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.

Travel Insanity

Too many miles, too little time.

I’m just recovering from a crazy week with too much travel in too short a time span.

Our Flight Path

Our flight path, recorded on my iPad with GPSTrack. Can you tell where we did some scud running?

It all started last Saturday, when I flew with two companions from Phoenix, AZ to Wenatchee, WA by helicopter in one day. It was almost 11 hours of flight time with mostly very brief stops for fuel. Although I had very little stick time — one of my companions did almost all the flying — I was still alert and able to fly at a moment’s notice.

It got a little tense when we had to do some scud-running in Oregon that lasted far longer than I like to be spending scud running — as if I like it at all. It never got dangerous, but more than a few times, I began scouting the remote hillsides around us, looking for a place to set down and wait it out. I was very glad when the terrain finally descended, dumping us in an area where we could get back on course.

We spent the night in Wenatchee and I parted company with my travel companions, leaving them to catch an early flight to Seattle while I took care of other things locally.

Sunday was relatively restful. I needed to reposition the helicopter to Quincy, WA, where I’d be spending part of my summer. That was just a 15-minute flight. Then I spent some time socializing at Ferguson Flying Services, where my helicopter is parked in Quincy, and the Colockum Ridge Golf Course, where my RV would be parked soon. Then a friend/client picked me up and drove me the 5 miles to his winery in town, where I spent the afternoon socializing with him, his family, and the folks who came for wine tasting. A nice, mellow afternoon.

But at 4:15, the craziness started again. I got a lift to Wenatchee Airport, where I caught a flight to Seattle with a connecting flight to Phoenix. My husband picked me up there at about 10:30 PM. Overnight at our Phoenix condo.

Monday morning, bright and early, we were on our way back up to Wickenburg. I spent the day finishing up some work on a chapter of my book and then packing. It wasn’t until nearly 9 PM that night that we were done and pulling the RV out of the hangar where it lives most of the year. We left it parked in front for the night.

Welcome to NevadaAt 6:45 AM, I was in the driver seat of the truck with Alex the Bird in the seat beside mine. We were starting a 1,295-mile drive from Wickenburg, AZ to Quincy, WA. My goal was to make Jackpot, NV that first day — a distance of 725 miles. I spent most of those miles on Route 93, a two-lane road with speed limits up to 70 miles per hour. There was no traffic and certain stretches of the road were straight and flat as far as the eye could see. We made Jackpot before nightfall. After dinner n the casino, I spent the night in the RV with Alex in comfort — in the casino parking lot.

My Rig, in Jackpot, NVThe next morning, I woke at 6:15, which is late for me. Anxious to get on the road, I rushed around making my coffee and Alex’s breakfast and then buttoning up the RV for another day on the road. It wasn’t until after I topped off the fuel tank across the street from the casino that I realized it was an hour earlier; that part of Nevada is on Mountain Daylight Time. So I got a very early start. I left Route 93 behind in Twin Falls, ID, and hopped on I-84. The route was mountainous and the truck sucked diesel at an alarming rate as I struggled to maintain speed up hills. I left the interstate just past Pendleton and got back on smaller, traffic-free back roads to head north. After 10 miles on I-70 and the last five miles through familiar farmland, I rolled into the parking lot at the Colockum Ridge Golf Course RV Park just after 3 PM.

My Route

My route, as captured by GPSTrack on my iPhone.

I was fortunate to have had good weather all the way. Towing 13,000 pounds of fifth wheel RV on wet pavement is no fun — as I learned last year. It was just starting to rain when I finished hooking up my utilities at 4 PM.

Do I need to say how exhausted I was? I’d snacked my way from Wickenburg to Quincy, eating only snacks on my low-carb diet: jerky, almonds, and cheese sticks. The only real meal I’d had was at the casino in Jackpot. My digestive system was a mess for the next two days.

And of course, I developed a bad cold, which I think I’m just coming out of now.

But on the bright side of this, I managed to get all my assets in position for the first half of the cherry drying season. I set up my RV office and yesterday I managed to knock off another chapter of the book I’m working on. I’m also in the area early enough to set up helicopter tours and wine tasting trips with the local wineries.

It’s been a rough week, but now I’m settled in. It feels good to be at my home away from home.

The Long Drive with the Long Trailer

I move my mobile mansion from Wenatchee to Lake Powell.

I’ve been traveling for the past week or so, starting in Wenatchee Heights, WA and ending in Phoenix, AZ.

Day 1I left Wenatchee Heights with my 5th wheel RV hooked up behind my husband’s Chevy pickup. The first day’s drive was relatively short: from Wenatchee Heights to Walla Walla, a distance of only 190 miles. Only a small portion of the drive was on a freeway (I-90); the rest was on back roads through farmland.

It rained for part of the drive, but never enough to make the road slick. I took my time. The trailer weighs in at 15,000 pounds and although it tows well, I can never really forget that it’s back there.

At Walla WallaIn Walla Walla, I stayed at the Blue Valley RV Park. It was a relatively pleasant place, with average sized RV spots, full hookups, picnic tables and grass. The trees were too young to give shade, but I bet they’ll be nice in about 5 years. The main building had a pool table, laundry room, and restrooms. Everything was clean and the place was quiet. I got some laundry done, wrote an article for AircraftOwner Online, and relaxed.

I had dinner at two excellent local restaurants: T. Maccarone’s and Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. It was nice to have a change of scenery. I was there for four nights. The wine with my dinner at T.Maccarone’s is what sent me to Dusted Valley Winery for a tasting, where I bought four bottles of wine.

Day 2 of the DriveOn Friday night, I got the trailer hooked up again and mostly ready to go. I needed to be on the road early for the next leg of my trip: from Walla Walla, WA to Draper, UT (south of Salt Lake City), a distance of 606 miles. I was on the road not long after dawn. The route took me south almost to Pendleton, OR, then onto I-84 through Oregon and Idaho and down into Utah, where I picked up I-15. The landscape started with farmland, then mountains, then more flat farmland, then more mountains, and then finally into the Salt Lake basin. I’d driven the route before with my underpowered Ford F150 pickup towing my old 22-foot Starcraft. It wasn’t fun then; Saturday’s drive was much more tolerable. I stopped three times for fuel and twice for food. It was very unlike me to make so many stops; I usually try to get food and fuel on the same stop, but the situation made that tough. I rolled into Draper, UT’s Camping World parking lot at 6:15 PM local time, just 15 minutes after the store closed. I’d called the week before and knew I could park out back, so I did. I even got to hook up 50 amp power.

Ann TorrenceOn Sunday, @AnnTorrence picked me up for a drive to Ft. Bridger, WY. There was a Mountain Man Rendezvous there with hundreds of people in period clothes set up with period campsites. The “period” was apparently mid 1800s. Ann was there to take photos and research a possibly future book project. I was there to take pictures and look around and have a day off from driving. I didn’t take a single photo, although I carried my camera bag around all day. Well, that’s not true. I did use my BlackBerry to take this shot of Ann. She, in turn, used her iPhone to take a shot of me with my only purchase: a genuine raccoon skin, which I hope to turn into a hat.

After a very pleasant lunch at Cafe Trio in Salt Lake City with Ann and her husband, Robert, I went back to their house to relax on the front porch. @BWJones showed up and I finally got to meet him in person. After a tour of the garden, Ann and Robert returned me to Draper for the evening. Again, Camping World had just closed for the day. No one had left any notes on the RV or truck (which was still attached) and the power was still connected. Alex the Bird entertained us for a while.

Day 3Monday — Labor Day — was my last drive day. I drove from Draper, UT to Page, AZ, a distance of 370 miles. I got a very early start, pulling out of the parking lot at 6:30 AM local time. By the time I stopped for fuel two hours later, I’d already gone more than 100 miles. (I parked with the big rig trucks and discovered that my rig was about as long as theirs.) This part of the drive was mostly on I-15, but started east on route 20 to Highway 89, which took us all the way to Page. The roads were mountainous and there was a lot of climbing and descending. There were also a lot more vehicles on the road, making driving a bit more of a chore.

Thunderbird RestaurantThe only food stop I made along the way was at the Thunderbird Restaurant at Mount Carmel Junction. The place is a bit of a tourist trap, but it does have good “ho-made” pies (whatever that means). Odd thing happened when I tried to leave. They couldn’t give me a bill because the computer was down. Apparently no one knows how to do basic math. All I had was a piece of pie with ice cream and an iced tea. They apparently expected me to wait until the computers came back online. With Alex the Bird in the front seat of the car, that was not an option. Finally, my waitress disappeared into the kitchen where she may have used her “lifeline” to get help with this difficult math problem. The verdict was $7.79. I was afraid to count my change.

I arrived at the Lake Powell Resort just west of Page, AZ at around 11:30 local time. I’d been on the road for 7 hours.

Mike and PlaneMy husband, who’d flown up in his plane and spent a few hours swimming in the lake, met me at the lodge restaurant for lunch. Afterwards, we put fuel in the truck and parked it (temporarily) at Page Municipal Airport. I gathered my belongings — forgetting only two things, one of which was vital — and we loaded into Mike’s plane. Then we started the long (90 minutes), hot (90°F+), and bumpy (I almost got sick) flight to Wickenburg. The only sights of interest along the way — keeping in mind that I make that flight about 1000 feet lower at least a dozen times a year — were a handful of forest fires east of our Howard Mesa place and a heavy rain shower coming out of a remarkably small cloud near Granite Mountain.

Back in Wickenburg, we put the plane away and went straight home. Hot and sweaty, it was good to take a shower in a real bathroom.

I was asleep by 8:30 PM.