Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Wedding Bells & Fireworks

Every so often, there will be a cluster of weddings, graduations, baby showers, etc., that will run you ragged. Jodie and I had a series of trips in June and early July where the disadvantage of living 500 miles from both families was palpable. It started with a graduation in Massachusetts, then a wedding in Maine, then another commitment in Tennessee, then another wedding in Maine. And, of course, we needed to work full weeks in between each trip.

We laid out a plan that let us use the Tiger for two trips, airline for one, and car for one. This was a nice balance. My brother's graduation was in Worcester, Massachusetts, on a Sunday afternoon. Jodie and I both needed to work Saturday and Monday. Private airplane was the only truly practical means of doing the trip. We flew up Sunday morning, attended the graduation and after-party, then flew home. Eighteen hours of driving was reduced to six hours of flying. Our route is the yellow line in the image below.

After two more trips where we went by airline and car, we took off on the morning of July 3rd to Rockland, Maine. We almost made it. There were cumulus clouds most of the way that had us dodging and weaving a bit, and we ducked under an overcast as we crossed into New Hampshire. We planned to cross the coastline south of Portland, Maine, cross Casco Bay, and land at Rockland (KRKD). We didn't want to go too far out to sea for two reasons. For one, there's an international border off the coast that we can't legally cross without prior arrangement. For another, there's a minor degree of added risk when flying over water in case of an engine failure.

As we approached the coastline, there was a huge, dense rainstorm moving west to east across our path. I looked at the weather radar on my GPS, which showed shades of red and purple. Could I go around it to the east? Could I do so without crossing the international boundary? I decided the safer bet was to land, so we banked a hard u-turn back to Sanford. Just 45 minutes later, by the time we grabbed a cup of coffee, it looked like the worst had passed so we took off and continued to Rockland. We flew over Portland, across the thousand islands of Casco Bay, and touched down in the rain just 45 minutes later.

There was a rental car idling by our parking spot as we taxied up to the ramp. We shut down the plane, tossed our bags into the car, and drove to our cabin for the weekend.

The wedding was beautiful -- a quintessential Maine wedding with gorgeous ocean views through the whole weekend. On Monday morning, though, the weather was coming from the west, so we headed to the airport. With time to spare, we headed north after takeoff and cruised along the coast. At 1,000 feet above the water and only 90 knots, we kept the canopy open and enjoyed the beautiful views.
The town of Camden was the first to pass off our left, just minutes after takeoff.

Then there was Lincolnville, with the ferry terminal to Islesboro.

Just after passing Lincolnville, we banked left to overfly the resort where we had stayed.

Continuing on up the coast, we passed Belfast, where my mom graduated from high school and where my grandparents have lived for forty years.

Just a few miles inland from Belfast, we crossed Swan Lake, where so many of my childhood summers were spent. The clouds were coming in and getting lower, so after one big loop we headed back south toward home.

Jodie fell asleep as we flew, and I climbed up high to get above the bumpy air and cumulus clouds. We cruised at 10,500 feet in smooth, cool air.

As we passsed from Maine into New Hampshire, I glimpsed an airport off our left wing. "That looks like Sanford," I thought to myself. I looked at my map and our coordinates --- it WAS Sanford. I mentally shouted hello to my parents as we continued on.

The clouds eventually became too high for us to fly above them without oxygen, so we spiraled down through an opening and continued on, landing at Barnes Municipal Airport (KBAF) for cheap fuel and free hamburgers. After an hour of eating, relaxing, and chatting with other pilots at Barnes, we continued south across Connecticut.

We veered west to go around some towering cumulus clouds north of New York City, but the rest of the flight was relatively clear sailing.
Travel is tiring regardless of how you get there. Some methods are better than others, though. Google Maps says that we saved a total of 26.5 hours of travel time by using the Tiger on these two trips instead of driving. I say that's pretty good.