June 22nd: Packed and Ready All our bags are packed and we are ready to go. The briefing are completed and there is nothing left but the final weather briefing in the morning, breakfast and the the trip to the planes for the flag to drop.
This day was more stressful than most for a final day. Vern left early to take care of getting Wild Mama to the avionics shop for the static check - should have been no big deal. When they started the check, there was a leak in the system. Vern was to text me when she was ready for the test flight. That call came at 6:00 p.m. this evening. I was frantic. We have until roughly 11:30 a.m. to get off the ground tomorrow morning - 3 hours past the last racer taking off. I was beginning to wonder if we would make it. I managed to get to the airport to meet Vern for the test flight. All systems were good and she checked out perfectly.
Caroline, Lydia and I made our final strategy plans for the evening considering the weather outlook but we will be constantly adjusting and re-adjusting those plans when we see the actual weather. We will do our best. We will hope for the best and we will fly safely. Let's hope for tailwinds!
June 21st: Briefings and Banquets: By this time in the racing continuum, we are getting to the business of the race with the all racers briefing and the welcome banquet. The good news is that the briefing was, indeed, brief. Denise and Gretchen did a great job inconveying a ton of information to a room full of racers , half of whom had never raced before.
But tonight was the last of our official fun events for the start. The Colorado 99s again hosted and outstanding event. We are honored this year to have one of the 300 or so surviving WASP's racing with us, Bee Haydu. She received a standing ovation in thanks for her dedication and service to this country - still wearing her uniform and a lovely, elegant lady even in her late 80's.
Tomorrow are the safety briefings, flyby briefings and first time racers briefings. Then time to study the weather and be ready to depart early Tuesday morning.
June 20th: Check and Double Check: The last two days have been hectic: first seeing all of our friends and reuniting from last year - lots of catching up to do. There was also the business of airplane inspections, registration and credentials registration. The credentials and registration were a breeze. Wild Mama was a different story. Seems we have a small paperwork snafu that will require a reinspection on Monday. OK, yes, the guru of paperwork made a boo-boo; but all will be resolved on Monday.
We also had the meeting this afternoon with the youth - showing them airplanes, learning about traffic control and trying to interest the next generation of aviators. The interest was quite high among the youth as they sat in the cockpit of the plane and got to play with the controls and participate as "airplanes" on the "runway" to see how the tower creates organized chaos out of complete chaos.
Our welcome receiption was a bash hosted by the Colorado 99s. These ladies have done an outstanding job organizing the start, the inspections and the reception was great - real crab cakes, shrimp and an assortment of finger foods that were a perfect substitution of dinner - no complaints. After some brief words fromour hosts, we all mixed and mingled in our most relaxed social before the race. Starting tomorrow we have briefings and really get to the business of the race.
June 18th: When 6 is not 6: Morning came early at 0'dark:30 but we had to get moving to try to be wheels up at 0600. Flying to Leadville, the highest elevation public airport in the US at 9,927' is a challenge. The conditions must be ideal: little to no wind, great visibility, cool temperatures. Today, we had it all as the Leadville AWOS was reporting 6 kt winds, few clouds at 7,000' AGL and 44 degrees, making the denisty altitude about 11,300' on the runway. The mission is a GO!
We had studied the route last night so we had a good idea of our landmarks and the places to fly to give us the lowest altitude at the passes. We fired up and got rolling at 0609 - not bad. Having flown at 11,000' yesterday enroute to Denver, we knew we would only have about 18" of manifold pressure available for take off from Leadville. A simulated "Leadville take-off" was in order. We requested runway 17R as it is only 600' longer than Leadville. With the manifold pressure set to 18" we held the brakes, deployed 10 degrees of flaps and started our runway roll. At 65 kts with lots of runway left she eased off the ground in a slow, steady climb at 400 feet per minute. We were pleased.
As we cleared the Class B airspace we continued our climb to 11,600' - high enough to safely clear all of our planned passes by 1,000-2,000'. Again, we were "flying the colors" only this time we had a lot more reds surrounding us. The snow covered mountains were breathtaking as they towered high above our position. We followed the river to the lake; the lake to Highway 24; the highway through the pass into the high plains.
As we neared Trout Pass and our turn-off into the valley leading to Leadville, we saw our ground speed drop significantly to 118 kts while our airspeed held steady at 145 kts. What happened to that 6 kt breeze that the AWOS is still reporting? We were being buffeted by the winds as the funnelled through the pass and in to the valley. Hang on: this one is going to be rough.
Being flat-landers, we had originally thought of Leadville being on the top of a mountain at 9,927' and were quite surprised when we really started looking at the trip to learn that Leadville is the the bottom of a valley, surrounded by the behemoths of the Rockies.
Twelve miles south of the airport the valley narrowed. Even at 11,600' we had very little room to manuver to stay out of the reds. Descending into the airport, Wild Mama is rocked by the gusty crosswinds cutting through the nearby passes. we touch down and roll out. It is 0720 and we made it. But this was the easy part. We still have to take off and get out of the valley and time is ticking.
An experimenatal twin engine Huey Canadian Military helicopter landed just before us. They were testing some new tail modifications and could only flight test of the winds were below 3 kts. AWOS was still reporting 6 kts but the winds felt much higher and made the morning feel much cooler than the reported 44 degrees, even in the sunshine.
We chatted with the airport manager, Debbie Benson, a delightful lady, oddly enough from Florida! She gave us a little history about the airport and about the $2.00/gallon AvGas that we got. We only took 15 gallons and were quite upset but we dared not take any more due to the weight. All too soon it was time to say good bye to Debbie as the winds would be picking up soon. It was already 0830.
Confident in our ability to get off the ground, we still positioned Wild Mama at the last inch of the runway 16, held the brakes and gave her full power up to 19" of manifold pressure and went careening down the runway. The winds caught us and shot us up at an incredible 500 feet per minute climb as we headed south down the valley. Wild Mama was pitching and rolling in the winds as they tumbled down the mountain side. We knew we had it made, though, when we hit Central Colorado Regional Airport and entered Trout Pass again as we were clear of the highest terrain. We shot through the pass and were catapulted to 170 kts gliding over the tops of the mountains and into the high plains in a much smoother air. We started our final descent to get under the Class B airspace at 190 kts following the Highway back to the lake, the lake back to the river until we had the edge of the mighty Rockies in sight.
As we landed at Centennial we were elated. Vern had wanted to tackle Leadville for 20 years and I was always looking for a challenge. Now it is done and we have the photos, certificates and smiles to prove it.
June 17th: Denver Arrival: For the first morning since we have been in Wyoming, we have had no fog in the valley when I got up. There were low clouds but the all of the AWOS’s in the valley were reporting a minimum of 4,000’ AGL and all were clear VFR. It was still only 0600.
Brenda had to be to work by 0800 meaning that it was time for her to get going to work. We hustled and got pack so we could catch a ride to the airport with her. As we were pulling out of the subdivision, we saw the beginning of fog in the valley. Afton was reporting 4 degrees Celsius for both the temperature and the dew point. This does not bode well. We called Kemmerer and the ceiling there cam down from 9,000’ to 8,000’ – still high enough to get through but we need to dawdle lest we lose our early morning opportunity to leave through the pass.
As we blasted off from Alpine we had the AWOS on the radio and the ceiling was still coming down at Kemmerer and now they were reporting light rain with 7,000’. We still have room without becoming an airplane sandwich. We climb up to 9,800’ to keep right at 3,000’ AGL and give us the best clearance. We can see the rain showers off in the distance and the chosen path is now becoming obscured. We are high enough to cross a ridge to the north of Kemmerer and head directly to Rock Spring. We were I the clear. Twenty miles outside of Rock Springs the showers form to the north and they are coming in from the west and Kemmerer. We need to land as the visibility is dropping. We descend to 8,000’ below the cloud deck and drop in to Rock Springs just before being overtaken by the heavy rains.
We remain on the ground nearly half hour waiting for the rains to pass. We see we can catch a pretty good tail wind if we climb but that will necessitate filing IFR as the clouds were still 2,000’-3,000’ AGL. ATC sent us up to 11,000’: an altitude that we seldom fly. It was still cool and Wild Mama performed well as we zipped along at 180 kts until we made the turn southward to Denver. Those pre-installed headwinds returned. ATC brought us in on the west side of Denver over the city. We got a good look at the city and the mountains standing majestically to her west. We made it and are ready for the race activities to begin.
Having left so early, however, we did not take an opportunity for breakfast so we were pretty hungry by the time we arrived. We called some friends who live in Denver – Ed & Carrie – to try to catch them for lunch. We meet up at Pappadeaus, an outstanding seafood kitchen. The place was packed for lunch and with good reason: the spinach and crab dip, the breads and the meals themselves were amazing – huge portions, tasty and well prepared. We ate our fill then headed back to the airport to unload the C-182 cargo plane. How the heck did we fit all of this stuff in the plane??? We unload EVERYTHING as the morning plan is to fly to Leadville.
June 16th: Fur and Family: After the long day yesterday, the plan for today was family visitations and a bit of shopping. While yesterdays animal encouters yeilded a bunch of the good critters, we were still missing a moose - Brenda promised us a moose and, by golly, today she delivered. Heading up the canyon into Jackson Hole, a lone baby was slurping water froma small mud hole. We stopped next to him and could hear him drinking. He paid us no never mind and kept right about his business. We continued on up the canyon until we came to another group of cars all clustered about the side of the road. A bear? We looked and listened ... "baaaah, baaah.." Sheep: hundreds of them all along the hillside. It appears that the truck stopped along the side of the road had released the sheep onto the hillside for some unknown reason. They were wandering all over the place for the next half mile or so. Some wild creature will have fresh dinner on the hoof tonight.
The family is always good to see. My eldest living sister, Sheila, and I do not get to see each other too much because of age and distance so I do not miss the opportunity to visit when I can. But shopping in Jackson Hole is must as well. The Tennessee cabins have been outfitted with antler art mostly from Wyoming so I have to replenish my supply of artifacts while I am here.
With the plan being an easy day, we drove to the top of Teton Pass for the last of our ground based vistas - absolutely spectacular - and the last of the critter action - some playful groundhogs on the rocks. Tomorrow we will depart for Denver when the fog breaks. Tonight we rest.
June 15th: Fur
and Fumes: The first decision of the day was made for us by Mother Nature: drive. The fog layer started at about 50'
AGL in the valley. Hopefully, it will burn off early on Wednesday so we can get out of here but I suspect that Wednesdays'
departure will not be an early one. We headed out of the valley early this morning driving to
Yellowstone to see the animals and the geysers, both of which are favorites. I am still jealous of Kelly and Erins flight to Yellowstone out of Bozeman last year as
Yellowstone is more spectacular by air although the animal spotting is not too good. All morning and most of the afternoon,
we had low level clouds and rain. It was not until we drove to Mammoth and the upper loop that we actually
started seeing animals and getting some blue skies. A large herd of cars had stopped along side of the roadway. If we were
in Africa, that would mean a cat of some sort, but in Yellowstone, it means a bear. A large brown bear
was napping up against a burned out tree down in the meadow. It took a bit of squinting to see him until he stood up to rub
against the tree. What a beauty! I was hopping in and out of the car checking out the various
mud pots, fountains, steam holes and geysers on this west side of the park. Punctuating each thermal stop was an animal encouter:
another bear, elk, mountain sheep, buffalo, fox and a host of other critters. This made up for not being able to fly. Tomorrow is our last day here with plans for family visiting, shopping in Jackson Hole and rest. The
race has not even started and we are already having too much fun!
June 15th: Fur and Fumes: The first decision of the day was made for us by Mother Nature: drive. The fog layer started at about 50' AGL in the valley. Hopefully, it will burn off early on Wednesday so we can get out of here but I suspect that Wednesdays' departure will not be an early one.
We headed out of the valley early this morning driving to Yellowstone to see the animals and the geysers, both of which are favorites. I am still jealous of Kelly and Erins flight to Yellowstone out of Bozeman last year as Yellowstone is more spectacular by air although the animal spotting is not too good. All morning and most of the afternoon, we had low level clouds and rain. It was not until we drove to Mammoth and the upper loop that we actually started seeing animals and getting some blue skies. A large herd of cars had stopped along side of the roadway. If we were in Africa, that would mean a cat of some sort, but in Yellowstone, it means a bear. A large brown bear was napping up against a burned out tree down in the meadow. It took a bit of squinting to see him until he stood up to rub against the tree. What a beauty!
I was hopping in and out of the car checking out the various mud pots, fountains, steam holes and geysers on this west side of the park. Punctuating each thermal stop was an animal encouter: another bear, elk, mountain sheep, buffalo, fox and a host of other critters. This made up for not being able to fly.
Tomorrow is our last day here with plans for family visiting, shopping in Jackson Hole and rest. The race has not even started and we are already having too much fun!
June 14th: Airplane Sandwich: After a great nights sleep, we were up and ready for wheels up by 0700. We could see some lower clouds off in the distance but they were not going to be in our way. Cheyenne was competely socked in but we had no need to go there now and we took up a direct heading to Medicine Bow VOR. The morning was cool (what was I thinking wearing shorts) and the winds were light. Even though we were only pulling 20" of manifold pressure, Wild Mama was flying flawlessly.
Airport elevation in Sterling was just at 4,000' feet and we were heading straight for much higher terrain, so it appeared as if we were descending as we headed in to the mountains. Finally we had color on the MX20 terrain page, telling us that we were nearing the ground: black is 2,000' + AGL; green is 1,000'-2,000' AGL; yellow is 500'-1,000' AGL and red is less than 500' AGL or the terrain could be above you. The rule of thumb here is do not fly in the red. We started looking at the rocks just past Rock Springs. There had been some mountains in the distance but nothing under us. We were only flying about 8,700' and thought we might be able to stay at that altitude, and really preferred to remain there as the cloud deck was starting for form overhead and we know that we would be sandwiched in between the clouds and the rocks. We followed a path that kept us over the few airports in the area in case the ceiling dropped and we had to put down. We pressed on.
As we came to Kemmerer we could see the bigger rocks ahead. Now we had to fly the colors as the GPS "direct to" is useless when you are flying low in the passes. We followed the highway west out of Kemmerer then turned right toward Cokeville. Once we passed Cokeville, we knew that the colors were critical. We only had a narrow pass at 8,700' to squeeze through and the clouds were not cooperating to allow us to go higher. The terrain was lower on the left of the mountain so we opted for the lower terrain and saw almost immediately that the clouds were too close to the ground at the far end of the mountain where we had to turn back to the east to go through the pass into Star Valley. But we spied a gap in the rocks. The 496 had a more critical scale: yellow was 100'-500' and red was 100' or less. We had yellow in the gap and a clear pass on the other side. We shot through the gap and came out in the clear with several hundred feet to spare. As we turned to head north up the valley in toward Afton we came to the narrow pass. We scooted to the far right of the pass and put the pulse lights on in case anyone else was trying to go through. Once through the narrow pass, the valley opened up below us and we had an easy ride into Alpine. We flew over Brenda's house and the text rang: "I see you - there in 10 min."
The Alpine runway is very narrow and close to the mountain. The traffic for runway 13 is posted to be left but that was completely illogical. We did our downwind, close in followed by a short base and dog-legged final. We greased the landing as we watched the rain come in behind us through the Palisades Lake pass. Brenda was coming through the gate. We quickly fueled, off-loaded and headed north up to Teton National Park.
The scenery through this part of the country is spactuaclar. The June storms were still swirling about and the was much snow on the mountains. It was still snowing on top of the mountain this afternoon. As we drove through the park taking in the newly sprouting wild flowers, we spied a moose hidden in the trees, and later herds of buffalo and elk. I do enjoy the animals. Lunch was at Signal Mountain Lodge with my other niece, Dee-Dee and her husband Danny. We stuffed ourselves with a mountain of nachos and other savory delights, topped off with a chocklate fudge brownie sundae before heading back down the mountain and in to the Red Hills and the Gray Hills Forest areas. Off in the distance, we could see another storm brweing and heading toward Star Valley. These dirt roads are no place to get stuck so we headed back to Brenda's house and some family relaxation. Tomorrow we tackle Yellowstone - hopefully by air, but most likely by land.
June 13th: Wandering Westward: Morning came way too early this morning as I did not have a good nights sleep. If we are going to make the Jackson Hole area on Sunday, we need to make some pretty good tracks today. The morning was quite misty but it looked as if we would make it out IFR. We could see straight down the runway but the cloubs were low. They looked high enought that we could depart but it reminded us of our departure from Bar Harbor, ME - solid overcast. We got our clearance on the ground and blasted off. At 300' AGL or so we hit the cloud bottoms but broke out in well less than 1000'. We were clear VFR on top.
We never saw crossing the Mississippi River. For some odd reason, it is always an event to cross the river and I was disappointed to commemorate the event with the look at the GPS picture and no more. We did not see clear ground until we approached the meandering Ohio River. Still large and navigable, there were many tugs pushing massive overloaded barges. At one point we paralleled the river with a parade of tugs and barges until the River turned off course to the south.
The ground was well visible by now and the quilted patchwork of American was clear: the subtle shades of greens and browns woven together through out the high plains.We settled in for a slow smooth ride. The winds were very light toward the ground, but the forecast dictated that we remain on an IFR flight plan as the conditions at Skyhaven, MO indicated that we would be shooting an approach to get down at our planned fuel stop. The forecast held true. Our greens gave way to the cotton fields of clouds that seemed inpenetrable so we called for the GPS 36 approach in to the airport. We broke out high above the airport and called in a PIREP to approach control. He was quite interested in our journey as we were his only entertainment. After a short stop for fuel and a weather check, we departed back in to the soup.
This next part of the journey looked remakrably like the last part - a sea of white for many miles. When the clouds broke and gave way to the farm fields, the winds starting to pick up - in our favor - and we bumped along until we got to Imperial, Nebraska. We were met with a dramatic weather change at Imperial: the clouds were now building on top of us and we were skimming the bases. It was rough, the air cooled and our 125 kt leg turned in to a 150 kt leg in an instant. The clouds continued to build and we darted in and out for several miles until we saw a clearing long enough to call and cancel our flight plan and dive below the bases to stay legal VFR for the last 30 miles in to Sterling, CO. At 20 miles out we started a slow descent and came screaming in to Sterling. The winds that had been quite clam all day were now gusting over 20 kts.
It was only another 45 minutes to Cheyenne but we are tired, the weather was forecast to deteriorate and we were met by such a delightful gentlemen, Sam, that we could not pass on the offer to take the courtesy car and remain in town for the night. Sam got a text of a level 1 tornado warning. He got us into a hangar and fueled Wild Mama to make her ready for an early morning departure should we so desire. She is safe and I can rest for the night.
On the way to the hotel, we spy the Overland Museum, an unassuming little building sitting next to the highway. There were all sorts of small farming artifacts sitting outside, and the wild flowers that dotted the front yard seemed inviting. We decided to stop in after checking in a hotel and getting a long overdue meal. The Museum was amazing. That small building turned into an 11 building complex that housed more artifacts than there are residents of the town. The first building was constructed as a museum on that spot in 1936. Since then, there has been a slow but steady expansion of that building, followed by the addition of others that housed an impressive display of life on the plains and the development of the area for the past hundred plus years. It was a true gem in this quaint little town and a nice way to wind down the day. Tonight is rest. We will tackle the rocks tomorrow.
June 12th: Wheels up! After a bit of a delay for a court hearing this morning, Wild Mama and crew were wheels up at high noon - not the ideal time for flight out of the State of Florida in the summer time. But Mother Nature was happy with us today and she let us continue all the way to our destination without the slightest hint of rain or convective activity. However, we had the usual (to quote Trish Minard) headwings that came pre-installed in the plane.
This was the familiar part of our journey. We fly out on a 343 heading toward Cross City; on to the Greenville VOR, skirt Albany Class D, head east of the MOA and Columbia area, hit TIROE, KAPT and on in to SRB.
We hugged the shoreline at Crystal River and could see Cedar Key off in the distance. Each little airport and familiar landmark holds a memory of an adventure past. I spy a rather large ship in a rather small river; marvel at the greenery in Georgia and hunt for a once seen water falls west of Chattanooga. Otherwise, the trip is familiar like and old friend.
Arrival at Sparta is always a pleasure. The guys here know that 614WM means cookies and they always get their bag of goodies upon my arrival. This is a quick stop to hook up the internet in the small cabin. As I deplane, the phone rings - a couple wanting to rent the cabin tonight for the weekend - so much for my comfy bed. I hate to say no, so I agree and run to the cabin to do our chores very quickly. There has been quite a lot of rain lately and our private waterfalls at the cabin is gushing. This is one instance that the ground view is better than the air. We have created a walkway through the woods down the hillside with an observation deck overlooking the falls. It is peaceful - the birds singing in the trees, the rushing water and the rustling leaves as the wind whips up through the valley. I was looking forward to the night but the cabin is a rental so economic considerations prevail. As we depart, I see some of the butterflies coming in. We have planted butterfly attracting wildflowers that are just starting to sprout. The first customers are coming already!
We briefly debate about pressing on or staying with friends in the area. Folks are accustomed to our visits as the cabins rent very well and we seem to be lacking a place to stay for our R & R time. We are tired, however, and the thought of more flight for the evening is not appealing. We will rest and get a fresh start early with the hope that the midwest storms will seek their playgrounds elsewhere.
As the remainder of the ARC racers come through Sparta enroute to the finish, I hope they all find the area as enchanting as I have. Tennessee has many State Parks, waterfalls and countryside filled with very enchanting old barns. The cabins are for rent through www.tennesseelogcabinforrent.com. Please enjoy the photos and the view on the web site then come back for the peace and beauty of the Cumberland Plateau area.
June 2nd: The transformation process has begun! Wild Mama will soon be the lean, mean racing machine. The process today was simple: shed everything unnecessary - extra head sets, blankets, pillows and all of the other extraneous stuff that we carry around from day to day. Then a quick clean and her race numbers were applied. We made the numbers this year so we had to be sure that the size was correct for the "number police". They are a bit larger than necessary and we were certain to add the extra white around the numbers over the stripes so there was no mistaking that we are Classic 11. I hope they remain on the plane this year at least until we get to the start as we flew them off before the race even started in 2008!!!
Vern will be taking over tomorrow stripping the inside so I can finish the new carpeting - her present this year. We should save 20 pounds just removing the ground in dirt around since 1978. It will be interesting, to say the least. We anticipate having her out and ready to go - less than 2 week to departure and the excitement grows. The charts are done, packing is done, organization is done and soon Wild Mama will be done as well.
May 31st: Wild Mama officially heads to the hangar today for the beginnings of her race preparations. Vern will be working diligently over the next 2 weeks to complete the once over; fix any little squawks that we encounter (I know my flight timer battery needs replacing), and make sure that she is ship-shape for her journey ahead. We also have to complete the paperwork and race planning because the job is not over until the paperwork is done. There is also that not-so-small matter of packing. Since we will be on the road, so to speak, for longer than the race, we have lots of stuff to get together and to drop in Tennessee on the way to Denver via Jackson Hole. Hmmmmm... seems we have developed an "issue" with the packing progress...
May 6th: Flight testing once again for Wild Mama. We have balanced the prop with the new prop tape on her and she is flying well, now. Wild Mama has always been plagued by a small amount of vibration and adding the prop tape to save the leading edge of the prop did not help. Now she is balanced and ready to go. We did a few high speed runs - no runway buzzing, however, as that has been well practiced in previous races. We also have her new carpet. The old carpet is stiff, nasty and probably is carrying 30 lbs of dirt and ground in grime. The new is the same color, just much nicer.
Wild Mama has a few more flights to make before race time so the final mechanical prepartions will not happen until the last minute (oooo how I hate that last minute stuff), but in this case it is a necessary evil. We will schedule her spa treatment for June 10th as the tentative plan is a June 12th departure with a stop in TN and Jackson Hole, WY prior to the race. We are just over 1 month from departure.
April 30th: All of the entries are finally in and processed and there are 34 race teams registered this year including 7 collegiate teams and 5 teams with extra crew-mates, like Team Wild Mama; so the field is set. We have our baby birds: another group, mostly from Florida; a three-some like us; great ladies including one of the 300 remaining W.A.S.P's. I have not yet met Bee (yes, Bee is a WASP), although I have met her pilot and co-pilot. Super ladies piloting Classic 26.
We have not yet started to prepare Wild Mama as it is a bit early and there is much flying yet to be done; but trusty mechanic, Vern, has his punch list ready to go and he will make sure that she is ship shape for the adventure ahead. As for the living, breathing part of the team: we have matching outfits ready to go; NAV log ready to go; charts have been ordered. We are waiting for registration and hotel information so we can finish the ground plans, then we study the route and weather until "the big day" arrives. Hmmm....I thought I dispensed with homework when I left college.