Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

27 July 2012

Winding Down

We’re almost done up here in Washington. I can’t believe that it’s almost time to go home. This season sped by. Last year I got up here in the middle of May, only about a week earlier than this year. And the time passed slowly. It seemed that we were always doing fun stuff: going up to Soap Lake, either by land vehicle or helicopter; going tubing down the Methow River; watching the hydroplane races...and of course we hung around the bakery a lot, ate a lot of pizza and drank a lot of wine. (And I rode my motorcycle more last year.) This year we hardly did any of that. Where has the time gone? How does that happen?

This season not only started early, but we’ve flown a lot more this year too. In fact, I flew more just in July of this year than I did all of June, July and August of last year (which was admittedly dry). With the increased flying comes a lot of other tasks concerning the servicing and maintaining of the helicopters and equipment. So there’s been a lot more to do all around.

The contract for my ship was up as of yesterday (same as last year). The second ship will go to the end of the month, perhaps a bit longer. So I’ll stick around and fly with Taylor, the other pilot who is in his first season as a cherry-dryer…if we fly at all, that is. The forecast doesn’t call for much rain between now and the end of the month.

It’s been a very uneventful season, and we are thankful for that. We’ve had no major breakdowns or calamities. Knock on wood though!

I really like it up here. Last year I hung around way past the end of the season, well into the middle of September. This year there is no hurry to get home either, although I am looking forward to riding the motorcycle back. Yet at the same time I’m ambivalent. It’s going to be a hot ride, especially considering the southern route I’m taking home. The longer I stay, the cooler it’ll be. More and more, “September” seems like an attractive departure date.

22 July 2012

More Cherry-Drying Antics

Whoa, it’s been fun! It had rained most of the day on Friday, and we didn’t get started drying until late. Thus, we’d all flown right to sunset…and I mean it was dark-DARK out by the time I got back to our LZ. By the time we got the birds tied down, fueled and oiled it was after eleven.  Not having had supper, Taylor and I grabbed a quick bite. We got to bed around midnight, thinking that the cherries were dry and the skies were clearing and there’s no way we’d be flying in the morning. Oh yeah? Saturday morning our farm manager woke me up out of a sound sleep at 6:00 a.m.  They were still wet. Heavy dew or something. Whatever.

It was an odd day.  Looking north, it was all cloudy and foggy in the tops of the hills. Looking south it was "clear-blue-and 22," just glorious. I was struck by the incongruity of it...how the kind of day you were having depended on which way you were going in the orchard...and mentioned it on the radio. (All of us in the company monitor a “discrete” frequency so we can talk to each other in semi-private.) Danny, who was drying nearby for another customer chimed in, “Well, I guess the day is either half-cloudy or half-sunny…your choice.” To which I replied, “Well I’m a day-half-sunny kind of guy!” {Rimshot} Oh, I crack myself up. Which caused me to spew a whole series of one-liners about cherry-drying, exactly none of which got so much as an “LOL” from any of the other pilots.   Not even the "double-mic-click" acknowledgment which is a pilot's way of wordlessly saying, "Okay, I get it, now shut up."

Oh, I’m DRYING these cherries all right! I’m hovering so low that I’m reaching out and shaking the tops of the trees by hand! (See, smaller helicopters have to hover with their skids down in the trees; we don’t hover that low in the…oh nevermind, you had to be there.)

Ah well… Finally I keyed the mic and in my best Rodney Dangerfield voice I said, “I gotta tell ya, tough room!” Meh- I guess they were all pretty spaced from being up so late the night before. But I was psyched and having fun.

The fields we dry up here are all “netted.” That is, the orchard owner covers the entire tract with a huge net to keep the birds out. See here.

Here's a screen-grab from my GoPro camera. (Click on it to make it bigger.) That's me drying one our netted tracts. See how the netting is broken up by those big parallel seams? Read on...

Netting makes my job easier. Here’s why. As we dry, we fly down the “lane” between two rows of trees. At the end of the tract, we make a turn, move over four rows and come back the other way. Counting four rows might not seem hard, and it’s not really, but sometimes it’s easy to turn into the third or fifth lane especially if I’m turning to the left. I sit on the right and it’s hard to see out to the left.

With the nets. I simply count over four rows and say to myself, “First row beyond the seam.” And me being me, of course I start singing that old Bobby Darin tune, “Beyond The Sea” which goes:

Somewhere beyond the sea
Somewhere waiting for me
My lover stands on golden sands
And watches the ships
That go sailing

Only my version goes:

First row, beyond the seam
The cherries waiting for me
They got so wet under the net
How happy we’ll be
When we’re drying

But I get tired of singing that song over and over, so I switch to another oldie, this one from a couple of guys called Brewer and Shipley who had a hit in 1971 with a catchy little ditty called, “One Toke Over The Line.”

One toke over the line, sweet Jesus
One toke over the line
Sitting downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line

(No, I have no earthly idea how that song got played on Top-40 radio in 1971, but it did.)

My version goes:

One row over the line, sweet cherries
One row over the line
Flying down the rows in the cherry orchard
One row over the line

I’ll spare you the other lame-ass songs I came up with to pass the time.

Word came over the radio that we were having a barbecue at the airport in the afternoon. So after I got done drying I rolled the Sportster out and rode it the twenty or so miles down. The company gave me a pickup truck to drive this year...and...I have to admit I haven't been riding as much as I'd like.  But man, I’ll tell you, I love that bike! I think I love riding motorcycles almost as much as I love flying – and that’s saying something. We all hung out, ate some great steaks, and talked flying and motorcycles for the whole afternoon.  We laughed and made a ton of jokes (many at my expense, which I do not mind). Such good fellowship. Such good people I work with! It was one of the best days I’ve had since coming up here this season, and that’s saying something!

I love my life :)

19 July 2012

Mister Know It All

There is always music playing in my head.  Either I'm listening to it externally (e.g. radio, iPod, etc.) or I'm just thinking of a song.  Often, if I'm alone in the aircraft or car, I'll be singing as well.  What would we do without music in our lives? 

One of my favorite songs of all time is the one from Stevie Wonder above, from 1973.

*                    *                    *

Aviation insurance companies usually want to see a certain amount of flight time accrued in a specific aircraft type before they will cover a pilot. Their reasoning is that pilots with little relative experience are a greater risk.  Thus, we often have what is called “make and model” time minimums.  And even then, although I have, like, a bazillion hours in the Bell 206B, our insurance company in Alabama still requires me to have annual Recurrent Training in that specific model. 

Up here in Washington, we're not carrying passengers or cargo, so our insurance company feels that as long as a pilot has 1,000 hours total time he is good-to-go with no make-and-model minimum for the S-55.  Obviously, I've got the 1,000 hours - and then some.

Nevertheless, my Sikorsky S-55 make-and-model time is very low, and I must be aware of the increased risk at which I'm operating. Last year, I flew a total of 18.5 hours in it. At the end of the season I was feeling pretty comfortable in the ship, but not what you’d call super-proficient. (Hey, a man’s gotta know his limitations.) After all, we’re just hovering around; there’s little opportunity to get out and “see what she’ll do”…explore the edges of the flight envelope.  Not only that, but these things are so rare that I'm not inclined to go out and play around and maybe prang one.

This year, the season is not completely over yet and I already have an additional 25 hours in the S-55. And it is only now that I am beginning to feel competent. But I know I am still far from being a master of it. Every so often, while ferrying between orchards the aircraft will do something and I’ll cock an eyebrow and go, “What’s going on?” Every aircraft has its own idiosyncrasies; it takes time to learn them. And learning, I am.  This helicopter teaches me things every time I go up.

Learning new stuff: That’s one of the eternally fun and interesting aspects of flying. As long as I’ve been in this career, as many things as I've done, as many hours as I have amassed...there is still something more to learn.  I'm no Misstra Know It All.

11 July 2012

Changing The Weather

Above, you see Accuweather’s extended forecast for Omak, Washington (the nearest big town to me). You’ll notice that of the 25 days depicted (including today) there is *no* rain in the forecast. The only day that looks less-than-sunny is July 18th.

The contract Taylor and I are on goes through the middle of August. It looks like we might be done, flying-wise. However, all extended forecasts are just a guess, and the various weather service providers have been notoriously bad about forecasting for this area. Still, I don’t see much rain headed our way in any case.

I’ve been mulling over different routes to take back home. As hot as it’s been so far, I’m not sure I want to plunge southward right away. I may want to stay north, or find a way to go down through the Rockies so I can stay in higher elevations where there ostensibly would be cooler temperatures. Or maybe it'll cool off some by the middle of August.

One potential route takes me down through Yellowstone and the Tetons, all of which I’ve always wanted to see. So I think I’ll go that way down to Denver, then kind of wind my way down to Amarillo and then eastbound to Ft. Worth, Texas and beyond. That route works out to be about 2,725 miles. At 600 miles per day, it’ll take five days to get home. But there is no hurry; I’m allowing for seven.

I’m really not sure what my plans are upon returning to Pensacola. Since the first of the year I’d been flying again for my old boss (the job I quit to come up here to Washington last year). The guy he hired to replace me did not work out. But I didn’t want the job when I quit before, did not really want it back, and I don’t really want it now. One of the guys up here asked me how much money it would take for me to want it? I replied that I didn’t think there was enough money on the planet. But you know…if the boss threw a whole barrelful of cash at me (and maybe a company car) I might be inclined to stay. Or maybe not. In any case, I just don’t think that’s going to happen.

Like the extended weather forecast, things have a way of changing.