Monday, July 10, 2017

Entropy and My Own Space Station

7 July 2017

The chaos of loading Daphne.
To see were I am:

Also to read the story that I wrote for Popular Mechanics about flying to Houston last year:

if the link doesn't work, copy and paste:

I am now on Day 4, having sailed two days, and done boat projects the other two.  I am trying to get Downeast, but going faster would sacrifice a certain style.  I’ve spent too many days of my life feeling like I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  While my schedule and tendency to cram things in dictate that I still must do a bit of this, now that I’ve put to sea, I am slowing down, in that I’m taking the time to do things in the spirit of preserving a certain style. 

I am currently at anchor is Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island, a two day sail from Rockport Harbor, where Daphne is splashed each year.  I got here last night and am seeing friends not seen in years, later this afternoon.  Finally I have cleaned and waxed the topsides and the top strip of the hull.  This, having thus far being neglected in favor of getting Daphne in the water, has been weighing on me, as I do not like to neglect anything on this ship that takes such good care of me.  My other “layover” day was of the same ilk (at Pulpit Harbor, North Haven), but entailed lots of little projects needed to get fully ready for three weeks on the coast.  Connecting the single side band radio wire, securing the solar panel wire, checking knots, inventorying the cotter pins, and various other organizational tasks.  Thanks to all that, the girl is looking sharp!

Finally in the water and floating!

The other day, I marveled at what a different life it is out here on Daphne.  I slide right into the routines and the rhythms and how different it is than my teaching life during the school year.  But I love this little ship more than I can express.  When aboard, it’s as though I’ve dropped myself into a world that’s ever stimulating.  I think it is endless.  There is the mechanical diesel engine, the plumbing of the water tanks, the electrical system, the VHF and HF radios, the weather systems, the geometry/physics of navigation and sailing, the spiritual connection to the world around me...It is endless.  And so on days where I’m stay put to see friends or to avoid certain weather, or just to keep up my style, I’m happy as a clam.  There is an urge to explore the land around me, but there is often a stronger urge to master my craft, the art of being a sailor.  I have my little spaceship, and for certain, it’s the spaceship and the journey that are the important things.  And what a spaceship and journey! 

Waterproof VHF radio in my chest pocket, PLB
(Personal Locator Beacon) strapped to my shoulder strap.
40 nautical miles yesterday and my $40/month pre-paid iPhone account won’t give me data anymore.  So I’m without email, but it still feels like a luxury to be able to make calls and send text messages.  For the weather, I’ll have to switch on the VHF radio and listen to the computer recording of the weather broadcast, eventually working its way to the marine forecasts, eventually then working its way to the section of the coast that I’m on.  No more maps that show the radar returns, I’ll just have to look to where the wind is coming from to gauge my chances of rain.  Heading east and heading back in time!  Eventually my phone might not work anymore and so I’ll try to make contact with my HF radio. 

In the fog, crossing Bass Harbor Bar.
I’ve been aware of Entropy for some reason this trip.  Entropy in that chaos is always growing.  Daphne is a ship that I care for, and in most cases, she is not getting younger.  A careless move can cause damage, to her and I, both of which could be disastrous, never to be the same again.  We’re both breaking down on a slow decline.  We can reduce the geometric slope of the line, but in the long term, we’re both going down hill.  But while that’s happening to the physical beings, my mind is on the upswing.  Twenty years ago, I remember thinking, I don’t mind getting older because 20 years from now, I’ll know a lot and have done some interesting things!  And so as the body gets older, the mind learns new things (and certainly forgets some too, but hopefully I’ll remember the important things.)  What Daphne and I lose in physical strength and flexibility, we gain in experiences, memories, skills and capabilities.  Ships are made for the sea, so we must accept all that comes with it. 

So when it gets down to it, I’ll make some notes, listen to the weather forecast, play a bit on my plastic ukulele and write in my journal.  Each day is precious, whether sailing Downeast at 7 knots (speed record for yesterday) or just doing some “housekeeping” like the Apollo astronauts would do on their three-day coast to the moon, I’m having a good time and soaking up every minute. 


And it’s kind of like I have my own space program but I am responsible for every aspect of it.  The mission design, vehicle maintenance, weather go/no-go officer, provisioner, tester, debriefer, recorder, chef, navigator, pilot and general astronaut.  It makes me wonder how many astronauts have put to sea by themselves on a small boat…

Pulpit Rock and a sunset over the Camden Hills from Pulpit Harbor, North Haven.

Saturday, June 24, 2017



Waking up.
I am home now, and things feel strange.  I’m in clean clothes, have showered, gone to the grocery store.  Unpacked.  I don’t like it much, though I will adapt.  I did not like unpacking Freddy.  It was like he was saying, “Hey, what’s going on?!”  And I had to say, “Sorry, buddy, I don’t have limitless aviation budget.”  He understood and said, “Sure was a good trip, though!”  And I said, “Worth every penny!” 

And of course it was.  When I compare aviation to other passions of mine, it is indeed more expensive.  But the opportunity that it allows is incredible.  And so the plane that I got for six grand and keep alive on a teacher’s salary is worth holding onto.  To soar among the clouds, to be in the brotherhood of all who take machines into the air, to be able to look up at the clouds and sky and think, I’ve spent a lot of time up there.  It’s a different sort of existence once I knew how to fly.  Sort of like someone who’s walked on the moon is forever changed in that they can look up at the moon we all see, but they see the one they walked on, the one they’ve been to.  If I’m not going to the moon, at least I’ve been amongst the clouds. 

East Bound Day 3


I am now in striking distance from home.  I’m in Carrollton, Ohio and there is no pilot lounge, so I’m in the cockpit, but that’s just where I like to be on what might be my last evening of the trip. 

This morning I left Madison, Wisconsin just ahead of a dark rainstorm that was approaching from the northwest.  I was very happy to take off and hit 125 knots on my southeast course.  Going east, I lose time to the time zones, but I make up for it with tailwinds usually. 

I flew past Chicago, watched on radar as always with the FAA’s Flight Following service.  And after about 330 nautical miles I landed at Green County Airport near Dayton, Ohio.  Once I landed, someone came out to greet me.  I asked what’s the easiest way to get to the National Air Force Museum, that someone told me about while I was west-bound…The courtesy car, of course!  I told him, I’d top off my gas tanks when I was back, and he said he’d do them while I was away at no extra charge.  Green Co., they don’t mess around. 

So to the museum I went after a quick lunch stop.  And four the next four hours, I walked around in amazement looking at favorite plane after favorite plane.  The F-16, T-38, X-29, Mercury/Gemini/Apollo spacecraft.  You name it, it was there.  All the ex-presidential Air Force Ones, helicopters, balloons, rockets, it was incredible.  I got to sit inside cockpits and do a virtual reality space walk.  The whole afternoon made me very happy I am a pilot!  Incredible aircraft.  The smell inside the Air Force Ones reminded me of submarines.  It’s the same smell, not sure if it’s the metal, the paint, the wiring, or what they use to clean the vehicles, but it’s the exact same and it makes my blood move a little faster.  I was wondering how would I chose between an aircraft and a submarine…and I decided I would split the difference with a spacecraft.  I bet they have the exact same smell. 

The Goblin!  Launched from the belly of a bomber if fighters were attacking.

Then it was on to find my home for the evening.  I landed at Coshocton, Ohio but their office was closed and they had no self-service fuel, so I took off without turning off the engine.  Onto Carrollton where I know they had fuel.  There was no one here as usual, so I checked out the local area, discovered there was no pilot lounge, but found some outdoor electrical sockets, then went for a run.  Since it was dark by then, I ran on the four thousand foot runway.  I ran looking at the runway lights and then up at the stars and lingering clouds, thinking, I just came from there!  It sometimes feels like I’ve been spending as much time up there as I do down here.  I ran down the middle of the runway, my arms spread, smiling to myself. 

So now in the cockpit, I’ve had my dinner of a granola bar, a banana, a carrot, hummus, triscuits, raisons and cheese.  Running a little low on provisions, but the voyage is almost done.  My records need organizing – I keep track of the airports that I visit, so I know which ones I should visit again.  And I keep records of my flights, not just in my logbook, but more detailed notes of fuel costs and usage, miles flown, time in the air. 

And I’m not quite ready to be home yet.  I love these trips.  I love the unknown, I love how I never need the checklist, everything makes sense and there becomes a certain rhythm and familiarity from flying everyday.  I love it.  Man and beautiful Freddy flying machine. 

An instagram friend suggested the Air National Guard is always looking for experienced pilots…makes me wonder.  I love the sense of mission, the purpose.  Still hoping for space. 

But for now I’ll soak in Freddy’s smell which is still the same and as stimulating as it was almost 30 years ago when I was in junior high.  A few more flights to home and I’ll soak in those too.  Got to organize my little spaceship now.  Goodnight!

Friday, June 23, 2017



Denver…was a whirlwind, but it was great.  I saw a fantastic group of friends from Antarctica, then flew down on the following day to Colorado Springs to see an Outward Bound student of mine.  She had been 14 when she took the course with other girl scouts, and during that time we discovered we had a shared love of aviation.  Before the course ended, I made her a temporary airman certificate and told her it would be her certification until she got her real one.  Ten years later, I received a letter in the mail…and a copy of a US Army helicopter certification.  It seems Martha wasn’t messing around!

So I flew down to see Martha to show her Freddy and for her show me the Blackhawk helicopters she flies.  She looked at my 3-page checklist and asked, “Is this your whole checklist?”  It was fun sharing notes, pilot to pilot.  Her checklist looked like a book and her aircraft is incredibly complex.  I taught her about sailing 14 years ago, and there is a lot she could teach me about flying. 

Then to two nights of Dispatch shows!  First at the Ogden and then at Red Rocks.  Red Rocks was the special one, as I’d never been there and had so many friends in the audience.  Friends from high school, college, Antarctica, NOLS, Berkshire School and more.  I rushed about catching up with friends and also did some behind the scenes filming. 

The show was incredible, the band sounding so good.  The most memorable for me was the song Curse + Crush____ written about the death of our cousin last year from a construction accident.  So poignant.  There was something about being in Colorado, at a big outdoor concert, that Matty would have loved.  He would have been there.  It was touching and we miss him so much. 

More catching up with Antarctic and NOLS friends and it was time to depart.  But first a little detour to the North to do some wake surfing and water skiing with some NOLS friends!  Oh man, was this fun.  My arms and legs were sore as were my cheeks from smiling so much.  Two hours on the lake and then it was time to head out.

I landed that night in Grant, Nebraska where I chatted with a farmer for an hour or so as it got dark.  We chatted about politics, women, kids, relationships, farming, and climate change among other things.  Marvin lives alone, never had kids, his wife died a decade ago and not a day goes by he doesn’t miss her.  Since he never had kids, he says he has no one to pass the farm onto.  Niece and nephew show no interest.  Such a nice guy, we talked until it was totally dark.  Before he left, he gave me his number so that if I ever fly through again, I can look him up.  I most definitely intend to see him again.  So fun to meet and connect with someone who just happened to be at the airport at the right time seeing off a few friends. 


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Day 2: Clarion, PA to Osceola, Iowa

An incredible day of flying, perhaps a few of the most stellar flights I've ever had.  I was smiling, laughing, saying things like, "Holy Shit!"  I was flying at just above the base of the clouds.  And such that it was a mostly sunny/partly cloudy day, the clouds were not continuous.  So I was able to pick my way amongst them.  But to this extent, I had not done before.  

I suddenly found myself working with the mind of a mountaineer.  Analyzing the terrain for each safe passage, but this terrain was moving, albeit, slowly.  It was an incredible feeling.  I would be flying straight towards some big bellowing mass and have to pick left or right, unsure of which would provide a clear passage.  I would pick one direction, bank that way, then back to my on course heading and look for a way through.  A few times, I would be planning to soar over a cloud when I realized it was growing faster than I could climb, so I'd have to bank this way and that making my way through.  It felt like the lost combination of all my years of mountaineering and sailing.  The mountains of water vapor, moving ever so slowly, the mesh between the mostly stagnant mountains and the ever-alive ocean.  

I would soar with a wing past expanding mountains growing as if they were molten lava before my eyes.  It felt like a month of mountaineering route finding compressed into a 3 hour flight.  Incredible flight with a reckoning with the clouds as I had not had before.   I will remember this one forever.  

Here's a time lapse of one of the flights:  Crossing the Mississippi

Monday, June 12, 2017

Day 1: Great Barrington, MA to Clarion, PA.

Farm Pond.  I often wonder why I leave...
Finally packed up and ready to go, I was ready to break the chain to the ground, being ready enough.  There is always more things to do but I was ready enough and the clock is ticking.  But it's always hard to leave family and friends and the comfort of home (and Farm Pond!)

All fueled and ready!
The goal is to get to Denver, CO to see my brother, Chad, play with his band, Dispatch, at the Ogden (Thursday night) and then Red Rocks (Friday night), which I've never been to.  The weather didn't cooperate this spring, so I'm having my flying expedition now.

Over 105 degrees.
Sweating it out.

92 degrees today in western mass, meant that it was 105 degrees in the cockpit.  Sweating bullets, I was very happy to get into the cooler sky, where it was a pleasant 70 at 4,500 feet.

This pic was taken over Pennsylvania.  After flying towards the sun all afternoon, I was struck by the amazing thing that we live on a planet near a star.  How lucky we are to exist on such a cool planet.

I landed after 2+ hours in Clearfield, PA but they didn't have self-serve fuel and I didn't want to wait for the services to open up, so I headed on to Clarion, PA, where I've landed many times before.  Got in as it was getting dark.  Had to click the mic seven times to turn on the runway lights.  Such a beautiful sight to see all the lights turn on.

All parked, and flights entered into the various logs.  I'll sleep outside tonight and hope the bugs aren't too bad.  Under the wing, looking up at the stars.  It's always hard to leave home, and I sometimes wonder why I do, but I usually find the answer out here.  Happy to be out and about in the world.  Saw the space station fly overhead as I was parking Freddy.

Hope to fly a good distance tomorrow.  Lots of daylight being so near to the summer solstice.  

A Star Wars sunset.  Looking for the other star in the binary system...

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Comment/Subscription Clarification

Hello!  To readers who would like to leave comments, my mother suggested I make some clarifications.  If you have subscribed (through the window on the top right to get an email each time I post something new) you cannot reply to that email to leave a comment.  I will not get the message.  
If you want to respond, you can click on the blue link at the top of your email - that will take you to the blog.  Then you can scroll down to the bottom and there is a place to read and write comments at the very bottom.  Or you can always feel free to email me directly.  

But to be clear, if you respond to the automated email, I will NOT get your message.  If you want it public, go to the blog and type in your comment at the bottom.  If you want your comment private, email me directly! 

And if you want to subscribe, you type in your email address to the window in the top right, then you'll get an email asking you to confirm you want to subscribe and a link to click on to verify it's really you.   I know many people have put in their address to subscribe but have never verified themselves.  YOU CAN UNSUBSCRIBE AT ANY TIME.  I'll be writing a bunch over the summer with some flying and sailing and otherwise, so do as you chose.  The whole point of the blog is to not overwhelm overflowing email inboxes.  

As always, thanks as always for reading, and thank you Mom!

New Astronauts Announced

12 new Astronaut-Candidates were announced today.  Long ago, I knew I was not going to be among them, but finally seeing the twelve NASA selected from 18,300 was interesting to say the least.  There are men and women, in their twenties, thirties and forties, PhDs and medical doctors, military and non-military, pilots and non-pilots, a SpaceX employee, a NASA employee, a submariner and a bunch of Antarctic experience among the group.  With over 18,000 applicants it's hard to compete.

So again, I am closer to having passed the window of age where I could be selected but seeing who they selected, I am again confronted with the seeming reality that I won't get selected.  Questions arise as I watch and listen on NASA TV.  Should I have joined the military, should I have gone into the Aerospace industry right after college, should I have gotten a masters.  Maybe I shouldn't have worked at a school for the Deaf, shouldn't have become a certified arborist, shouldn't have become a sailor, shouldn't have been trying to learn how to play the bass guitar, and so on and so forth.  NASA's not really looking for sailors, even though astronaut means "star voyager."  They're looking for military test pilots, NAVY SEALs and medical doctors.  I simply don't come close to measuring up to those selected.

Out of the 18,000 there are another hundred who got very close, and some will probably be selected next round.  I was not close at all and didn't even make it through the first round.  So it's extremely unlikely that it will ever happen, and though I've told myself that my whole life it's hard to come face to face with the likely reality.

I will still apply again.  I will be over 40 by the next selection but two were selected this round over 40.  But I expect to get no further that round.

So my answers to the questions?  Even though it may have been lessening my chances, I wouldn't change a thing.  I love my Deaf friends and their language, I love the trees, my sailboat, my borrowed bass guitar.  I've loved my five seasons in Antarcitca, and the expeditions I've done with friends.  I love the expeditions I've led for NOLS and Outward Bound, I love that my tree company is/was called Spacewalk Tree Service and its logo features an astronaut with a chainsaw.  I am happy and feel incredibly lucky.  I have had such incredible support and such an incredible family and network of friends.

And thank the universe, I have my own expeditions to embark on in a matter of days!  Flying my little Cessna-172 out to Colorado to see my brother play in his band, Dispatch, then sailing in Maine on my sailboat before returning to western Massachusetts for the start of the school year at Berkshire School, where I'll teach another year of Engineering and Astronomy.

Not getting selected gives me more freedom and freedom I have always loved.  I can keep sailing, keep flying, keep signing and singing, keep playing ice hockey and squash.  And I'll keep exploring the Earth as if I came from another planet.  I guess I'm an Terranaut, an Aquanaut and Aeronaut.  The elusive Astronaut out of reach, but there is much to be explored still by land, sea and sky.  I have my own "spaceships."  And so I'll not dwell and take to the skies on Monday!

Thank you to all who've supported me with such enthusiasm and for all your words of encouragement along the way!  They mean the world to me!

Here are a few of my favorite shots exploring the world by land sea and sky:

All suited up in my glacier rig while instructing a NOLS course.

One of my first tower climbs in Antarctica as an antenna rigger.

Riding in helicopter to our worksite in Antarctica. 

Sailing in Baja with NOLS.

Instructing a mountaineering course in the Waddington Range of British Columbia.

In the cockpit and at the controls!

All skin covered, probably high on Mt. Erebus in Antarctica.

My view from the cockpit.

Wind turbine work on Mt. Erebus, Antarctica.

Deep underwater in the Bahamas.

At the summit of one of the Scandinavia Peaks, Alaska on a personal trip.

Daphne, my long term spaceship.

Happy as a clam in the Dry Valleys, Antarctica.