Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Why I Fly (chapter 1)

During long runs of flight training like the one I just completed, I often wonder "Why do I do this to myself?" I don't fly for the money, this costs me. In some cases flying is less convenient, and maintaining the skills requires a further investment of time and money.

My wife, Sandra, has one of those inspirational signs on the refrigerator that says "Life is not made of the number of breaths you take, but of the number of times your breath is taken away." And lately, I've had a string of take-my-breath-away rides that I call "this is why" flights.

The first was to Roache Harbor. It was back in February and we were having a run of early clear spring weather. When it is not raining here, the Pacific Northwest is beautiful. On this day, the blue skies, jagged green islands, and sun dancing off the water combined as an elixir that erases the memory of every gray rain-soaked day that came before it.

A little after noon on Sunday Sandra suggests we take the kids and plane out for lunch. After some debate about where to go, we load up for the 30 - 40 minute flight to Roache Harbor. With the six of us in the plane, my trusty steed (always wanted to use that phrase) climbed easily through the cool air to our cruising altitude of 3,500 feet. The route took us over the Mukilteo Ferry dock, and then along the length of Whidbey Island and then into the San Juans.

We landed at the Roache Harbor Airport, which started out it's life as a road, but when the road was relocated a couple hundred yards to the south, the straight hard surface was made into a runway. The approach cirlcles you out over the water of the Puget Sound and then down onto final approach crossing over the boats moored in the marina, and on to the thin strip of asphalt.

The walk into the resort is about a half mile along a rustic road lined by lush green vegetation. Our senses were assaulted from all sides. The sun casting shafts of light through the trees, the crisp air on our skin, the greens and browns of the forest, punctuated by the bright white buildings, with the scent of the forest mingled with the sea combined into an unforgettable experience.

After exploring around for a bit, we headed to the restaurant. A rustic fish and chips (what else?) place on the dock. Alas, it had just closed, but they referred us to the little grocery store on the same dock, closer to the shore. We bought the kids some sandwiches, chips, and drinks, and sat at the picnic tables near by. While we ate, boaters wandered by with pets, birds arrived and departed, and the sun bathed it all.

When the food was done we explored the moorings, then the parking lot, and the ruins of the old lime mining operation, and then around the coast past the Hotel De Haro and the chapel, then onto the cabins where the kids found a frozen mud-puddle and jungle-gym to climb on and swing. The ice on the mud puddle jolted me in to the realization of just how amazing the day was. Here in the shade, water froze. But in the bright sun, we were warm in our light jackets.

After swinging for a bit, we explored the coast line of the island, discovering kelp, and planks, and rotted out ship hulls, and rusted steel boilers. There were rocks to climb, trees to swing from, and sea critters to be chased from under rocks.

When I started to corral the kids back towards the airport, they nor their mother were none too happy. This was a day that wanted no end.

The plane carried us back into the sky, but on this leg we stayed low as we flew around the coastline of the island, scanning the waters for whales or other interesting sea life. Instead we found only the patterns and colors that showed the water's depth and flow.

The trip back home was peaceful. I let my oldest daughter guide the plane, with me making slight corrections when necessary to keep us headed towards the big runway.

We were back in time for the kids to watch a movie, read for a bit, and then drift off to sleep.

Without the plane, just the trip to the San Juan's is nearly a half day event, we were able to go there and back -- on a moments notice -- and make memories along the way.
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