Some Thoughts on Travel

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous

Ludwigsburg
Perhaps my wanderlust was fed by this 1976 trip to Germany with my grandparents. Or perhaps it’s in my DNA, planted by my maternal grandfather, who used to follow us on vacation when I was a kid.

I need to start off by saying that I love to travel. I love getting into a car or plane or train with luggage and going someplace and staying for a while. I love learning about new places, meeting new people, and seeing new things.

Travel for Work

In the past, I was fortunate to have had a series of jobs that sent me all around the country. My job as an internal auditor for ADP (based in New Jersey) sent me to Chicago, Kansas, Los Angeles, Orlando, New Orleans, Denver, and Washington DC, as well as a few places closer to home. Trips ranged from one to three weeks in length. The job was 40-50% travel and I was told I’d get tired of it. But I never did.

When I started out as a freelancer, I worked as a hands-on computer trainer for Data Tech Institute. They sent me on numerous trips all over the eastern half of the country, from Milwaukee to Cape Cod to Atlanta. The trips were three days each: a travel day followed by two work days with travel at the end of the second day. I remember one particularly busy month when I visited eight different cities with 20 airplane legs and a round trip train ride. While I was exhausted at the end of that month, I was also ready for more.

Later, my writing work took me to New York, Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, Santa Barbara, and Boulder to speak at conferences, meet with editors, and record video courses. I looked forward to every single trip.

Even my flying work got me traveling. Short trips to tourist destinations like the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Monument Valley, and Las Vegas. Overnight trips for survey and photo flights in northern Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Nevada. Training flights to the Los Angeles area. Long-term trips to Washington (where I later moved) for cherry drying and to California’s Central Valley for frost control. I loved those trips most — probably because someone was paying me to fly my helicopter there.

I simply loved to travel.

Don’t get me wrong — It isn’t because I didn’t like it at home — I did. (Well, I did until my marriage started falling apart.) I just liked to get out and get a new perspective of the world. And to me, that’s what traveling is all about.

The Stay-At-Home Rut

My future wasband and I traveled quite a bit during the first 20 or so years of our relationship. We had some amazing trips: Seattle to San Francisco by car; Shenandoah Parkway, Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Outer Banks by motorcycle; and a handful of islands in the Caribbean by cruise ship are among the top 10. He even accompanied me on quite a few of my business trips — several times to California and once to Hawaii on my frequent flyer miles — and I went with him on a few of his.

Havasu Falls
I went to Havasu Falls for the first time in 2004 on an Arizona Highways photo excursion. Alone, of course.

But that ended in the mid 2000s when he started a series of dead-end jobs with limited vacation time. Suddenly, long trips were difficult to arrange and weekends were the only time he could get away. (Unless, of course, he needed to visit his mother; he could always make time for her.) I tried to get him to commit to one three-day weekend trip every month. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it apparently was.

I fell into in a stay-at-home rut. I wanted to travel — and I did actually make a few trips on my own — but unless it had some connection to my work, it wasn’t easy to do without having to deal with the resultant guilt trip my wasband put me on. You see, it wasn’t fair to leave him behind. Why should I have fun when he couldn’t? So I stayed at home, waiting, eventually looking forward to spring when I could go back to Washington, get a change of scenery, and spend time with friends. By that time, didn’t want to be at home.

Things are different now, of course. I don’t have a ball and chain holding me back. All I have is a 10-12 week period every summer when I’m stuck in the Wenatchee area for cherry drying work and another 8 weeks in early spring when I need to be within a few hours commercial flight time of Sacramento for frost work. I’m pretty much free to travel the rest of the year. Best of all, I don’t have to wait for a weekend to do it.

I got a chance to really stretch my legs in the autumn of 2012 and spring of 2013 with multiple trips from Arizona to California, Las Vegas, Washington, and Florida. I can’t tell you how good it felt to finally be able to go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted.

The Benefit of Traveling Alone

Beatty NV
My self-labeled “midlife crisis road trip” in the summer of 2005 lasted 19 days and covered 10 states. I saw a lot of off-the-beaten-path places, like this ghost town in Nevada.

Although I do prefer traveling with a good travel companion, I’ve only managed to find one — and she lives in Colorado with her own set of responsibilities. I thought I’d found another this past summer, but we apparently had different ideas of what “sharing the cost” meant. If I’m going to pay for more than half a trip, I’ll take it by myself so I don’t have to compromise with a “frugal” — his word, not mine — travel companion.

Compromise is only part of the problem when traveling with a companion. The other is spontaneity — the ability to make last minute plans and see them through. When there are two or more people traveling, planning a spur-of-the-moment trip is nearly impossible. Even making changes to travel plans once you’re on a trip is difficult. But when you’re running the show and you don’t have to worry about making someone else happy, you can do whatever you like, whenever you like.

And that’s where I am today. Loving it.

Recent Trips, Upcoming Plans

Since cherry season ended in late July, I’ve gone on several trips:

All that in three and a half months! It’s amazing I get anything done around here.

And that doesn’t include day trips to Seattle (for shopping), Woodinville (for wine-tasting), or local hiking trails and mushroom-gathering locations.

Right now, I’m thinking about other trips. I’ve already got an overnight trip to Spokane (yeah, big deal) with a friend planned. If I don’t spend the winter in Arizona, I’ll likely go on my annual cross-country skiing trip to Winthrop. One way or another, I’m sure Arizona will be a January destination — I’m thinking of driving down with my boat and stopping at various lakes along the way. Looks like I’ll spend part of the late winter in the Sacramento area again for frost; if that doesn’t pan out, I’ve got a job offer in Ohio that I’ll try to grab. (Yes, I do work for a living.) I’ll be back in Idaho with my boat to visit friends with a new home on the Spokane River and would love another trip to Alaska in May.

What about big trips, like the one I’d hoped to take with my wasband in late 2012 to Australia? Well, those are on the back burner right now while I finish my home and get my helicopter ready for its overhaul next winter. Once that’s all done and the dust has settled, I’ll be thinking about going way south for the winter of 2017/2018.

A travel companion would be nice, although not required. I’m looking for just the right person to join me.

Scouting for a Custom Tiny Home in Idaho

I go to Idaho in search of a tiny home solution to winter travel needs.

Tiny houses are big these days. People seem unusually attracted to the idea of living in a very small, very simple space. Tiny home communities are popping up all over the west — such as the one in Portland. There are tiny home books and websites and forums. I’ve been told that there’s even a tiny home television show, although since never bothered to get connected with cable or satellite television, I’ve never seen it. (A quick search on Google for a link shows me at least three of them: Tiny House Builders, Tiny House Nation, and Tiny House Hunters. Seriously?)

While I agree that tiny houses are cute, they’re really not much different from living in an RV — which I did for two years and more summers than I care to remember. It’s nice having less space to heat, cool, clean, and furnish. But it’s not nice to live in cramped quarters with barely enough space to store the things you need to live and work. So while I have no problem with short-term life in a small space, I think people — especially families of two or more people — who turn to tiny homes for their primary living space are, well, nuts.

That said, I’m currently considering a tiny house as a replacement for my mobile mansion, which is now for sale.

The Misunderstandings

When I mentioned this on Facebook, I got a few sarcastic comments from friends of friends who (1) didn’t understand that I was considering this for part-time living and (2) apparently know nothing about tiny houses.

One person said, “I don’t like the idea of my toilet being in the same room as my kitchen sink.” Well, neither do I. And I have to say that I’ve never seen a tiny house design with the toilet in the kitchen. So I don’t know what the hell this clown is talking about.

Another person said, “Why would you want to live in a closet?” I wouldn’t. I don’t know anyone who would. But unless you have a 200+ square foot closet, most tiny houses are considerably bigger that your closets. They even have rooms and windows. Can you imagine?

Seriously: what’s with people on the Internet? Why do they find it necessary to shoot out their opinions in such a nasty, narrow-minded way, especially when they obviously don’t know what the hell they’re talking about?

‘Nuff said.

Tiny House RV

My idea is to have a custom tiny house built as a fully-functional off-the-grid RV. What gave me that idea? The Tiny Portable Cedar Cabins website. Dave, who designs and builds these cabins, constructs them on trailer frames using dimensions that keep them road-worthy without special permits. That means they’re no wider than 8’6″ and no taller than 13’6″.

Just like any RV on the road.

Because they’re built like this, they can be licensed as an RV and they follow all the rules governing how RVs are used and transported. That means I can hook it up to the back of my pickup and take it anywhere I can take an RV.

Of course, Dave doesn’t outfit them as RVs. He outfits them as homes, assuming the owner is going to park the unit and plug it into permanent power, water, and sewer line sources. He does offer off-the grid options like a composting toilet and propane appliances. But he doesn’t normally include the features a true off-the-grid RV needs, such as fresh water storage tanks and holding tanks for gray and black water. To me, that’s what distinguishes his “tiny portable cabins” from a true recreational camping vehicle.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t make one with the things I need in a real RV.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Tiny Home in Marlin, WA

Dave works with Janet, who apparently manages his website and blog and helps him sell the his houses. Janet has one of his tiny house models, a custom “Caretaker” unit. She’s parked it on her property in Marlin, WA where it’s currently sitting, waiting for a tenant to arrive.

I drove out there about two weeks ago. Anyone who says that I live in a remote area really needs to go to Marlin (AKA, Krupp) to put things into perspective. The town has about 300 people and sits at the bottom of valley with the tiny Crab Creek running through it. The closest grocery store is 18 miles away; the closest supermarket is 34 miles away. It took me nearly two hours to drive there and once I was there, there was nothing much there. But there was Janet’s tiny house, sitting inside a fenced in area with a lush green lawn.

Tiny House
How fitting that I drove my tiny car to Janet’s tiny house.

We chatted for a while and then went in to take a look. The house was set up with a generously sized kitchen, tiny — and I do mean tiny — bedroom, and decent sized bathroom that even had a washer and dryer. It had a lot of nice touches, including pocket doors and a stained glass window. It also had two storage lofts that weren’t very tall. The exterior siding was cedar; the interior finish was a natural wood that I really like.

She showed me the composting toilet. Because the house was set in a spot without access to a sewer, she’d chosen this option. As she explained, the “liquids” go through some small holes on the front of the bowl where they collect underneath. If you plan to deposit some “solids,” you prep the bowl by laying in what looks like a giant coffee filter. When you’re finished, you “flush,” which opens the bottom of the bowl and drops the filter and its contents into another container. Somewhere along the line, you sprinkle something on the waste which gets the compost action going. Janet claims that it never stinks, but I find that very hard to believe. And, of course, you eventually have to empty the waste into a compost bin. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather live in a closet than have to deal with a toilet like that on a daily basis.

I asked her about RV-related options and she really didn’t have the information I needed. For that, I’d need to talk to Dave. And since I’m better talking in person to someone than on the phone, it meant making a road trip to Idaho.

Idaho Road Trip

Spirit Lake, where Dave builds his tiny homes, is about 40 minutes north of Coeur d’Alene, where a pilot friend of mine, Jim, lives with his wife Teresa. I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone by visiting them and Dave on the same trip.

I set off last Wednesday morning with Penny in my distance car: my 2003 Honda S2000. Bought new in 2003, it had just under 60,000 miles on it — indeed, it would roll over to 60,000 on my way home. I’d prepped it earlier in the week with an oil change and a check of tire pressures and fluids. (I’d also had the leather armrest repaired; the leather had been shrinking for years and made the car’s interior look shabby. Fixed!) I put the top down, secured a scarf over my head to prevent my hair from flying around and getting all tangled up, and took off.

We took Badger Mountain Road up toward Waterville. It was the first time I’d taken that road in that direction at that time of day and it was the highlight of the drive — the Wenatchee Valley looks amazing from a viewpoint along the way in early morning light.

From Badger Mountain
Wenatchee from Badger Mountain.

I eventually hooked up with Route 2 near Douglas. From there, it was mostly straight roads over the Waterville Plateau, past rolling hills of harvested wheat fields and through small farm towns with tall silos. The road dipped down to cross Moses Coulee, then climbed again for more wheat fields and towns on the other side. I crossed the lower end of Banks Lake on the earthen dam in Coulee City and continued east on Route 2, through even more farm towns. I stopped in a small town along the way — Hartline? Almira? Wilbur? Creston? Davenport? Readan? — for bathroom break, buying an egg sandwich to go and then getting right back in the car.

Although I was enjoying the drive — I really do like a good road trip — I wasn’t disappointed when I arrived on the outskirts of Spokane. Route 2 dumped me on I-90 — which I could have taken from George if I wanted a faster route — and that took me through Spokane and info Idaho. Then Google Maps’ navigation feature directed me to exit onto Route 41. I took that north, passing a homemade billboard that said “Pray the Rosary, Vote for Trump,” and after a few miles and a few turns ended up at Dave’s construction lot outside the town of Spirit Lake.

Dave’s Tiny House Construction Yard

Janet had told me that Dave was working on about 20 houses and she wasn’t kidding. There were tiny houses in various stages of construction all over the yard. All different models, from a 22-foot Caretakers Cabin to much larger and longer models. Dave wasn’t doing any of the actual construction work himself — at least not when I drove up. Instead, he had at least a dozen guys working for him, each busy with a specific task on a specific building. Looks like he’s built himself a nice little business that employs quite a few people.

I told him what I was looking for and he led me over to one of the Caretakers cabins. It had exactly the bathroom and kitchen layout I’d envisioned. We discussed weight and tanks and all the other things I needed. I think he was surprised that I was so well-versed in not only construction but the kinds of features I needed and how they might be implemented in his buildings. For example, we discussed the placement of fresh water tanks up in the loft area and how they could be filled using a standard water connection with a value that switched the water flow to the tanks. I asked if having the tanks high would provide enough water pressure for sink and shower usage and he said it would, but not enough pressure for the instant hot water systems he used; a DC pump like the ones found in most RVs would be required.

We also talked about ways to make the building lighter. In the size unit I wanted — 24 feet max including a 4-foot porch — he estimated the total weight to be around 12,000 pounds. While my one-ton diesel pickup could easily pull that — after all, it pulls my 15,000 pound mobile mansion like its nothing — I was really hoping to replace the truck with a smaller, newer, gasoline model. That wouldn’t be advisable if I had to tow around a 12,000 pound RV. I asked if he could do 2×4 construction rather than 2×6 construction. He said that would allow for less insulation, which I was okay with. We also talked about using metal on the exterior, with the idea of it matching my building at home. That could drop the weight by another 500 or so pounds.

Tiny Home Example
I absolutely love the upper floor windows in this little house.

After checking out how the stairs were constructed in one of the other units, we stopped to look at an unusual model that was taller and wider than the others with a “shed style” roof. It was a custom unit for a family of three in Sacramento that would become their primary residents. (Remember what I said about that idea earlier in this blog post?) It had an upstairs bedroom and a very small downstairs bedroom, a decent sized bathroom and a great room with a kitchen. The main features I liked were the huge windows; the home would be very bright indeed. I wondered whether I could design a unit with the same style roof and still get the sleeping loft I needed in a space only 8-1/2 feet wide.

And that’s where we left it. I told Dave I liked that style and would rework my design with that in mind. I said I’d send him my floorplan with a list of required features. He could then work up a price and try to estimate weight.

I was supposed to do that last weekend, but didn’t. I’d better work on it soon, though. If I decide to go forward, I’m looking at an 18-week wait.

As for pricing — well, one of the reasons I was attracted to Dave’s work is that the prices are within reason. I’d seen 400 square foot tiny homes like the one pictured here selling online for over $80,000. That was absurd. Dave’s prices were much more down to earth and easier to swallow.

Still, there was no doubt that this custom tiny home RV would cost about twice as much as a 20-foot RV — which I’d also been considering.

A Visit with Jim & Teresa

From Dave’s lot, I drove down to Coeur d’Alene. I texted back and forth with Jim and discovered that he was working on a project at his new homesite. I stopped for lunch in town, then drove out to meet him.

Jim and Teresa are building a big, beautiful home on a small lot on the Spokane River just east of the Lake Coeur d’Alene. Their property includes a two slip dock that they share with their next door neighbor. The place is walking distance from one of those Main Street style malls — you know, the ones with shops and restaurants and apartments over the businesses. Odd that we abandon our downtown areas, yet build replicas of those towns to live in.

Teresa and their dog Zeus showed up as Jim was giving me the tour. I saw the whole place and complemented them on the innovative design and unusual features — including L-shaped windows and angular walls. Afterwards, we drove over to the shopping center and had margaritas and nachos while catching up. I hadn’t seen them in two years. Jim, who had been a cherry drying pilot in the Wenatchee area for about 15 years, had sold his helicopter and given up flying.

We walked back to the house from there, letting the dogs run and play off-leash along the way. The we walked along the boardwalk between the homes and the river. The sun had set and nighttime came on. We got back to Jim’s truck, which we’d left at the house, and rode in it back to the restaurant parking lot to fetch Teresa’s truck and my car. Then we rode back, convoy style, to the house they were still living in.

I got the guest room in the basement, which had been their son’s bedroom. It was nice and dark and quiet down there. I slept well.

In the morning, we had breakfast at a restaurant not far from town. I think it was the same business they’d taken my wasband and I years ago, when we’d passed through with my old RV on a sort of road trip vacation. Now it was in a new building. Great breakfast, more great conversation. Teresa recommended that I stop at Blue Dog RV in Post Falls to see what they had in the way of RVs. Since I wasn’t in any hurry to get home, I figured I may as well take a look. After all, there aren’t any RV dealers near where I live.

We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. It was about 10 AM.

RV Shopping

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s RV shopping. I’d gone through this too many times to like it.

When I bought the mobile mansion back in 2010, I honestly thought it was the last RV I’d ever need. I bought it to fit a specific need: a seasonal home for two grown people and a mid-sized dog. I figured my now wasband and I would live in it every summer for 4 to 6 months, then go home to Arizona for the rest of the year. That’s why it’s so damn big. I wanted it to be comfortable for two people for months at a time. And I fully expected to use it for many years to come, as semi-retired snowbirds.

Unfortunately, plans change. My wasband is now nothing more to me than a sad, bitter memory. I live in my own home in Washington state where I make most of my living in the summer months as a cherry drying pilot. I keep busy enough in the spring and fall to stay home. But I want to travel in the winter and spend some time in California in the early spring, where my helicopter is parked on frost control duty. I figure that I’ll only be on the road 2 to 4 months out of the year and, during that time, I won’t be parked in one place. Since it’s just me and Penny the Tiny Dog, I don’t need a lot of space. And I definitely don’t want a big rig. I want something easy to tow and easy to park. While towing the mobile mansion isn’t difficult with my big truck, parking it is a pain in the ass. And because of it’s size, I’m automatically closed out of more than a few park campgrounds.

So here I am, looking for a new solution to meet a new need.

One thing I learned the last time around is that it’s all about floor plans and features. I want the length under 20 feet, but I want the bigger refrigerator and I want the stove with the oven. That cuts out about 3/4 of the shorter models. I don’t want slides (or pop-outs) — they add weight and maintenance concerns. I want plenty of windows, a power-controlled awning, stereo sound system with DVD player, and television.

Big Window RV
I am a sucker for big windows in an RV. This Hideout was a bit longer than I wanted but the big window in the back made it nearly irresistible.

So that’s what I proposed to the very patient salesperson, Lydia, at Blue Dog in Post Falls, ID. After reviewing a few models online, she loaded me into her golf cart and drove me out onto the huge lot. We looked at about a half dozen models. We even drove back to their other lot in Coeur d’Alene to look at models there. Just when I started to glaze over, she focused me back on what we’d seen. She priced up a new and a used Keystone Hideout, each in a different style. The prices were workable, but the deal wasn’t good enough for me buy that day. I wanted to sell the mobile mansion — which was worth far more than these smaller rigs, making a trade-in impractical — before I bought a replacement.

And I was still thinking about the tiny house idea.

Spokane’s Falls

It was nearly 2 pm when Penny and I drove away. By this time, I was very hungry. But I also felt that I needed to see more of the area before I went home. I’d heard of Spokane Falls and decided to check that out. Google guided me.

I knew nothing about the area, but when I drove over a bridge and saw an aerial tram, I decided I needed to get on it. I navigated back to a shopping mall called River Park Square and got a parking space across the street in the shade. I cracked the car’s windows, leaving Penny inside, fed the meter with my credit card, and went inside.

Conveyor Belt Sushi
Conveyor belt sushi, Spokane style.

Back in the 1980s, I worked in New York City for New York City. My partner, a Chinese woman from Hong Kong, occasionally took me for lunch at a restaurant near the Empire State Building that served up dim sum and sushi on a conveyor belt that wound past all the seats. Since then, I’d seen conveyor belt sushi only one other time — in San Francisco. Believe it or not, they have it in Spokane at the mall I found myself in that afternoon.

Needless to say, that’s where I ate.

And maybe it won’t surprise you when I tell you it wasn’t that good.

Sky Ride
On the Spokane Falls Sky Ride.

Afterwards, I made my way out to the ticket booth for the Spokane Falls Sky Ride. It was pretty much deserted on that Thursday afternoon, so I didn’t have to wait. I paid $6.50 (with a AAA discount) and was loaded aboard my own car.

I’ve seen reviews of this ride and some of them pretty much bash it. But I thought it was kind of fun. I even did a live broadcast on Periscope which had quite a few viewers. And the view of the falls is great!

The Trip Home

By that time, my two hours of meter time was nearly up. I went back to the car, leashed Penny, and took her for a walk around the block. We got back into the car and headed toward the freeway. I’d already decided to pass on the long ride through the wheat fields. I got on I-90 and headed west.

The drive was long and dull, made only marginally more interesting by the string of podcasts I listened to along the way. I exited at George and followed familiar roads all the way home. It was probably around 8 when I pulled into my driveway.

Was my trip a success? I think so. I got a chance to see Dave’s tiny homes first hand and learn that what I wanted was definitely possible. I also got to see some friends I’d missed — and get an invitation to return in the spring with my boat when their house is done. And although it had taken longer than I wanted to price up a few RVs, it was good to see what was available.

Now I’ve got work to do: sketch out a floor plan for a tiny home and see if Dave can make it happen. I’d love to hit the road with something different next winter.

Cross-Country Flight: Wenatchee, WA to Coeur d’Alene, ID

A photo tour.

Earlier this month, my friend Jim’s cherry drying contract in Chelan, WA ended. He was faced with the task of bringing his helicopter and his truck back home to Coeur d’Alene.

His helicopter was running low on time — it would need a 100-hour/annual inspection within 6.5 hours. It was a 1.5 hour trip to Coeur d’Alene. He planned to fly home, pick up his wife, fly back to Chelan so she could drive the truck home, and then fly back to Coeur d’Alene. In other words, he would put 4.5 hours on it, leaving just 2 hours before maintenance was due. That’s cutting it pretty darn close.

My helicopter was relatively fresh out of maintenance and I was suffering from the RV version of cabin fever, so I volunteered to do a flight of two helicopters from Chelan to Coeur d’Alene and then fly him back to Chelan so he could drive the truck back. We agreed on a meeting time of about 5 PM.

I figured I’d use the flight to experiment with my three GoPro cameras. I wanted to give the wireless remote a good workout on the GoPro Hero 2, which I use as my “nosecam.”

Chelan is about 20 minutes from my base (at the time) in Wenatchee Heights. After rigging up the cameras and doing a preflight, I took off on a route that mostly followed the Columbia River.

I started having trouble with the GoPro remote right from the start. First, I discovered that the remote’s battery was too low to operate. This wasn’t a huge deal because I had a USB power supply and could plug it in. But it did irk me because I thought it was fully charged. What was worse, however, and couldn’t be resolved in flight, was that the remote back on the camera had apparently turned itself off before I used the remote to turn the camera on. The remote couldn’t find the back (and camera) and, thus, couldn’t turn on the camera. It wasn’t until I got to Chelan that I was able to resolve that problem.

The skidcam and cockpit cam worked fine, though.

I had the skidcam set up for one still photo every 5 seconds. In hindsight, I should have set it for every 2 seconds. But I did capture a bunch of nice shots, like this one as I departed my landing zone. The orchard I’m on contract for fills the frame; you can see my shadow:

Wenatchee Heights Orchard

A bit further along on the flight, as I flew out of the Squilchuck Valley, the skidcam caught this image of South Wenatchee, the Columbia River, and East Wenatchee:

East Wenatchee Aerial

I should mention here that the skidcam ran until its battery died; I only shut it off briefly while I waited in Chelan and later in Coeur d’Alene. I have over 3,500 photos from that camera.

My route followed the Columbia River, flying mostly right over the main channel. The nosecam would have gotten some really rocking footage that probably wouldn’t have been too useable because of the high winds bouncing me around in the sky. But the stills would have looked good. Here’s a view from the cockpit cam shot not far past the Rocky Reach Dam:

Cockpit View of Columbia River

If you’ve got a sharp eye, you might notice something in the front passenger seat. That’s Penny the Tiny Dog’s bed. Penny slept for most of the flight — as she usually does in the helicopter. But every once in a while, she’d poke her head up and look around. Here’s another shot as we came over the ridge and began our descent to Lake Chelan:

Flying with Penny

Normally, when I fly to Chelan Airport, I follow the river all the way. But I’d gotten a call from someone who wanted an engagement flight out to Tsillan Cellars Winery on the south shore of Lake Chelan. I wanted to scout the possible landing zones. I circled the winery once and decided that both offered landing zones would work. The one I’d use, however, was the one right at the end of the entry road, by the winery’s big sign. Showy and convenient and not too tight. Here’s a shot from the skidcam as I circled:

Tsillan Cellars Winery

From there, I continued on to the airport, flying over downtown Chelan along the way. I landed in the field near Jim’s helicopter and began the shutdown process. While I was waiting for the engine to cool, I put Penny on her leash and dropped her gently onto the ground. She wandered into the frame of the skidcam as Jim pulled up beside me.

Penny at Chelan

Jim topped off both of my fuel tanks with the fuel he had on his truck. There was no reason to drive all that fuel out to Coeur d’Alene later on. I fiddled with my cameras and got them running. We took off as a flight of two with Jim leading the way, heading almost due east.

Despite the fact that the airport is at least 500 feet over the river, we began climbing as soon as we departed. We had to clear the cliffs and climb up to the Waterville Plateau. I followed Jim, trying hard to keep my eyes on the red speck of his helicopter, concerned about catching up with him because of my helicopter’s slightly greater power. (More on that in a moment.) When we topped the cliff, he was easy to spot above the horizon; this nosecam still gives you an idea:

Climbing to Watervill Plateau

I was pleasantly surprised to find that although we had a tailwind, it wasn’t gusty and the flight was much smoother. The thought of spending an hour each way bouncing around the sky wasn’t appealing. But that wasn’t the case.

I soon learned that my Raven II helicopter is not faster than Jim’s Raven I. There are two possible reasons for this:

  • His helicopter is lighter, weighing in at less than 1450 empty. My ship’s empty weight is 1515. I assume he had full fuel (as I did) and we weigh about the same. Not sure how much gear he had on board with him, but I’m certain that his flight weight was lighter than mine. Although probably not much.
  • His chart for maximum manifold pressure allows him to pull at least an inch more power than I can in the same conditions. I have no idea why our charts are different.

In either case, he was able to get 5 to 10 knots more airspeed than me. It wasn’t long before his helicopter became a faint dot in the distance.

Meanwhile, the light was getting good and the combines were out harvesting the dry-farmed wheat up on the plateau. We paused enroute while I circled a field with two combines at work. This is where I really wish I’d set the camera for a shot every 2 seconds instead of 5. Although I got one so-so shot, I missed so many other possible shots:

Combine at Work

Afterward, I was ahead of Jim for a short time. My skidcam and then my nosecam caught him passing me:

Racing with Jim

Losing the Race with JIm

The landscape continued with rolling wheat fields, most of which were already harvested. It suddenly gave way to Banks Lake, a dammed coulee filled with water pumped up from the Columbia River at the Grand Coulee Dam. Here’s the last still clip from the nosecam — I’d mistakenly inserted a 2GB SD card instead of the usual 16GB SD card so I only got about 30 minutes of video. (Sheesh.) Jim told me, over the radio, that the rock formation in the lake is called Steamboat.

Banks Lake

Although my skidcam kept shooting, it had shifted somewhat and was no longer level — if indeed it ever was. It produced this slanted view of the lake as we were crossing the cliffs on the other side:

Banks Lake

Beyond that, my skidcam caught a few more images of combines out in the field. Here’s one corrected for the camera’s tilt:

Another Harvest Shot

After more relatively flat farmland, the landscape began to change. There were more and more trees and canyons mixed in with the farmland.

Farmland in the Hills

Soon we were flying along a bend in the Columbia River. Later, we were alongside the Spokane River.

Spokane River

By this time, Jim was so far ahead of me that I simply couldn’t see him. We finally determined, based on distance to KCOE, that he was four miles ahead of me. It wasn’t exactly a “flight of two helicopters” anymore.

A while later, we landed at Coeur d’Alene. Jim’s wife met us there. They exchanged hugs and he put his helicopter away in the hangar while Penny and I stretched our legs. Then he and I climbed back into my helicopter with Penny in the back seat and we took off on the flight home.

By this time, only the skidcam was still taking pictures. And because it was facing mostly into the sun, it didn’t get too many good shots. It’s a real shame because the light was really nice by then. Here’s a sample image shot somewhere over Washington at about 7:47 PM:

Return Flight

We chatted all the way back. When Iet him off at Chelan Airport, I had to shut down to take on more fuel. Then I took off back toward Wenatchee, where I was living at the time, and he drove off back toward Idaho.

My skidcam caught this image of Wenatchee as I crossed the Columbia River:

Night Over Wenatchee

I touched down in my parking spot with just my landing light to guide me.