Another Birthday Comes and Goes

How I spent my birthday this year.

Nothing terribly exciting to report.

I started the day at the airport, where I gave a helicopter ride to one of the SEAT pilots. The morning (at 7AM) was cool and the air was smooth. Door off, of course. I was low on fuel so we kept it short — only about 20 minutes. I flew him around Vulture Peak and town, then flew over Jim’s house. When we landed at the pumps, both needles were below E.

I took on 20 gallons and Mike and I flew up route 93, just south of the Burro Creek Bridge. Jim and Ray had been exploring up there and they’d found an old sheep ranch tucked away in a canyon, deserted. Jim described where it was and what it looked like to me, but did not give me GPS coordinates. (Jim is GPS challenged.) His descriptions of possible landing zones were completely useless. Trouble is, we found two places that could have been the place he described. And neither one had acceptable LZs nearby. I almost landed on top of a hill at one of them, but I didn’t like the look of the big rocks that would be beneath and around my skids. At the other one, I nearly landed in a corral, but with a lot of fuel and Mike on board and heat on its way, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to clear the fence to take off. And we weren’t sure if either place was the right one. Next time, I’ll let Jim fly and show me the place.

Our plans foiled, we decided to go to Skull Valley for breakfast. There’s a little cafe there that we’ve never tried. Jerry Kristoferson owns some land with a dirt strip nearby. It looked like the best place to land. A man and his son came out to make sure everything was alright. I guess they didn’t expect a helicopter to land on a dirt strip. It took us a while to figure out how to get to the cafe from the strip and we were a bit dismayed when we had to get through a locked gate. But we managed. Breakfast was good; we had chicken fried steak and eggs. The gravy was really stick-to-your-ribs. I didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day.

It was windy by the time we flew back to Wickenburg. I topped off the tanks, then wheeled the helicopter in to Ed for an oil change. He showed me the Champ, which JD had pretty much totaled at Eagle Roost a few weeks before. With all the work they’ll need to do on that thing, it’ll probably qualify as a homebuilt.

At the office, I took care of some e-mail and packed up my laptop to go up to the Grand Canyon. I also wrote the big check. That’s right. I finally placed an order for a Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter. I did a little wheeling and dealing on the phone and managed to swap the high skids and metallic paint for a pair of hardwired Bose Generation X headsets for the front seats. I haven’t lost my touch. Hillsboro Aviation gave me a smoking deal on the ship. I sent them a check for $25K (which took about a month to scrape together). If I’m lucky, I’ll see the ship in December. I have six months to come up with the down payment and arrange financing. Let’s hope interest rates don’t go up again and that I don’t have any trouble selling my apartment complex.

Bank, post office, supermarket. The usual errands. I bought some milk and other dairy products to bring to the camper with me. Then I went home and threw together my things for the trip to Howard Mesa. Mike took me to the airport where we pulled the helicopter out of Ed’s hangar and loaded it up. Mike watched when I started the engine (to make sure oil wouldn’t come spurting out). I sweated my brains out in the sun with the doors on, waiting for two other aircraft to get the heck out of my way. Then I took off, heading north.

It was still windy. Very windy. Fortunately, the wind was out of the south, blowing at about 25 to 30 knots. It was gusty, though, so I got bumped around a lot. When I climbed over the Weavers near Antelope Peak, turbulence hit very hard, reminding me just how tiny my helicopter is. But I kept a ground speed of at least 100 knots all the way up to Howard Mesa. The wind wasn’t quite as bad here. I landed, unloaded, made some dinner, and settled down to read and write.

Right now, I’m sitting on the sofa, listening to classic rock, sipping a glass of Australian Shiraz, writing this blog. It’s about 7 PM — that’s 12 hours after the start of my day. The sun’s still up. To the east, I can see the stream of smoke from the fire near Payson — I got a good look at the smoke plume most of the way up. The wind is carrying it far to the north; I bet I see it on the east side of the canyon when I fly tomorrow. To the west, there’s a small fire near the Grand Canyon. I wonder whether it’s close to my route and I hope they put it out soon.

Another quiet evening alone. Not a bad way to end a busy day.

What do you think?