Jeremy's Excellent Adventure: Part 2

My Coast-to-Coast Cross Country Flight in a Cessna Cardinal
by Jeremy Elson, August 2004

Days 4-10 - Flying in Lake George

For the first couple of days after the trip ended, I didn't see the plane. I'd had quite enough flying for one week, and was ready to relax and spend some quality time with the family. Lots of us (about 12) get together up there for a week every year.

Getting Gas (Wed. Aug 4)

After a few days of remaining blissfully grounded, it was time to fly again. We had a long plane trip planned for the next day, so I wanted to get some fuel. Going to the gas station to fill up the tanks isn't usually an exciting chore. But when you're an airplane owner, any excuse to fly is exciting!

My brother David came with me to Glens Falls airport -- a short, 15-minute hop down to the other end of 32-mile-long Lake George. David had flown with me in rented aircraft before, but had never been in my plane. He loved it!

After all the excitement of flying the week before, the flight to Glens Falls was awfully relaxing. No clouds. No storms. No Rocky Mountains. No 90 degree temperatures. Sea-level operations. Two radios. I felt like I could do it in my sleep. We navigated south, down the length of lake, turning slightly to the south-east once we had the airport in sight. "I can't believe how good you are at seeing airports from far away," David said. It's just another skill you learn when you become a pilot!

The picture on the left is Roger's Rock, a.k.a. Roger's Slide, a popular rock-climbing spot on the lake. On the right is home sweet home -- Arcady Bay! Our house is somewhere in the middle of the photo. I'm cheating a little bit, though... these pictures were actually taken last year from a plane we rented in Glens Falls.

Getting Friends (Thu. Aug 5)

My sister Franny lives in Boston. It takes nearly 4 hours for her to drive to Lake George--she has to go due west, around the south side of the Lake, then north through the windy mountain road on the west shore. Her lifelong friend Courtney and Courtney's husband Aaron also live in Boston, and were finally convinced to come visit us when they learned they could take the Jeremy Express -- just over an hour to downtown Hague!

I sent them a list of all the airports in Boston, and let them have their pick. On Thursday, Franny and I flew down to Norwood Municipal to pick them up. This was Franny's first time flying with me. She was nervous at first, but by the time we landed, she was asking me if she could learn how to fly! She loved the trip. She also thought it was really cool to be in a vehicle that had a placard saying "Warning: Do not open windows above 120 M.P.H.". (Unfortunately, she was less excited about flying after some turbulence on the trip home.)

The trip was exciting for me, too: While approaching Boston, we saw the Atlantic Ocean! My trip was now officially from coast to coast.

After we found Courtney and Aaron (who took some obligatory glamour shots), I checked the weather. It was very cloudy along the route, so I filed an instrument flight plan. I dialed in the frequency to pick up my flight plan, when...


My radio died again. Arrgh!!!!

This was incredibly annoying, but, at least now I knew that flying on one GPS and one radio wasn't much of a problem. We all piled into the plane. (We were still well under gross weight, since I didn't get any fuel at Norwood, and had emptied all the cross-country gear out of the plane back in Ticonderoga.)

I went back to "one-radio mode," careful to write down frequencies and do everything as far in advance as possible. Unlike my previous one-radio trip, we actually did spend some time in the clouds -- at least 20 minutes. Everything worked out, though, and when we landed I called Burlington Flight Service to tell them we were on the ground and close my IFR flight plan.

Courtney and Aaron have their own page describing the trip, with lots more photos. (The photos above were stolen, uh, I mean, copied from their web page with permission. In exchange for some sweet, sweet Coca.)

Getting the radio fixed... again (Fri. Aug 6)

Not surprisingly, getting a radio fixed in Ticonderoga is not easier than getting it fixed in Dodge City. The main advantage of being in Dodge City was that there were aircraft owners around who recommended a place in Wichita that could help us. In Lake George, I had only a telephone, an AOPA Airport Guide, and my wits.

As the crow (or my Cardinal) flies, the nearest major airport is Burlington, Vermont. There's an avionics shop there, but the friendly owner who I reached by phone suggested that they might not be able to help. His shop wasn't set up for "bench repairs," and didn't have much of a stock of spare parts. He also told me he owned the only avionics shop in the state of Vermont. Uh oh.

I finally found Murray Avionics, at Schenectady County Airport, near Albany -- a 30 minute flight away. The clouds were about 3,000' above the ground, so I flew down there VFR (visually) with my Uncle Alan. He had never flown with me before. Despite some light chop, he loved it. Just like Franny, he enjoyed following our position on the map, and watching out the window for the landmarks it showed.

The great technicians at Murray Avionics spent a few hours with us. Since we were stranded far from home, they helped us despite having much more expensive planes waiting for service! People in aviation do tend to be very friendly. They found the reason why the radio had blown both times: a 3-amp transistor was installed where a 5-amp transistor was supposed to go. The guy at Wichita had replaced the blown one with a working but still incorrect part. At last, my radio was working for good!

We were in for a little excitement on the trip home, though.

Getting in trouble

By the time we were ready to leave Schenectady, the clouds had gotten lower, so I called Burlington Flight Service to file an IFR flight plan. When I told the briefer I was going to Ticonderoga, he said:

"Ticonderoga? We had an aircraft go in there yesterday that we lost contact with."

Uh oh. "What kind of airplane?"

"Someone was talking to Boston Center yesterday afternoon. They were cleared for a visual approach and given a frequency change and we never heard from them again. I think it was a Cardinal. I don't remember the tail number."

I felt a weight form in the pit of my stomach. He was describing me.

"I think that might be us," I said. "We came in to Ticonderoga around 4PM yesterday afternoon in a Cardinal, after being cleared for a visual approach. They didn't send out a search and rescue, did they?"

"We did a search... called the airport pay phone, called the contact phone number on the flight plan, and called the local police..." Gulp. The weight in my stomach got larger.

It turned out not to be a big problem. The Ticonderoga police had been dispatched to the airport, where they verified that my plane was sitting there, and that was the end. But, I was sure I'd closed my IFR flight plan. I tried to convince the briefer that I had definitely called; how had this happened?

"I believe that you called us to close your flight plan. Sometimes the message just doesn't get from Flight Service over to Boston Center," the briefer told me. We chatted for another couple of minutes about it. I felt awful to have put people to so much trouble. But, happy that if I ever found myself in real trouble, someone would come looking for me.

"After I land today, I'm going to call twice, just to make sure the flight plan is closed," I told him. I didn't want to inconvenience the police twice in two days.

The flight back to Ti was mostly uneventful, except for some scattered clouds and a brief patch of very heavy rain. After we parked the plane, I called Burlington Flight Service again.

"Hi, this is N1597H, on the ground in Ticonderoga, closing my IFR flight plan..." I began. The briefer began to laugh. I was very confused; why was this funny?

"This is the same guy you were talking to before. You don't have to call twice," he said.

I laughed, too. But two hours later, I called back anyway.

Day 11 - Down to Bethesda (Sunday, August 8, 2004)

After a week of rest and relaxation at the Lake, the time to leave arrived. The family returned to their respective corners of the coast -- back to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, and Florida. My parents live in Bethesda, MD. I'd arranged to spend a few days there to work with my former colleagues at the NIH on a telemedicine project I helped to design several years earlier. While Mom drove home, Dad and I zipped down to Montgomery County Airpark in '97H. This was my first time tangling with the DC ADIZ, but as I was IFR, it was transparent to me anyway.

I think my dad's favorite part of the trip was takeoff. The airport is right near Fort Ticonderoga, one of many parts of Lake George that played a key role in the American Revolutionary War. We had all learned the details over the past week while watching Liberty and Dad was excited to get an aerial shot of the place. Finally, we turned to the southwest and began the trip home.

For me, the second-best part of the trip was passing over Scranton, PA. Years ago, I was involved in running a computer dating service for high schools -- but, that's an entirely different story. One year, Scranton High School was a customer of ours. They stuck in my memory only because I was physically unable to type the word scranton. Every time I tried, it came out as scantron, since we were using Scan-Tron equipment, and that was a word I'd typed about one million times by the time Scranton was our customer. Now, ten years later, I have an aerial photo of Scranton. Life comes full-circle sometimes.

My favorite part of the trip was that it was so much faster than driving! The "problem" with living in Santa Monica is that I live 15 minutes from one of the world's biggest international airports. It's often hard to justify flying someplace in my little propeller plane when it's so easy to hop on a jet to Vegas or San Francisco with one hour's notice. Ticonderoga is so isolated that flying is both fun and practical. While Mom spent 9 gruelling hours on the road, fighting traffic, Dad and I were home in time for a late lunch and a nap.

I spent the next couple of days in Bethesda, seeing friends and working at the NIH. Then, on Wednesday, the day of my big trip home finally arrived!

Still not had enough? Need more proof of my hypergraphia? Continue to PAGE 3, the voyage home, or my Tips for Pilots planning similar trips.

Jeremy Elson, August 2004