My next December adventure was from Sandpoint, Idaho to Monterrey, Mexico. A gentleman from Mexico bought a plane based in Sandpoint. He asked me if I could help him with some instruction on his way back down to Mexico. I was thrilled at the opportunity since I had never been to Monterrey, Mexico before.

Our trip began with decent weather in Idaho, which, in December, is a rare event. Along the way, we flew over Yellowstone National Park, Red Lodge, MT, and landed in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The weather was not great in Cheyenne and only got worse as we made our way over Denver to Lubbock, TX. Along the Colorado, Wyoming boarder, climbing through 14,000 ft. we began picking up moderate ice and continued in icing conditions all the way to the New Mexico border. Luckily, this airplane was outfitted with deicing equipment and it was a nonissue.

For my non-pilot readers, ice is arguably the most dangerous part of flying. On the ground, precipitation generally comes in the form of rain, sleet, or snow. In the air, it can take many more forms. Clouds, by definition, are visible water vapor. If the air temperature at a specific altitude is below freezing, those small drops of water vapor can be “supercooled.” In essence, in their native state, they are liquid water but as soon as something disturbs them, they immediately turn into ice. Imagine driving through fog, and as soon as the fog/mist hits your windshield, it freezes before your windshield wipers can wipe it away. Soon you would not be able to see out your front windshield. That is what happens to airplanes. Only it is much more dangerous because you cannot just pull off the side of the road and scrap that ice off. On top of that, it also freezes to the wings. A little bit of ice can change the shape of the wing, in essence, it can change the shape so much, the wing will stop producing lift, and you will fall out of the sky. Oh, and it can freeze to your prop and air intake, creating problems for your engine, eventually leading to engine failure. Last, ice is heavy, very heavy. A small accumulation of ice can add hundreds of pounds of weight to the airplane. When an airplane weighs more, it needs to create more lift in order to fly… which is exactly the opposite of what is happening when the ice is changing the shape of the wing. To conclude, a few minutes in icing conditions can wreak havoc on a flying plane of any size. The good news for me was, this particular airplane has a “weeping wing.” The leading edges of the wing have microscopic holes that slowly leak glycol (a form of alcohol). It works in a similar fashion to a soaker hose people use in gardens. The glycol has a lower freezing point then water. As it “weeps” from the wings, it coats them in a film of fluid, which prevents the ice from sticking to the airplane. It also has similar protection on the windshield and engine so ice does not form on them either.

Our flight over Denver was neat because we were vectored directly overhead Denver International Airport. The airport is just barely visible in a few of the photos below. Upon reaching Texas, the clouds began to clear and we were treated with a heavenly, west Texas, sunset.

The following day, the owner, and I loaded up the plane in Lubbock and departed for Mexico. Entering Mexico in a private airplane is straightforward; however, it does take an understanding of the Mexican customs system. Luckily, the owner was a Spanish speaker and was able to help me understand the processes.

As soon as we crossed the border, near Del Rio, I quickly realized my job as an instructor had just become a lot harder. In Mexico, the rules, airspaces, language, and aviation infrastructure is wildly different. As a pilot, who learned to fly in the U.S.A., I have grown accustomed to the aviation luxuries we have here. Here are a few of the luxuries that immediately stopped working once we entered Mexico:

  • The XM Datalink completely stopped working. In layman’s terms, the XM datalink is a satellite link that beams certain weather data to the avionics in the airplane. This is EXTREMELY helpful when flying in foul weather. It allows pilots to “see” the weather ahead, avoid the bad stuff and plan ahead – a lifesaver in every sense of the word.
  • There is no such thing a GPS Direct. In the States, GPS is everywhere. When flying, direct means a straight line from one point to another. GPS allows pilots in the U.S.A. to fly from one small airport to another in a straight line, without following “airways.” Airways are highways in the sky, but just like roads, sometimes these highways take you out of the way, adding precious time to the trip. While GPS still works in Mexico, the Mexican controllers do not have ground radar to “see” where plans are. The controllers have to be able to “see” the airplane in order to make sure our airplane is not going to hit another airplane. For reference, if we had been able to go “direct” to our final destination we would have save 25 minutes and 75 nautical miles.
  • The VHF radio’s that we use to talk to the ground controllers are less numerous than in the states. This meant that the first 45 minutes of our flight we had no form of communication with the Mexican controllers. This sounds bad, though we knew the route of flight we were supposed to take so it was not a huge deal… until the weather got bad. Since we had no other way to know what the weather was doing ahead of us, our last resort was talking to people on the ground who could look it up for us. However, when we were not able to speak with them, we had no way of knowing if we were flying into a super storm, or just a rain cloud. (Obviously, during our preflight weather briefing I checked the weather and knew it was not that bad, but it is still disconcerting to fly into a dark cloud and not know just how big and bad that cloud is).
  • Once we were able to speak with the Mexican controllers, I realized they did not like to speak English (which, by law, they have to be able to do). We began receiving instruction in Spanish, which I do not know fluently. Luckily, the owner knew Spanish; however, it made instructing extremely difficult!
  • They have fewer approaches to the airport. An “approach” is the way a pilot navigates the airplane from altitude down to the ground. This is a complicated set of coordinates, altitudes, lines, and frequencies that a pilot must follow in order not to hit terrain, towers, or anything else while we are in the clouds. In the U.S.A., there are multiple approaches to every runway at each airport. GPS approaches are the norm, and are easier because they are already preloaded into the GPS Avionics Unit. However, in Mexico there are NO GPS approaches. This airport only had ONE VOR approach (which, for the sake of simplicity, is MUCH more difficult than a GPS approach).

This day, Monterrey, was socked in with fog and high cloud tops. Fog is the most difficult thing for a pilot to land in. Flying an approach where we are “blind” (i.e. in the clouds) to only 200 ft. above the ground is very dangerous. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we had to do this day. Being new to Mexico, I was unfamiliar with the geography surrounding Monterrey. About 50 nm outside of the city, I began to see dark peaks on the horizon. I quickly realized these were the tops of very tall mountains. As I zoomed into our terrain database, I realized Monterrey sits in a valley, surrounded by mountains on all sides. Today, these 6000-8000 ft. peaks were obscured by clouds, except the top few hundred feet (as you can see in the photos below). This is not necessarily comforting when flying in an unfamiliar place, with an unfamiliar person, in an unfamiliar language.

We also were faced with a circling approach. This means that the runway in use was not the runway the approach lined us up for. Once we got below the clouds, where we could visually see the airport, we had to circle to another runway. This just adds to the hectic-ness during landing. Luckily, my student was a seasoned pilot and between the two of us, we got the plane on the ground safely.

If that was not adventure enough, the real adventure began once I was on the ground. We spent 4-5 hours going through Mexican customs, and getting the paperwork sorted out with the airplane. After the plane was legally in Mexico, we spent the rest of the afternoon getting it into the hangar, cleaning it up, and touring Monterrey.

Next, my student had his driver take me to my hotel, near the bigger, international airport. Monterrey is an interesting city. Income inequality is unlike anything I have seen before. There are slums, upon slums, upon slums, then in the middle of nowhere there will be a neighborhood that would seem more at home in Beverly Hills. In addition, the roads are unbelievable. There were speed bumps in the middle of a highway, roads would suddenly just end, a highway would end into a city center, some streets would go from 4 lanes to one lane, and don’t even get me started on the drivers. I will say that everyone seems to be okay with it. Even with the chaos, things seem to get along just fine.

The following day I flew to Los Angles, California for another work engagement. I had some free time that evening and decided to go down to Newport Beach in Orange County to check out the annual Newport Beach Christmas Yacht Parade. This ended up being a neat event! Before the parade, I walked around Balboa Island and admired the Christmas lights on all the beautiful homes. The parade itself is unlike anything else I have seen. These folks put thousands of dollars’ worth of lights and effects on these boats. It is unbelievable. One even had a fire-breathing dragon. I definitely recommend this to anyone in the area for Christmas!

The following morning I spent some time in Malibu enjoying peace and serenity on the beach. I was also greeted with an incredible sunset as I left LA for Seattle.

 

The New Year is upon us, yet I am still trying to catch up from 2014! As we all know, the holiday season can get pretty busy and hectic. This holiday season elevated my definition of busy to new heights. It was the good kind of busy but still busy. One of my favorite aspects to this blog is, it gives me the ability to reflect and remember. It forces me to sit and write my memories and experiences down. It forces me to utilize the photos I took; instead of having them collect digital dust in “My Photos” folder.

Thank you for bearing with me as I slowly dig myself out of a full inbox and catch up on the last few months.

I will begin in late November and my trip home to Texas for Thanksgiving.

On Wednesday, Ashley and I flew from Spokane, WA to DFW via Minneapolis. Finally, back to a state where the sun shines and the people drive fast! It was unseasonably warm in Texas for November. On Thanksgiving Thursday the temperature reached 80ᵒF! It was a welcome break from the grey cold of north Idaho. Breaking tradition, my family and I drove to Burleson to spend the afternoon at the Atkinson residence for Thanksgiving dinner. Pat cooked a delicious fried turkey with all the accoutrements of a typical southern Thanksgiving dinner. After dinner we began watching the Cowboy’s play the Philadelphia Eagles. It was evident that game would not end the way any of us wanted so we quickly switched over to watching TCU dominate the UT Longhorns. [Side note: TCU just DOMINATED Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl bringing our 2014 record to 12-1, proving to everyone that the playoff committee got it wrong by not including TCU in the final four.]

Friday, Ashley and I woke up early and went for a morning flight in her 1946 J3 Cub. The wind was kicking this day! It was gusting to 30 knots making it a bumpy flight, but any day I can get in the air is better than a day my feet stay on the ground. One fun thing to do when it is windy is to fly backwards. The stall speed of the J3 is about 19-23 knots, so when the wind is blowing 30, we can fly 7 knots tail forward!

Later that day, I went and flew a friend’s V-Tail Bonanza in Bridgeport. This was my first time flying a V-Tail and it was a joy to fly. Fast, smooth, and solid. Quite a bit different then flying a Cub!

The following morning, Ashley and Pat, took me to breakfast in their Cessna 195. As the photos show, it was a perfect morning, and the sun treated us to a beautiful sunrise over Cleburne, TX.

Later that night, my holiday break was over and it was time for me to head back to the airport for Idaho. One of the hardest things to do is leave Hugo, the family Cocker Spaniel. I may be a tad biased, but he holds the title for the world’s cutest and most well behaved dog.

Upon returning to Idaho I did not have long to wait before I would be on the go again. One of my favorite aspects of my job is airplane deliveries. Flying solo, in a low stress environment, is a beautiful thing; especially getting to fly over the Rocky Mountains on a blue bird day! Unfortunately, the nice weather ran out as I approached Bismarck, North Dakota. I would have to overnight in Bismarck due to icing conditions all along the Midwest. The following morning, the nice weather caught back up to me and after warming up the plane, I was on my way to North Carolina. (The temperature that morning at 17,000 ft. was -45ᵒC… yikes!)

During my time in North Dakota, a snow storm moved through the Midwest and laid a blanket of fresh white snow over everything. The allure of the pristine blue above and the unadulterated white below was astounding. For lunch, I stopped in Joliet, Illinois to see my close friend Chris. He brought me to Portillo’s, a famous Chicago hot dog restaurant. I was not too keen on it at first, but after tasting their famous Chicago style hot dog, I was sold!

My last leg to North Carolina was one of those flights I’ll remember for a long time. The weather briefing I received before departing didn’t seem promising. It looked like the majority of my flight would be IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions – I.e. – in the clouds). I did end up spending a good deal of time in the clouds, but right over Indianapolis and Cincinnati, the clouds opened up and the sun went down. Unfortunately, all I had was my iPhone, but thankfully I had some type of camera because the cityscapes capped in the warm glow of the setting sun was a thing of beauty. Once again, proving, being a pilot is the best job in the world.

After I completed my delivery the next morning, I had some time to kill before I had to be at the airport to fly back to Idaho. My good friend, Jeff, had gone to Duke University and he recommended I go check out the chapel on campus. It turned out to be a great recommendation. It is breathtaking, inside and out. It is one of the few churches in the U.S.A. that, I believe, could hold its own in Europe. In all reality, the whole campus is amazing and definitely worth visiting when in the “Research Triangle.”

(The Research Triangle, commonly referred to as simply “The Triangle”, is a region in the Piedmont of North Carolina in the United States, anchored by North Carolina State University, Duke University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the cities of Raleigh and Durham and the towns of Cary and Chapel Hill. {Wiki Source})

After returning to Idaho, Ashley had a few days free and flew to Idaho to help me celebrate my 26th birthday (12/12). Once back in Idaho, I had an unusual Saturday free and we ended up spending the whole day with our friends, Tyler and Brie. Tyler, Brie, Ashley, and I spent the day at Schweitzer Mountain, hiking and contemplating where all the snow was. For some reason, probably due to El Nino, the Northern Rockies have had an unseasonably dry start to the winter. None-the-less, we cherished the scenery and had fun passing time with old friends.

The downtime would not last long; it was time for my next adventure….

Happy New Year!

As I reflect on 2014, I am astonished, once again, by how blessed I am. One thing I began doing a few years ago, to help fight hubris, is spending a few minutes each night meditating and reflecting on the events that unfolded during each day. During this calm, is when I try and truly comprehend how lucky I am. I try to think about the petty things that happened during the day, the things I probably got upset about, and put them into perspective. Doing this helps me remember that a good majority of the world would be elated to have my “problems.”

Even still, I take many of my blessings for granted. I constantly catch myself wanting more instead of thanking those who helped me get what I have. I have a tough time balancing my desire to “make something of myself” and taking time to stop and reflect on what I have already made. While cliché, I can truthfully say 2014 was my best year yet. It brought adventure, love, beauty, new beginnings, good endings, and a plethora of “wow” moments. To all those who have helped along the way, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for helping me get where I am.

West Coast & Fox Glacier, New Zealand from Mark Brown on Vimeo.

After exploring the Blue Pool Track we headed through Haast Pass on our way to Haast and the west coast of New Zealand.

Once to the township of Haast the west coast of New Zealand begins. The west coast is known for its Beech forests, silver ferns, and a TON of rain. From Haast we made our way north to the town of Fox Glacier where we would spend the night. When we arrived the sun was just setting. Once parked in our camping spot for the night I was able to get out of the van and snap a few shots of this brilliant alpen glow on the Southern Alps. Never before have I seen such colors of red and pink. It looked fake.

Amazingly enough, outside of adding a vignette, no editing was done to the color in this video. Unfortunately, my Canon 7D just doesn’t have the power to capture all the highlights and shadows that were present. The video just doesn’t do that sunset justice. I’ll remember these colors for the rest of my life. It was that spectacular.

Music:
Ben Woods
An Abbreviated Lifeline

ORIGINAL POST

Day 39 was the start of the last segment of our New Zealand Adventure. It was around the one month mark that Ash and I decided that our 6 month move had quickly turned into a shorter two and a half month jaunt. We decided that since Wanaka and Queenstown weren’t having the best winter we would explore the rest of the country (the bits we hadn’t already seen). We rented another campervan for 25 days and would begin our journey north, ending in Auckland where we would fly on from there.

As we left Wanaka we headed north over the Haast Pass. The Haast pass was the last of the passes completed in New Zealand. After completed a full circle around the south island was possible. It wasn’t completed until as late as 1995. We found the drive to be just as beautiful as the drive to Milford Sound. It was steep, windy, and narrow but worth every second!

Haast Pass is a mountain pass in the Southern Alps of the South Island of New Zealand. It is named for Julius von Haast, a 19th century explorer who was also geologist for the Provincial government of Canterbury. It is one of the three passes where a road crosses over the Southern Alps, the other two being Lewis Pass and Arthur’s Pass. The road through Haast Pass (State Highway 6) was converted from a rough track to a formed road in 1966.and finally received a complete tarmac surface by 1995.

On the way through the Haast Pass are the Blue Pools.

The Blue Pools are just north of Makarora, located within the World Heritage listed Mount Aspiring National Park.

It features a carefully maintained gravel path and boardwalks that wind through a native silver beech forest and lead to a swing bridge strung high above the Makarora River. The views back to the mountains of the Main Divide are absolutely breath-taking.

The track continues deep into the forest, with bellbird and tui calls echoing through the trees, to a series of crystal clear pools that have been carved out of the rocks by centuries of erosion.

The glacier-fed water in these deep pools is the colour of deep azure blue, and so clear that you can see right to the bottom, making the resident brown trout look like they are suspended in the air.

Once to the township of Haast the west coast of New Zealand begins. The west coast is known for its Beech forests, silver ferns, and a TON of rain. From Haast we made our way north to the town of Fox Glacier where we would spend the night. When we arrived the sun was just setting. Once parked in our camping spot for the night I was able to get out of the car and snap a few shots of this brilliant alpen glow on the Southern Alps. Never before have I seen such colors of red. It looked fake. It looked like someone had painted the clouds and mountains. Ash and I stood outside for 20 minutes just watching the colors grow more and more vibrant before succumbing grays and blacks as the sun finally set.

Below is a map of our route from Wanaka, through Haast, into Fox Glacier.

View Larger Map

(All the photos are untouched. The colors you see below are completely real. In fact, the colors in the photos aren’t quite as vibrant as they were in real life!)

[nggallery id=103]

 

Blue Pool Track, Makarora, New Zealand from Mark Brown on Vimeo.

The Blue Pools are just north of Makarora, located within the World Heritage listed Mount Aspiring National Park. It features a carefully maintained gravel path and boardwalks that wind through a native silver beech forest and lead to a swing bridge strung high above the Makarora River. The views back to the mountains of the Main Divide are absolutely breath-taking. The track continues deep into the forest, with bellbird and tui calls echoing through the trees, to a series of crystal clear pools that have been carved out of the rocks by centuries of erosion. The glacier-fed water in these deep pools is the colour of deep azure blue, and so clear that you can see right to the bottom, making the resident brown trout look like they are suspended in the air.

To see more photos please visit my website:
http://theworldofmark.com/new-zealand-adventure-day-39-haast-pass-blue-pools-fox-glacier-photos/

Music:
Ben Woods
Welcoming Change

ORIGINAL POST

Day 39 was the start of the last segment of our New Zealand Adventure. It was around the one month mark that Ash and I decided that our 6 month move had quickly turned into a shorter two and a half month jaunt. We decided that since Wanaka and Queenstown weren’t having the best winter we would explore the rest of the country (the bits we hadn’t already seen). We rented another campervan for 25 days and would begin our journey north, ending in Auckland where we would fly on from there.

As we left Wanaka we headed north over the Haast Pass. The Haast pass was the last of the passes completed in New Zealand. After completed a full circle around the south island was possible. It wasn’t completed until as late as 1995. We found the drive to be just as beautiful as the drive to Milford Sound. It was steep, windy, and narrow but worth every second!

Haast Pass is a mountain pass in the Southern Alps of the South Island of New Zealand. It is named for Julius von Haast, a 19th century explorer who was also geologist for the Provincial government of Canterbury. It is one of the three passes where a road crosses over the Southern Alps, the other two being Lewis Pass and Arthur’s Pass. The road through Haast Pass (State Highway 6) was converted from a rough track to a formed road in 1966.and finally received a complete tarmac surface by 1995.

On the way through the Haast Pass are the Blue Pools.

The Blue Pools are just north of Makarora, located within the World Heritage listed Mount Aspiring National Park.

It features a carefully maintained gravel path and boardwalks that wind through a native silver beech forest and lead to a swing bridge strung high above the Makarora River. The views back to the mountains of the Main Divide are absolutely breath-taking.

The track continues deep into the forest, with bellbird and tui calls echoing through the trees, to a series of crystal clear pools that have been carved out of the rocks by centuries of erosion.

The glacier-fed water in these deep pools is the colour of deep azure blue, and so clear that you can see right to the bottom, making the resident brown trout look like they are suspended in the air.

Once to the township of Haast the west coast of New Zealand begins. The west coast is known for its Beech forests, silver ferns, and a TON of rain. From Haast we made our way north to the town of Fox Glacier where we would spend the night. When we arrived the sun was just setting. Once parked in our camping spot for the night I was able to get out of the car and snap a few shots of this brilliant alpen glow on the Southern Alps. Never before have I seen such colors of red. It looked fake. It looked like someone had painted the clouds and mountains. Ash and I stood outside for 20 minutes just watching the colors grow more and more vibrant before succumbing grays and blacks as the sun finally set.

Below is a map of our route from Wanaka, through Haast, into Fox Glacier.

View Larger Map

(All the photos are untouched. The colors you see below are completely real. In fact, the colors in the photos aren’t quite as vibrant as they were in real life!)

[nggallery id=103]

 

It’s November 1, 2014 and I have no idea where October went. Looking back, I was only in Idaho 4 days during the month of October. Thankfully, I love the nomadic lifestyle.

I spent most of October in Orlando, Florida. I was there 14 days – but only nine of those days were scheduled. I will get to that story in a moment.

The genesis of the Florida trip was the annual NBAA (National Business Aviation Associate) convention, which is held in Orlando every other year. I left Idaho and boarded a commercial flight in Spokane to Fargo, North Dakota. From Fargo I drove to Park Rapids to pick up a plane from the paint shop to fly it down to Orlando. Leaving Park Rapids I flew right over Minneapolis/St. Paul on my way to Tullahoma, Tennessee.

Each October, the Beechcraft Museum throws a “Beech Party.” In essence it is a huge Beechcraft specific fly-in. It was my first time going and it was incredible. I have never seen so many Beech 18’s and Staggerwings in the same place. On top of that, there were two Twin Bonanza’s (which are quite rare). I also have not seen Staggerwings fly much – and I must admit, the Staggerwing is possibly the most beautiful plane to see in flight. It just looks fast. What I actually found more impressive than all the flying airplanes was the Beechcraft Museum itself. Outside of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, it is the best airplane museum I have ever been to. It is beautiful and highly educational. There are also some very rare planes, all that they let you climb into and sit in. That is the best part – they actually let you touch the museum pieces! It is worth the trip any time of the year.

The evening was spent having a hangar dinner with great friends and new acquaintance. After dinner, it was time to call it a night. Chris, a great friend of mine, who lives there made Kenny and I hotel reservations at one of the local hotels (Tullahoma is tiny and when the Beech Party comes to town they all sell out months in advance). Turns out the hotel had given away one of our rooms and all they had left was a smoking room. Right about the time the front desk was telling us this a couple with face tattoos, handguns, and a human sized suitcase walked in the lobby. Kenny and I looked at one another, and decided to drive up to Murfreesboro to stay the night. The fun was just beginning.

We had borrowed Tullahoma’s crew car for the night to get to the hotel, but we had not expected to drive but 5 miles. When we realized we had to drive 45 miles north to Murfreesboro we then realized the van from 1990 was not in the best shape. In fact, every light on the dash was on and it did not smell great when we got to highway speeds. About fifteen minutes outside of Tullahoma, the engine temperature red lined. There was no shoulder to pull over and we were in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night with no cell service. So we did what any good mechanic would do, we kept going. A few miles up the road, we had gone from 60 mph to 30 mph, with the pedal all the way to the floor the whole time. Thankfully, there was a gas station and we pulled over. We opened the hood and realized it had no coolant, not a drop. Kenny went inside and grabbed some water as I filled her with gas. On our way we went, but no change in engine temperature. At this point, we were halfway between where we started and where we were going. We kept going but it was clear the car was not going to make it. As a last resort, Kenny turned the heater on high and WHALA! The engine temperature went way down! Great news! Except the windows did not roll down, and it was 90° F outside…

30 minutes later we rolled up to the hotel, windows completely fogged up due to the humidity, sweating our butts off, covered in grease and engine fluids in a van that was making sounds no car should ever make. I am sure we were quite a sight.

The next morning I left early to go meet my good friend at the Murfreesboro airport to fly his T-34. I left Kenny to get the car back to Tullahoma on his own! I took a cab to get to the local airport. It should have been an uneventful ride, but nothing is uneventful when traveling with me it seems. I called the cab company; made sure they took credit cards, and double-checked when I got into the cab. As we arrive at the airport, the cabbie turns and says, it will be $15. I handed him my credit card, he looked at me with crazy eyes and said, “I don’t take those.” I said, “I asked you when we got into the car and you said you did?” He, of course, denied having that conversation and so I sat there and looked at him with equally crazy eyes. Here we sat, looking at one another with crazy eyes with smooth jazz playing in his beat up, smelly van. It was quite a moment we shared.

I finally cracked and got my wallet out and handed him the only $10 bill I had. It was all the cash I had, every dollar. He said that wasn’t enough and he was going to call the cops. At this point I was fed up, got out my phone, and pretended to call 911 myself as I got out of the car. I walked in, said hi to the FBO manager, and walked out to the ramp to wait for Erric. A few minutes later, I hear yelling inside and turned around to see the FBO manager was not letting the cabbie onto the ramp to talk to me. The FBO manager asked me to come back inside. As soon as I walked in the cabbie, (an African American man about my height) got in my face and said I owed him money. Long story, somewhat short, I calmly yelled right back into his face why he did not comply with the Tennessee law for cab drivers and I would be happy to call the police on his behalf. I also asked the FBO manager to kindly call the police and tell them a black man was harassing your customers and trespassing on airport property. I have never seen a cab driver turn around, speed walk back to his van and drive off so fast. No coffee needed this morning.

Erric finally showed up and we went up in the T-bird for a beautiful morning flight. There is no better way to wake up then a morning flight doing aerobatics over beautiful country.

Later this day Kenny and I loaded up the plane and were on our way to Savannah to pick up our PR team for NBAA. This flight was rather uneventful and ended with a great landing into Savannah International.

After loading up the plane, we filed and took out for Orlando International. This flight would bring us fairly far out over the ocean as we cut the corner from Savannah to Orlando. Not flying over large bodies of water much, this was a neat experience. Once south of Jacksonville our fun really started to begin. Bear in mind we were on an IFR flight plan, meaning that it is Air Traffic Control’s responsibility to keep us safe from other air traffic. Since the weather was visual meteorological conditions, we were also keeping a vigilant eye out for traffic. Good thing because off our right wing comes a small 4 place airplane dive-bombing us. He flew within a half mile then went up, finished his Chandelle (an aerobatic maneuver) and was coming right for us again this time from the left. He got way to close for comfort so we did a 4G pull up and climbed 1500 ft. in 2 seconds. Before ATC could call us and ask what we were doing, we called them and kindly asked what the hell they were doing?! Had we been in instrument conditions we would have collided. ATC never warned us about the traffic. His response was, “oh, traffic 1000 ft. below.” Kenny said, “Yeah, 1000 ft. below because we are now 1000 ft. above our assigned altitude.” After that ordeal, we were wide awake. About 10 minutes later another narrow escape happened. We were on a collision course with a Baron approaching from our 10 to 12 o’clock and ATC did not warn us in near enough time. We had to deviate ourselves. After this Kenny, who was working radios, was fed up and asked for the controller’s names. JAX Center was asleep at the wheel – a dangerous scenario when we were relying on them for aircraft separation.

At this point, this was just another day flying in the life of Mark Brown but Kenny was a bit overwhelmed with all that had happened the last 24 hours! I cannot blame him, it was our first major trip together. I do not think he will travel with me any more after this experience. Once we landed at Orlando International, we were instructed to make a right turn onto Taxiway Bravo, but we needed to go left toward the FBO. Once holding on Bravo, we were told the west ramp had just been shut down and will be for 20-30 minutes. We soon realized why – Executive One Foxtrot was sitting on the ramp. Executive One is the call sign for the president’s plane, and it becomes Exec. One Foxtrot when it is just the presidents family without him (F for family). Michelle Obama was in Orlando for some reason and she was on her way back to the airport as we landed which is why they shut the ramp down. So here we were, sitting in the middle of two runways at Orlando International for 30 minutes watching jets takeoff and land waiting for Michelle Obama to load up and takeoff. It was neat really, not many people get to chill for 30 minutes in the middle of one of the busiest airports in the country watching huge 777 and 747’s takeoff and land.

NBAA takes place in two locations. The major part of the event is in the Orange County Convention Center and the smaller portion is at Orlando Executive Airport. All the planes with wingspans less than 50 ft. are put into the convention center. Our airplane was just small enough to be able to fit into that category. The way they get the planes there? They shut down the highway and tow us down the road to the convention center in the middle of the night. Therefore, after our wild day thus far, it was going to end taxing our plane through the Orlando Streets in a “Parade of Planes.” I cannot make this stuff up. (One of my favorite photos is our plane passing by McDonalds. The caption reads “Just stopped at Macaas for a quick pick me up to get through this wild night flight…”)

The rest of the show was filled with anything and everything airplane related, as well as a bunch of high flatulent parties thrown by the sponsors. It was not until Thursday, Ashley’s Birthday that things would get interesting again. For a few weeks, I had been having some stomach pain, but it was not concentrated and just felt like gas. Like I said, I spent all of October traveling and I figured I just was not eating well enough. Thursday morning I woke up with much worse pain located around my belly button. I went to the show, got our booth set up and sucked it up not paying much attention to it. As Ashley and I were on our way to Orlando Executive Airport to check out the static display later in the morning the pain became much worse. It was too much and I had Ash take me to the ER.

By this point, the pain had moved to my lower right quadrant and I was certain it was my appendix. Once 15-20 doctors, nurses, and surgeons poked on my belly, they all came to the same conclusion. After x-rays, CAT scans, and dye tests they determined it had not ruptured by was well past the point where it should have. They wanted to wait a day so it was not until Friday that I finally had the surgery to take it out.

Friday and Saturday, I spent recovering and finally went back to the hotel late on Saturday night. A few days later I finally began feeling good enough to get out of the hotel. Ashley and I took full advantage of being stuck in Orlando and visited Universal and Disney World (in a very limited way, obviously). I had to cancel all the plans I made for Ashley birthday but the last night there, I felt good enough to take her out to a nice dinner. We were treated with a gorgeous Florida evening and beautiful sunset. It seemed like a fitting end to a wild trip.

No one likes to get sick away from home, but I have to thank Ashley for being my saving grace the entire trip. She was there to hold me when I felt like crap, she was there encouraging me before surgery, she was there with that big, bright, beautiful smile as I came out of anesthesia, she was there to drive me around, she was there to pack all my belongings when we had to move hotels, she was there sleeping in uncomfortable chairs so I wouldn’t be alone at night, she was there making sure I took the correct medications at the correct times, she was there cleaning out the bucket I puked in the first 24 hours after surgery, she was there filling up my water glass and making sure I was as comfortable as possible, she was there to deal with the hospital business affairs, and she was there keeping me calm as the medications made me nervous, impatient, and mean. Without her, I would have been a mess. I will never be able to thank her enough for all she did for me this trip. On top of all that, she spent her entire birthday in the hospital with me and did not complain or care a bit. If unconditional love has a definition, Ashley’s picture should be next to it. Thank you Ashley, I love you.

Over the weekend Ashley and I witnessed two of our closest friends get married and commit a lifetime of unconditional love to one another.  The night was perfectly elegant. Every detail was thought out, small to large.

Lexie and Travis, you both deserve a life of bliss and beauty. Both of you embody the qualities of true Texans. You’re kind, honest, and respectful. You two are bright lights in a world that can be dark. May you both shine that radiant glow long into forever. Congratulations.

The leaves are beginning to change color, autumn is fast approaching. The trees catch fire with brilliant hues of red, orange, brown, yellow and the like. Pumpkin spice fills the air with fumes of fall. The breeze is brisk with a winter chill. A guttural moan starts afar, gradually becoming a thunderous roar of bone tingling, breathtaking music as four Cessna 195’s come roaring in, passing low, from the right. The autumn bell has rung.

For our, small, 195 family September is the month we long for all year long. A round engine and beautifully crafted aluminum bring us together from all over the globe to celebrate life, friendship, and this beautiful airplane. It is time, once again, for the International Cessna 195 Convention.

This year’s convention was held in Northern Michigan at Harbor Springs Airport. I flew commercial from Idaho on Wednesday night to Milwaukee. Thursday morning I explored Marquette University, where my mom went to college, while waiting on Ashley and Pat, who were arriving that morning from Texas. They picked me up in their Businessliner early Thursday morning at Timmerman Field, just outside Milwaukee. We flew with Chris Thompson and his 195, Bonnie, up to Shangri-la (WS25) airpark. After we landed, we were greeted by a mob of smiling, familiar faces critiquing our landing, as any group of pilots would do. After catching up on life, we loaded up Will’s Vietnam era diesel military transport truck and headed to the Four Seasons Island Resort on Miscauno Island in the Menominne River. It is often said, the only thing faster than a fighter pilot flying an airplane, is a fighter pilot driving a car. This holds true for most pilots I know. Will is no exception and the drive in the back of this loud monster of a truck was quite a thrill! Funnier yet was showing up at a Four Seasons golf resort in an ear numbing olive drab diesel truck with a bunch of 195 drivers stuffed in the back. It was quite a sight, I’m sure.

The Four Seasons Resort has quite a history.

The Four Seasons Island Resort first opened its elegant doors in 1905. Originally known as the Miscauno Inn, the Wisconsin-Michigan Railroad built this edifice as a scenic getaway for train riders from as far as Chicago. Deep into the North woodlands of Wisconsin, located 90 miles from Green Bay, WI and 28 miles from Iron Mountain, MI, The Four Seasons has become a local and national landmark. It has attracted many celebrities and distinguished guests in its 100 year history, even being the rumored retreat of Al Capone.

Good food and great company made for a memorable lunch. After an equally thrilling ride back to the airport, it was time to blast off and head east to Harbor Springs. Since a vintage, single-engine airplane and a large, cold body of water don’t mix well, we all went north around the Upper Peninsula on our way to Michigan. Four of us stopped in Schoolcraft for fuel. From Schoolcraft we flew as a flight of four around the south tip of the U.P. over the Mackinac Bridge and into Harbor Springs.

The rest of the evening was filled with great food prepared by our gracious hosts, Craig and Maggie, and even better company. Of course there was flying to be done, Kurtis and Wade put on a good show just before sundown. After sunset, the party flowed into night.

Friday morning we were greeted with cooler temperatures and gusty wind conditions. Autumn was in full swing in the Midwest. Friday was set aside to fly into and explore Mackinac Island. I’ll be the first to admit, I never had much of a desire to explore Michigan. Mackinac Island shoved my ignorance of Michigan’s beauty right back in my face. Mackinac is stunning in every way.

Mackinac Island sits in Lake Huron, just east of the straits of Mackinac. Mackinac Island is the truly “all natural” theme park of America. Motorized vehicles have been prohibited on the island since 1898. Travel on the island is either by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage. An 8-mile (13 km) road follows the island’s perimeter, and numerous roads, trails and paths cover the interior. The road encircling the island and closely hugging the shoreline is M-185, the United States’ only state highway without motorized vehicles. The island has escaped the vast changes of time. Exploring the historic, natural beauty of Mackinac Island State Park, honored by National Geographic as one of the ten finest in America, is well worth the trip.

The island is truly spectacular in every way. For me, it is one of those places that are unexplainable. This is a place that must be explored firsthand. It is the whole experience that makes this island so fantastic. It truly feels like 1880 Victorian America.

There are a plethora of activities to choose from on Mackinac Island. Ashley, I, Kurtis, Christina, Gene and his family all decided to rent bikes and circle the island. After our lovely bike ride, we stopped and had lunch at the Pink Pony Restaurant, overlooking the harbor. Nothing beats a great meal after a long bike ride. Decadent.

After lunch we moseyed up the hill to see the crown jewel of Mackinac Island; The Grand Hotel.

Constructed in the late 19th century, the Grand Hotel is known as holding the record for the world’s largest porch. The Grand Hotel is well known for a number of notable visitors. Five U.S. Presidents have visited: Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The hotel also hosted the first public demonstration of Thomas Edison‘s phonograph on the porch and regular demonstrations of other new inventions were often conducted during Edison’s frequent stays. Mark Twain also made this a regular location on his speaking tours in the Midwest. Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, and Russian president Dmitri Medvedev have also visited.

The Grand Hotel served as a backdrop and one of the settings for the 1980 film Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. The hotel also served as the setting for the 1947 musical-comedy This Time for Keeps starring Jimmy Durante and Esther Williams.

Once again, The Grand Hotel proves hard to personify in words. It is a stunning piece of architecture. It’s sheer size and stature demand respect.

At this point the day was getting short and it was time to catch our horse and carriage taxi back to the airport. On the flight back into Harbor Springs the gusty winds we were greeted with that morning had picked up substantially. Harbor Springs sits in a cove and the south wind was creating tricky crosswind conditions to land a large taildragger. It was a nail biting afternoon watching people land, luckily everyone made smart decisions and no one was hurt in the process.

The strong winds on Friday were due to a low pressure system that brought in crummy weather for Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was marked with low ceilings and cold drizzle. That didn’t stop us from having a good time though. A few of us waited for the clouds to lift and flew over to St. Ignace for the maintenance forum. As usual, Bill and Jeff put on a highly educational seminar. With these old airplanes, the best way to learn is by experience. The 195 club does an excellent job capitalizing on the decades of experience among its ranks.

After an uneventful flight back to Harbor Springs we cleaned up and prepared for the evening banquet. Some of the most fun, memorable, and “colorful” moments at these conventions happen at the Saturday banquet. This year’s banquet was no disappointment and I’ll leave it at that.

Sunday greeted us with the worst weather yet. Low visibility, rain, and clouds met us at the airport in the morning. Generally that would be good news because it is more time with the family I only see once a year. This year, however, I had a commercial flight in Milwaukee I had to catch that afternoon. It is never fun “waiting” on weather; luckily the clouds cleared in time for Pat, Ashley, and me to takeoff and make it to KMKE in time for my flight.

The flight from Harbor Springs (KMGN) around the Upper Peninsula, and down the Lake Michigan Isles was the prettiest yet. The clouds forced us to stay low which allowed us to see all the beauty that Michigan has to offer. After landing in Milwaukee, we said our goodbyes and back to Idaho I went.

Another convention has come and gone, but it will not soon be forgotten. This year was full of adventure and lessons. We all learned, once again, that life is about the journey. We will be met with adversity and low ceilings at times, but at some point a hole in the clouds will appear and blue skies await. I was reminded that there is beauty everywhere, even in places that I might not expect. Most importantly, I was reminded that friends, family, and the times we share together are what is most important in life. Until next year…

Last week Ashley came to visit me in Sandpoint, Idaho. Her time here was an, absolute, blast. The first day she was here, we went on a beautiful trail run down to Lake Pend Oreille. Later that week, we went down to check out the Route of the Hiawatha. The route has been called one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country. When the old Milwaukee railroad was operating, the trains traversed through 11 tunnels and over nine high trestles, covering is 46 mile route that cross the rugged Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana. The feature that is most memorable is St. Paul pass, also known as Taft tunnel, which burrows for 1.66 miles under the Bitterroot Mountains at the state line. This tunnel is pitch-black, with no lights. When you buy the pass to ride the trail, one of the required items is a flashlight. The tunnel is so long that you cannot see light from either end in the middle, even though it is dead straight. Even though the trail seems rather long, it’s a very easy ride. Contributing to its ease is its 1.7% downgrade the entire way to the end. Once at the end, a shuttle bus ferries everyone, and bikes, back to the top. One feature that I found particularly neat was the fact it was away from any major roads. In fact, only one forest service road cuts through the trail. It is very quiet, beautiful, and serene. I highly recommend trying it out if ever in North Idaho.

The next day, Ashley and I headed out to Spokane and Deer Park to meet up with our good friend Kelly. Kelly lives on a private airstrip and has a beautiful 2,000 ft. runway, perfect for some Cubbing. We spent the day like any typical pilot; hanging around airplanes with good company, flying them when we wanted, and sharing battle stories from the past. I would call that a perfect day. Oh, and Ashley got her first proper lesson in the de Havilland Chipmunk (DHC-1). A ride which, I believe, she will remember forever. (Thank’s Kelly for sharing your day with us.)