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Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

Wings, Wheels and Walking (or, Just Say ‘No’ to the $100 Hamburger)

The $100 hamburger was invented to give pilots a way to feed their hunger to fly. The burger is six bucks. The plane, $94. “Hey. Anyone want to fly someplace for dinner?”

All the Way to XiaHe, China for this Yak Burger

All the Way to XiaHe, China for this Yak Burger

I’ve been working as a part time flight instructor at Monadnock Aviation in Keene (KEEN), NH. The airport was shut down this June for about 10 days for re-paving, and owner Beth graciously offered me the use of the Cessna 172 during that period. Relocating the bird to Springfield/Hartness airport in Vermont (KVSF) allowed me to re-kindle a project I last made progress on 15 years ago.

The idea is to combine three things I enjoy – flying, cycling and hiking. The goal is to fly to the airport nearest the high point in each state, ride my bicycle as far as the road goes, and then hike to the summit (if necessary). The previous work toward attaining this (dubious to some) goal was when I lived in Pittsburgh, PA and flew with the Beaver Valley Flying Club based at KBVI. I’ve lost some track as to my progress, but I know Archer N47562, Monty and I bagged Mt. Marcy in New York’s Adirondacks, Mt. Rogers (Virginia), Mt. Mitchell (North Carolina and memorable for the 100F heat), Campbell Hill (Ohio), a corn field in Indiana, and Delaware’s high point (in a trailer park).

At Lake Placid, NY About to Head for Mt. Marcy

At Lake Placid, NY in the 90’s About to Head for Mt. Marcy

The flight planning for these adventures has always been diligent. I’ve done quite a bit of self-contained cycling (those guys you zip past in your car who are loaded down with saddle bags of stuff, often drenched in the rain), and the ground planning is often nearly absent. I usually remember to look at a road map before I take off, and may even refer to some trail maps. But I approach the ground transport with a “Lets Go!” spirit and often forget the planning that might make them more successful … or make me more prepared. (Two trips were required to find Mt. Rogers since the locals didn’t know where it was. This confirms what I’ve found during years of traveling – you can never rely on local knowledge. Inquire, but don’t rely.)

Some of the Flight Planning Info

Some of the Flight Planning Info for  the Flight to Millinocket

An airplane that can transform to a car comes with compromises that make it disappointing in both regards. For me all the compromises must bear on the bike, though the compromises are relatively slight. My ride is an old Montague folding mountain bike made back when they were marketed by Schwinn. It fits comfortably in the back seat of a Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee.

Much of what makes an airplane are the avionics – an inexpensive Cherokee with a modern instrument panel (worth more than the plane) can be a treat to fly, though some may wonder why you’ve made the investment.

The analogy for bikes are the “components” – the crank, rear gear cassette, derailleurs (the things that move the chains between gears) and the shifters and brakes. Most of the money in a good bike is in the rear wheel.

The old Monty has a slightly flimsy frame (due to the folding joint stiffness), though it is relatively light. In terms of riding, it’s primary attribute is the utter cheapness of the components, and the only reason I have it is because it folds in half. I’ve replaced the original rear wheel – the spokes pulled out the first time it was heavily loaded – but the most expensive addition I’ve made to the bike is replacing the saddle. I try not to go too fast downhill since I have little faith in the brakes which also means I have trouble not going too fast downhill. I haven’t replaced the gearing and shifters, and I curse the thing every time I shift, vowing to upgrade the components, though never doing so. (To shift down one speed, I have to shift down two and then shift up one, and/or vice-versa. And that works, sometimes.)

Only in 36C's Dreams

Only in 36C’s Dreams

I can’t see dumping money into it. It’s the same thing that goes through every airplane owner’s mind when they’re wishing they had DME (distance measuring equipment) but can’t bear to part with the thousand bucks since how often do they really need it? And it would be nice to have a glass panel, but a tablet works well enough and costs thousands less. (If you wait long enough, maybe Android will be FAA certified.)

So with that as the background, we’re off to Millinocket, ME for an attempt on Mt. Katahdin – at 5269 feet the highest point in Maine and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Nothing really went wrong on this trip, it’s just that everything took a lot longer.

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Millinocket and Katahdin on the Montreal Sectional Chart

It has been said that a pilot’s license is a license to learn and in my experience this continues to be true. I checked the weather and filed my IFR flight plan the night before using the government computer system, DUATS. During the morning weather briefing with a human (this service is contracted to Lockheed-Martin) I learned there was forecast icing at my filed altitude of 9000 feet, so I decided to amend my cruise altitude to 7000 feet to avoid any possibility of running into ice. I was surprised to learn that they do not have access to flight plans filed through DUATS. In fact, they couldn’t even view my flight plan so I had to repeat my route of flight and other info just to get the briefing. In order to amend mine, the briefer had to put me on hold and call “Center”. Good enough, but getting my clearance from Burlington Radio just before launching a couple of hours later, the flight plan had not been amended. “Oh well, I’ll ask for lower once I get airborne.”

This is the second time this year I’ve run into this situation where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. On a flight earlier this year with an instrument/commercial student we filed and activated a VFR flight plan and picked up VFR flight following from KEEN, through the New York Hudson River corridor and on to Cape May, NJ (KWWD). We did a practice ILS approach into Cape May talking to Atlantic City Approach (KACY). After parking, my student discovered that his phone had several messages from Flight Service asking where we were, since we were slightly overdue. Surprised that Atlantic City hadn’t apprised them of our situation, we cleared up that we were, in fact, alive and no search and rescue attempt was necessary. Departing Cape May, and re-initiating flight following with Atlantic City Approach, they asked us if we’d talked to Flight Service because they were looking for us. It turns out that having a VFR flight plan in no way connects to VFR flight following or other ATC functions. If you need to report your progress on your flight plan, you need to go off of center frequency to talk to an FSS, report your status, and then go back to center. This seems to be a rather serious flaw in the system, but what do I know.

Mt. Katahdin in the background

Mt. Katahdin in the background

I figured the flight to Millinocket would take 2.5 hours in N5136C – a 2002 180HP Cessna 172SP. Departing KVSF, only the low scattered cloud layers that were predicted were present, so I was only able to log 7.5 seconds of actual instrument time during my initial climb. After getting high enough to contact Boston Center, I was almost immediately given the opportunity to shave a corner off my route by flying direct to Kennebunk VOR when I was able to receive it’s signal. There were no clouds above me by the time I got to 7000 feet, so I just continued to 9000. Noting I had entered “VFR GPS” in the remarks section of my flight plan, the center controller asked me if I was OK going direct to Millinocket. I told her that I certainly was OK with it. This saved a bit more time. Nevertheless, I arrived in Millinocket 15 minutes behind plan due to the murderous 40+ knots headwind most of the way. The ride was exceptionally smooth, though.

Boston Center stepped me down to 6000 feet (the winds were no better) to set me up for a VOR approach to KMLT to get through the broken cloud layer below me. But when I was 30 miles out the clouds were breaking up, so I canceled IFR with Boston Center and went down through a hole in the clouds for a visual approach. Boston kept me squawking with them and on their frequency until I was about 10 miles out – this was comforting as it is pretty much wilderness up there and it was nice to know someone was watching. Tuning in Millinocket’s ASOS (Automated Surface Observation System), the surface winds were reported as beastly (that’s aviation-speak for bad), the heading varying between 350 and 030 degrees at 15 knots gusting to the 20’s. I prepared for a bumpy approach and was not disappointed. On short final for runway 34 I kept the ASOS tuned in to get updates, but didn’t really need confirmation to know that I was getting a bad ride. I was coming in 10 knots faster that my normal approach speed with just two notches of flaps. I saw the airspeed indicator swing between 60 and 80 kts and back in a matter of a second. The last ASOS report before touchdown (plantdown) was 010 at 13 gusting 28.

Plantdown was 2.8 hours after departure. All those shortcuts kept me from being even later. Jeff, who mans the FBO, came out to meet me and help me tie down. “Windy up there today? Well, at least it keeps the black flies down.”

DSC_0436a

No Sight of the Summit, Yet

It was on short final into those gusty headwinds when I noticed I was pointing directly at Mt. Katahdin capped in clouds. The realization that these were going to be the same winds I was about to ride against on my bike settled in. After “Three Six Charlie” was chocked and tied down, I unfolded Monty, loaded her up and off we went. Into the wind. I estimated it would take about 2 hours to cycle the 25 miles or so into the campground in Baxter State Park, but it took over three and a half hours. I stopped for a snack and to replenish my stock of Snickers bars at the North Woods Trading Post (last gas before the park). “Gettin’ blown around on that bike today? Well, at least it keeps the black flies down.”

Lean-To Accommodation

Monty and Our Deluxe Cabin Class Accommodation

I had booked a lean-to at Katahdin Stream Campground figuring it would save the weight in carrying a tent. I hadn’t really thought all this through even after my buddy, Roger, reminded me to stock up on DEET. Fortunately, I heeded his warning if not fully grasping the implications, and had a new, full, 10 oz. bottle. But no tent, nor the associated bug screen. My introduction to the imminent threat of death by blood loss due to insect bites was when I stopped at the park gate and presented my reservation form for the lean-to. The gatehouse was protected from the wind, and, therefore, unprotected from the bugs. I was immediately covered with mosquitoes. There were seven on my hand as I produced my reservation form. While the park rangers were distracted admiring my rubber ducky handlebar horn and debating whether or not it counted as a “pet” (not permitted), I quickly broke into my DEET cache and doused myself.

Eight miles of dirt road later, we arrived at the campground and my stream side lean-to. Still windy and the mountain was still covered in clouds. No chance to try for the top today – too late, anyway. The ranger I checked in with said, “It’s been too windy to hike today, but at least it keeps the black flies down.”

Fortunately, the winds kept up and the temperature dropped into the 40’s, so the bugs were kept to a low roar and it was cool enough to zip my sleeping bag up in defense. Hanging my food bag out of the reach of bears afforded the only evening entertainment after I took a short walk up to see some waterfalls. Liberal quantities of DEET were sacrificed on my behalf. It is probably bad for your health and knocked 2 years off my lifespan, but at least it kept the black flies down.

A Friend on the Trail

Easy to Make Friends on the Trail

View During the Ascent

Some Great Views on the Ascent

If I couldn’t hike the mountain on day 1, my “plan” was to hike the mountain, ride back to KMLT, and fly back to KVSF on day 2. I figured the hike was 6 hours round trip. An 05:45 alarm got me up, breakfasted, packed the bike to be ready to go after the hike, and on the trail at 06:47.

“Should be back noon-ish,” I thought, optimistically. Well. I was making steady progress on the trail, but had a couple of people pass me which is always disheartening. Two guys just blew past me which really hit my morale where it hurts, though I later caught up to them and passed them above tree line. The “trail” became a scramble, sometimes in a stream bed.

I caught up to a woman at 09:10, still below treeline, who said this was about half-way. “Can’t be,” I thought. I’d been on the trail over two hours. But she was about right.

Not "The Tablelands" and Not the Summit

Not “The Tablelands” and Not the Summit

Top of Maine

Top of Maine

“Climbing” mountains is often a misrepresentation of hiking a trail. Not so here. There were several short pitches of rock that were quite steep. And on the down climb I scouted many less airy routes around the “trail”. For those Appalachian Trail hikers starting in the south and ending here, this must feel like a final insult. Eventually I made it up the scramble to “The Tablelands” and across to the main summit at 11:48, just over 5 hours up. Nice view.

I was already patting myself on the back thinking about the iodine in my first aid kit and how that would treat the water at the first stream I came to on the way down. The two liters I packed that morning was plenty for a six hour hike …. not for 10 hours, though. “Thoreau Spring” is located on The Tablelands, but didn’t afford an easy means to fill my bottles as it would be better named “Thoreau Ooze”. I still had some water left, anyway.

View from the Summit of Katahdin

The Tablelands from the Summit (That’s Snow in June)

I continued down, down, down, through the rock scramble, finding alternate ways around places that required a scary-ish down climb. My legs were shot, and just in time I got to tree line and had some trees to hold onto as I continued to hobble down. Shortly below entering the trees, the path shared a stream bed and I was able to make some potable water. Sweet, with a hint of iodine and fruity undertones of Vibram boot soles.

I finally reappeared at the campground five and a half hours after leaving the summit – it took longer to come down than go up. I was knackered. There was NO WAY I was going to be able to cycle back to Millinocket that day. I thought about getting on the bike just to see how painful it would be, but decided to just imagine the pain. So I paid for another night at the lean-to and curled up snuggled with my bottles of DEET and Aleve after a chilly wash in the stream and awaited the onslaught of black flies which, fortunately, never came. I was glad I packed enough bagels and peanut butter and jelly to carry me through.

The next morning it was as painful to get on the bike as I imagined, but it was a beautiful day and the ride out was pretty pleasant – no wind to speak of, and no insects as long as I was moving. Going out of the park trended slightly downhill. I stopped to take a look at Stump Pond and there was a big furry rock drinking near one edge of the pond. Bear? Nope. Just a moose stumping around.

Stump Pond

Big Furry Rock in Stump Pond

The often overlooked virtues of having an airplane for drying laundry

The Often Overlooked Virtues of Having an Airplane for Drying Laundry. Katahdin in the Background.

 

I grabbed a breakfast sandwich at the North Woods Trading Post. “Winds are much better today! How was the hike?” “It was windy, so there were no black flies.”

Back in town Monty and I rolled through the airport gate up to 36C, and I hung my laundry out to dry while doing the pre-flight on the plane. I went into the FBO to take a sink bath, change my clothes and check on the weather for the return flight. It was going to be a great day – much lighter winds than the outbound trip. I didn’t bother with an IFR flight plan, but I filed VFR and would get VFR flight following to keep an eye on me over the wilderness.

 

DSC_0572

Flagstaff Lake and Bigelow Mountain, ME (Dead Bug on Windscreen)

Circling around the north and west of the White Mountains in NH, I could see the poor visibility hanging in the mountains and got a good appreciation for the ruggedness of these hills and the beauty of this lake country. Two thirds of the way home I had to descend a couple of thousand feet to get under a cloud layer and Boston Center notified me “radar contact lost”. No more flight following, but I was pretty close to KVSF and just followed the Connecticut River valley south to Mt. Ascutney and in to KVSF.

I didn’t even contemplate cycling the day after getting home. The second day, however, I was ready to do something. and I looked everywhere for my cycling shoes. I’m often confounded by the fact that I always find things in the last place I look, but I didn’t even find them there, so I went for a ride in my tennis shoes.

That night I thought, “Could I have left them at the airport in Millinocket?” I called and left a message on the answering machine hoping they were on the floor next to the computer I used to check weather. Jeff called me back. “Yes. I found your shoes. They were delivered to Jaffrey yesterday.”

“Jaffrey?” (KAFN is just on the other side of Mt. Monadnock from KEEN – 20 miles.) I have no known connection to Jaffery other I flew there once to get ice cream.

“Yes. Harvey was in here yesterday on a charter. You know Harvey?”

“Yes (not really), but …”

“I was telling him about a plane from Keene being in here and a guy on a bike and I think he left these shoes here. He recognized the tail number and said he knew Monadnock Aviation. So he took the shoes.”

“Seriously?!”

I called KAFN looking for Harvey, but spoke to his wife, Lee. “Um … Did Harvey happen to pick up my shoes in Millinocket the other day?” “…. Oh! You’re the shoe guy! Yeah. We’ve got ’em!” So I had an excuse to drive to Jaffrey to get some ice cream … err.. my shoes.

Too funny.

Clouds

Clouds En Route to North Adams

Mt. Greylock, MA

War Memorial on Mt. Greylock

There were still a few days before KEEN would re-open, so I plotted a course to try and nab the high points of Massachusetts (Mt. Greylock) and Rhode Island (Jerimoth Hill) in one day. It was not to be. Approaching Danielson, CT (KLZD) from the north, I was looking at the edge of a wide storm (a storm I looked at on radar before leaving home and thought I might be able to beat). The clouds were reported at scattered 300 with temperature and dew point at 19C. Not ideal for flying or biking. So over Southbridge,MA I diverted northwest to North Adams, MA (KAQW), unloaded the bike in full sunshine and grunted up the 12 mile road to the war memorial atop Mt. Greylock. Monty and I were passed by a few cyclists wearing team colors, sigh. I did manage to stay ahead of the woman walking her dog, though. A few steps down from the view at the top, Bascom Lodge offered a nice hummus and roast eggplant sandwich. The guy seated next to me had a yummy looking pulled pork sandwich. They had ice cream. The ride down was 95% coasting, wishing I had upgraded Monty’s brakes, and vowing to do so, someday.

One of Many False Summits of Rhode Island

One of Many False Summits of Rhode Island

I returned to Danielson for an attempt on Jerimoth Hill the next day in bumpy conditions. The round trip seemed like a ride in a washing machine. The “climb” up to the summit of Rhode Island at 812 ft MSL was pretty decent. It was just about seven miles from the airport along Route 101 which had a good shoulder and light traffic. I scouted out a good ice cream place just before leaving Connecticut. The highway sign for Jerimoth Hill is about 500 feet (horizontally) from the actual top. Walking through the woods of small boulders I thought it must have been a challenge to the surveyors to find the actual high point. The Nepalese prayer flags hanging in the trees around the top made it obvious, but I doubt they were there for the survey crew.

The True Summit of Rhode Island

Monty at the True Summit of Rhode Island

The brownie hot fudge sundae with cake batter ice cream and a cherry (yes, I will have the nuts thank you) consumed upon re-entering Connecticut had enough calories to maintain a family of four for a week.

Cessna 36C was patiently waiting for us back at Danielson, and the flight back to KVSF was uneventful though it was nearly impossible to maintain any given altitude – the vertical gusts were set on a heavy wash cycle. (Time to believe that AIRMET for moderate turbulence.) As soon as I could pick it up, I monitored KVSF’s ASOS. Some reports had the winds above the demonstrated crosswind capability of the plane. But by the time I was getting close to land the direction and magnitude of the winds had settled down a bit. It is important to note, however, that after a dozen trips flying into runway 29 at KVSF, I still hadn’t done a decent landing. This trip was no exception. I blame it on the crosswinds, but at least they keep the black flies down.

The Rewards of a Hard Day

The Rewards of a Hard Day

Both runways at KEEN reopened on schedule at the end of June and the students began to return. But July 1st arrived with no students on my schedule and the promise of fair, though hot, skies. A good opportunity to bag the high point of Connecticut. It was already getting hot as I loaded Monty into 36C. I launched later than I wanted to due to morning fog and arrived at Great Barrington, MA (KGBR) a little after 9. It’s a cute little airport with a 2400 ft paved runway in the southwest corner of the state. The approach end of runway 11 is highlighted by a clump of trees just a couple of hundred feet from the threshold. It was hard to avoid yielding to the temptation to go through the space around either side of the trees, but I think that might have been a losing game.

36C at Great Barrington Airport

Three Six Charlie at Great Barrington Airport

I parked on the grass and was greeted by one of the local instructors, Dante. As I secured 36C and assembled Monty, I described my project to him and inquired about the presence of a hose that I might desire upon my return from the summit of Connecticut. No problem.

Connecticut’s highest summit is Bear Mountain at 2316 ft., but the high point of Connecticut is actually on the southern slope of Massachusett’s Mt. Frissel at 2380 feet. (The summit of Mt. Frissel is at 2653 ft.) Off I rode into the heartland of Mt. Washington State Forest (with a quick stop at the South Egremont Deli to pick up a sub for lunch.)

How to Get to the High Point of Connecticut

Ground Planning to the High Point of Connecticut

It was a long climb up a peaceful road in low gears passing some huge homes enroute. Shortly after the pavement ended I found the car park (within sight of the MA/CT state line marker) for the trail head about 2 hours after leaving the airport. A couple was just heading off on their quest for another of the New England high points, but their major project was to hit New England’s 100 high points.

I love these projects. Maybe someone should start a project of climbing the highest point in each state which is not a mountain/hill top. Maybe it’s been done.

Locking Monty to a tree, I donned my day pack and headed up the trail which quickly became a scramble. I kept telling myself this is not Katahdin. This first part of the trail topped out on Round Top Mountain (and first point for some much needed breezes) where I ran into another highpointer – a guy from Michigan who was on his way home from Dubai and on his way down from the top of Frissel. This was his 32nd high point and he was hoping to get Massachusetts and maybe Vermont before heading home.

A slight down scramble from Round Top to the shoulder joining it to Frissel led to a longer scramble up to the tree covered, viewless, windless, hot summit. A hundred yards or so south-ish from there on the open shoulder of the hill led to the geologic marker at the state border and high point of Connecticut – about an hour and twenty minutes from the car.

High Point of Connecticut

Watch Where You Sit!! The High Point of Connecticut Really is a Point

Did I mention it was hot? The panoramic view over the Berkshires from the high point was a good lunch spot with some warm breezes.

The hike down was relatively uneventful and much faster than the scramble up. I’m usually on the lookout for snakes on hikes since I don’t really like them, but I hadn’t really thought about it much on this hike. Easing down an angled rock slab, a garter snake rolled past me down the slab which alerted me to set my sensor level a bit higher. Nearing the top of the scramble back up Round Top, I heard this high pitched chirping. Almost a squeal, it sounded like a big insect. I was looking around in the undergrowth to see the cricket that could make such a racket when I noticed the rattlesnake on the side of the trail a couple of feet in front of me. Yikes. It was a much higher frequency pitch than I’ve heard in other similar encounters. Made me wish that I hadn’t saved the weight of my ankle high boots and brought them rather than hiking in my tennies. One more garter snake on the way down, and I was safely back to Monty.

Note that DEET is ineffective against reptiles.

Final Battle of Shay's Rebellion

Site of Final Battle of Shay’s Rebellion

The ride back to Great Barrington was mostly downhill, so a treat after the heat of the ride in and the hike. Another stop at the South Egremont Deli for some cool drinks, and I was on my way for a short side trip to the site of the last battle of Shay’s Rebellion of 1787 on a side road to Sheffield, MA.

Back at the airport I folded up Monty and loaded her and the rest of the gear into 36C, then searched for that hose. The first few seconds produced solar heated hot water, but shortly it became ice cold – just what the doctor ordered. I doused myself with the secondary goal of washing the sweat from my cycling clothes. A quick wardrobe change and I was ready to be airborne again. Departing runway 29, I would fly over the same trees I flew in over, and I had hoped to snap a few pics of the departure. But the gusty, direct crosswinds on takeoff kept me otherwise occupied. I sailed back to KEEN through hazy skies with a 25 knot tailwind. It was hot, humid, and hazy – thunderstorm season is soon upon us.

The only New England summit remaining for me is Vermont’s Mt. Mansfield. Though, come to think of it, I haven’t summited New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington by flying there and biking to the trailhead….