Last Flights of the Season

Santa drop-off, burgers with friends, and the special apple delivery.

I don’t care what the calendar says — winter is definitely upon the Wenatchee Valley where I live. After an early snowfall not long after Halloween and a subsequent thaw, the typical winter weather moved in, with four days out of seven filling the valley with fog. Sometimes my home, which sits about 800 feet above the river, was under it, other times it was in it, and a few times it was above it. The temperature hovered between 25 and 35 degrees day and night, so it wasn’t that cold. But it could be dreary, which is bad medicine for a sun-lover like me. I honestly don’t understand how people can live on the west side of the Cascades where it’s gloomy far more often than sunny all year around.

I normally go south for the winter and this year is no different. But I had some business to take care of at home, including my annual Santa flight, and couldn’t get back to the sun until after that. Scheduled for December 4, I fully expected it to be my last flight of the year. But sometimes I get lucky. Here’s a quick rundown of the three flights I finished the season with.

The Santa Flight

Pybus Public Market is a venue on the waterfront near downtown Wenatchee, WA. Once a steel mill, it was completely renovated about five years ago and now houses several restaurants and shops and hosts indoor and outdoor merchants for seasonal farmers markets and other events. It’s a really great public space, and a destination for locals and tourists, with plenty of events and things to do and see. Anyone who visits Wenatchee and doesn’t stop by Pybus is really missing something special.

Me and Santa
Here I am with Santa in 2012. Penny came along on the flight — she loves to fly in the helicopter. Note the polo shirt I’m wearing. Even with Santa’s door off, I wasn’t cold in December in Phoenix.

When I lived in Arizona, I was one of several helicopter owners/operators who volunteered to fly Santa in to the Deer Valley Airport restaurant in north Phoenix. The restaurant — which I highly recommend if you’re in the area; get the gyro sandwich — was privately owned by a Greek family and one of their sons would don a Santa suit on Saturdays and Sundays. For the four weekends leading up to Christmas, he’d get flown in by one of the local helicopter operators where a crowd of parents and children waited and cheered his arrival. We’d take turns picking Santa up at one of the FBOs at the airport, flying him north out of the airspace, and then turning around and returning — so it looked like we were flying in from the North Pole — and landing in front of the crowd. Once inside, Santa would sit on a big chair and kids would sit on his lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas while parent cameras snapped. Then, I assume, the whole family would stick around for lunch. I blogged about the first time I did this, back in 2011; my wasband came along and took photos and you can see them in the blog post.

N630ML at Pybus Market
My helicopter is parked on display inside Pybus Public Market back in 2014. You can read the blog post about that here.

So when I moved to the Wenatchee area and fell in love with Pybus, it made sense to offer up the helicopter for Santa’s big arrival the weekend after Thanksgiving. Usually, Santa arrived in a fire truck, but most people agreed a helicopter would be way more exciting. I worked with Steve, the manager there, and set up a safe landing zone — or “heliport,” if you go by the definition that the county illogically clings to (long idiotic story there) — at the south end of the building. I picked up Santa at the airport and flew him in while a small crowd looked on. That was in 2013, the year I bought property for my new home in Malaga.

In subsequent years, Santa and I repeated the performance with bigger crowds every year. Weather was usually a factor though, and I remember one year waiting until the last possible minute to decide whether the flight was a go or no-go. But we made it each year and, when the weather was bad, I departed as soon as the crowd was inside the building so I could get the helicopter put away before the weather closed in again.

In 2016 — last year — the helicopter was in Arizona for its mandatory overhaul so I couldn’t do the flight. There is another red helicopter based in Wenatchee, however, and I knew the owner. I asked him to do it and he was game. But the weather did not cooperate at all and he couldn’t make the flight. Santa arrived on a fire truck that year.

This year, however, the helicopter was back in Washington and ready to go. I watched the weather all week and found it hard to believe the forecast for Sunday was as good as it was. On Friday morning, I went with Steve to the local radio station and talked up the upcoming flight. Steve said some really nice things about me and the other person who’d come along for the radio spot. Afterwards, I suggested that if the weather was good, Steve and I would go down to Blustery’s in Vantage for lunch. Bring a friend or two, I suggested. I was in no hurry to put the helicopter away if the weather was going to be good.

When Sunday arrived, the weather was perfect for a flight: clear, no fog, light wind. I picked up Santa at Wenatchee Airport and we touched down in the parking area — “heliport”? — there right on time. Here’s a video of my arrival on the Wenatchee World’s Facebook page.

Santa's Arrival by Helicopter at Pybus
Here’s Santa stepping out of the helicopter at Pybus. I have a sneaking suspicion this Pybus website photo is from the 2015 flight because I don’t remember anyone being in the doorway when I arrived this year.

After Santa and most of the crowd went inside, I shut down the engine so a few of the onlookers could come closer to the helicopter. I gave the kids postcards that featured an air-to-air photo of the helicopter over a lake that could be along the Columbia River. Kids got their photos taken with the helicopter. I answered the usual questions about speed and fuel burn and how long it takes to become a pilot.

Onlookers Checking Out the Helicopter
The helicopter at Pybus Public Market after last Sunday’s Santa flight. I like to give kids a chance to see the helicopter up close.

Will Fly for Food

Once the crowd around the helicopter broke up a little, we cleared the landing zone and Steve and a friend climbed on board. I started up and, a few moments later, took off over the river.

I cannot stress enough how perfect the weather was for flying. The cool air and recent engine overhaul worked together to give me amazing performance; cruising at 110 knots was easy. With very little wind, the flight was smooth and I could easily steer the helicopter anywhere I wanted to go. It was my first day flying in over six weeks and it really reminded me why I’d gotten “addicted” to flying and why I loved it so much. I felt as if I could have flown all day, stopping only when I needed fuel, and exploring every bit of the area that I loved.

We flew downriver over the two bridges and along the shoreline. I detoured to the south a bit to fly past my home, which Steve had never seen. Then we got back over the river and continued down toward our destination, about 30 miles (as the crow flies) away. It was nice flying with friends again — I haven’t been doing as many pleasure flights as I like these days — and seeing familiar terrain through their eyes. We saw the fire damage from the two early summer fires, one of which had come frighteningly close to where I live, new orchards and vineyards going in near Spanish Castle, and rock formations along the river. I dropped down low for a better look at the two huge herds of elk on West Bar, then flew up the Ancient Lakes side of Potholes Coulee and down the Dusty Lakes side. We went “backstage” at the Gorge Amphitheater, which was buttoned down for the winter, and past the Inn and yurts at Cave B Estate Winery. I flew past the rock climbers at Frenchman’s Coulee and pointed out the sand dunes near there that are virtually unknown to the folks in the area because they can’t be seen from any road.

Around then is when the wind picked up a little bit, adding some mild turbulence to the flight that made Steve a little nervous — unless he was just kidding? As I descended toward Vantage, I could see some whitecaps on the water surface below us. I crossed over the top of the I-90 bridge and made a right descending turn to my usual parking spot — or “heliport”? — at Blustery’s, crossing over the freeway just 100 feet up. As I set down — rather sloppily in a strong crosswind — I wondered if it was open because there was only one car there. But as I cooled down the engine for shutdown, we saw the OPEN sign. A few minutes later, we were inside, placing our orders.

Steve and Annette at Blustery's
Steve and his friend Annette with the helicopter at Blustery’s in Vantage, WA.

The folks who work in Blustery’s know me and always seem glad to see me. I know they know the helicopter is out there in the parking lot when I come, but none of them have ever said a word about it. One of these days, I’m going to take them up for a quick ride.

I ate my favorite three-meals-in-one-burger: the Logger Burger. It has two burger patties, bacon, ham, cheese, and a a fried egg. It’s huge and very tasty. And messy. I didn’t think I could finish it all, but I did. I pretty much skipped the fries. Steve picked up the tab, of course. That’s one of my rules: when I fly you for a meal on my dime, I fully expect you to pick up the tab for that meal. Folks who don’t get that, don’t get a second flight.

It was about 3 PM when we headed out on the return flight. The wind down there was still blowing pretty hard — it’s almost always windy on the river there — but I pointed the helicopter into the wind and let it help us climb out. I flew along the cliff face on the west side of the river, looking for the bighorn sheep I knew might be there. When I spotted one, I made a 360° turn to loop around and make sure my passengers could see it. It turned out that there were two of them, running off to the west with their white butts making them easy to see among the golden grass and sagebrush. We continued onward over the tops of the cliffs there, looking for more wildlife but coming up empty. This time of year, the elk move to lower elevations along the river, which is why we’d seen so many at West Bar, across the river from Crescent Bar. We descended closer to the river near the old Alcoa aluminum plant, where I made my radio call for landing at the airport. A short while later, we were on the ground.

I put the helicopter away, thinking it was the last time I’d fly it for the year.

The Apple Express

I was toiling over my to-do list at 7:30 AM on Tuesday when my phone rang. It was the helicopter pilot for one of my clients. I’d done such a good job flying them around a few years back that they’d decided they needed their own helicopter and had bought one. Tyson, a vet who’d learned to fly in the Army, had been hired to fly it and we’d become friends. I still flew for them occasionally, but not as often as I’d like to. They’re really nice folks and I always learn a lot about agriculture when we fly together.

Tyson’s helicopter was in pieces in Hillsboro, OR, for some scheduled maintenance. Normally, that was fine — his employers rarely flew in the colder months. But this morning, they had an emergency. They had to get 240 pounds of apples to a packing plant in Pasco, WA and had a tight deadline. Making the 2-1/2 hour drive was not going to get them there on time. They wanted to fly them. Could I take them on my helicopter?

After a miserable Monday, that day’s weather was perfect. There was some patchy fog low over the river here and there, but a quick check of the weather along my flight path showed it was good to go. So I said yes, got dressed, and hustled to get the helicopter ready for departure.

Tyson came with me, mostly because he knew the landing zone — “heliport”? — better than I did. We left Wenatchee Airport together and landed at the landing zone his employer had set up behind their facility in Wenatchee. On our descent, we spotted a bald eagle perched on a pole beside an empty osprey nest.

Apples in Helicopter
The boxes of apples filled the back seat area of the helicopter.

The apples were in 20-pound boxes and they absolutely filled the back seat area of the helicopter. Honestly, I didn’t think they’d all fit. But we got them in, closed the doors, strapped ourselves back in, and headed southeast on a direct course for the packing plant northwest of Pasco Airport, 86 nautical miles away. That meant an immediate climb to clear the cliffs just south of my home. I hadn’t flown that way in a long time; I prefer following the river whenever I can, but when a client is paying for flight time, you go direct whenever possible.

Just beyond the ridge, the valley was filled with low clouds. I maintained altitude as we flew over them, crossed the river again, and cut across the Quincy basin. The clouds disappeared. The air was calm and the flight was smooth. Tyson and I chatted about all kinds of things. It was nice to have company on the flight. We crossed Saddle Mountain and I maintained altitude to cross the Hanford Reserve, which has been in the news too much lately. The chart requests that pilots maintain 1800 feet MSL over that area and I’m all for that, especially since our flight path took us pretty darn close to the nuclear power plant at the south end of the reserve. The clouds were over the river there again and visibility at nearby Richland Airport was down to 1 mile. I exited the reserve area and started my descent, flying over those clouds.

I called in to Tri-Cities Airport for permission to land. Even though we weren’t landing at the airport, our landing zone was within Tri-Cities’ airspace so communication with the tower was required to enter the space. We saw the facility when were were still a few miles out and Tyson guided me to the landing zone on the southwest side, a gravel parking area. I flew low over some wires and set down smoothly in the middle of the area.

I was expecting someone to come out and receive the boxes, but no one appeared. So Tyson and I offloaded them ourselves, setting them out in a row on the gravel so my downwash on departure wouldn’t knock over a stack. Tyson walked off toward the building and found someone to talk to about the boxes while I took a few photos and secured the back doors. Then he climbed back on board and we departed to the northwest, after chatting with the Tri-Cities tower controller again.

Helicopter and Delivered Apples
Before departing, I took a photo of the helicopter in its landing zone with the apples we delivered. I have a lot of photos of my helicopter in various unusual landing zones. (Or do I mean “heliports”? I’ll have to ask the folks at the Chelan County building department, since they apparently know more about helicopters than I do .)

Track Log
Our track log for the apple delivery flight. I use Foreflight to automatically track the exact path of all of my flights these days.

We returned by almost the same exact route, although I did pass on the west side of the nuclear power plant on my way back. By then, just about all of the low clouds had cleared. It was still calm and smooth. I flew much higher than I usually did, even after leaving the Hanford area, and was treated to unobstructed views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. The only other interesting thing we noted on the way back was a C-130 transport flying below our altitude on a practice run for a drop zone east of our flight path. Tyson knew the frequency they’d be talking on and we tuned in. Soon, we heard air traffic control notify the huge plane about traffic 10 miles west at 3300 feet northwest bound — us. Tyson and I kept an eye on it until we were well clear of the area.

I crossed the ridge behind my house again and started the steep descent to the airport. When I set down, I had mixed feelings. I was sad that this would definitely be my last flight of the year — I had meetings on Wednesday and was leaving town on Thursday — but happy that I’d gotten this unexpected flight on such a great day for flying.

Typical Late Autumn Weather Time-Lapse

Lots of fog coming and going all day long.

I knew when I woke up yesterday morning that it was going to be a foggy day. How could I tell? I looked out my window and didn’t see a single light anywhere. The fog was all around me, blocking out the thousands of lights down in Wenatchee that keep my home from getting dark at night as well as closer in lights in at my neighbors’ homes. It was pitch black dark.

But with fog and low clouds moving around, it would be a good day for a time-lapse.

The Equipment

I went down into the garage and rummaged around in a box full of old camera equipment until I found my Canon PowerShot G5. This was my first “serious” digital camera, which I bought back at the end of 2003 for aerial photography. (Back then, I had the crazy idea that my future wasband was capable of taking satisfactory photos from the helicopter to meet the needs of aerial photo clients. That turned out to be a very expensive exercise in futility.) With 5 megapixel resolution, it was a big deal — all my digital cameras up to that point had shot in 2.1 megapixels or less. I even took it with me to Supai, the Havasupai village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, when I went on an Arizona Highways photo excursion in April 2004.

So yes, the camera is old. At least by today’s standards.

But I don’t throw anything useful away. Even when I got better digital cameras — like the Nikon D80 I bought in 2007 and the Nikon D7000 I use now — I kept the old Canon.

Years ago, I bought a Pclix intervalometer for it and started using it as a dedicated time-lapse camera. An intervalometer, in case you don’t know, is a device or camera feature that tells the camera to shoot an image periodically per your specifications. That and a tripod are the two things you need to make time-lapse movie images. You then use an app on your computer (or smartphone, I suppose) to compile those images into a movie.

G5 and Pclix
Shown here: my Canon G5 with optical cable taped on, Pclix intervalometer, and the power supply for the camera, which is not USB.

The Pclix I have uses an optical trigger mechanism. That means it sends a beam of light down a fiberoptic cable. The light is seen by the old Canon G5 as if I’ve pointed a remote at it and it clicks the shutter. To get this to work, I used electrical tape to attach the business end of the optical cable to the G5’s remote sensor. Of course, the camera needs to be plugged into power — its old battery won’t hold a charge and, even if it did, it wouldn’t last all day. The Pclix runs on a pair of AAA batteries and I was very surprised to see that they still had enough juice to power it. But I guess an electronic timer and tiny beam of light don’t need much power.

When I dug out all this stuff yesterday morning, I was kind of surprised to find it all. (Note to self: putting things away really is a great strategy for making them easy to find in the future.) Although I still do time-lapses once in a while, I’ve been using my GoPro, which is a lot more compact and easy to set up. But my GoPros and my Nikon D7000, which has a built-in intervalometer, are all in Arizona, waiting for me to join them. The G5 was my only option.

Setting Up

I’ve always been interested in time-lapse movies. There’s nothing quite like them to show the movement of slow-moving things. You can see the ones on this blog by checking out the time-lapse tag.

Of course, the challenge is to set up a time-lapse camera before something interesting happens. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to create a time-lapse of clouds on days that clouds never made an appearance. The good thing is, the images are all digital, so if a whole day shooting results in a dull time-lapse, I can just delete it all.

Yesterday’s challenge was pointing the camera in the right direction with the right zoom magnification. (This is one of the benefits of using the G5 instead of a GoPro: optical zoom.) It was barely light out and the fog was thick when I got it all set up. I was also concerned about focus; I let the camera’s autofocus feature take care of that, but when there’s no detail to lock in on, the camera can’t focus. So I suspect there are some focus issues with individual shots.

I let it run all day from the corner of my deck, plugged into one of the outlets there, with 1 shot every 15 seconds. That’s how the Pclix was set up. I’d lost the instructions and didn’t want to mess with reprogramming it.

The Results

I checked on the camera at about 3:30 PM and discovered that its tripod had fallen over. Oops. I brought it in and saw that the last shot taken was after 2 PM, so I did get most of the day.

I brought the camera up to my loft where my office is now. It took a while to find a cable that would connect the old camera to my computer — I knew there was no chance I’d find a card reader for the Compact Flash card (which isn’t compact at all by today’s standards). I worked some magic and got the images into my computer.

Then I ran them through an app that resized them and put the time in the corner.

Then I fired up QuickTime 7 Pro — which I’ve always used for time-lapses — and created a movie with 30 frames per second. So each second of this movie is 7-1/2 minutes of the day. Here it is:

What surprises me most is just how much of the day was foggy. Keep in mind that my home sits on a shelf about 800 feet above the river. In the winter, we often get inversions that fill the valley with fog. Sometimes I’m above it, sometimes I’m in it, and sometimes I’m below it. Yesterday, I was mostly in it and above it. At one point, I looked out my office window, which faces south towards the cliffs, and it was perfectly clear. Yet at the same time, the view through the camera was nearly completely fogged in.

Of course, this has motivated me to do some more time-lapses. Maybe I’ll produce a few in Arizona when I head down there for the winter. But I think I’ll leave my clunky G5 setup home.

Prepping and Planning for my Winter Migration

In waiting — and planning — mode.

Autumn is just about over. The leave are mostly gone and nighttime temperatures are dipping into the 30s. There’s been frost on the ground every morning. As the sun rises and fills the valley north of my home with light, odd little patches of evaporation fog form over the Columbia River 800 feet below the shelf where my home perches. I often stop my morning activity to watch, wishing I had one of my good GoPros around to create a time-lapse of the slow cloud formation and dissipation.

Of course, by the time that happens, I’ve already been up for a few hours. I’ve had my coffee and usually my breakfast. I’ve probably finished my daily journal entry and maybe even a blog post. I wake very early no matter what the season is, usually between 4 and 6 AM, although sometimes earlier. I’m a morning person and I have been for at least the past 20 years. It’s hard for me to believe that I had trouble attending 8 AM classes when I was in college. These days, by 8 AM, I’m usually ready for my mid-morning snack.

Sunlight and the Shadow Time

Living this far north — latitude 47.34° — the days start getting very short around the middle of October. By mid November, there’s only 9 hours and 15 minutes of daylight each day and we’re losing about 2 minutes of it every day. By the Winter Solstice, the sun is up for only about 8 and a half hours a day. That means the sun isn’t up for 15 and a half hours a day.

But worse than that is what I call the Shadow Time — the six weeks each year that the sun fails to clear the cliffs south of my home. For that brief period, sunlight does not shine at all on my house, although it does still reach out and fill the Wenatchee Valley. For the days leading up to the start of Shadow Time — December 1, I think — there’s less and less light on my house. Yesterday, there was about an hour of it starting around 1 PM. I love the way it shines into the high windows on the south side of my home, sending warm light at weird angles into my living space. But it’s weird looking out the north windows and seeing a big shadow in the foreground with the brightness of the valley behind it.

November View
I shot this photo yesterday afternoon from my deck. The clouds were great and the river was so blue. It’s a panorama for a reason — I cropped out the shadow in the foreground.

And I don’t have it bad at all. Some of my neighbors on the south side of the road have been in it for weeks already. Their Shadow Time lasts months. I can’t imagine living that long in the shadows, without the rejuvenating properties of warm, direct sunlight coming through the windows. Honestly, I don’t know why some of them built their homes where they did, especially when I see the occasional boulder coming down off the cliffs dangerously close to one neighbor’s backyard. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before one of those basalt columns lets go and ends up in their living room.

The Shadow Time is one of the reasons I go away for the winter. I’m a sunlight person — I need to be in the sun. That’s one reason why I like living on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. People think it rains a lot in Washington, but that’s not true. It rains a lot in Seattle. It doesn’t rain much here. And those short days turn into gloriously long ones in the summer time; it’s actually light out when I wake up and sometimes when I go to bed.

My goal is always to be gone during the Shadow Time and I’ve been pretty good about that for the past few years. But this time, I’m can’t get out quite as early as I hoped to.

Killing Time

So as November winds down, I find myself waiting for my departure date.

I’m spending much of my time at home goofing off and doing odd jobs around the house, with a few occasional forays down into town to catch a movie, have dinner or cocktails with friends, or run errands. My home and its menagerie — currently 13 chickens (including a rooster just learning to crow properly) and two garage cats (for rodent control) — are pretty much prepared for winter. There’s always something to do around here, but none of it is pressing and some of it has to wait until spring.

I’m also working on glass projects again — something I haven’t done for years. The goal is to create some recycled glass wind chimes for sale in Quartzsite, AZ in January. I’ve been working with my new kiln for a few days now but have had disappointing results. Apparently, I’ll be spending a few more days troubleshooting before I can start churning out new pieces.

And, of course, garage reorganization is something I’m always working on. I’ve still got boxes to unpack. I’m also prepping for a garage sale in the spring. I have a lot of stuff I don’t want/need anymore — some of it from my old home/life in Arizona. While Craig’s List has been instrumental in offloading the larger items, there’s a ton of little stuff I can sell cheap.

My helicopter business is slow this time of year — and only gets slower as winter creeps in. I do have a nice charter later this month; I’ll be working with two other helicopters to take a group of nine men on a flight to various points of interest (to them) around the state. I’m hoping our flight path takes us past my house; my next door neighbor’s kids love it when I fly by with other helicopters — they say it’s like an air show.

Then, of course, is the primary thing keeping me in the area: my December 3 flight bringing Santa to Pybus Public Market. This is a community service I do every year. (Last year was the first time I missed a flight but that’s because the helicopter was in Arizona for overhaul.) The last time I did it, about 300 kids and parents were waiting on the ground when we landed at Pybus in my bright red helicopter. There were photos in the newspaper. I usually shut down and stick around for a while so folks can come up to the helicopter and get their photo taken with it. I’ll do that this year if the weather cooperates.

Pybus Market
An aerial view of Pybus Public Market, shot with my Mavic Pro the other day. I land the helicopter in the corner of the parking lot in the lower right part of the photo, not far from the white building. One year, we rolled the helicopter into the main (gray) building where I left it on display for a week.

Of course, that doesn’t mean those are the only days I’ll fly the helicopter. There’s a pretty good chance I’ll take it out today. I have two wine club shipments waiting for me at Cave B Estate Winery down in Quincy. That’s an hour drive but only 20 minutes by helicopter. I figured I’d take a few friends down there for lunch — I fly for food — and pick up my wine while I’m there.

And the helicopter will go to California for its sixth season of frost control work, likely in mid February.

Going South

Once I’m done with the few things I need to do in the area, I’ll hop on a flight to Phoenix with Penny the Tiny Dog. My truck, camper, and boat are already down there waiting for me. With luck, a month from today I’ll be camped out on one of the Salt River Lakes, soaking up the sun while I explore the lake in my silly little boat.

I’ll spend Christmas along the Colorado River with some friends, camped out in the desert. The site I hope we get — we got it last year — has a boat ramp and easy access to a stretch of river that runs 76 miles from the Palo Verde Dam north of Ehrenberg, AZ to the Imperial Dam north of Yuma. I brought along my new tent and some tent camping gear so I can do overnight boat camping trips along the river. My friends are seriously into fishing and I know we’ll do some of that, too. Last year, we had fish tacos a few times. We have a campfire nearly every night; it gets cold but not too cold to enjoy the outdoors.

Sunrise at the River
We were treated to a few amazing sunrises during our stay along the Colorado River last year.

Then in January, we move to Quartzsite where my friend sells her artwork at a 10-day show at Tyson Wells. This year, I got a booth, too. I’ll be selling drone aerial photography services for folks camped out in the desert, as well as my recycled glass wind chimes (if I can get the problems with the new kiln worked out). It’ll be weird and it might not make any money, but I’m really in it for the experience more than anything else. Besides, my booth at Tyson includes a full hookup and it’ll be nice to get a bit of “civilization” after more than a month camped out in the desert.

After that, I’ll likely start heading north along the Colorado River with my truck, camper, and boat. I’m hoping to do some camping and boating at each stretch of the river between dams, all the way up to Hoover. I’ll definitely revisit Arizona Hot Springs — this time in my own boat — and tent camp for a day or two in the mouth of the canyon there.

In mid-February, I’ll come home (via commercial flight), fetch the helicopter, and take it down to the Sacramento area for its frost contract. From that point on, I’m “on call.” This is different from cherry season, when I need to stick around with the helicopter to be called out on a moment’s notice. Instead, I get my callout at least 12 hours before they might need me. That’s enough time to hop on a flight from wherever I am to Sacramento.

I’ll be in the Vegas area for a week or so in late February to explore Lake Mead, visit some friends, and see HAI’s big helicopter show. When that’s over, I’ll continue north and west, eventually ending up in the Sacramento area. I’ll stick around there, boating on Lake Berryessa and Clear Lake, wine tasting in Napa Valley, and hiking in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains until March. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a few callouts while I’m already there; this can really be lucrative when I don’t have to hop a commericial flight, rent a car, and get a hotel room. Then, depending on weather in California and back home, I’ll make my way back north. I did a coastal route last year, but I might try a more inland route this time. It’s all about going new places and seeing new things.

It’s the typical migratory route I’ve been doing with minor variations since 2013 but I’m going to make it count this year. It might be the last season I go to Arizona for the winter; I’m hoping to begin researching retirement destinations in Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, and possibly New Zealand in future winter seasons. We’ll see.

Of course, I will be working every day. I’m writing a book about my flying experiences and am determined to finish it before I get home. So I expect to spend at least 4 hours at the keyboard daily — likely early in the morning — to knock out a manuscript. I’ll handle publication next spring.

While I’m gone my house will be in good hands. I have a house-sitter who will live there for the entire time I’m gone. We did a trial in October when I took a 2-week vacation south to visit friends, re-explore a few national parks in Utah, and reposition my portable winter home in Arizona. While I’m gone, he’ll make sure the chickens and cats have food and water and collect eggs. Maybe he’ll even put up my Christmas decorations, which I haven’t bothered to do in years.

Waiting

So I’m in a sort of limbo right now, waiting for my departure date to roll along.

I feel as if I spend most of my life waiting. In the old days, I was waiting for my wasband to get his head out of his butt and start enjoying life. It was frustrating, to say the least. The older I get, the less time I have left. Waiting for someone else was like idly watching my life slip by without being able to do anything to enjoy it.

Now, with him out of the picture, I do a lot less waiting and a lot more doing. I spend a lot of time traveling when I’m not busy with flying work. When I’m home, I spend my time building and learning new things. My life is much more full and interesting; my time is much more flexible.

But I still have responsibilities that tie me to my home, even if I’m not kept here by work. So I’m waiting for calendar pages to flip by again so I can do the few things I need to do.

And then I’m outta here.