DAY 1: Martha’s Vineyard to Clarion, PA.
It is time again to be “By Sky” for a bit. I took off today from a wonderful night on Martha's Vineyard to see family and friends and pointed Freddy to the West. I am bound for Lander, Wyoming to take a refresher course for my EMT certification followed by the NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute staff meeting. Though I love aircraft, I have come to despise going to a commercial airport. There’s too much security hassle, too much waiting around, and too many memories of sad goodbyes. So off I go in a little 1970 Cessna 172. I’ve taken the other three seats out so I can sleep in the plane if I need to. I have my bike along, a few days worth of food, camping gear, and my flight bag amongst a few other things to keep me busy on a rainy day.
I flew first to Monticello, NY which has been the customary first stop on all my air voyages to the West. It has a long runway, which I like for the first stop but is not a place I want to hang out for too long. So into the sky I went after refueling from the self serve 100LL (100 Octane Low Led), planned the next leg, got a weather briefing and into the sky Freddy and I jumped.
The weather briefer and I had mostly discussed the thunderstorms across my route of flight and how to avoid them. I listened and then went into the sky to see if I could asses the situation better from the sky. I started at 4,500 feet, but some scattered clouds were about that level so I climbed dup to 6,500. (Aircraft flying west not instrument flying are required to fly at even thousands of feet plus 500’. East is odd plus 500’.) I could see the storms were but I couldn’t quite pick them out of the haze until I was closer.
And that’s when I saw the gates of Heaven. Some of the most beautiful cloud formations I have seen. Towering cloud pillars on either side and a miles-long ramp of puffy comfortable clouds leading to a little gap between the pillars. At this point I was surrounded by clouds, though there were still holes that I could descend through if I needed to go down. I couldn’t quite see how tight the ramp was and didn’t want to be over a solid cloud layer, and I couldn’t quite tell what was on the other side of the gates. I looked to my left and saw a large hole in the clouds that I could fly through and it looked clear on the other side, so hard to port I went.
It was far from straight and level flying and I loved it. Exploring a temporary and so beautiful world that exists right above us. It was one of my favorite bits of flying I have ever done. It felt like a fantasy world, or another planet. And so I made it through the two thunderheads with space to spare and nary a bit of turbulence and continued to weave my way up and over, side to side, under and out around the clouds.
I landed at Dubois, PA, but was told I could not sleep in the plane, so I hoped back in without refueling and flew 15 minutes to the west and landed right around sunset at Clarion, PA. I refueled from the self service pump, and then got a bit of welcome exercise pulling Freddy over to the edge of the ramp by the picnick tables. I’m the only one on the airport tonight and it’s relatively quiet. I had a dinner of chips, a tomato, some zucchini, lettuce and cheese, and I’m now ready to call it a night.
Fuel is more expensive than auto fuel, but one hour of flying works out to be about equal to an hour of tree work. Happily, I enjoy them both. What a treat I had today to witness such a glorious part of our planet. There are beautiful stars out tonight, looking slightly different…a little more familiar in a way, after spending the day in the space between the ground and the stars.