Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Easter Egg Hunt, Georgia Style

Friday 3/25/05 - Chilly Morning (around 35*F), We're Heading To The South

Unlike many others, Mary, Samantha and I have mastered the skills necessary to wake up late for a trip, realize we haven't packed and head for the airport with dog in hand and luggage in the backyard. Just another day at the Watts Farm. We were headed for Jawja (Georgia) this morning and we were gonna make it by this evening if it took all weekend! After stopping halfway to see if we had the plane keys, and then stopping again to fill up with coffee and breakfast sandwiches, we successfully squeezed the 12 minute drive to the airport into three quarters of an hour. Oh we're good! We then lugged our backpacks and flight stuff to the airplane and all got settled in and ready for the journey that lay ahead. I had been flight planning all week and we were all excited to get underway; I just had to find the keys to the plane again that we had found only 30 minutes prior. Finally, everything's in place, seatbelts on, propeller spinning the right direction and away we go. The wheels left the ground from Wings Field in Philadelphia Pennsylvania at 8:32 am, and we pointed the nose down yonder way for our annual Easter Egg Hunt in Thomaston Georgia, 650 miles from where we currently were. We hadn't seen the sun since earlier in the week so not seeing it now was no surprise, although it may have warmed things up a bit. After reaching 4000 feet, I looked back to see Samantha's hair sticking straight up and frozen in to the roof. That was different I thought. I guess I had had the vents opened in the back seat and didn't close them before getting airborne. I couldn't close them from where I was now, and the luggage was keeping her from moving enough to do so herself. Teaming up, Mary and Samantha were able, however, to stuff jackets and blankets in front of the vents well enough to redirect the cold draft up and into my pants leg, thanks alot. Now I had to pee and we weren't even 10 miles beyond our departure point.

The clouds were thick! Thick enough that we couldn't always see the ends of our wingtips, which are lil short things. Thirty minutes later we noticed ice forming on the front (leading edge) of the wings and I knew that we'd have to either descend lower, climb higher, or turn around and head back to Wings Field. I requested a climb and was approved for another 2000 feet higher. That worked and the icing slowly started dissipating. While the higher altitude lessoned the threat of icing (too cold), it increased the headwinds that we were now facing. The airspeed indicator was reading 121, but the speed along the ground was barely maintaining 90. This would be a long trip.

We flew southeast of Baltimore and overhead the restricted area above Patuxant Naval Air Station. I had pre-coordinated it and since we were deep in the clouds and not seeing "anything", our transit through the area was approved. By the time we cleared the Chesapeake Bay, all the icing was gone, we were trucking along at 100, 540 miles still lay ahead of us, and I still had to pee. Over flying Richmond, the ride remained quite smooth, but still we hadn't seen the ground since we left. Samantha lay in the back seat sound asleep with her hair still frozen in place as Mary read a book up front. We'd need to stop earlier than originally planned, not only to thaw out Samantha, but to also close the vents, let me pee, and oh yes, refuel since the headwinds were stronger than forecasted.

Up ahead in the distance was Danville Regional Airport, which sits right on the border of Virginia and North Carolina; which now became our first destination. Everything was fine, well, kinda, except I didn't have any approach plates for the airport since it was well short of our intended fuel stop. Approach plates are the diagrams describing how a pilot, who's unable to see the ground due to weather, will get to the airport. There are electronic beacons that guide the way, as well as, altitude restrictions - by distance from the airport - to keep you from landing short of the airport and in someone's backyard that may be having a barbeque. The weather was not good, I still had to pee, and the nearest airport that had good weather was inconveniently way off in the wrong direction way over yonder in Tennessee. I asked the controller (Washington Air Traffic Control Center) to "describe" the approach to me, and Mary and I took notes to ensure we didn't miss anything. As we turned on to a 5 mile final, the 35 mph headwinds now became 35 mph crosswinds which required me to point the nose about 25-30 degrees to the left. Now whenever we descended below the clouds, the airport would actually be between the nose of the airplane and the right wing; crabbing down final. Still descending on final, the lower we descended, the less the crosswind speed became. As we broke out below the clouds just 300 feet above the ground the crosswinds continued to diminish and we were able to finally fly in the direction that aircraft was pointed. After landing, we taxied up to the terminal and the fuel truck met us as we shut the aircraft down. Samantha was just waking up with wet hair and wasn't sure if we'd arrived in Georgia or Mars. "Not there yet, but your hair thawed out", I said as we unloaded.

After refueling, getting a couple of snacks, closing the vents, going to the loo, buying every approach plate East of Denver that I didn't already have on board, and filing a new flight plan, we took off again from Danville Regional Airport, Virginia, and immediately entered the clouds before continuing our journey towards the South. I wish I could tell you how beautiful Virginia was but all we saw was 2 miles before the runway till about 1 mile past. I heard it's a pretty country though. The wind strength remained strong, however the direction slowly moved more Northerly than Northeast and our speed along the ground increased by 5 knots (7 mph). WooHoo, we were cruisin'! The journey continued "in the soup" until shortly after entering South Carolina airspace where the clouds started breaking up revealing the green wooded areas and crystal blue lakes below. We cancelled our IFR flight plan and descended down to 2500 where we could enjoy the scenery and get out of the strong winds above us. Another 10 knots of ground speed and away we went. Our next stop was Habersham Airport, 300 miles Southwest of Danville. Even though the wind was cooperating with us much more, we decided to land at Habersham anyway and top off our fuel tanks to avoid the $4.35 per gallon gas prices that would be charged in downtown Atlanta, which is where we were headed for our first fun stop down yonder.

The countryside of the Carolina's and Georgia is absolutely beautiful. Over flying lakes and rolling hills, Mary and I just sat there holding hands in silence enjoying the view that seemed to be there just for us. I was surprised that I didn't hear more aircraft on frequency, but didn't complain either as we had the sky to ourselves. Samantha sat behind us reading her magazines and listening to her MP3 player to Papa's Roach or something like that. We have an MP3 system in the aircraft but I haven't figured it out yet so she had her headphones on and jamming like a wild woman. Soon, Habersham Airport came in to view and we landed and taxied up to the back porch of this little airport. An older gentleman came out to greet us and quickly topped off our tanks. As we sat there in rocking chairs on the back porch of the terminal (honest), the airport dog came up to give us each a welcome-to-Habersham lick and we returned it with a scratch of his ears. Very friendly dog he was, and soon his kindness was rewarded as Mary and Samantha took turns feeding him snacks. After getting back in the aircraft and firing up the engine we started to taxi to the runway for departure. Our new four legged friend decided we hadn't stayed long enough and lay stretched out in the middle of the taxiway blocking our access to the runway. We had to chuckle as it honestly appeared that he knew exactly what he was doing. I taxied via an alternate routing as our new four-legged friend just watched us go the long way. No problem at all, as it was a friendly gesture from him for us to stay a while. Southern hospitality was not limited to those that walk on two legs.

Getting airborne again, our journey to Atlanta would only be 35 minutes as we were just outside the metropolitan area. In fact, at 3000 feet we could easily see the skyline of downtown Atlanta and knew that we would soon be flying through downtown traffic. Our workload (in and out of the aircraft) would significantly go up as the chatter on frequency increased from other pilots in the area. The need to keep all eyeballs looking outside the aircraft for other traffic in the area, as well as, attention to detail in complying with air traffic control instructions would be important as we were entering one of the busiest airspace classes in the world. The speed of communications reminded Mary and I both of our days as air traffic controllers. Sometimes the traffic load was so busy it would be impossible to get a break because it was too difficult to give a detailed briefing to another controller relieving you. Man-O-Man do we miss those days. As we approached Peachtree Dekalb Airport, the controller asked if we were still going to Upson County Airport later on. Apparently he had received our original flight plan and was curious if we were still headed that way. I told him we would be and gave him an estimated time of departure for 8:00 later that evening. He then said to have the tower give him a call and he would try to coordinate our passage over the top of Atlanta's International Airport (Hartsfield). Not expecting that it would be approved, I thanked him and said we'd give notice via the tower when we were ready to depart. Soon after, we were "handed off" to the tower controller and told we were number 9 for landing. Airplanes came in from all directions, but mind you, it was very organized and orchestrated by professionals. We touched down and taxied up to Mercury Aviation just below the tower. Samantha must have noticed when the flight line fella came up to tie the aircraft down because as I glanced over at her, she was grinnin' from ear to ear. "Country Boys are cute" was pretty much the message that her grin told us. It didn't hurt too much either that the temperature was 85*F and everyone was wearing shorts. Everyone that is except us - we had left Philly that morning in the 30's and quite cold so we felt like we were dressed in Eskimo attire. My Uncle Tony and Aunt Melinda picked us up shortly after our arrival and we headed to their house for dinner.

This would be the first time that Mary or Samantha had seen their house since it had been gutted and remodeled. I can tell you that their house is absolutely gorgeous and I'm sure the different wings require their own zip code. Initially, we weren't sure if we were going to be able to meet up with them or not since we kept missing each others emails and phone calls. We sure were proud when our plans came together and we knew that we would be able to visit for a while. We were also very excited to learn that my Uncle Hal and Cousins Melanie and Barbara would also be there to have dinner with us.

It had been a year or more since the last time I had been down and we were all very happy to see them. Uncle Hal lives just a few minutes away and joined us shortly after arriving at Uncle Tony's house. Melanie is going to school at the University of Georgia (Go Bulldogs) and had just returned from Spring Break down in Mexico (I think). Where ever it had been, she came back with a golden tan and temporary tattoo!

Barbara is no stranger to aviation as she spent time as a flight attendant with Southwest. It's funny to hear some of the story's she tells of her experiences. She is back in school now to earn her Masters or Doctorate in Psychology or something or other. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see my cousin Natalie, but hopefully will next time we're down yonder. She's a sweetheart too. They all looked great! I believe the last time our whole families had been together was when my baby Sister Kelly was married; Samantha was knee high to a grasshopper then. That afternoon / evening we all sat around and laughed and told stories and ate the very best chicken arms that I'd ever had.

There were buffalo wings ranging from just-as-they-are to sun-hot-melt-an-iceburg. I had missed good ole country sweet iced tea so I tanked up on probably a gallons worth. Just before leaving for the airport, I was treated to a ride in my Uncle's new toy - his brand new Mercedes Ragtop that had more avionics than any aircraft I'd ever flown. Very Nice Indeed. I think it goes from 0 to 100 in 1.2 seconds. Samantha was tickled pink when Uncle Tony asked her is she'd like to ride in the ragtop back to the airport. We followed behind them, easily keeping them in sight, as Samantha's teeth shown brightly through her grin - lighting the way. We do wish we could have stayed longer as we love them dearly and don't get the chance to visit too often, but my Mom would have snatched my hair loose for keeping Mary and Samantha away from her one more minute, ha-ha. I Love You Mom.

After saying goodbye and passing out hugs, we boarded the airplane and I contacted the tower for engine start. Not thinking it would do any good, I passed along the information that Atlanta had given me about requesting a routing overhead the international airport enroute to Upson County.

The tower taxied us to the departure runway and after clearing us for takeoff, told us to contact Atlanta Approach and expect the requested flight path over the top. This would be a cool flight, and we would reach Upson County in 30 minutes instead of the hour it would have taken us to go around Atlanta the long way. Shortly after departure and switching to Atlanta's frequency, we spotted the international airport and what appeared to be hundreds of blinking lights from aircraft in the vicinity. With the skill of a composer and the speed of an auctioneer, the controller weaved us through an imaginary hole between arriving and departing flights. Over the top of Atlanta International, I told Samantha to look down and remember the view as only a handful of other small aircraft had ever gotten the chance to see what we were at that time. Perhaps mentioning that Mary and I were previously air traffic controllers helped after all.

After flying clear of the hornet's nest of aircraft around Atlanta, we began our descent out of 4500 and prepared for landing at Upson County. A cloudless night sky coupled with a full moon provided another beautiful view of the Georgia countryside. I found it neat to watch the reflection of the moon dance across the lakes that lay below us. I had called my Mom just before boarding the aircraft to let her know that we'd be arriving in less than an hours time and figured since we were given the routing over Atlanta, we would be arriving about the same time my Uncle Tony & Family would be reaching their house just a short drive away from where we'd just left; they beat us by 10 minutes. We now had Upson County Airport in sight and aligned ourselves with Runway 12. We touched down softly and taxied up to the ramp where my Momma, Aunt's, Uncles, and Cousin's stood waiting. What a welcome we had and we knew the long day's journey had come to an end. We quickly unloaded the bags and headed out to Berry Hill where I had played as a child. Just after 9:30 pm now, the night was still young; besides, we had no where to go - we were there!

We must have laughed and cut up for a couple of hours and caught up on how all the youngens were doing. It's amazing how quickly the litluns grow up when it's been a year since the last time I'd seen them. Mary and I had flown in to Thomaston 8 months earlier on our maiden voyage in the Viking Witch, which is the name given to our Piper Cherokee aircraft that we had bought in Gainesville Florida. For Samantha, her last visit had been so long ago that she was getting to meet so many new faces and remembering others. She absolutely loved it! Around midnight, we headed in to Thomaston where we'd be staying with my Cousin Jennifer at her house in town. Since we'd come for the annual Easter Egg Hunt, we were sent out with strict orders to not show up on Berry Hill before 10:00 am the following morning as my Aunt Mary and Uncle Ken would be hiding eggs. I didn't think that would be a problem as I had been up for 21 hours at this point. I'm not sure I actually remember arriving at the house, but sure enough the next morning I did wake up at Jennifer's with Mary sleeping by my side.

Saturday 3/26/05 - Beautiful Morning, already 65*F and not a minute past 7:00 a.m. Today is the big Easter Egg Hunt

My Mom had awakened earlier that morning and prepared coffee and biscuits for us for breakfast. Mary and I got up and got ready before waking Samantha, before waking Samantha again, before waking Samantha one more time (Yes, 3 times. she'd sleep till noon easily if we let her, hehe). We had a long fun day ahead and were ready to get started! Not wanting to get to Berry Hill too early, we woke up Samantha and decided we'd stop by the airport to tie down the Viking Witch on the way. When we had arrived the night before, we didn't see any tie down ropes to keep her in place should any wind pick up. It wasn't forecasted, but still, we wanted to just in case.

It's a real good thing we did (tie her down), as you'll read in a little bit. While we were at the airport, Jim Shelley came out to greet us, as we had met him on one of our previous trips. Jim runs things there at the airport and is one of the kindest persons I've ever met. He let us know that he'd be away from the airport the following day so we went ahead and refueled then. He also made sure I had his after-hours cell phone in case I needed anything before departing towards Philly the next morning. We would need it...

We reached Berry Hill about 11:00 am, and went over to my Aunt

Deb and Uncle David's house. On the way in, we hadn't noticed anyone hiding eggs, but I wasn't going to be the volunteer to walk over to find out either. I still remember a whoopin' my Aunt Mary gave me 30 years ago and I ain't about to revisit that experience, ha-ha. Instead, I told my Uncle David that he was being called over. He hadn't been called, but I sat hid behind the tractor to see if he made it all the way over without catching all get-out. Mary and Aunt Deb must have wondered what I was doing as I looked bixtweenst (that's a new word) the holes in the tractor engine at what was about to happen. When the coast was determined clear, we all headed over to Aunt Mary's on the Northwest side of Berry Hill, which is where the Easter celebration would be based at. More of my family had showed up whilst I was hiding behind the tractor that I hadn't been able to see.

My Uncle Ken and Aunt Mary had long since finished hiding eggs and were helping my Cousins Bobby, Rodney, and Bubba unload the guitars and amps. Oh Yeah, there was fixin' to be a ho' down and a big grin spread across my face. I would have put a chew of tobaccy in my mouth if I didn't know it would have turned me green!

Soon it was time for lunch and we all joined in and carried enough food out to the tables to feed the entire country of Mississippi. Ham & Salads, Chickens and Taters, Cakes & Puddin stretched out as far as the eye could see. Along with that came at least 5 gallons of country sweet tea, oh, and those beers that I talked Uncle David in to sneakin' over. One of these day's he'll quit letting me set him up. After consuming our body weight in good country cookin', it was time for the litluns to begin their Easter Egg Hunt. The adults, plus me, would hunt eggs a little later. I forget how brave we were at younger ages. Those youngens were stickin' their hands in places that I'd never ever be brave enough to even look into, for fear of snakes and spiders and things that had more legs than me. I must have done it at a younger age though, because I'd grown up part of my childhood right here where I stood this day. My short-legged cousins (aged 7) Seth and Kailin came up to me with a plan that they had spent some time detailing. They proposed that I take them fishing from the airplane. We would do this by throwing hand-grenades out of the plane and into the lakes below, which would in turn blow the fish out of the water and onto the shoreline. Next, we would just have to land on the bank and pick them up before heading off to the next target area. The idea sounded plausible and I sat there contemplating how much heavy braking would be required to keep from running through the Solinburger's house just beyond the East side of the pond. I didn't have any spare hand-grenades available but I'm sure we could have found something useful. I finally had to nix the idea when it was mentioned that on the way back we could use the plane propeller to go duck hunting and chase them down over the Georgia countryside. I have my standards you know and never really have acquired a taste for Duck. The egg hunt was successful for all the youngens and Aunt Mary passed out prizes to each of them. Big smiles and outstretched arms were eager to receive the rewards for the hard work in finding their eggs. I could have competed with them, but Mary wouldn't let me.

The rules changed a little bit for the adults (plus me) Easter Egg Hunt. The boundaries spread further out into the country, whereas the litluns were confined to the front yard. As soon as the signal was received to go, Samantha and I lost our minds and wind sprinted for the woods. Mary, having more smarts at this point, searched along the wood line and watched as Samantha and I ran through and over briar patches that took skin away with each step we took. It turned out the Mary took the better route because at the end of the day, she had the most eggs out of her, Samantha, and I. When we were able to free ourselves from the briars and return to the starting point, I was about half naked with only shreds of clothes remaining. I felt something running down my leg and thought I had wet myself until I noticed it was only a little briar wound, that I would play for sympathy with later. My Aunt's and my Momma had chipped in and bought prizes for those that found "special" Easter Eggs which had numbers inside. I found 1. JUST ONE! Mary and Samantha found a bunch each so we would need to do some creative packing to get everything back in the plane. I thought a minute about going for a jog to work lunch off, but only for a minute and decided I'd have another one of David's hidden beers instead.

About that time, I heard the guitars crank up. They had all been ready to play for a while, but found it amusing to watch me try to get untangled from the woods that had grabbed a hold of me.

Obviously, I had lost some of my country skills, or perhaps the baby briars that had been there 30 years ago had all growed up to be educated stalking briars. Entangled up to my armpits, I kept wondering how many snakes were watching me licking their lips and I contemplated what would have hurt worse - me passing out and falling down against a tree or having a snake gnaw my arm off as stood there screaming like a girl.

Finally, I was free and now felt like singing; I could see the worry of "what's coming next" in Mary's eyes. After the bleeding stopped, I joined in as my Aunt Mary, Uncle Ken and Cousin's Bobby and Bubba began pickin' and grinnin'. My accompaniment consisted mostly of grinnin. Not to be out done, the rest of the ladies cranked up with Redneck Woman as the concert continued. I wish you could hear how well they all sounded together; I'd buy at least two records from them.

Later that afternoon, Bobby asked me to go help him out for a few minutes down yonder in the woods. I flashed back to the last time he asked me to do that when I was a child. My Granddaddy Berry, Bobby, and myself had been hunting all morning. I'm sure it was just bad luck that we hadn't got anything, or perhaps it was because I kept shooting my shotgun at trees and scaring every living animal within 30 miles away. When it was time go back home (I was out of shells), Granddaddy Berry and Bobby thought it would be funny to act like we were lost and make me think we'd have to stay over night in the woods. Little did I know, we were about 75 yards from home, but they convinced me that I was gonna have to tie myself up in a tree so the mountain lions, grizzly bears, and wild boar wouldn't get me. Bobby had asked me then to help him out by gathering sticks for a fire to keep the animals away. I pretty much brought back the equivalent of the rain forest. Now, Bobby wanted me to go back down in the woods and I didn't know what was about to happen. I kissed Mary goodbye and hugged Samantha. I told them I Loved them both and I'd miss them and hoped to see them soon. We headed out in to the woods towards Bobby's Turkey Huntin by Bow and Arrow shootin' hide-out. He had planted wheat down in a small clearing in the woods and wanted to move his hiding place to a better location about 50 yards away. My job was to stand in the wheat field and act like a turkey so he could see how well the line of sight was. As I stood there on one foot mocking a Turkey, I swear I could hear chuckling coming from within the hideout. I couldn't see him as he had everything all camouflaged and squirted with Monkey or Deer pee or whatever it is they use to hide their scent. Oh Yes, I lost my country skills. All worked out, and after I finished being a Turkey, we headed back up to the house to join in the singing. I was so proud to see my smiling Mary and Samantha there to greet me. I'd made it back.

Aunt Mary announced that it was time for the scavenger hunt and for all of us to get ready. I could have been the Captain of my team, but after everyone had witnessed my lack of skills, I was pushed back to the caboose end. Our team would be responsible for finding a Deer's head, A Deer's Horn, A Black Widow Spider, A Carrot Stick, a Broken Arrow and a Brisket. We took off in one direction while the other team headed in the other. Before leaving though, I'd hid some beers in my Easter Basket underneath that green grass stuff. As quickly as we crossed over the top of the hill, I handed them out and all was well. The first thing we found was the broken arrow which was stuck in a tree just off the beaten path. I found it so what does that mean? We continued our journey through the woods and soon came upon a deer horn, correction, deer antler and we were well on our way. We found everything but the Brisket and decided to read the note again. My Mary, not having her glasses on, announced that we were to bring back a Brisket, while in fact, should have read a Basket! Although we were looking for a Brisket, we figured we'd have had to run over to the Lumpkin's house down the road and steal it out of their fridge. The Basket made sense, since we had passed it way up the road so everyone turned around and took off to where we'd seen it earlier. Samantha, having the skills of her father, crashed and burned and rolled for about a quarter of a mile down the hill, red dirt and dust flying everywhere along the way. After we collected the BASKET, we headed back to base camp and were happy to know that we'd returned with our list of items first. More prizes awaited us and I wondered how we'd get even more into an already loaded airplane.

The Bon fire was lit a little later and soon my Aunt Tammy and Uncle Wally arrived to join us. It was very nice to see them as it had been a while. Thinking we'd all be sitting round the fire chattin', I was surprised to hear that it was time to run down into the woods one more time. The "Sisters" (My Mom, Aunt Mary, Aunt Deb, and Aunt Tammy) were all given flash lights. All the rest of us had the task of running down into the woods and then trying to get back to the house without being spotted by the Sisters. We all got down by the woods and when it was time to start, we (Mary, Samantha, and I) soon found ourselves the only ones there. All the others having country proficiency and years of experience in these woods knew the best way to go to remain undetected. I also realized how loud quiet can be. We could hear Cheetahs and Wildebeests in the woods just behind us and Samantha's eyes had grown to the size of cue balls. Mary, having sense, had left at some point, and Samantha and I stood there like two chicken legs in a lion cage, just knowing we were about to be eaten alive. I walked as quietly as I could but could hear my heart beating and realized I'd forgotten how to breathe. I figured if I didn't look back, maybe "it" would just leave me alone and go eat one of Bobby's Turkeys. We made it back and I found it necessary to drink another beer or 3. The youngens were all cooking marshmallows and Samantha and I were starting to get some color back in our faces. Not too long after, thunder was heard in the distance and everyone in unison quickly gathered up the guitars, amps, youngens, food, chairs, and spouses and made sure the not country skilled folks (Mary, Samantha, and I) were accounted for. Within an honest two minutes of putting everything away, it began to pour and lightening and thunder like I can't remember. Everyone jumped in the their cars as we exchanged quick hugs and goodbye's since we were returning to Pennsylvania the following morning. Rather than leave immediately and head back to Thomaston, we hung out for a lil bit over at Aunt Deb & Uncle David's. David and I, with beers in hand, ran down to the barn to laugh and cut up while the ladies stay inside and talked about the nuts running through the rain outside. We stayed out in the storm down yonder at the tractor for about an hour and laughed about memories on Berry Hill and how quickly the litluns grew up and all sorts of things. I had a ball. It was time to head back to Thomaston and get our gear ready for the flight back home in the morning so we said our goodbye's and headed down the road. The drive only took 15 minutes and 5 minutes later everyone had gone to sleep exhausted from the long and wonderful day on Berry Hill.

Sunday, 3/27/05 Major Thunderstorms, Loud Thunder & Lightning and Explosive Winds Present with Baseball Sized Hail In The Forecast

Mom woke us up at 5:00 am, and I remember vaguely laying there half awake thinking about getting up. Lightening must have struck just outside the window because the thunder that immediately followed no doubt worked better than any alarm clock I've ever heard. Mary helped me get down off the ceiling fan where I'd jumped to and we pretty much knew that we weren't flying anywhere anytime soon. I turned on the television and found the weather channel to confirm what we anticipated. The entire Southeast was under Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado warnings and hail was one the way. I realized that the Viking Witch (our plane) was tied up outside at the airport and remembered the Jim Shelley had given me his after-hours cell phone in case I needed to reach him. I called and left a message and then remembered that when we were out at the airport on Saturday, there was a parachuting class going on. The jump school owns two large KingAir aircraft and the hanger that stands next to the terminal. I called the operator and got their number and called. One of the Jump Masters answered and I explained the need to find a hanger quickly to put my plane in as there was hail coming in to the area. The fella I talked to (who's name I wish I could remember) got his crew and pilots together and moved the KingAir's around and made room beside them for our Cherokee. I can't express how relieved I was for their kind efforts. Samantha and I drove over to the airport and I pulled the Viking Witch into the hanger and out of the elements. While we were there, we were introduced to some of the jump instructors, the KingAir pilot, and the receptionist that had just been hired in that same week. Samantha was interested in learning to parachute and this gave the new receptionist the perfect opportunity to give us her speech on the jump school. With just a touch of assistance from the Jump Master, she finished her briefing and answered the many questions we had, including what they would do with me when I passed out in the plane before jumping out. They also offered to show Samantha a video of the school lessons and some footage of the students jumping from the aircraft. Samantha loved it and we agreed that on our next visit, Samantha would attend the jump school and learn how to parachute with them.

Later that evening, a bunch of us got together and went out for dinner at Chili's just down the road from Jennifer's house (where we were staying). It was the perfect diversion for me as Mary had noticed how stressed I had become reference the weather and the fact that we had work and school to return to. I felt much better after spending the time with family and enjoying the stories that each of us shared. Later that night, we headed back to Jennifer's and we spent time with her son Kailin playing in-door basketball and watching DVD's. Chalk up another gallon of country sweet iced tea for me.

Monday, 3/28/05 Moderate Rain, 42*F, Icing In The Clouds From 2000 feet and Higher, Wind In Excess Of 50 MPH.

Mom woke us early again this morning to give me the chance to flight plan our way home with the newly updated winds aloft. After talking to the weather folks, the previously issued icing forecast was now confirmed and the decision became crystal clear that we would remain on the ground for another day. Besides missing our 4 legged critters back home, we weren't disappointed as we were still in great company and had the whole day to look forward to. Samantha and I drove out to the airport to check on the Viking Witch. Originally, I had expected to use hanger space for only one day, so I wanted to go and move the plane back outside and give Skydive Atlanta back the area that we were using. Jim met us at the door with fresh coffee and the unsolicited offer to move the plane to another hanger he had available with no cost to myself. It turned out we didn't need to move it as the Jump folks were quite happy to leave the Viking Witch where she was. Welcome to the South and the hospitality they offer! What a class act all around.

Returning from the airport, we picked up Mary and my Mom and went out shopping. Samantha was making out on this deal because every time we went somewhere, someone was buying her more outfits and goodies. On top of that, an unexpected day out of school; what a skate! ha-ha. Aunt Mary and Aunt Deb joined Mom, Mary, Samantha, and I for lunch at Aviono's just after we all went shopping (more packing/stuffing to go in the airplane), and again Samantha got treated to more clothes when Aunt Mary whisked her away to more stores. I wasn't concerned about all the added weight to the airplane as we had plenty to spare. I was concerned however about how we'd see since we'd no doubt be filled from top to bottom in new clothes. Spoiled Youngen!

After lunch, Bobby came over to the house and picked us up to show us his place. Pulling into his driveway, we immediately noticed the view behind the house as we were able to look down into a valley at a recently added man-made lake. We toured his house, and looked at the many deer trophy's along the walls from successful hunting trips he'd been on. I've shot many a tree before, and was a marksman in the military with an M16 and 9 mil, but never have I been able to hunt successfully. Many years ago, I shot the end of a squirrels tail off but that only made it mad and it chased me all the way back to Berry Hill. I quit hunting then for fear for my own safety.

I don't know if Aunt Mary was ever told this, but Bobby had made me quit hunting with him even earlier when I accidentally shot between his legs at a squirrel that ran behind him. He wouldn't let me go anymore for his safety. We were kids and it's still scary thinking about it. Now, I just act like I know which way the bullet goes in whenever they show me their newest weapons. We finished off the afternoon listening to a fella named Rodney Carrington who's a comedian. I learned a very valuable lesson while listening. He said that the only stories he tells are the ones that his wife won't let him and now he's probably a bazillionaire. I'm gonna get my pen out and start writing more!

Tonight, Mary and my Mom cooked dinner and I stuffed myself silly. After all, I hadn't eaten in what must have been 2 hours. Samantha followed dinner with a fashion show of all her new clothes. Reality is setting in at how much we have to get into the airplane and if we'll even be able to get airborne. I searched for a calculator and scale. I finished up the evening hooking up a DVD player to the living room tv at Jennifer's house. I'm definitely surprised any of it worked after I got finished with it. She used to have a working VCR player, but I fixed that. Now, it doesn't come on even a little bit. I'm sure it's a cable or something that I had left over when I finished.

Tuesday 3/29/05 Clear Sky, 55*F, Moderate Headwinds Above

Mary woke up first this morning and expertly packed our bags before I even knew that sun was up. Women can do that you know; pack their purses with everything from extension ladders to a complete weekends change of clothing and not even stretch the material of their purse. I think purse makers have solved the mystery of black holes and contained them in purses. We had gone from a room full of bags, presents and clothes to 3 backpacks and 1 duffle bag and she never broke a sweat. If it had been me, we would have ended up having to tie stuff to the tops of the wings to get it all home.

Jennifer has to leave before we do and drop off Kailin at school before heading to the hospital where she works. I think she's a brain surgeon or something because she uses words with more than 3 syllables and I had to keep asking Mary what she meant in English. They have a little dog named Shugah, which made things funny for us the entire stay. I generally call Mary and Samantha and Carole and Geza and Mom and Tracy and Kelly and Sue and Bob and Sandy and Mike and most everyone else I know Shugah. Trying to get the attention of one by saying Hey Shugah, caused the entire room, including the real Shugah, to look my way. It reminded me of who's on first. Mary's my Shugah, but the four legged Shugah wasn't ready to share it's name without a biscuit in payment.

I loaded up the car and we headed out to the airport, this time pretty sure we'd depart enroute to Philadelphia. Jim Shelley was already there and let us drive right up to the hanger door after seeing the bags that he thought I'd have to drag across the ramp. He put on a pot of coffee for us while we waited for the Skydiving folks to arrive and open their hanger doors where the Viking Witch was parked. While we were waiting my Aunt Deb and Cousin Marcie showed up to see us off. We sat around and cut up telling stories for a few more minutes until the hanger doors came open revealing our ride home. We packed up the plane using a little Vaseline and passed out hugs and kisses before boarding for the flight for Philly. Besides headwinds and a bump here and there, we expected an easy journey back up North.

Airborne and pointing towards Raleigh-Durham, we could see my Mom, Aunt Deb, and Marcie all waving to us as we climbed to 2500 feet for the 650 miles that lay ahead. Our speed along the ground stayed right around 110 knots as the towns below us started coming to life. Steam rose off the lakes below and the highways started to fill up with folks on the way to work. I turned to tell Samantha about a Nuclear plant that we were passing and she had already fallen asleep in between the bags and flight documents that also occupied the back seat. Mary and I enjoyed the view and pointed out to each the farms and ranches passing beneath us. I gave Atlanta air traffic controllers a call on the radio and they identified us on Radar and would provide us with information on other airplanes within our flight path. It was educating to see how much open land still exists in the beautiful South. For as far as the eye could see, lay forests of trees and rolling hills. If you ever want peace and quiet, I know of a few places to return to. A little more than three hours later, we're descending in to Sanford-Lee airport, located just a few miles Southwest of Raleigh-Durham North Carolina.

We hadn't left the South yet and it was definitely obvious by the Southern hospitality that was given to us. The folks there made us feel right at home and fueled us up immediately, showed us where to get some snacks and even provided me a tour of their avionics shop, there on the field. Another treat for me was getting to see the two Russians jets that were in the Avionics hanger getting restored. They were both in good looking shape and would no doubt be fun to fly. A quick check of the weather with Leesburg Flight Service Station, and we boarded the aircraft for the final leg home. This flight would bring us over Richmond Virginia, and then up and over the Chesapeake Bay and finally into Philadelphia. It would take us 3+ hours to get there, but that was OK too, as the view from above continued to present us with the beauty 2500 feet below. Mary and Samantha switched seats this time and after I took off, Samantha flew us the majority of the way home. I'm sure before too long, I'll be the one in the back seat while Mary and Samantha take us to where we're going. I was quite impressed at how well Samantha controlled the aircraft in less than ideal conditions. We had moderate turbulence but she was able to maintain proper altitudes and headings along the way. Soon we'll start going over radio procedures and she'll be ready for the big jets.

Unlike the trip down, we weren't able to fly over the restricted areas this time so we flew between Baltimore and Putuxant steering clear of any areas that were a no no to over fly. It was nice to hear familiar voices from the air traffic controllers in Philadelphia as it indicated that we would soon be home after a long day's journey. Not long after, our destination came in to view and we prepared for landing. After landing and taxiing to park, I calculated the flight numbers and recorded our journey as 15 flying hours covering 1347 nautical miles (round trip) which averaged only 88 nautical miles per hour along the ground. In a calm wind situation, it would have taken us approximately 11 hours and 15 minutes. We're not complaining though at all, we loved the entire journey!

Thanks Mom for staying with us the extra days we were there and Thank You as well Jennifer and Kailin for providing us a fun place to stay. We musn't forget Sue, who cared for our critters while we were gone and kept them happy and their tummies full. We're looking forward to the next trip down yonder and send ya'll each great big hugs and kisses.

Mary, Samantha, and Shane
Easter 2005 on Berry Hill

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


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