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.

Snowbirding 2018 Postcards: Boating to Lunch at Parker

I’ve resumed my travels after nearly two months in southwestern Arizona and Southeastern California. The next 10 days or so will be spent making my way north along the Colorado River, with various stops in campgrounds where I can launch my little boat and get out on the water.

And that’s exactly what I did yesterday. I’ve got a riverfront campsite at Buckskin State Park north of Parker, AZ. I launched my boat yesterday morning and, after changing into shorts and a sleeveless shirt — in February! — Penny and I made the 9+ mile drive downriver to the Bluewater Casino in Parker.

The engine started rough with the usual excess of smoke but soon smoothed out and the smoke went away. I brought it up to nearly full throttle, which got me a whopping 30 miles per hour of speed. The ride down was on nearly glassy water; other than a handful of kayakers, I was the only boater out there.

The Bluewater has a huge marina with dozens of empty slips, but I pulled in at a waterfront restaurant called The Cantina, where I was able to dock right out front.

My boat docked at the Cantina on the Colorado River.

The Cantina was mostly a bar and I had low expectations of the food on the small menu. With relatively low prices, I expected small servings, too. I was wrong on both points. The smoked tri-tip on flatbread with melted mozzarella was big and tasty. I ate outside in the sun, overlooking the river and marina. I wound up taking the chili cheese fries back to camp with me; I later reheated them with dinner.

I headed back at around 1:30 PM. By that time, the restaurant was busy with newly arrived weekenders in town for the big truck race and there were more boats on the stretch of river between Parker and Buckskin. I motored back at around the same speed. Back at Buckskin, I parked at the marina dock, which was technically closed; I thought it would be easier and safer than anchoring it in the water at my campsite, especially with the changes in water levels due to dam releases upstream.

It had been my first boat outing in over a month and it felt good to be out on the water again. I’ll take it out again today and tomorrow and then move it to Lake Havasu, just upriver from Parker Dam, on Monday.

Snowbirding 2018 Postcards: Overnight At Plomosa Camp

After nearly a full month in Quartzsite, AZ, I finally hit the road.

I had waited around most of the day for a package that never arrived and finally gave up at 3 PM. I made one stop to top off my propane tanks and headed north on Route 95. Eight miles up was the turn for the BLM Plomosa 14 day camp area. I drove about a mile and a half up the paved road and then took a right. A while later, I had settled into an area where I was removed from my neighbors and had a good, unobstructed view of the sunset.

I made carne asada for dinner — I had purchased the raw, prepackaged, marinated meat at Blythe earlier in the week. It took only a minute to set up the grill and get the meat sizzling. I had a nice salad with an avocado to go with it. I ate outside, where the sun was quickly sinking toward the horizon and the very warm air was beginning to cool.

Afterward, I launched the drone. I did a live broadcast on Periscope, which is no small feat. It didn’t get many views. When I stopped the broadcast, I took a few minutes to get some aerial photos of the area, including these photos of my camp.

Aerial photo of my camp at Plomosa.

Aerial photo of my camp at Plomosa.

Sunset at my campsite.

I should mention here that if I had planned to stay more than one night, I would’ve driven further into the desert to be farther from any neighbors. As it is, I’m really not that close to other campers, although I am a bit closer to the main road than I like to be.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll get an early start and I head out to Parker, AZ. I’m in desperate need of clean clothes and the laundromat there is both clean and cheap.

If all goes well, I’ll be in my boat on the Colorado River before sunset tomorrow evening. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, it feels good to be back in the desert, away from the freeway, and on the road again.