Flying fromVacaville to Virginia in the Amazing ICON A5

The following blog is a collaboration between Bruce Holmes, my husband, and me, Connie Waetzig Holmes.  The piece is written from his perspective.       

Long, long ago…

Ten years ago to be precise,  the ICON Aircraft Company’s founders, Kirk Hawkins and Steen Strand, had a dream to create an aircraft to stimulate new consumers of the experience of flight, or unbounded liberty in the air as I like to describe it, reaching consumers outside of the traditional markets for light aircraft, for example from the power sports communities. Their design had to have capabilities and style that would be innovative, safe, and fun to fly, landing on both land water (“Bad Ass” as the company likes to describe it). The result:  The amazing Icon A5 went into design and production.

Full throttle ahead to delivery in 2018: I and my wife Connie now own one of these awesome amphibians.  I took delivery at the ICON plant in Vacaville, CA, on November 19. The next day began the epic journey home to Virginia.  Why the ICON for me?  More on that question later.

Flying from coast to coast in any airplane is a great means of getting to know your machine, intimately – even more so if the aircraft is slow.  The A5 has a maximum airspeed of 109 mph or 176 kph. What it lacks in speed, it makes up in maneuverability and efficiency.

Delivery and Keys at the ICON Aircraft Company Plant at Nut Tree Airport (KVCB) in Vacaville, CA.

Oh Happy Day!

fullsizeoutput_4cda

Passing of the Keys and the Delivery Inspection for My New A5.

Flight Day 1: Takeoff from Vacaville, CA. to Fuel Stop in Bakersfield, CA.

The beginning of the journey: takeoff from Runway 2 at Nut Tree Airport (KVCB), Vacaville, CA.  On the morning of departure, I called Flight Service, gave my flight plan for the route down the San Joaquin Valley toward the Tehachapi Pass.  The briefer said, “VFR Not Recommended …” and “…  expect IFR conditions all day, all the way to the southern end of the Valley.”  His caution was proper and was due to the smoke from the California wild fires, still burning north of us and farther south near LA.  Because of clear sky overhead at Vacaville, I decided I could take a safe look; I could always come back and re-plan if needed.  The briefer was accurate (about the smoke) but also inaccurate (about the ceilings and visibility).  Actually, the ceiling was unlimited, and the visibility was more than 6 or 10 miles all the way to Shafter-Minter Field (KMIT), a crop duster airport near Bakersfield at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley.

fullsizeoutput_4cdf

Runway 02 at Nut Tree Airport (KVCB) the Beginning of the 2,613 st.m. Journey to Virginia. (Bruce Holmes)

The Plan

The final trip itinerary did not actually emerge until about Day 3, but here is the routing that I ended up taking.  As a means of managing total situational awareness for the mission, I enlisted the help of a long-time friend, fellow aviator, and business colleague, Robert Wright (Wright Aviation Solutions). He and  I organized the idea of a “virtual copilot” operation.  We would hold daily briefings on the usual matters of wind, weather, and fuel planning. We also discussed a range of ancillary issues such as lodging options, crew-car availability, fuel price, sunrise/sunset, density altitude considerations in runway choice, etc.  Many of these topics were much easier for my “co-pilot” to investigate ahead of real-time changes necessitated by unpredicted winds or weather, all making for a higher level of confidence and comfort along the way.

We also discussed, but did not execute, sight-seeing side excursions from the route plan (e.g., Grand Canyon).  My single-minded mission was to bring the airplane home.  The splash-ins sight-seeing can wait for future flights.  As you will see, this trip had plenty of eye-candy along the say.

We used satellite tracking and text messaging tools during the day for double checking each of the flight segments as they unfolded.  We can imagine that prospective ICON flyers using the A5 for multi-day adventure flying and visiting America’s waterways might have enhanced fun with an “adventure concierge” support mechanism such as we employed.

Vacaville to Virginia

The Route Plan: Vacaville, CA – Bakersfield, CA – Victorville, CA – Flagstaff, AZ – Santa Fe, NM – Liberal, KS – Clinton, MO – St. Louis, MO – Lexington, KY – Chesterfield, VA – Williamsburg, VA. (Bruce Holmes)

The ICON has a cosmic viewing portal (AKA windshield) to the world.  I can imagine how the astronauts on the International Space Station felt when they got their new panoramic viewing window a few years back.  Airliner windows are way too small; in fact, if they would fix up a viewing bubble with seating on top of the fuselage, I’ll bet they could find a new way to generate revenue.  The sun was in my face for the three hours of flight down the Valley, but my vision was saved by the sun film.

wLQvs21wTfmrgvXfty5fdA

Simple and Low-Cost Sunscreen. (Bruce Holmes)

qRx3Nr9uTmKIPS2UWAEXSA

Smoke over the San Joaquin Valley from the Wildfires in California. (Bruce Holmes)

When I arrived at KMIT, the crop duster pilots were on lunch break and came up to the ICON exclaiming, “Wow, what IS that!?”  They would take pictures of each other with the aircraft, while I took pictures of them taking pictures.  This was the first of a performance that was repeated everywhere I stopped on the journey home to Virginia. After selling me some fuel, they asked if I’d had lunch and treated me to some of their box lunch offerings.  Below are pictures of my plane and two of the agricultural aircraft.

 

Navigating through the Tehachapi Pass into the Mojave Desert.

After eating a bite and filing the flight plan for the next leg, I took off headed toward the Tehachapi Pass, the entrance to the southwestern desert.

8hRk3l2XS46sX+a1Hx2ROg

CA Route 58 Snaking Along the Tehachapi Pass from Bakersfield into the Mojave Desert.      (Bruce Holmes)

Spread below me in the Mojave Desert are Edwards AFB and NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. These venues are where the future of aviation is unfolding with electric propulsion system research, supersonic boom flight testing to re-open the supersonic transport era, and the opening of space tourism with the recent successful flight of Richard Branson’s Virgin Spaceship Unity. It blasted to 51.4 miles above the earth and landed on the runway you see in the distance in the photo.  The spaceship/aircraft was created by colleague Burt Rutan and his The Spaceship Company. (Gotta love their address: Mojave, California, Earth.)

fullsizeoutput_4ce1

Edwards AFB, NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center and the Mojave Air and Space Port in the Distance. (Bruce Holmes)

Next, I landed in Victorville, CA, at Southern California Logistics Airport (KVCV), kind of a “spook” airport. (Lots of aircraft festooned with lots of antennae and painted gray.)  I parked at Millionaire FBO.  Ramp crew showed up — wanted pictures of themselves with the ICON.  I think I held the record, at least that day, for the smallest aircraft on the field.  I took advantage of their waived parking fee for topping off my fuel load.  I imagine they were not thinking about an ICON showing up, needing only five gallons of fuel.  I picked up the keys to their crew car and headed to my hotel for the night.

6vK0hkWFRTCZFrJg+W+nTg

Millionaire FBO Ramp Crew Member at Victorville (KVCV) Taking Pictures of Himself with the ICON. (Bruce Holmes)

Flight Day 2: From Victorville, CA, Across the Desert Toward the Next Fuel Stop in Flagstaff, AZ, then on to Santa Fe, NM.

I was up at dawn, dropped the crew car back at Millionaire. In my adrenaline-fueled excitement taking delivery on Monday, I flew away on Tuesday from Vacaville with the keys to my rental car.  Before I departed the FBO in Victorville, I left the keys with the person at the desk, who kindly assured me the keys would be shipped back to the rental car company on my behalf. Lesson: Take a deep breath every now and then and ask, “Self, what have I missed?”

The ICON A5 and I were then eager to continue the journey. I departed eastward from Victorville — into pure, beautiful, desolate desert. Over the miles, the hazy terrain gave way to unlimited views of desert and the distant horizon.

 

Looking north over Bullhead City, AZ, on the eastern side of the Colorado River and Laughlin, NV, on the western side, I saw green terrain. These two cities are known for their casinos, outdoor activities, and various sorts of nighttime entertainment.  Tempting, but not on my flight plan.  Bullhead City Airport (KIFP) has a runway long enough to handle private jets and the Sun West charter flights reserved through Harrah’s for “high-end gamblers.”  A Sun West Boeing 737 climbing out in the distance in front of me was one of the small handful of other aircraft I saw during the entire trip.  Needles, CA, is off to my right to the south.  These were the last fuel stop options for almost two hours to Flagstaff, AZ, ahead.  In the eastern U.S. from 10,000 feet, AGL, fuel stops are within gliding distance in many places.

qJta8ubCSKqxM5xcJBKrSQ

The Colorado River Dividing Bullhead City, AZ, and Laughlin, NV. (Bruce Holmes)

I arrived at Flagstaff, AZ, Pulliam Field (KFLG), for fuel and lunch.  The field elevation is 7,015 ft. MSL with a runway length of 8,800 feet.  Even the ICON would need about half of the runway on a hot day because of density altitude.  Here, I saw the second aircraft in my airspace so far, a SkyWest regional jet headed to Phoenix.  As was the case for more than 90-percent of the journey, my awareness of other traffic was mostly from interactions with air traffic controllers helping the big guys at the flight levels find smoother rides.  This brings up a point:  I experienced virtually no turbulence for most of the trip.  I thought about giving advice over the air, but settled for automated Pilot Reporting (PIREPS) through the apps on the iPad.

 

Mesmerizing Canyon-land and Desert Scenery from Flagstaff, NM to Santa Fe, NM.

The view from just above the landscape of mesas, canyons, gorges, and desert looks like being on another planet.  Here are samples from the flight leg between Flagstaff and Santa Fe. A thought that recurred was, “I wonder what this all looked like a couple of millennia ago?”

 

 

Here are more samples of the captivating view getting closer to Santa Fe.  Except for the industrial site on the mesa in the lower left-hand image below, there were few signs of human activity for much of this part of the journey.

 

 

I touched down at the Santa Fe Airport (KSAF) and parked at their Signature Flight Support FBO for the night.  The next day would be one of the longest of the trip, so I found a hotel not far from the airport, called Uber, and prepared to be at the airport before sunrise the next day.

fullsizeoutput_4c38
Signature Flight Support at Santa Fe Airport, NM (KSAF). (Bruce Holmes)

Flight Day 3: Dawn Launch from Santa Fe, Skirting Their Mountains, to Liberal, KS for fuel, then on to Clinton, MO and St. Louis, MO. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

I left Santa Fe at 0-dark 30 and headed toward Kansas. The orange sky in this sunrise image is a likely a lingering consequence of California wildfires that I witnessed as far east as Kansas City.  This is one of my favorite images of the trip.

pjG61AkDT6SUx2vbEpPcJQ

Flying Eastward from Santa Fe. Orange Smoke at Sunrise from the California Wildfires.       (Bruce Holmes)

Sunrise East of Santa Fe, Turning the Corner Toward the Plains of Kansas.

Flying out of the desert to the plains, I saw irrigation crop circles in southwestern Kansas. I have been told that they are visible from space.

ZJ1OYLKtQTSRrDXOg8s68g

Crop Circles Dotting Southwest Kansas. (Bruce Holmes)

I re-fueled in Liberal. KS, about 70 miles east of the state’s southwestern border. I called the FBO manager the night before about getting gas on Thanksgiving Day.  He explained, yes, his kids would be running the desk and gas would be available. Aviation is often a family affair, and this family delivered.

fullsizeoutput_4cf9

Thankful to Find Gas on Thanksgiving Day. (Bruce Holmes)

After gassing up, I flew over Cheney Reservoir, northwest of Wichita, KS, a temptation for a splash and dash, but not on this mission plan. Eisenhower Airport (KICT) in Wichita.  Runway 32, aligned with the view in the bottom image, is the one I flew from on my first solo flight under my father’s watchful instruction. He exited our family airplane, stood in the grass along the runway on January 22, 1966, and witnessed the beginning of my 50+ years of flying.

 

 

Across the Kansas Plains from Liberal to Clinton, MO (KGLY), For Self-Fueling.

The left photo below shows the austere exterior of the pilot’s lounge at the unattended airport in Clinton, MO. It was not the least bit austere on the inside with leather seating and a large-screen TV.  Pilots like their comforts.  At first the self-service fuel pump would not read my credit card (oh-oh!).    I re-read the instructions and got it right, then continued on to St. Louis, flying over the Lake of the Ozarks.

 

 

Lake of the Ozarks.  

The Lake of the Ozarks is one of the largest man-made lakes in the United States and a playground for fishing enthusiasts, boaters, and seaplane pilots. In fact, while most of the state’s large lakes are open to seaplanes, they have some restrictions because they are Corps of Engineers Lakes..  The good news is that the Lake of the Ozarks is the only lake with no restrictions. It merits a return visit.

yk7IHkD6Su6tHo3KMZUQNQ

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. Splash In Next Time! (Bruce Holmes)

The Junction of the Osage River Joining the Missouri River 

I had been following the contours of the Missouri River. I saw the Osage River to the right below and continued to follow the Missouri River straight ahead.  I plan to return in the future, following the trail of the 1804-06 Corps of Discovery Expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

uD3fLiVrT4m8ws6CVrRhbw

THE Missouri River of Lewis and Clark Fame to the Left and Straight Ahead. (Bruce Holmes)

Because I am flying low over the water, I have  limited ability to see the airport in the distance. The tower controller at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport (KSUS) in Chesterfield, MO. offered to help by turning on the approach lights,  so I could pick out the runway better from a distance.  Bingo, there we are!  In reality, the GPS-fed moving map does a great job of providing detailed guidance, but it is nice to have controllers who want to help.

A245Xw4AQCaGAKw4NDpD7w

Runway 08R at Spirit of St. Louis Airport (KSUS). (Bruce Holmes)

Arriving at Spirit of St. Louis Airport, Chesterfield, Missouri (KSUS).

This arrival at “Spirit” was at the end of the longest day, 8-plus hours of flying from Santa Fe to St. Louis, MO, about 1/3 of the distance across the U.S.  The flight reinforced for me how much the low-workload makes flying the ICON such a low-fatigue experience. Happy Thanksgiving indeed! It was show and tell time to the family and friends at Spirit.

NLPhC8f2SUWB0e7qjIdT2w

Connie Meets Her New Aircraft with Family Members Enjoying the Fun.                               (Marlene Waetzig)

wJC5uL8LQ3qoSzhJFxIrqw

My Brother-In-Law, My First Right-Seater, but Only in the Hangar Unfortunately.                 (Connie Waetzig Holmes)

TNlWauJBSdK2oW7dYRtHug

Introducing the ICON A5 to the Next Generation of Potential Pilots. (Connie Waetzig Holmes)

Flight Day 4:  St. Louis (KSUS) to Lexington, KY (KLEX) for Fuel and Final Overnight Rest.

Heavy rains in the area grounded me for two nights in Chesterfield, allowing me happily to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday and our nephew’s birthday on Friday with Connie and her family. I woke up on Saturday to beautiful blue skies and sparkling sunshine. Connie captured my takeoff from Spirit Airport in an awesome video.

 

 

A short 3 1/2 hours later, I landed in Lexington, KY., and spent the night. I do love a good bourbon, but this wasn’t the trip to imbibe.  I did, however, put a bottle of Kentucky’s finest in the baggage compartment.  Following Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail may have to be on my wish list for future trips.

56485960100__C672CE62-DFEC-4725-82C4-1BA17094AD91

No Problem Finding Great Bourbon to Toast the A5! (Bruce Holmes)

Flight Day 5: Lexington, KY (KLEX) to Chesterfield County Airport (KFCI), VA.

“Did the weather affect your flight?”  This is a common question from friends listening to this story.  The short answer is, not really, except for a six-hour fog delay in Lexington.  I eventually took off and knew I was almost home when I saw the beautiful blue haze blanketing the peaks and ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

4EGGUtD2S8On68+RTzEKNA

The Last Leg from Lexington to Home Over the Blue Ridge Mountains to Virginia. (Bruce Holmes)

My goal was to land in Chesterfield, VA, before sundown.  Utilizing the advantage of good tail winds, I landed about five minutes before sundown. I then bedded down the A5 down at Dominion Aviation at Richmond Executive Airport in Chesterfield, MO.  Connie, flying Delta from St. Louis to Richmond, picked me up in our SUV, and off we went to the Williamsburg Inn in our hometown to celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary and our ownership of the A5. What a celebratory week!

First Engine Inspection at Dominion Aviation at Richmond Executive Airport (KFCI) in Chesterfield, VA.

Dominion Aviation at Richmond Executive Airport (KFCI) is an authorized ICON A5 maintenance center. The Rotax engine manufacturer (BRP of Wels, Austria), schedules a post-delivery inspection of the engine, including a download from the Flight Data Recorder of all the engine and flight information data from a plug inside the fuselage.  The technicians emailed the data file for the hours of flying to the engine company, to ICON, and to me.  Good news – No news!  In the future, perhaps these data can be sent to the manufacturers over a 4G or 5G LTE air-to-ground advanced connectivity solution for real-time analysis and pilot advisories.

 

 

After the inspection was completed, I returned to KFCI and flew the airplane on its first business trip  to Raleigh Durham Airport (KRDU) for work with my firm there. (I know, it is not really a transportation machine, but it works!) Finally a few days later, I flew the airplane to its home airport, Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport (KJGG) in Williamsburg, VA.

Since the airplane needs to work for a living, in addition to occasional business travel, I am working with the manufacturer to make the aircraft available for flight training and discovery flights in Virginia and Vermont, as well as in other parts of the eastern seaboard where water-flying has so much appeal.

The Flight By the Numbers

Here is a summary of the big numbers for the whole flight:Slide2The Aircraft By the Numbers (IconAircraft.com)

Here are some specifications for the aircraft:
Slide1

 

Aviation Aids I Would Not Want to Be Without

I employed the following leading-edge technologies available in aviation today:

  • Garmin inReach Mini (TM).  The device is a satellite-based position-reporting (over the GEOS system) and text message communication device (over the Iridium Next system).
  • Virtual Co-Pilot.  My long-time business and aviator colleague, Robert Wright, and I schemed up a trial of a concept for flight operations support (e.g., an “Adventure Concierge”) service using our texting capabilities and daily briefings, covering everything from fuel availability, to crew cars, to lodging, to winds and weather, to sights-to-see along the trip.
  • Garmin GDL-52 Navigator and Aera 796(TM) “Glass” Cockpit Technology.  The device integrates with the radio system to make radio management as simple as touch-screen can be.
  • iPhone and iPad – goes without saying.

In the not-to-distant future, we can expect to see advances in air-to-ground, air-to-air, and air-to-satellite broadband connectivity solutions that will enable many capabilities impacting efficiency, convenience, and safety for flight deck applications, aircraft systems management, and cabin and passenger services.  These capabilities will be enabled through bi-directional, low-latency, low-cost, highly scalable radio systems technologies that are undergoing rapid advancement today.  I expect these capabilities will be of increasing value to aircraft small and large, piloted and unmanned, fast and slow, and yes, even amphibians.  If you want to know more about what is coming, see SmartSky Networks, LLC.

Why the ICON A5?

As I described in the opening paragraph, the vision of the company’s founders to create new markets for aviation, markets beyond the past aging and mostly male consumer base, was compelling for me.    The A5 aircraft embodies both the new market appeal and nearly all of the technologies in which I had a hand in developing over the years. During my NASA career, I was involved in aeronautics research and technology development programs across a spectrum of speeds (subsonic to hypersonic); vehicle sizes (general aviation to large transports); and applications (from personal, to business, to public mobility).  The motivation that wove through all of those experiences was an early passion for flying and a maturing understanding of all that flight could mean for society.

Over the decades at NASA, I advocated for the idea that smaller, more advanced aircraft, advanced and simplified airspace management concepts, and community and neighborhood landing facilities would become vital to the mobility of future generations.  Today, we stand at the threshold of one of the most significant revolutions in aviation since the jet engine of more than 60 years ago: electrically propelled, clean, safe, and affordable aircraft. Electric aircraft are poised to transform the human experience of flight, the field of aeronautics, personal mobility, and even society itself over time.  While the ICON A5 is not powered by electric motors, all of the components of the aircraft — the structures and materials, the digital engine controls, the aerodynamics, and the flight deck systems — were  derived from work that I, my NASA colleagues, and our industry and university partners worked on over the years.  For me sitting alone in the aircraft, crossing the United States from Vacaville to Virginia, was “living in the message.” Now my ICON goes to work, sharing this message with fellow pilots, students, and the public who would like to learn about the joy of liberty in the air.

Question for Other ICON Owners:  What was your experience of flying the ICON A5 from Vacaville to your home?

 

 

 

The Lakewalk Along the Shores of Gitche Gumee

Not a lover of cold weather, I do not want to be in Duluth, Minnesota, in the winter.  The website 24 / 7 Wall St. lists Duluth as the fifth coldest city in our nation. The lowest recorded temperature is -39 degrees.  Brrrr!

The Lakewalk 

IMG_1520

The Lakewalk, Duluth

Traveling to Duluth in the summer instead of the winter changes that “Brrrr” to a “Bravo!” My morning started pleasantly at Canal Park where my husband and I explored the Lakewalk, a pedestrian and biking path that meanders 7.25 miles along the shore of Lake Superior, otherwise immortalized by Henry Longsworth Longfellow as Lake Gitche Gumee, The comfortable 71-degree weather was partly cloudy with a slight breeze and not a shiver in sight.

Aerial Lift Bridge

fullsizeoutput_2bad

Aerial Lift Bridge at Canal Park

Our research on the walk suggested that we start at either Canal Park or at Leif Erickson Park and the Rose Garden.  We chose the former, mainly because it was closest to our hotel.  We are glad we did because that site allowed us to view Duluth’s iconic landmark, the Aerial Lift Bridge. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see this massive structure actually rise up to allow ships to sail beneath it. Fortunately, we can turn to YouTube, to see this magic of 20th century technology happen.

The Lighthouse

IMG_1516

Duluth Harbor North Pier Lighthouse

Also of 20th century technology, but not massive yet impressive never-the-less, is the 36-foot tall Duluth Harbor North Pier Lighthouse. Built in 1910, this working lighthouse guards the entrance to the Duluth Shipping Canal. Visitors who walk from the Lakewalk to the lighthouse pier and up the steps can see the lock on the door facing the lake. Unfortunately, no weathered lighthouse keeper greets them.  The last one served from 1928 to 1940; today, the lighthouse is fully automated.

Sights Along the Walk

There is never a dull moment on this walk.  In addition to the natural beauty of  Lake Superior, there is a series of  ancient anchors in repose along the shore.

IMG_1513

One of several anchors along the shore

In addition, if you can’t find the banned locks of love on Paris’s bridges any more, you can find them on Duluth’s pier posts.

fullsizeoutput_2bcd

Locks of love

Sculptures also enliven the area.  Some are in front of shops,  a few blocks from the Lakewalk,

fullsizeoutput_2bc9

A sculpture celebrating family fun in the great outdoors

while others require you to exit the Lakewalk on strategically placed steps.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore this option.  If we had exited at Lake Place, we would have found Sister City Park and Enger Park and the sculptures gifted by Duluth’s Sister Cities. At the former park, there is The Green Bear from Petrozavodsk, Russia, and The Stone from Växjö, Sweden.  At Enger Park, we would have heard the mellow tones  of The Peace Bell, a gift from Ohara Isumi-City, Japan.

fullsizeoutput_2bcb

Exiti the park at Lake Place to find the Sister Cities’ sculptures.

We retraced our steps 1.5 miles back to the car, which we parked in one of the many lots in Canal Park, an area that prior to 1985 was a rusting industrialized area whose waterfront was shut off to the public.  Visionaries have revitalized Canal Park into a vibrant venue that attracts nature lovers, sports enthusiasts, gourmets, and art afficiandos.

fullsizeoutput_2bd7

The walk back to Canal Park

We relunctantly left the Lakewalk, but the serendipity continued. My favorite find was a fanciful fountain that spouted a lively spray on a sliding water nymph.

fullsizeoutput_2bb7

A fountain of fun

Another surpise was a brick wall that heralded the work of sailors, past and present, reminding us of the influence of the maritime industry on Duluth’s cultural heritage.

fullsizeoutput_2bc5

If walls could talk, what would these mariners say?

‘There are ample opportunities to both walk and shop until you drop. The revitalized waterfront also hosts a bevy of restaurants and shops from the familiar, like Cold Stone,  to the unfamiliar, like Antique Boutique.

fullsizeoutput_2bc1

Just a few of the myriad of shops in the Canal Park area

Arriving back at our car, I noted that according to my Fitbit,  I had walked three miles roundtrip, which leaves almost six miles of the walk yet to explore. There is nothing left to say except the obvious:  “Bravo to Duluth!” We will return.

SaveSave

A Requiem for Really, Life?’s Name

VIRB Picture

Photography by Keith Britton

Dearly Beloved, we are here today to bury the original name of my blog.

Really, Life?, dust you never were, but dust you must now be. You were a good ole name, steadfast, but unfortunately not true to my musings. I needed a name which captures more clearly what the blog is about–comments about my travels with an occasional “detour” to other topics.

Please understand, Really, Life?, that you did nothing wrong. I chose you; you didn’t choose me. Now I am your executioner, and I take full responsibility for your death. As a former composition teacher, I understand the importance of brainstorming, of writing and re-writing until you get “it” right.  In this case, “it” wasn’t just the words I needed to get right; “it” was also the concept. I found myself writing far more about the serendipity found in my travels rather than about the serendipity and foibles of Life. Once I understood this truth, your demise was inevitable.

Do not despair, Really, Life?, for there is hope as seen in Henry Wadswoth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life“:  “Life is real! (That’s you!)  / Life is earnest! /  And the grave is not its goal; /  Dust thou art, to dust returnest, /  Was not spoken of the soul.” While it is true that your name is buried forever, the writing itself, your soul, is resurrected and represented by the new name, Flying  to Adventure–with Detours.

Rest in peace, Really, Life?, for I embrace your reincarnation. Take solace knowing your soul and I now begin our journey together forever and ever. Amen.

 

 

Slovenia: Navigating the Challenges to Experience the Beautiful Bounty

IMG_6803.JPG

NAVIGATING BUMPS AND CURVES TO FIND APOLONIA GUEST HOUSE

Looking for lovely verdant mountains, beautiful red flowers and fragrant purple lavender, rainbow sherbet sunsets, surprising wine finds, and friendly, helpful people? Go to Sežana, Slovenia, and experience  all of this and even more. We checked in to Apolonia Guest House to enjoy comfortable beds; large, spacious, well-appointed rooms; and  bountiful five-star meals.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Finding Apolonia was our first quest.  As most people know, GPS is helpful, but while it gets you to the right neighborhood, it doesn’t always get you to the right address, especially when the houses are not numbered in sequential order. In this case, the GPS had us turn about one-fourth of a mile early, and we found our hefty Peugeot station wagon (the “gun boat”) navigating up a steep hill on a narrow lane, only to arrive at a dead-end. Then we had to turn around (full left rudder, full reverse thrust) without scraping someone’s front porch, car, or fence, proceed up another lane, only to find ourselves boxed into another dead end.   We repeated this process again . . . and again . . . and again.  We finally crept to a house without a number, thinking we had found our destination, so we stopped.

A spry, elderly woman came running our of her house, shaking her head with a grin, and saying,”Apolonia? Apolonia?”  With her gestures and simple English words sprinkled with Slovenian words, we ascertained we were in the wrong place, but we could drive on a grass lane on the side of her house that led to Apolonia’s back yard.  Unfortunately, the neighbor on the other side didn’t seem so happy about this solution.  She also was in her yard with her two German shepherds, who were furiously barking. She, not smiling, was loudly speaking Slovenian to the nice neighbor, about what we could only surmise:  she didn’t want us driving on the grass lane that also ran directly in front of her house. But why?  It had rained, so was she worried that we were going to get stuck in the mud?  Or was she concerned that we would leave ruts in her yard? Was everything okay, or had we started an international incident? Not understanding Slovenian, we didn’t have a clue.

The battle had already begun, it was too late to retreat, so with full speed ahead,  we turned the gun boat around (again) and started down the lane. We avoided the soggy areas, but the uneven terrain bumped us like white-capped waves. The dogs incessantly barked as we bobbed and bounced to our parking place at Apolonia’s back entrance.  Hearing the cacophony, our gracious hostess, Marissa, came outside and greeted us warmly in English and then spoke kindly to her two neighbors in Slovenian, soothing the one’s concerns. The battle, therefore, never escalated into full war.

With some embarrassment, we learned that if we had ignored the GPS and stayed on the main paved road for another couple of minutes, we would have seen Apolonia’s sign and parking lot.  We would have missed out on some great local color though.

If we had never found Apolonia, we would have also missed out of some of the best meals of our entire trip.  We arranged for talented Marissa and her equally talented daughter, Manuella, to cook for us the night of our arrival.  We started the evening with drinks on the patio to  watch the glorious sunset.

img_6815

WHERE ARE THE LIQUOR STORES IN SLOVENIA?

We supplied the spirits, but finding liquor and ice in Slovenia proved to be an education.  Grocery stores and gas stations sell liquor, but in limited qualities; they don’t sell bagged ice at all. Schnapps and other flavored liquors are easy to find, but gin is very difficult.  The smaller the market, the less the selection, and the selection is never very large.

In fact, we gave our GPS another chance, this time to find us a market, and we were taken to the little town of Dutovlje, population of 517, about 8 km. away.  In the centre of this charming village is the picturesque church of St. Jurij from the 15th century, which was a stronghold of the Knights Templar. Dutovlje also had a tiny market and a delicatessen selling gourmet cheeses and meats.

fullsizeoutput_1c80

In the market, the liquor selection was also tiny, but we did find Jim Beam Black Label, which made one of us happy.  We then left town and stopped at a gas station on the way back to Apolonia, but there still was no gin, so we bought vodka made in France: Jelzin. Supposedly, this vodka is named after Boris Jelzin (Yeltsin), the first president of the Russian Federation, a politician with a checkered reputation.  I can say the same thing about this vodka, which three of us drank garnished with lemon slices.  I love Absolut Citron, so how bad could this vodka creation be?  Pretty bad, actually, when you are hankering for Absolut Citron. Pretty bad, actually, when the only ice you have is what your innkeeper gives you from her limited supply: eight small cubes for four people.

img_0243

DISCOVERING DINING NIRVANA

So-so cocktails were followed by a most memorable dinner.  The first course was the best ravioli we ever had.  The homemade pasta was stuffed with mild goat cheese, covered with a silky rich sauce, and garnished with crispy prosciutto, and chives and basil from Apolonia’s garden.

img_6816

This course could have been a meal in itself, but the second course was a not-to-be-missed harbinger to autumn.  Wild local boar glazed with a wine sauce was complimented by crispy baby potatoes, home-grown roasted zucchini and carrots, and a drizzle of dense balsamic vinegar. A  perfect repast deserves a perfect drink to accompany it:  in this case a nice bottle of Slovenian red wine.   Ahhh!

img_6817

The dessert, a coffee mousse, floating in a decadent coffee-based sauce, was the last course, a perfect last course–one that transcended us into dining nirvana. Feeling happily enlightened, but not lightened, we said our good nights, retreated to our rooms, and dreamt of Sweet Slovenia.

img_6820

 

C

 

Lake Como: Soaring Seaplanes Since 1913

Aero Club Como, 1913

The Wright Brothers flew the first powered controlled flight in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North, Carolina.  A scant 10 years later, the first seaplane base in the world was founded at Lake, Como. Aero Club Como is still flying high, training pilots in its seaplane school, which is the largest in Europe and the oldest in the world. In addition, Aero Club Como is operating the only seaplane base in Italy.  In fact, the only other seaplane bases in all of Europe are in Scandinavia.

Seaplanes: Lords of Lake Como:

Lake Como is a Y-shaped lake encompassing about 56 square miles and plunging to a depth of about 1500 feet. Sailing vessels from the sublime to the ordinary skim across the lake’s surface: yachts, ferries, sailboats, windsurfers, kitesurfers, and paddleboats. Villas and palaces hang precariously off the sides of the mountains, which welcome both bold- blue and whispy-smoky skies. Overhead, seaplanes lord over all, surveying their kingdom, knowing all is good on Lake Como.

Day #6: Last Call for Fun at AirVenture 2016

IMG_6162

SITES AT THE SEAPLANE BASE

Come see what I saw on our last day at AirVenture 2016.  We checked out of our delightful B & B and headed a few miles down the road to the Seaplane Base.  People from all over the world visited the site and marked their hometowns on the map below.

IMG_6215

We found the Seaplane Base to be an idyllic location, one that you could fly to and then camp at if you wanted. Many people took that option, but what was the big draw this year?  What attracted so many, from so far away?

THE MARTIN MARS

Answer:  The Monster of All Flying Boats–The Mighty Martin Mars!  This behemoth, owned by the Coulson Group, is the world’s largest flying boat to be flown operationally. This aircraft, one of five built at the end of the World War II, first served as a troop transport by the U.S. Navy for several years. One of the aircraft was destroyed in a fire, and the other four were then sold in 1959 to a British Columbia forest consortium and converted to fire tankers. Two out of the original four planes had long stints fighting forest fires. The other two had accidents that permanently grounded them.

PRIVATE COLLECTOR KERMIN WEEKS

Kermit Weeks, the owner of Fantasy of Flight Museum in Florida and the largest private collector of aircraft in the world, was part of the crew flying the Martin Mars from Vancouver Island to Oshkosh’s Lake Winnebago.  Weeks felt that the aircraft is so special that he told the local news station that he “. . . believe(d) I’m being part of history” especially since he had his “doubts on whether the airplane will continue flying.” Weeks put his money where his heart is because the local news also reported that he bought his seat on the flight deck by paying the $40,000 fuel bill for the eight-hour flight. Like Weeks, Martin Mars fans came great distances to view this massive machine.

IMG_6171

PROBLEM ON THE LAKE

Some flew close to the aircraft to get an up close and personal view, while others on the shore were artistically inspired. We all looked forward to the promised tours of this historical flying boat.  One problem: Where were the boats taking fans out to the Martin Mars?

Oops! The flight crew had an engine issue when taking off on the lake. They made a cautionary landing in shallow water, which poked a hole in the hull.  No tours today!

IMG_6177

HANDSOME IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

We then found other things to do.  My favorite was the meet and greet session with the  pilots from the Canadian Geese Flying Team. These handsome guys were straight out of central casting:  drop-your-jaw gorgeous.  (Or maybe I was just tired of looking at airplanes all week!)  My husband obviously didn’t share my sentiments about needing a change of scenery because here he is admiring a Searey.

HUMOR AT THE BASE

We noticed we had other options for entertainment too as we strolled by “Naka Beach.” Everyone else strolled on by too, so nothing scandalous to report here.

IMG_6180

I will report that seaplane pilots obviously have a sense of humor.

IMG_6182

WHICH WAY TO GO?

Our time is finished at AirVenture 2016, and in case we hadn’t gotten our aviation fix, the sign post below points to other aviation sites to explore.  We are sated, so we don’t take a detour.  Instead, we are off to Milwaukee to catch our flight home.  We had a fun time playing with airplanes, but that fact didn’t hold true for the trip home. We got stuck in Atlanta overnight, but I am not going to share those details. Why end a happy story with a horrific conclusion?

IMG_6209