Monday, March 03, 2008

Pinch me....

I lay in bed Sunday night and wondered if I was dreaming.

Jodie and I had good reason to go to Knoxville this past weekend. But airfare was prohibitively expensive, so we thought we might fly. We drove to the airport on Saturday morning, but the weather was just not good for flying. Our route to Knoxville would take us along a mountain range for most of the 400 NM trip, and the winds were howling over those ridges at over 50 knots. Strong winds over mountain ridges cause things such as mountain waves and horizontal rotors that can make flying a small plane extremely uncomfortable. At the airport, I stuck my head into the office of a good flying mentor to confirm my judgment. That done, Jodie and I had breakfast and drove home.

Sunday was forecast to be beautiful, and so it was. Around early afternoon, Jodie and I decided to go fly somewhere for lunch. Recalling that my flying club had planned to go to an airstrip called Sky Bryce for a club trip, I confirmed the restaurant was open and we headed to the airport.

Jodie helped get the plane ready while I performed the preflight inspection, then occupied herself by taking many photographs of me performing my duties.

We took off into the gorgeous blue sky and headed southwest.

The visibility was excellent and we oohed and aahed as we made our way into the mountains. We saw this great series of bends in a river and took a picture. Later at the restaurant, we saw a photograph of this same piece of river, with the title, "The Seven Bends of the Shenandoah River."

We were both having a great time and the air was so smooth, it felt like we were just hanging suspended in the Cardinal.

Our first destination was the Sky Bryce airport in Bayse, Virginia. Sky Bryce is a small airstrip. It's not as short as Clearview, but it's only about half the length of Gaithersburg and narrower by 25 feet. More importantly, it is nestled in a small valley, up against higher ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I tried to find a good photo or graphic to show how sheltered the airstrip is, but couldn't find a good one. This computer rendering from my flight planning software is the best I could do.

I had overheard an experienced pilot and instructor say that when flying into Sky Bryce, if you're not looking in someone's bedroom window on final approach, then you're too high. I found that to be exactly true. I approached from the east, and decided to overfly the airport to take a look at the runway, and the windsock in particular. The windsock was barely moving, so I circled around to land. You can't see the airstrip until you're almost on top of it, so I didn't start descending early enough. By the time I saw the airstrip, I was too high. I used all the tricks in my book to get the plane down, but then I had too much airspeed. The plane still wanted to fly when we were halfway down the runway, so I pushed in the throttle and pointed the nose at the sky and we climbed back up for another attempt.

This time around, I knew when to start descending and kept my airspeed nailed the whole way down. Final approach is a little funny, because you have to round a bend in the valley as you're descending, with trees on both sides. As we came around the last bend, I saw a house pass by Jodie's window on the right. I could see in someone's bedroom, so I knew I had the landing nailed!

And I did. It was a great, smooth, short-field landing and the plane was nearly stopped within a third of the runway.

We strolled across the parking lot to the ski lodge. Ski lodge? Oh, yes, I didn't mention that Sky Bryce is a ski resort, hence the mountains, etc. There's also a golf course and other amenities. We had a good lunch at the lodge, watching spring skiers come down the slopes. The little kids were our favorites. After splitting a slice of pecan pie and two cups of coffee, we headed back to the plane. I suggested we stop at an airport in Luray, Virginia, for some gas, and Jodie readily agreed.

We took off from Sky Bryce (being careful NOT to peep in anyone's windows) and headed over the mountains to Luray. The straight-line distance on a map is only about 18 miles, but there are two mountain ridgelines with a valley in between in those 18 miles. It was gorgeous. From Sky Bryce on the west of a ridge to Luray on the east side of another ridge, we popped up to 4,000 feet then circled back down to land.

Luray, Virginia, is home to Luray Caverns. I have never been to the caverns. As for Jodie and me on Sunday, it was about 5 p.m., too late to go to the caverns, so we had the plane fueled and I chatted with the nice people while Jodie lay back in the grass and soaked up the sunshine. We were completely relaxed. Luray was quiet and quaint, with planes tied down in tall grass and the mountains rising up above it to the west. Nothing seemed to be in a hurry, and us least of all.

We waved to the one other pilot who was there as he lifted off the runway to fly home, then got back in the Cardinal to head home ourselves. We followed a line of mountains northeast toward Leesburg, Virginia, before turning east to Gaithersburg. The late sun cast long shadows in the valleys and I wondered aloud to Jodie if people in the valleys considered it to be nighttime.

Even as we were still flying, I think we both appreciated what a special day we had experienced. The setting sun at our tail as we approached Gaithersburg made us smile, so I grabbed the camera to catch the moment.

We flew into the traffic pattern at Gaithersburg and joined the downwind leg for Runway 32. As we turned base and final, the sun set in one final, brilliant blaze and we glided down to land without even a bump. Jodie helped me secure the airplane and we drove home.

Lying in bed Sunday night, I stared at the ceiling in stunned reverie. Did that day really happen? Were Jodie and I really soaring serenely above the mountains and fields of Virginia? In our days of constant striving for one thing or another, did we really spend one day completely in love with each other and the exact thing we were doing at that exact moment? Was I dreaming?

I wasn't dreaming. It was just the magic of flying. Jodie got it on video.



Blogger Amy said...

Great blog, as always. Your description of Sky Bryce almost makes me want to go back. Almost. ;)

1:23 PM  
Blogger Brandie said...

Awesome. There is something about that video that made me want to cry. It's beautiful. I'm still amazed that you can do that. =)
By the way, you and Jodie are too cute for words.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Mom Judy said...

Greg, we so enjoyed this "with" you. What a wonderful day!
Love, Mom Judy

2:21 PM  

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