police, I guess. They released the helicopter for recovery within 3 hours of the crash. It was removed by noon the same day.

The FAA’s Sacramento office got in touch three days later. I was at Heli Expo in Las Vegas by then. I spoke for about 15 minutes on the phone with an inspector, telling him pretty much the same thing I’d told the NTSB. He asked if I’d be interested in doing a presentation at a WINGS safety seminar in my area. Sure, I told him. I want other people to know how easy it is to let complacency kill you. He recommended that I get back in the cockpit and start flying as soon as possible, perhaps with a CFI. (Another one worried about my state of mind.) He asked me to send him a summary of the crash in writing via email and I took down his email address. The next day, I sent him the same stuff I’d sent my insurance company.

About a week after the crash, an NTSB investigator from Washington called. I gave him the same information. He said he’d send a report I needed to fill out and warned me that I’d have 10 days to complete it and send it back. It got lost in email and was resent and the 10-day clock started when I confirmed receipt. Then I forgot about it. I remembered it six days later and spent about an hour filling it out. It was pretty straightforward, asking for basic information about the aircraft and my logged flight time, as well as a narrative about the crash. There were full pages I was able to skip because there were no other aircraft involved and no other crew members or passengers.

Along the way I had to tell my Part 135 POI that the helicopter no longer existed. He asked me to write an email officially asking to remove it from my Part 135 certificate. That was a 10-minute job.

And that’s it, so far. Although the FAA might ask me to do a special check ride with them, no one has asked yet. I don’t think there’s any doubt that I know how to fly safely. I was very forthcoming with the dumb thing I’d done that caused the accident. I do my Part 135 check flight in June anyway and I bet it would take them that long to schedule a special flight.

So my dealings with the FAA and NTSB have been pretty worry-free and very professional. I’m happy with the way they all actually seemed to care about me and my wellbeing. There were no accusations or unfair finger-pointing. After all, how could there be? I blamed myself because it’s my fault.

Why Deny the Truth?

And that’s another weird thing that I’ve realized: too many pilots won’t take blame for accidents that are their fault.

I know a good example. A few years back a pilot was flying a Schweizer 300 on a cherry contract. He had full fuel and another pilot on board so they were pretty close to max gross weight. He came in over a cherry orchard at high speed and made an aggressive turn that involved coming to a stop and descending. The helicopter went right into the trees. He claimed that the engine lost power but the NTSB, which took the wreckage in for investigation, could find nothing wrong with the engine. Instead, they reported that the accident had been caused by the maneuver he’d used to come in over the orchard: descending at a near stop had likely caused him to settle into his own downwash. Settling with power.

While it’s true that the pilot may really believe that the engine lost power, it’s more likely that he’s in denial of what really happened and his part in the cause of the accident. After all, when you get into settling with power, pulling pitch just makes it worse. It might seem as if there’s an engine problem. But we’re trained to avoid, recognize, and recover from settling with power and he was a flight instructor so he should understand what happened.

I’ve met this pilot and years after the accident he was still defiant, claiming the NTSB had gotten it wrong. As if the NTSB, which exists to investigate transportation related crashes, doesn’t know what it’s doing.

Now suppose I was in denial about my part in this accident. Suppose I claimed that the helicopter had lost power in flight and I’d found myself flying into trees. All of a sudden, the case isn’t cut-and-dry. The NTSB would have to take possession of the wreckage and perform all kinds of tests on the engine to see if it had lost power and why that might have happened — all on the taxpayer’s dime. (And yes, I’m a taxpayer and I care about how the government spends our money. Don’t get me started on $30K dining room sets, please.) Robinson would get involved. Reports would be delayed, I’d be questioned over and over. All this would still be going on now — and likely for months.

At what benefit?

Isn’t it better when a pilot honestly reports what happened and takes blame when he/she is to blame?

As far as I’m concerned, this chapter in my life is nearly closed; I’m already moving forward with the things I need to do to replace the helicopter and continue my work. That wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t recognize and admit what really happened and work with the authorities to help them quickly get the facts they need to complete their investigation.

On my Well-written Account

A few folks have commented about how “well-written” my blog post about the accident was. I appreciate the praise but, in all honesty, this one makes me giggle.

While lots of people know me as a helicopter pilot, what they may not know is that I became a helicopter pilot and bought a helicopter by building up a 20+ year career as a writer. Yeah — I wrote for a living. A good living. I think that says something about my writing skills. Somebody who can’t write can’t earn enough money as a writer to pay for helicopter flight training and buy a helicopter.

I wrote boring stuff. Books about how to use computers. Step-by-step instructions with lots of screenshots and captions and sometimes even callouts. I wrote it all and I often even did the layout. I wrote for numerous publishers, some of which you may have heard of: Peachpit Press, McGraw-Hill, Macmillan, Brady, Sybex, Microsoft Press, etc, etc. Some of the later books, which I’ve self-published, are about more interesting topics. If you’re interested in numbers, the count so far is 86 books.

I also write for magazines, both print and online. I wrote for computer magazines in the old days (pre 2012) and now write for aviation magazines. The most recent issue of Vertical included an essay I wrote, right near the beginning.

I started this blog in 2003 as an outlet to write stuff I found interesting — mostly stuff from my life, including my flying life. I use it to record and save information I want to share or consult later, like recipes. I use it to vent when something pisses me off or heap praise when something makes me happy.

I’ve also been working on a book about my first ten years as a helicopter pilot. It’s about halfway done. If I get a little more motivated to work on it, I hope to have it finished by this summer. (And yes, I know I’ve been promising that for a while now.) Will it include this accident? No. I’ll save that for Book II, which will cover the next 10 years.

So to those of you who think my accident account was well written, thanks. It better be.

That’s All for Now

And that’s pretty much everything on my mind in response to the comments I’ve gotten on my accident blog post, in email, and by phone. Once again, I want to thank all of the folks who took the time to reach out. You really made me feel good.

It also brings the situation up to date as far as my plans for a new helicopter and dealing with the authorities. I’m sure some of you were curious. This should satisfy that curiosity.

Any new comments or questions? Use the comments link for this post and I’ll try my best to address them — hopefully individually this time.

Instant Pot Whole30 Moroccan Chicken

My conversion of a slow cooker recipe for a pressure cooker.

I’m trying to do Whole30 these days. It was recommended by a friend late last summer and I hopped on in August. It was a huge change in my diet, mostly because I could no longer eat dairy and grains — and I’d been eating a ton of yogurt and granola for quite some time. But I came to feel that Whole 30’s emphasis on fresh lean meats and vegetables was good for me. It certainly makes me feel healthier.

Lots of folks complain about the amount of cooking you have to do with Whole30. I think that’s what I like best. I can make a batch of something and have leftovers for lunch. I especially love making a big batch of Paleo Moussaka, cutting it into single serving pieces, and freezing it in vacuum sealed packages for a quick and easy meal anytime I want it. And I like the challenge of taking a recipe that’s almost Whole30-compliant and modifying it to be fully compliant.

My friend Elizabeth loaned me a Whole30 cookbook and I browsed through it the other night looking for something new and interesting to make. I found a recipe for Slow Cooker Moroccan Chicken. I love the seasonings in middle-eastern and Moroccan foods so I figured I’d give it a try. But 6 hours in a slow-cooker? No thanks. I’ll make it in my instant pot.

Moroccan Chicken
My version of Moroccan Chicken, served on cauliflower “rice.” 30 minutes from an Instant Pot.

The recipe that follows was my first and very successful attempt. What threw me is that the original recipe did not call for any liquids to be added at all. I’ve never seen a slow cooker or pressure cooker recipe with no liquids, so I added about a half cup of coconut milk that was in my fridge, leftover from another meal I’d made earlier in the week. When I popped the lid on the Instant Pot, I was very surprised to see quite a bit of liquid in the pot, so I’m thinking that the coconut milk listed here isn’t necessary. I’ll leave it out next time.



  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp minced garlic. (I’ll admit it; I used it from a jar.)
  • 2 tsp minced ginger. (I just happened to buy some frozen cubes of ginger earlier in the day and I used that.)
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamon

Other ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1-1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 5 dates, pitted and sliced or chopped. (In a pinch, you could use the equivalent amount of raisins or prunes instead, but dates are best.)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup coconut milk. (This is optional. See my note above.)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted. (I used sliced and did not toast them.)


  1. Combine the seasoning ingredients in a small food processor or blender and process or blend until smooth. The result will be a paste.
  2. Put the onions into the bottom of the Instant Pot’s inner pot.
  3. Poke the chicken all over with a fork and then rub the seasoning paste into them, reserving about 2 tablespoons of the paste. Put the chicken on top of the onions. (I made sure I spread open the thigh pieces so they would cook thoroughly.)
  4. Coat the sweet potatoes with the rest of the seasoning paste. Put them in the pan on top of the chicken.
  5. Sprinkle the dates on top of the sweet potatoes.
  6. If using coconut milk, pour it as evenly as possible over the contents in the pot.
  7. Lock the pot. Press Manual and set the timer for 10 minutes.
  8. Allow the pressure to release naturally for 15 minutes. Open the pot carefully.
  9. Garnish with cilantro and almonds.

You can serve this over cooked cauliflower “rice,” other steamed vegetables (zucchini “noodles” are good for this), or real rice if you’re not following Whole30. The flavor is amazing.

The Long Road Home

I make my way home from my winter travels, slowly but surely.

I’m writing this in my RV at a campsite in Maryhill State Park in Washington State. As I so often do when traveling through the area, I arrived late enough in the afternoon to stop for the night. Yes, home is only a 3-hour drive from here, but I don’t like driving at night. I have come to use Maryhill as a sort of post-trip celebration spot, a place I wind down from a long trip and start getting myself mentally prepared for my return to home.

As usual, the campground is nearly empty and I got a nice pull-through spot along the river. There’s electricity and a sewer dump at my site, but the water is still turned off for the winter. That’s okay; I filled up my fresh water tank in Las Vegas before I left and have plenty of water left.

Away from the Camper

Las Vegas is where I went after my helicopter mishap on February 24. My truck, camper, and boat were waiting there for me in a “storage” site at the Sam’s Town KOA. Although I generally avoid KOA camping, I really do like the one in Vegas for what it is: city camping. With my small rig, I can take one of the double-width sites along the edge of the campground property and not be right on top of my neighbor. I’d parked the boat beside the truck and camper before coming home in mid February to fetch the helicopter and take it down to California for a frost contract. I was able to plug in to power, which saved a ton of propane for the fridge, and the KOA folks charged only $15/day while I was gone. It was good to leave my stuff in a place I knew it would be safe.

The original idea was to go right back to Vegas after tucking the helicopter into a hangar at Yolo County Airport, but the weather in the Sacramento area turned cold and I wound up in a Woodland motel for a week in case I had to fly for frost control.

I spent my days goofing off, going as far as Calistoga for a mud bath and facial one day. (I am a sucker a good facial.) I managed to visit two wineries for tastings before heading back.

When I finally got to fly, the flight was very short with a bad end.

After being discharged from the hospital’s emergency room, my friend Sean took me to see the wreckage and we pulled out the last few personal possessions I had in there. (Sean had already collected quite a few things.) We stowed them in the hangar. Then I drove my rental car to Sacramento Airport, dropped it off, and waited in the terminal for a Southwest flight back to Vegas. With no helicopter or frost contract, there was no reason to stay in Woodland.

In Las Vegas

I was back in my RV by 6 PM. As you might imagine, I had a little trouble getting to sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I’d see those damn trees in front of me. But putting the TV on seemed to help. And I eventually got a decent night sleep.

I took a full inventory of my bruises the next morning in the shower. That day — Sunday — is when the soreness really kicked in. I later learned that the helicopter impacted the ground at least twice before coming to rest against a small berm in the field where I crashed. I must have been like a rag doll in there with my muscles all tensed up from the adrenaline rush. (I don’t remember any of it, but without a head injury, I don’t think I passed out. It’s just blank.) Once my muscles relaxed a little, every single one of them got sore. The ibuprofen I was taking took the edge off.

I started the active part of my day by repositioning my truck, camper, and boat to a site on the south side of the RV park. It was a nice site with grass behind it — which is good since the camper’s door is in back. I hooked everything up — electricity, water, and sewer — since I’d be staying for the week.

I went to the convention center to meet up with my friend Zac from HAI (Helicopter Association International). The show wasn’t open yet, but he was in charge of guiding the helicopters in to land in the Convention Center parking lot. From there, they were wheeled into the building to be put on display. He got me an exhibitor pass so I could come in for a behind the scenes look at the show getting set up. Later, I joined him outside to watch (and broadcast on Periscope) a few of the helicopters that came in. It was fascinating and a lot of fun, but the walking really took a toll on me. By 5 PM, I was spent.

Show Girl
Eve didn’t like the location of the booth so she hired a model to attract attention to it during the show.

On Monday, I helped my friend’s Jim and Eve, who own Rotorcraft Enterprises, set up their booth at the show. Jim invented Start Pac, a battery device for helping to start turbine engines. He has since branched off into a bunch of other related products, including an APU for jets, a Start Pac for locomotive engines, and small battery devices to provide power when testing avionics on an aircraft. Jim’s a great guy — a former airline pilot who started flying helicopters in retirement. Like me, he lived in Wickenburg and left. I’m sure I’ve written about him elsewhere in this blog.

By the time we’d finished setting up, I was spent (again), but I went with them to lunch at a German restaurant near their office. Eating a good meal really picked me up. But I still went right back to the RV to relax. I slept a lot better that night.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were spent at Heli Expo. I chatted with Pat Cox and Tim Tucker at Robinson to tell them about the crash and show pictures. They were very interested and even dragged Kurt Robinson over to see them. They were certain that the helicopter’s bladder tanks, which I’d whined about installing, had saved my life. I talked to the folks at Hillsboro Aviation, which had sold me my R44 back in 2004, about a new helicopter; I’m still waiting for a price quote but seriously doubt I’ll replace it with a new one. (They’re a lot more expensive now!) I walked the entire show floor and found a neat video solution for tours and YouTube videos; I might take the plunge and get a setup this summer. I met up with numerous friends, including one of the few people who had flown my helicopter without me on board and my first flight instructor, who now works for the FAA. I also walked the show floor early one morning, before it was open to the public, to get some really great photos of some of the helicopters there without people hanging all over them. I posted them all to Twitter.

The MD Booth
There’s nothing quite like walking a trade show floor before the public is let in. This is a panorama of the MD Helicopter’s booth on Thursday morning.

I treated myself to dinner at the MGM grand on Wednesday evening before heading back to my camper. And I took a break from the show at midday on Thursday to treat myself to a cocktail and lunch at the Wynn resort. So much of my traveling this winter has been low budget, so it was nice to get a few doses of luxury.

A Parisol Down
I sat along the pond at the Wynn’s Parasol Down cocktail lounge. It was a nice, peaceful escape from the Heli Expo show.

On Thursday afternoon, the show closed promptly at 4 PM. By 4:15, they were wheeling helicopters out the door. I joined my friend Zac again with Jim and another Start Pac employee tagging along to watch the departures. I broadcast on Persicope and they featured the video so I soon had hundreds of viewers. I think a total of 10 helicopters left. The rest would leave the following day. Zac invited me back but I’d had enough.

Leaving Las Vegas

The next morning I had breakfast at nearby Sam’s Town Casino, then packed up leisurely and was on the road by 10 AM. It was wicked windy out as I headed down I-15 toward Los Angeles.

Camping at Lake Isabella
My campsite on the shore of Lake Isabella.

Although I usually drive through Death Valley on my way to Sacramento with my rig, I decided to take a more southern route this time, hoping to avoid snow in the mountain passes near Lake Tahoe. I was aiming for Lake Isabella, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. I arrived about a hour before sunset and got a nice campsite right on the lake.

Lake Isabella at Dawn
I shot this from my camper’s back door at dawn at Lake Isabella. It was an amazingly beautiful morning.

The following morning, I was back on the road. I think it was then that I realized how much I just wanted to be done traveling. So I made my way out of the mountains and joined route 99 north. I took that all the way to Sacramento, then hopped on I-80 to Davis.

In California Again

I stopped at the same hospital I’d been in the week before and checked myself into the ER. A number of friends had suggested that blood clots could be an issue. The bruises on my lower legs were horrendous with a few painful spots. Although I no longer needed ibuprofen for pain, I was starting to wonder whether I had a bigger problem than just bruises.

I stayed for about two hours. They did blood work and used ultrasound to scan my legs for clots. I got a clean bill of health but the doctor suggested that I get it checked again in a week.

I spent the night camped out at the hangar at Yolo County Airport. I parked right next to it. Around 2 AM, Sean arrived and sat in his car, waiting for a call to fly. I didn’t realize he was there until I woke at 4 AM. It was foggy out and the ASOS (Automated Surface Observation System) was reporting freezing fog. Even if he got a call, he couldn’t fly.

The fog was still thick when the sun rose. I got dressed for the day and went into the hangar to organize my personal possessions from the helicopter. I packed them in my truck for the ride home and said goodbye to Sean. I would not be back next year for a frost contract, but there’s a chance he’ll join me in Washington for cherry season this year.

The fog was localized; there was none north of Woodland.

I tried to retrieve my cockpit cover from the salvage guy, but it was Sunday and his place was closed.

I drove up to Williams to have lunch with another pilot fired of mine who was on a frost contract up there. I tolerated his mansplaining about how he finds his orchards in the dark. I deserved the lecture. But, at the same time, it didn’t really matter. I changed the subject.

I thought I might need to meet with the insurance adjuster and Sacramento FAA guy, but they didn’t need to meet with me. That meant I had no reason to stay in the area. So I left. I hopped on I-5, set the cruise control for 62, and headed north.

In Oregon

I tried hard to get to the Seven Feathers Casino in Oregon. Casinos make excellent overnight spots for RVers. They have big parking lots and good security. And being able to go in for dinner or breakfast the next morning is a real plus. But as the sun was getting close to setting, Seven Feathers was still about a hundred miles away and, like I said, I don’t like driving at night. (Besides, I suspect the boat trailer’s running lights aren’t working, although I know the turn signals and brake lights are.) So I wound up in a Walmart parking lot in Medford with about a dozen other RVers.

I walked over to the Outback Steakhouse and treated myself to a blooming onion, which I used to really like. They’re a lot greasier than I remember; I only ate about 1/3 of it.

The next morning, I was back on the road as soon as the sun was up and the overnight frost started to melt. Someone on Twitter had mentioned that the I-5 corridor was IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) and he wasn’t kidding. I drove for two hours through big patches of fog.

My first destination was McMinville Airport where a 2005 R44 was for sale. I had an appointment to meet with the owner at 11 AM. It was a 4-hour drive from Medford and I was a little late because I had to stop for fuel. I saw the helicopter, which is only a few months newer than mine was and it looked fine — but not like mine inside. I still haven’t decided if I’ll put an offer in on it.

From there, I drove another hour north to an Apple Store in Tigard. I had a heck of a time finding parking — the store was in one of those modern outdoor malls designed to look like a downtown area. Nice place and I would have loved to spend the day shopping there, but I had a mission. I needed to buy a new iMac. The one I have at home, which is now 7-1/2 years old, refuses to start. It had been on the fritz for about a year, but it’s now dead. I think it’s a logic board or possible a video card problem. It doesn’t matter. I’m replacing it.

I wound up with a 27-inch iMac. I had to wait while they expanded the RAM from 8 GB to 16 GB. I had lunch at PF Changs while I waited. I ate too much. There was a bit of a challenge getting the computer out to my truck, but the Apple Store folks were helpful. Then I was on my way again.

I hit some early rush hour traffic in Portland — by this time, it was about 3:45 — before getting on I-84 eastbound. This is a really pretty drive along the Columbia River in Oregon, past numerous waterfalls in the Gorge area. I tried two state park campgrounds along the way but both were “closed for winter.” I knew Maryhill would be open. I stopped for fuel one last time in Biggs, OR, then crossed the river and pulled into the site I am in now.

I fed Penny but skipped dinner; I was still full from lunch.

Today’s Drive

The sun is now up, illuminating the basalt cliffs west of the park. The wind turbines up there are glowing bright white but are motionless in the still air. The frost on the ground is just starting to melt. My camper is warm; the small electric heater I brought along has been running all night. My next door neighbors pulled out a few minutes ago; we’ll leave in less than an hour.

Campground View
The view out my back door this morning. Note the frost on my boat cover and grass.

It’s an easy drive up route 97 to I-90 near Ellensburg. From there, I’ll head east to Vantage, cross the river, and come up back roads from George through Quincy to Wenatchee. I might stop at Fred Meyer for groceries to save myself a trip later on.

My house sitter left last night so I’ll have my home to myself. The cats will come out to greet us. I’ll collect this morning’s eggs.

And then I’ll go inside and run the water for a nice, hot bath.

There’s no place like home.