No matter what you call it, my departure on Sunday had a slightly different vibe than the previous ones.
A weak cold front was going to bring wet unsettled weather, so continuing to travel south as planned would keep me in marginal (at best) weather for several days – way too long.
I want to fly, fly as much as possible!
Why sit on the ground down south when I can fly up North?
Was it an escape from gray and drizzly days, or an intermezzo in my well orchestrated plans?
Either way, the morning after a wonderful farewell-dinner John drove me to my bird and after two circuits around the airport to make sure the engine’s heart was ticking well I set out.
It was a leisurely flight up through northern Ohio and into Michigan.
A thin Cirrus shield, vanguard of the approaching front, had sucked up most of the colours on the ground and in the air.
Flat, low contrast view in all directions.
Quiet, lazy air, Sunday-afternoonish.
I had picked Holland’s West Michigan Regional airport as my first choice but when I got there I didn’t like what I saw: lots and lots of hangars, too many (office-?) buildings, a hard surface runway long enough to receive a 747…way too commercial and nothing cozy or cute about it to qualify as a “barnstormer’s” stopover.
A couple of circles to locate alternatives and I headed to Padgham Field in Allegan, which had a skydiving icon next to the airport symbol on the map.
“Ah, a club environment” I thought, “much better chance for relaxed socializing”.
I announced my arrival on the local frequency, scanned the sky and listened to the radio to make sure I was not getting near the trajectory of people falling out of the sky.
Once down and off the runway it was the usual routine: fill’er up, tie’er down, establish connection.
I unfolded my bike and pedalled over to the jumpers to get a run down on the airport and their operation – and found out that skydivers are a different breed.
Yes, they did answer my questions, provided the wanted information, but other than that they kept to themselves.
No chatting about clouds and sky, about how to get into jumping and how exhilarating it is, no curiosity about that stranger with his peculiar accent.
The only personal exchange I managed was with a repeat-client of theirs, who obviously had an affinity to “open air” acitivities.
Between unbuckling his parachute harness and mounting his Harley he told me how parachuting and biking compete for his favourite pasttime.
Back to WhiskyBlue – who was about to make a new “executive” friend – and on to the next things on my list: find a suitable spot for my tent and check out the failities, aka the pilot lounge.
Did I say “pilot lounge”?
After tapping the code into the combination lock I stepped into a fully equipped kitchen opening to a well-sized conference room.
Down a short hallway were two bathrooms with showers (shampoo and lotion included) and another meeting room.
I connected to wifi, found outlets for charging on and under all tables and walls and wouldn’t have been surprised at all if out of nowhere a hostess showed up and asked if I had special wishes regarding the catered dinner.
What was this – a venue for small corporate events?
No, just a – maybe slightly overdone – example of the excellent infrastructure for general aviation in the US.
As a friend commented when I told him about my barnstorming plans:” No way of doing that here in Argentina, you’ve got to go to the US, that’s where you’ll find everything necessary to really turn your dream into reality.”
It took roughly 24 hours for thunder, lightning and rain to move through, a dry and comfy night in the tent and a lazy day in “Room Amelia” of the pilot’s lounge to catch up with email and other online-stuff .
Then it was time to take care of WhiskyBlue: my first solo oil change!
Would I get the cowIing off, and back on, without putting any scratches and dents in it?
How about the perfect twisting and securing of the safety wire to keep the oil filter from turning?
Everything went well and the short test flight proved that I had tightened up all nuts and bolts: no leaks, oil pressure and temperature as required.
Now it was the pilots turn to be taken care of – time to replenish my food supplies, a quick walk around “downtown” Allegan and then to Bubba’s Sports Bar for beer and burger.
Back at homebase two hours later I checked foreflight’s weather data: all looking good!
By tomorrow all the “marginal” stuff should have pushed way south through Tennessee!
A last stroll around the airport – and 10hours later: pack up!