Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Impossible Trip

There are a few aviation events that are written in stone on my calendar.  One of those such events is the Sentimental Journey to Cub Haven in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.  Held every June, Sentimental Journey (or, more simply, "Lock Haven") is often referred to as the "feel-good" fly-in.  It's truly a magical experience.

My first Lock Haven trip was in 2009.  I was a fairly fresh private pilot with a mere year of experience under my belt.  I loaded 21Y up (a trusty 65 hp J3) and made the trek out there with one of my instructors, Steve, and his fellow pilot wife Sharon in a second Cub.  The 650-mile trip from Hartford, Wisconsin, was by far the longest trip I had ever taken, and I learned an awful lot.  Speaking of awful, the weather fit that description following our arrival into William T. Piper Memorial Airport.  While we had good flying weather for the trip, the luck soon changed and it rained every day until we left.  There were at least two days no airplane moved, though a few days were decent enough to allow the flying events.

Always an appropriate cross-country t-shirt

Back side of cross-country t-shirt
It became abundantly clear this was a special place and gathering, even with the miserable weather.  I was fortunate to attend with 21Y again in 2010, and then in Little Airplane, the Super 18 LT, in 2011 and 2012.  In 2013, I was airplane-less and hopped onto a winged beer can and airlined out.  A rather memorable arrival occurred.  Let's just say it involved three airplanes, one too-small Speedo, a bikini, two chicken masks, and the emotional scarring of everyone that was on the ramp in State College that day.
Hail Mary Speedball Lock Haven Express PA-11 crew 2015

I purchased the Oklahoma Kid in April of 2014 and hoped to fly her to Lock Haven in June.  However, her carb rebuild was still ongoing and I was understandably broke from buying an airplane, so I begrudgingly stayed home and did not even buy an airline ticket.


I vowed I couldn't miss two years in a row and that I would be back in 2015.  Fast forward to May 2015.  The Kid was getting new struts and exhaust as part of her annual.  The exhaust wouldn't be done in time and it coincidentally was going to cost the same amount as I had allocated for making the trip to Lock Haven (not counting the struts I had to buy).  I checked airline flights left and right and came to a heartbreaking conclusion: I could not afford to go this year.

To say much grousing occurred would be a gross understatement.  I should probably apologize to everyone that had to deal with me, but I don't think I have that much time.  Thankfully, I had the pity of my coworkers who were quite tolerant of my whining.

This is my "Oh my god, WE'RE REALLY GOING!!!!" face
The Friday before I was supposed to leave was especially rough.  I got a message from a friend who had sold his PA-12 the day before, so I was at least in somewhat good company.  I'll admit it - I cried by myself in frustration.  I had deleted the first day of my vacation request earlier on Friday, but was too depressed to delete the rest (I had planned on having Monday through the following Monday off).

I've always said I have the most amazing friends ever - and it's true.  I checked my phone around 11:00 pm on Sunday night and saw an unread message from Speedy Dave.  "You ready to leave Monday or Tuesday?" it read.  I quickly responded "I could be!!"

I hadn't received a response by 9 am the next morning and was way too excited to wait, so I called him.  We decided we'd follow up Monday night after looking at the weather.  At 8 pm Monday night, we agreed to depart SGS at 1 pm the next day.

About to cross behind the cheddar curtain
It was the most incredible trip to Lock Haven I've ever made.  We experimentally determined that yes, you CAN fit two people and camping gear in a PA-11, but only if you leave behind things like pillows and sleeping pads.  It didn't matter what we had to sacrifice to make it - we were GOING!  Even the tent leak at 1 am was worth it (soggy sleeping bag is an experience I could live without repeating).
Drying round two.  First, the tent leaked at 1 am.  Then I put everything out on the airplane in the morning.  Of course, I forgot it was all there when it started pouring again.  
I don't think I have ever worn so large a smile for so long at a time.  People in aviation talk about the impossible turn - this was the impossible trip.  There was no way I should have made it.  Miss PA the PA-11 was in central Montana until Sunday afternoon and headed 1,000 miles in the opposite direction two days later.  It shouldn't have worked, but it did.  

To put it bluntly: Shit's about to get real!
Showing up when no one thought you were coming was pretty awesome too.
The sensation of coming "home" to Lock Haven could be a veritable book in and of itself.  The "I thought you weren't going to make it this year!" welcomes and hugs were exactly the recharge I needed with my ongoing (and expensive) annual.

Feels like coming home, even in a Ponca City Cub
There's no finer fly-in if feeling welcomed and missed is what you are after.  Despite missing a year, friendships picked up right where they left off, ribbing included (apparently Scott hates spades).  It's true what they say: you get into aviation for the aircraft and the flying, and you stay in it for the people.  I'm incredibly fortunate to have the most amazing people in aviation to call friends and acquaintances.

On arrival.  Felt like I was floating I was so elated.
I'd fly all the way to Lock Haven just for this ice cream, anyways.  Imagine my heartbreak when they ran out of this flavor Friday night.  The horror!
Good friends will call you when they're going somewhere and offer you a ride.  REALLY good friends will stay at Lock Haven during the fly outs so you can fly their airplane alone.  I have REALLY good friends.

Shades of 2009--we had weather like this the whole week on my first trip to LHV.  Thankfully this was just a passing phase!

The cut in the ridge on the left side of this picture always makes me smile.  During my first trip to Lock Haven I chased Leah Jones (Mae Coady) while she flew with Steve Krog.  I snapped a picture of Steve and Leah flying a yellow J3 through the gap that I sent to Leah.  She said the picture took her back 60 years and felt like just yesterday.  

Does this have to end or can I stay here forever?

Leah Jones (Mae Coady), whom I met at my first Sentimental Journey.  Leah was a ferry pilot for Piper and also worked in final assembly (including on the record J3 production day).  Seeing her is the highlight of the trip.
Flyouts . . . embarrassing landing and all.
Glenn's experimental Cub is very similar to the Oklahoma Kid.  So similar, in fact, that a custom painting of this scene, with my airplane substituted for Glenn's, later showed up on my doorstep.
All too soon, it was time to go.  The weather was not nearly as cooperative for our trip back, resulting in an extra night in Lock Haven (there are worse things).  Nevertheless, it was time to go.  The field was empty, the parking cones packed up, and the SJ staff trying to get some sleep to recover from the event.  It reminds me of that Semisonic song: "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here." (Actually, the fine folks at Lock Haven would be more than happy to see people stay around or visit, but that's a separate point)

This is the "We actually managed to leave!" set of faces.  Weather was not so kind trying to leave LHV.
A rainbow in New Castle, PA, boded well for the rest of the trek home.  
Here in western Ohio, the Hail Mary Speedball Lock Haven Express crew split up for the return home.  Miss PA the Wonder Cub headed for Sioux Falls and I hopped in a Decathlon to attempt to head back to Minneapolis.  
Laying on the pavement with this view while waiting for the Decathlon to arrive was absolute perfection.  Warm pavement, comfortable temperatures, and a spectacular trip to reflect on.
Not a Cub.
Despite comments of me "getting saved from a Cub," Miss PA made it back home Monday evening.  The Decathlon made it home Monday morning, which was great except that the Decathlon's home isn't actually Minneapolis.  Let's all take a moment to reflect on the fact that sitting in a Cub would have been faster than sitting in a Decathlon.

Nevertheless, the proverbial lemonade was made out of the giant lemon that the weather was.  I got a quick tour of American Champion Aircraft in Rochester, WI, visited my mom, took a well-earned shower, had a glorious nap, and then got to spend a little extra time with someone special.  It was an early morning the next day to get to work on time, but thankfully even the Decathlon made it that time ;)

Early morning.  Should have just kept flying - I wasn't ready for my adventure to end.
The focus is now getting the Oklahoma Kid back in action (she might fly this afternoon!) so we can enjoy the last scrap of summer and some of fall.  There are many updates on that front, so stay tuned . . .

Until then, I hope you get to experience a trip as amazing as my impossible trip to Lock Haven.  It still doesn't feel real that I made it and I am here to tell you that every sacrifice was worth it.  EVERY. ONE.  The leaky tent, the complete lack of a pillow, sleeping on the ground (no sleeping pad - just a sleeping bag on a tent floor!), the soggy shoes, everything.  I would leave right now if I could go again.