Motorcycle to the Arctic Circle – Live Tracker

It’s live bitches!  The countdown for the ride to the other end of the continent is on.  That’s right!  We’re going to Alaska, the Arctic Circle, and beyond.  The last stop for this adventure is 400+ miles of America’s loneliest dirt road North of Fairbanks in Deadhorse, Alaska.  The Arctic Ocean.  The end of the road.  The end of the continent. 

Stay tuned friends.  When the timer below expires you’ll be able to track our journey live.  It’s just a few short weeks away.

weeks
0
3
days
0
3
hours
2
0
minutes
4
2
seconds
3
5

 

How Much Does It Really Cost to Get Your Private Pilot’s License?

meta-chartNow that the endless hours of study and the stress of the check ride are over I thought I’d take a look back and tally up the total cost of earning my Private Pilot’s license.  Your mileage may vary. 

I took my first lesson on April 18th of last year and passed my check ride on September 15th of this year.  18 Months is a long time over which to spread the task and if you can shorten the time you will lessen the cost, but if you’re juggling work, family or any other number of life activities your situation will likely be similar to mine.  I acquired a new business half way through and took more than six months completely off from flying.

I’m going to include a lot of things in this list that some might see as optional.  I’m a tech geek so I always have all of the accompanying technology for any project I’m working on.  Remember, the point of getting your Private Pilot’s License is one day flying a plane by yourself somewhere without any special sign offs or approvals.  So you might as well go ahead and get all the things that you will practically use to do that while you’re training.

I took my check ride at 59 hours and the average I tend to hear is around 50-60.  I  had 3-4 hours of logged ride along time, 4-5 hours of taking friends and family joy riding with my instructor, 3 hours in tail draggers, and 2 hours of complex in my 59 hours.  Let’s leave that in since that’s how you learn things and run the numbers based on 60 hours, which will include the plane rental for the practical exam:

Airplane, Flight Club and Instructor

Flying Club Membership – $60 / month X 18 Months – $1,080

  • I think it is important to note here that the flying club membership covers your insurance costs so you DO NOT need to hold private airplane rental insurance.  Also, if you’re in Cleveland, Ohio you should check out T & G Flying Club.  These guys are awesome.  Shameless plug for my flight school over.
  • You have to fly about 3 hours a month in a Cessna 152 to break even on the membership.  With 60 hours in 18 months I’m pretty much breaking even on the club membership even after paying the dues during the more than 6 months I took completely off.  If you curious about member vs. non-member rates you can check out the prices here and do your own math.

Aircraft Rental – $78 (wet) / hour X 60 hours – $4,680

  •   I primarily flew the cheapest Cessna 152 they have.  This is the member rate that I get with the above listed flight club membership.

Instructor – $60 / hour X 40 hours  – $2,400

  • This is for Ground and Flight Training

Sub-Total:  $8,160

Books, Exams and Ground School

Formal 12 week Ground School Course – $250

FAA Private Pilot Written Exam fee – $150

Books, Charts and Materials – $200

FAA Check Ride fee – $400

Sub-Total:  $1,000

Technology, Electronics and Miscellaneous

David Clark H10-13S Stereo Headset (from Amazon) – $325

CX-2 Pathfinder Flight Computer (from Amazon) – $75

Apple iPad Air 128GB (from Amazon) – $500

Anker Astro E7 Power Backup for iPad (from Amazon) – $50

ForeFlight Pro Plus Subscription – 18 Months – $300

Travel to the Airport – $648

  • I flew 50 flights during the course of my training, which equates to roughly 80 trips at 15 miles round-trip each to the airport.  Here in Cleveland you can expect to get weathered out a little less than half the time, especially when you’re doing your solo flights and your cross wind personal minimums are low.  I used the federal mileage rate for my calculations.

Buying My Instructor Beer After Lessons (read free-ish ground school time) – $150

Sub-Total:  $2,048

Grand Total

The main reason for writing this article is that when I started researching this process it was difficult to find a true breakdown of the costs as they apply to someone trying to incorporate this type of training into a regular life schedule.  Every cost breakdown I found was geared towards an intensive program and left a lot of the actual costs out.  Without further adieu, here’s the grand total and breakdown:

$11,208

Private Pilot Training Costs

How could you cut these expenses?

I think you could get these numbers under 10K.  Do I think it would subtract from the experience as a whole?  Yeah, probably, but this is what you could do:

  1. Cut Out Extraneous Flying – I spent close to 5 hours in a 172 with an instructor taking my girlfriend, friends, and family flying.   That’s $750 right there.  I spent another 3-4 hours just doing something fun with the airplane, flying to an island or checking out and old, abandoned theme park.  If I had spent that time doing steep turns, stalls, and landing practice I would have got to the check ride sooner.  But hey, if you subtract all of these things you’ll save a $1,000, but it sort of takes the fun out of it.
  2. Train at an Airport That’s Not Too Busy – If the plane is running you’re paying for both the airplane and the instructor.  Why spend that time waiting in line to takeoff?  Time spent in your car driving to an airport is considerably cheaper than time spend on the taxiway.
  3. Drop the Technology – Get a headset on eBay, drop the iPad, battery backup and ForeFlight subscription.  You’ve saved $1,000.  You do not need any of these things to pass your check ride.  However, when you start actually flying you’re going to want them so you might as well learn to use them while you’re training.
  4. Shorten your training time – This is the big one.  I spent 18 months getting this done.  If you have the time, the cash, and the natural skills you can get this done in a month or two and cut your total hours down to 40 or 45.  That should easily knock $2,000 off your total tab.

And that’s it folks!  When it’s all said and done you get to have that special moment that is your first flight as a pilot with passenger:

first flight private pilot

 

 

Free Domain Email With Amazon SES, GMail and Google Domains

amazon-ses-integrationYou want free email for your domain (you@yourdomain.com), don’t you?  Of course you do.  And chances are your shared hosting provider has this service available to you.  However, as we know for my recent article

Firing Bluehost–How I Doubled My Site Speed Using AWS and Other FREE Services

Your shared hosting provider is most likely slowing your site down, reducing your rank in Google’s SERPs, and is wholly incompetent when it comes to handling anything but the most basic support requests.  That’s why I moved this site off of Bluehost’s shared hosting and it is why you should move yours.

One of the biggest problems that needed addressed during the move was what to do about email.  I have several different email addresses at several different domains.  I wanted all the email to show up in the same box, be labeled as the the account it was sent to, and automatically reply with the address to which it was originally delivered.  Tall order, right?  Oh, and I want to do all of this for free.  Here are the services that we’re going to use:

Gmail

gmail-2014If you don’t have a free email account at GMail I would like to personally welcome you to the 21st Century.  GMail is hands down the best free email service on the web.  ‘nuff said.

Google Domains

google-domainsGoogle Domains BETA is providing registrar service.  It’s $12 / year for a .com, which is probably cheaper than your current host.  The interesting thing here for our purposes is that they provide free email forwarding for up to 100 addresses per domain.  Say what?

Even if you’re moving your domain hosting elsewhere I highly recommend moving your domain registration over to Google.  The idea behind Google Voice is:  The last phone number you’ll ever need.  I think we should look at Google Domains the same way.  Why do we drag our domain registrations from webhost to webhost with our websites?  It just doesn’t make any sense.

Amazon Simple Email Service (SES)

Did I say FREE?  I may have been pulling your leg a little.  My total bill for email services for 7 domains with Amazon SES last month was $0.01.  That’s right, 1 cent.  And that’s just because I’m using the service from outside the AWS Cloud.  If you’re inside the cloud you can likely stay within these free tier parameters:

If you are an Amazon EC2 user, you can start sending with Amazon SES for free. You can send 62,000 messages per month to any recipient when you call Amazon SES from an Amazon EC2 instance directly or through AWS Elastic Beanstalk. Additionally, you can also receive 1,000 messages per month for free on Amazon SES. Many applications are able to operate entirely within this free tier limit, and it does not expire after a year.


 
Got it?   Good.  Now let’s take a look at getting all of these services working together to provide domain email service.  I actually have a new domain Raft for Fun that I’ve been tinkering with that doesn’t have email service yet.  Let’s walk through the steps of getting it setup.  I’m going to assume that you already have a GMail account and take it from there.

Setup Google Domains Email Forwarding

Head on over to domains.google.com.  Once you have moved your domain or registered a new one, click on email settings and add the following info like so:

image

If you have not previously registered the account you’re forwarding to you’ll have to go through a standard email verification process.  Note, after you have forwarded your first address in the domain Google Domains automatically sets up Synthetic DNS records for email service:

image

Give it a test.  You should now receive email for you@yourdomain.com in your GMail Account.  That’s the easy part.

Sending Mail With Amazon Simple Email Service (SES)

If you don’t already have an AWS account head on over to aws.amazon.com and create one.

One thing to be mindful of is that when you first create an SES account it will be sandboxed.  This means that SES will only send email to approved and verified addresses.  You can find instructions on the SES console homepage to “free” your account from the sandbox.

The first thing you want to do is verify your domain.  Click “Verify Domain” in the Console, enter your domain name, and you’ll get this box:

image

The important information here is the Domain Verification Record.  Head back over to Google Domains > DNS Settings > And create a new text record like so:

image

After a few minutes your domain should show in SES as verified.

image

While your waiting.  Head to the “Email Addresses” section of SES and verify your email address.

image

This is another standard email verification process.  Once your finished verifying your email address check back and make sure that your domain has been successfully verified.  If both are successful (and you are no longer sandboxed) you are now ready to send email.  Let’s create our SMTP Credentials.  In the SES console go to SMTP Settings > Create My SMTP Credentials > Click Create in the Bottom Right Corner  You should get something like this:

Capture

Save that and we’re back to GMail.  Remember, we can already receive mail because we setup forwarding in Google Domains.  Now to send mail, in GMail, we’re going to click on the Gear > Settings > Accounts and Import > Send Mail As > Add Another Account You Own.  Input your information as follows:

image

Capture

These are the credentials from the previous step.

image

You will once again be prompted to verify your email account.  After you verify that’s it.  You can now send and receive your domain email right from your GMail account.

The very last thing to do is go back to your GMail settings and set GMail to reply using the address the email was originally sent to:

image

You’re done.

Conclusion

It’s a little bit of work, but using this method I have setup free email for multiple addresses at multiple domains that all lands in the same place, is marked with where it was sent to, and automatically replies from the address it was sent to.  What more can you ask for from almost free?

Converting WordPress to HTTPS (SSL) – AND – Preserving Social Share Button Counts

WordPress Lock SSL HTTPSI’ve been thinking for some time about converting freewheelings to https using an SSL certificate.  However, the major problem that has kept me from doing it (until now) is that all of your share counts will be reset.  There is something to be said for social proof.  You see, in the eyes Google Plus, Twitter, Facebook and all of your favorite share buttons https://www.freewheelings.com and https://www.freewheelings.com are two different URLs, which is true.  But this means that when you force your site to use your new SSL certificate at the HTTPS version of your address – poof – there go your share counts.

Let’s look at this in two parts.  First, we’ll go through the ins and outs of upgrading WordPress to HTTPS.

Why Should I Upgrade to HTTPS (SSL)?

Site Seal SSL HTTPSObviously, if you are running and ecommerce site or any other site that exchanges sensitive user information you should have already done this.  HTTPS (SSL) encrypts traffic between the client’s browser and your server leaving it inaccessible to the peeping toms of the Internet.  Freewheelings doesn’t have a store or a member area.  So, why would I upgrade freewheelings to HTTPS?

  1. Geek Cred – I make my living as a technology consultant.  People come here to read and learn about technology almost as much as they do for my awesome travel adventures.  Having an HTTPS site, in the eyes of the technical, provides credibility.  I want that to be the impression this site leaves with people and, especially, prospective clients.
  2. Security – Perhaps It’s only me and a handful of others that log into the WordPress admin panel, but every login is a chance for the bad guys to compromise this site.  Since converting this site to HTTPS logging into the admin panel is just as secure as logging into your online banking.  I bet that’ll keep you up at night.
  3. Google, Google, Google – We know very little about Google’s algorithm, but one thing we know for sure is that SSL counts as of sometime in 2014.  You can read about it right here, direct from the horse’s mouth.  Although it may be a factor that is currently of little weight, that may change.
  4. SSL and Rankings – This is all opinion, but I personally believe we will see the weight of SSL as a ranking factor increase over the years to come.  I currently have no validation for that opinion.  Call it a hunch.
  5. Analytics and Referrer Data– You know when you look at your referrals in Google Analytics and simply see “direct.” as a traffic source?  This is because the traffic originated from a HTTPS site and was then sent to your HTTP site.  In that scenario, the referrer data gets striped away.  However, referrer data is preserved when you upgrade to HTTPS regardless of the origin.  Sweet, eh?

Installing Your SSL Certificate

This topic is going to remain uncovered as it falls outside the scope of this article.  The answer is going to be different for everyone.  In the case of freewheelings I self host WordPress within the Amazon Web Services Cloud and did everything manually.  If you use a managed hosting provider you can likely purchase and install your SSL certificate through cPanel.  Though you’re being had on the cost.  Either way, the rest of this article is based on you having successfully installed your SSL Certificate.  If you’re stuck and require help please feel free to check out the consulting section of this site.  We’re always happy to help.

Converting WordPress to HTTPS

If you have successfully installed your SSL certificate you should be able to access the HTTPS version of your site.  Check it out and make sure it works.  It should look like this:

Converting WordPress to HTTPS

Even if you don’t have the green lock that’s okay.  We’ll get to that in a minute.  Just make sure you can access the site using https.

!!!Warning!!!  Do not continue with this tutorial if you are not able to access your site via HTTPS!

HTTPS Redirection

The first thing that we need to do is tell WordPress and Apache to redirect all of the http URLs to their HTTPS counterpart.  There are multiple ways to go about this, but let’s look at the two most straight forward.

The Easiest way is to use a plugin called Easy HTTPS (SSL) Redirection.  All this plugin does is create the necessary entries in your .htaccess file.  I’ve got my site setup to redirect the entire domain:

HTTPS Redirection Settings

All this plugin is doing is adding the following lines to the .htaccess file located in the root directory of your WordPress installation:

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTPS} off
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI} [L,R=301]
</IfModule>

Editing the .htaccess file directly will yield the same result and save you a plugin.  I found this plugin particularly handy as I staged my HTTPS migration and this plugin let me easily add a few pages or directories at a time.

After we are finished, you should leave these rules in place so that all that hard earned link juice will flow to your new HTTPS URLs.  Ultimately Google will update all of your indexed URLs to their new HTTPS location.  This is not true of all the websites that link to you.  Of course, we also want people to find the pages they’re looking for and we can’t expect every website that links to you to update their links.  We solve this problem by leaving the 301 redirect in place.

Tell WordPress to Use HTTPS

This is easy.  Navigate over to WordPress Settings > General and change the WordPress Address and Site Address to the HTTPS version.

WordPress Admin HTTPS

Fixing Mixed Content Warnings

I’ve converted 3 WordPress sites to HTTPS this week and one of them was just fine at this point.  This site and another, the most robust of the three needed a little more massaging.  If your site has any depth of content you’re probably getting mixed content warnings in your browser bar.  They look like this:

SSL Indicators

The easiest remedy for this is another plugin called SSL Insecure Content Fixer.  Once installed, I recommend starting with the lowest setting and working your way up until you find the setting that fixes all of your insecure content.  In my case that was this one:

SSL HTTPS Insecure Content Fixer

You should now have the green lock that we were looking for, but that’s only half the solution.  You should really look at SSL Insecure Content Fixer as a band aid.  It gets us through the migration, but it slows down the site to the tune of an additional 1 second worth of load time on the homepage.  What we really need to do is go back through the site and fix all of the non HTTPS references that are causing the mixed content problems in the first place.  We’ll save that for another day.

Another Day (Update)

Now that we’ve had the site working properly and a little time to breathe thanks to SSL Secure Content Fixer let’s look at finishing the job.  First, we’ll need to permanently update all internal links to point to their new HTTPS counterpart.  You guessed it, there’s a plugin that can do that.  It called Velvet Blues Update URLs.  Go ahead, give it an install, and meander on over to Tools > Update URLs.

image

Configure the plugin as shown above and give ‘er a run.  WAIT!  Did you backup your database like it said?  You might ought to do that.  Notice two things here:

  • I left off the trailing slash/
  • The only thing different is the ‘s’ in HTTPS

This is going to fix the lot of it, but I’m sure you’ll have other things that you need to find and fix.  In my case I had to:

  • Fix some hard-coded URLs in my widgets
  • Update some old YouTube content from before they used HTTPS.  I Used Velvet Blues for this
  • Update some old FeedBurner content from before they used HTTPS.  I Used Velvet Blues for this as well

I have now disabled SSL Insecure Content Fixer and am running on my HTTPS updated content.  I’ve gained back the additional second of site speed I lost during the migration and am happy to report that by all tests, my SSL enabled site runs just as fast as the non-SSL site did.  Go team!

Preserving Social Share Button Counts

Social Warfare PromotionSo, you’ve made it through the SSL migration.  You open up your favorite article and – poof – your share counts are gone.  I looked for days for a solution to this problem and I almost didn’t upgrade the site on account of it.  Enter Social Warfare.

This is one of the hottest Social Sharing plugins in the WordPress hemisphere.  Now I’m not one that will usually fork over my hard-earned cash for a plugin unless they do something extraordinary.  So let’s cruise through and check out some of the features that make Social Warfare shine.

  • Speed – Say it with me.  Speed.  Your standard sharing buttons make a call to the API of the service provider (Facebook, Google Plus, Reddit, etc.) every single time the buttons are displayed and they take for-ev-er.   They’re usually the last thing to load on your page.  Social Warfare takes a different approach.  They call the API for the share counts of your posts and pages on a predetermined schedule and cache the results in the database.  When a page is served it is served with those cached results.  Outcome?  Your sharing buttons are now one of the fastest things on your page rather than the slowest.
  • Sweet Buttons – I think we’re starting to glaze over the traditional sharing buttons.  Perhaps it’s because they don’t load until after we’re done with the page.  Either way, these new buttons really pop.  You can customize them in over 75 colors.  They are super mobile responsive and have a sexy floating share bar that is not obnoxious.  Feel free to check it out below – and use it.  Wink.
  • Support – If you’ve read this far through the article you probably realize that I’m one of those people that contact support only when I have a legitimate issue.  Most of the time I wind up beating my head against the wall as it becomes painfully obvious that I know way more about the product that I’m calling for support on than the person supporting it.  This not the case at Social Warfare.  These guys are on it!  Nicholas literally had a bug fixed for me in one day and emailed over a BETA for me to use until the patch was publicly released (the next day).  ‘nuff said.
  • Share Count Recovery – This is the meat and potatoes of this plugin and what led me here in the first place.  Whether your moving to HTTPS or changing your permalink structure you can easily tell Social Warfare about the pervious URL structure of your site.  Remember how we talked about caching share counts earlier?  What this plugin does is checks both URLs.  In this case the HTTP and the HTTPS version and adds the share counts of both together and stores them as a regularly updated share count in your WordPress database.  Viola!

social share count recover tool

Simply turn share count recovery on and set the “Previous Connection Protocol” to HTTP and let Social Warfare handle the rest!

There’s Gotta be a Catch, Right?

Sorta, kinda, not really.  Social Warfare is the only plugin (I know of) that provides this functionality.  If there is a catch it is this:  Your share counts from the two separate URLs have not been combined anywhere but on your site.  Which is fine, because it is the only place you are displaying them.  Since there are no other Social plugins that have this functionality you’ll have to keep an active subscription to this plugin to maintain your share counts.  But it’s not like that’s all get.  I’ve seen a marked increase in social engagement just in the last two days.  It’s hard to put a value on that.

What I hope will be the eventual solution is that the content monsters, realizing the trend of people moving to HTTPS, provide the functionality in their APIs to combine share counts for HTTP and HTTPS URLs at the source.  Time will tell.

For now, this is the best solution and Social Warfare provides so much awesomeness outside of count retention that it’s worth it anyway.

Welcome to the world of WordPress and HTTPS!

Private Pilot License – My First Cross Country Solo Flight

You may not know it, but I’ve been working on my Private Pilot license since June.  That’s right boys and girls, freewheelings.com will be taking flight in the not to distant future.  With all of the training, studying and the business I haven’t had time to write about it as much as I’d like.  Things have slowed down a little over the holidays so here goes…

6874002_origWhen you endeavor to get your pilots license there are two marked events that you will remember for every subsequent day of your being.  First, your solo flight.  You’ve been training for a couple months at this point and always with your instructor at your side in the cockpit.  As your skills progress, your instructor will eventually sign you off to solo – fly the airplane by yourself.

It’s been a few months ago now since my first solo, but I remember it like it was yesterday.  My instructor pulled me out of ground school one evening.  “Let’s go see if we can get that solo.”  We hopped in trusty ol’ 714WD (the Cessna 152 that I train in – pictured above) and made a few laps around the pattern.  My landings looked decent and the wind was reasonably calm for Ohio.  As we were taxing back to the flight school my instructor looked it me with the most serious look I’ve ever seen on his face and asked:  “Can you fly this thing by yourself?”  I believe my reply was:  Yes, and I can get it safely back on the ground, too.  If that’s what you’re asking.  My instructor says “well, go do it” and hops out of the airplane.

I’m good with the radios and taxiing is second nature at this point.  Everything goes well and I line up 11703155_10153433105142165_2277848715516414747_non the runway for takeoff.  I imagine every pilot or wannabe pilot has a moment of reckoning there just before their first solo.  Taking off is the easy part, but what goes up must come down.  That’s all I was thinking as I looked over to confirm that my safety net was, indeed, not sitting beside me.  I took one more slow motion glance at the instruments, put my eyes down the runway, and pushed the throttle to the wall.

Instinct and training takes over at that point.  Three laps around the pattern and three landings later I was officially cleared to solo, but that’s not what this story is about.

This story is about my first cross country solo.  That’s the one where you actually have to go somewhere.  A cross country solo flight is officially defined as a “flight of 150 nautical miles total distance, with full-stop landings at three points, and one segment of the flight consisting of a straight-line distance of more than 50 nautical miles between the takeoff and landing locations.  AND Three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower”

The trip I had planned was from Cuyahoga County Airport (KCGF) to Hagerstown Regional (KHGR) to Bedford County (KHMZ) and back to Cuyahogo (KCGF).  My Dad and Brother were to pick me up on Saturday afternoon.  We’d go whitewater rafting on Sunday and I ‘d fly back Monday.

image

Filled with anticipation I woke up Saturday morning and checked the weather before even having coffee.  It was interesting for a student pilot, to say the least.  There were thunderstorms blowing into Cleveland from the North West forecast to be in the area around 10:30 am.  The Appalachians, which I had to cross, were reporting rain and fog (IFR), but were forecast to clear up around 11:00 am.  Using my novice judgment I decided to head down the the airport, wait around as long as I could, and pull out just ahead of the thunderstorms hoping the mountains would be cleared up by the time I got there.

5960968_origI took off at about 10:00, well ahead of the thunderstorms.  Thanks to the iPad and ForeFlight I was able to keep up with the weather en route.  It looked like the Appalachians were clearing up more slowly than forecast from South to North.  It was apparent that if I stood a chance of a clear crossing it would have to be South of my Current heading.  As soon as I cleared Pittsburgh’s airspace I deviated due South towards Arnold Palmer Regional (KLBE).  Conditions were still VFR (Visual Flight Rules), but deteriorating.  I was pretty close to the first mountain ridge at this point and couldn’t tell what was going on past that ridge.

My plan was to take a look.  When I hit Arnold Palmer Regional I took up a direct course toward Somerset County (2G9).  It’s 23 nautical miles between these two airports and the first, major Appalachian ridge splits the distance.  My thinking was that if things got worse I’d have an airport within a few minutes in either direction.

I made it to Somerset.  Conditions were marginal now, but I was almost out of the tallest peaks and flew on.  Within about 5 minutes it became apparent that that was a terrible idea.  It started to rain and the clouds were closing in on me.  I turned 180 degrees and headed back for Somerset, but things sure looked a lot worse than when I had come through a few minute ago.

imageI had to drop down into the valley to stay under the clouds.  I found my fail safe airport and did a fly by to check the wind.  It was perpendicular to the runway at about 9 knots and gusting.  There was a significant grade on the field and I opted for the uphill landing.  It took me two tries to put it down in the wind. I was never happier to be on the ground.  I had survived my first unplanned weather landing.

I parked the plane and strolled into the airport.  I was the only one there besides the airport manager.  I asked if there was someplace to eat around here explaining that it didn’t look like I’d be going anywhere, anytime soon.  He said there was a diner about two miles down the road and asked if I’d like a car.  I say sure and he hands me the keys to an old Suburban out back.  I graciously accept and head off to lunch.  It’s about 11:45 am.

After lunch I spend my time pacing back and forth between the sofa in the airport and the window.  By 3:30 things were looking up, but it was awfully hard to tell what was going on past the ridge. The same ridge that got me into trouble last time.  At four o’clock the manager comes out and advises me that the airport is closing.  I’m welcome to stay the night, but if I leave I’ll have no way to get back in.  He heads out and I contemplate for a few minutes finding it particularly difficult to muster up the gumption to get back in the plane.

Finally, I grab all my things and lock myself out of the airport.  That ought to help me motivate.  About that time an old pilot walks up from the hangers.  We chat for a minute and I explain my situation.  I ask his advice about going back out and he replies “I’m down here.”  I give him the “that’s not the motivational answer I looking for” look.  He says:  “Son, the skies are fine here and there’s no harm in going up there to take a look around.  I’ll tell you what, if you don’t like what you see I’ll give you a ride to town when you get back so you have a place to stay the night.”  That was the motivation I needed.

Now I’m just facing an 11 knot crosswind downhill takeoff and another 11 knot crosswind uphill landing if things don’t work out.  I got this.  I won’t say the takeoff was smooth, but it worked.  When I got up there things looked a heck of a lot better from the sky than they did from the ground.  I flew on to Hagerstown and pulled one of the smoothest landing I’ve done to date.

image

Less some eye opening turbulence, the return trip was uneventful.  I stopped in Bedford to see my Aunt and made the final leg to KCGF without anything in the way of trouble.  I even relaxed enough to take this awesome selfie.

20150907_132530

What have I learned from all of this?

Don’t trust the weather man!  I mean, I knew this before, but I’m certainly glad I had a backup plan and made my crossing where I had an out.  I learned that this has to be a necessity in the sky every single time.

There is no backup up there.  The tower or flight service will help you out if they can, but if you put yourself in a bad situation, you have have to own it.  You have to have a backup plan.

Pilots are awesome.  They are a helpful group of people that will do anything they can for you.  I’m sure there are exceptions, but I haven’t found any.