Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Flying Bear Visits Sleeping Bear: Outbound (Day 1)

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
18 Aug 2012 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - FNT (Flint, MI) -
LDM (Ludington, MI) - TVC (Traverse City, MI)
5.4 1072.8

The Native Americans who once populated the northwest portion of Michigan's lower peninsula passed on to each generation the legend of the Sleeping Bear.  The legend tells of a mother bear and her two cubs that fled the region now known as Wisconsin when faced with a raging forest fire.  They struggled for miles across the wide expanse of Lake Michigan, seeking safety in Michigan.  The cubs faltered, drowning within sight of shore.  The steadfast mother bear reached land and waited for her children on the bluff overlooking the lake.  The Great Spirit, impressed by the unshakable faith of the mother, raised North and South Manitou Islands to mark the final resting places of the cubs.  Winds swept over the waiting mother bear, burying her under a dune where she waits to this day for her beloved children.
Centuries later, in 2011, Good Morning America voted the site "The Most Beautiful Place in America".
Clearly, the Great Spirit works in mysterious ways.

I opened the hangar door and peered skyward into a cerulean expanse so lovely that viewing it raised goose bumps.  It was a perfect morning for an aerial voyage across Canada to Michigan.

Inside the Le Roy terminal building, we found two helicopter pilots overnighting on the couches.  They were the Cleveland-based crew of the pictured helicopter operated by BOATPIX.COM.  As one of them explained, their business model is to capture aerial photos of boats in their URL-adorned chopper.  Boat owners, seeing the URL emblazoned on the side of the helicopter flying above could go to the website, find a picture of their boat, and purchase a print for $400.

It strikes me as an odd business model, but it evidently works.  After taking this photo of their helicopter, I wondered if either of them would pay me $400 for it.

With the airplane fueled, pre-flight complete, and flight plan filed, we were ready to go.

The passing of Niagara Falls meant that we had entered foreign airspace and that our adventure had officially begun.

The Bear entertained herself by reading books for much of the outbound trip.

I pointed out the Welland Canal, the link between Lakes Erie and Ontario.

We passed to the north of London, Ontario.

The Bear continued to read, largely oblivious to the clouds passing by outside.

Eventually, we reached the St Clair River and returned to the United States.  We flew directly over the Bluewater Bridge, a magnificent bottleneck for travel between Michigan and Canada.

Indeed, woe upon any unfortunate soul desiring to enter Michigan that morning.  I was glad we were in an airplane instead of stopped on the bridge below and patted the Warrior's glare shield with great affection.

The Bear?  Still reading.  Like father, like daughter.

"Pets or Meat"

Our first destination that morning was Flint, where we planned to meet two dear college-era friends for lunch.  As I have traveled in life, I have found that mention of Flint usually evokes profound recognition.  "Roger and Me, right?" people always ask with excitement when they make the connection.  Most recently, we heard this from two friends visiting us from Switzerland.

Flint: the city that lives in global infamy because of Michael Moore.

I think this is an alien glyph meaning, "invasion landing area, 20 nautical miles west" or it holds some arcane and obscene meaning. Either way, it was pointed directly at Flint's Bishop International Airport.

Photo by Kristy.

Since my earliest flight through Flint airspace many years ago, working with Flint Air Traffic Control has always been a pleasure.  They have always taken superb care of us and this morning was no different.  We arrived between commercial rushes, the field completely quiet save for another Cherokee practicing landings.

We parked at AvFlight Flint, a terrific, friendly FBO for a Class Charlie airport.  We also have a warm place in our hearts for AvFlight because of the milestone achieved there years ago.

Photo by Pam, May 2008

Four years previous, during our only other visit to Bishop Airport, The Bear hoisted herself onto her own feet with the help of the tall chairs in the AvFlight lobby.  It was her first time standing unassisted.

My, how things have changed in such a short period of time!

Cher met us at the airport and drove us to Sagano, a sushi restaurant on the west side of the city.  There, we met my former roommate, Jason.  The restaurant was reasonably nice, though I was disturbed by the sign outside the window that read, "Under Video Surveillance by Flint Township Police."  I was even more disturbed when our friends noted that the police were too understaffed to monitor much of anything.

It was good to see our old friends again, but I felt awkward during the visit. It was not because of anything either of them said or did.  In fact, I am extremely grateful that we were able to spend time together that wonderful Saturday afternoon.  For me, it was as though so much time had passed and there was so much that needed to be said, that I could not quite decide what I wanted talk about.  This suggests to me that many more visits are necessary.

"Upon Us All a Little Rain Must Fall"

We set out from Flint, cutting across central Michigan on our way to the lovely Lake Michigan port town of Ludington.  As we flew through the middle of the state, I was realized that I was in unknown territory.  While living in Kalamazoo, all of my northward treks were along the lakeshore. I had never ventured anywhere near places like Mount Pleasant before and did not recognize any of the landmarks below.

We passed beneath a line of scattered clouds casting dark splotches across the farmland.  Peering through sunbeams, I wondered if there was any rain ahead.

Sure enough, there was definitely rain.  Non-pilots often express concern that we might be surprised, ambushed, by rain as we fly across the countryside.  As these pictures show, rain showers are not particularly stealthy and can be seen from miles away.  It was a happy accident that our direct course took us near several scattered rain shafts without actually crossing through any one of them.  We passed under the line of clouds with our course unchanged and emerged into bright sunshine on the other side.

Before long, we reached Ludington.  Beyond, the waters of Lake Michigan sparkled brightly in the westerly afternoon sunlight.  We circled the area, taking in the sights, before landing.

Hamlin Lake lies just north of Ludington near Big Sable Point.

Descending to pattern altitude, we swung out over the clear, shallow water north of the Ludington Pier.

As we turned south, we could see the pier and Ludington Pumped Storage, one of the world's biggest batteries.

The windmills turning beyond the lip of Ludington Pumped Storage were new to us.  They were installed sometime after we moved away from Michigan.

The ramp at Ludington was crowded, host to a combination of single engine piston craft (above) and private jets.  As we snacked on fresh fruit from our farm share in New York, a twin turboprop pusher Piaggio Avanti landed and taxied in.

This sharp looking vintage Cessna was also on the ramp.  Nope, it does not have four venturi tubes on the side, the aluminum skin is just that well-polished.  Perhaps too well-polished, for the aircraft bore a sign that read "fingerprints piss me off."

Back away from the shiny airplane, mister.

Snacked and rested, we loaded back into the Warrior for the final leg north to our destination: Traverse City and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

An Actual Sleeping Bear

We departed Ludington and made our way north.  Rather than flying a direct course, I allowed our path to meander along the sandy shoreline of Lake Michigan.

We circled the lighthouse on Big Sable Point, one of my favorites.  We just simply do not see lighthouses of this size on Lake Ontario.

Photo by Kristy.

The Bear was getting cranky as dinnertime neared and Kristy tried to encourage her to rest.  As easily inferred from the poorly suppressed smile on her face, The Bear's "sleeping bear" routine could do with some improvement.

As we passed the pier at Manistee, I sighted north along the shoreline and realized that our destination was visible in the distance.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore appeared as a high, sandy bluff on the horizon.

We overflew Glen Lake on the back side of the dunes before turning out over Lake Michigan to see the dunes themselves.

From above, the entire region is quite sandy with small oases of trees and vegetation scattered randomly about.

But it is the bluff itself, rising up to 400 feet above the surface of Lake Michigan, that is truly impressive.  For anyone contemplating a flight over the dunes, note that this area is charted to prohibit flights below 2000 feet above ground level.  We stayed at 3000 feet as we surveyed our destination.

At its highest point, the bluff appeared to be experiencing some significant erosion, though I could not fathom why it was so localized.  The answer to that mystery would be revealed the next day.

The aerial view built significant excitement for exploring the dunes on the following day. With the mission accomplished, we turned inland once more and proceeded to Traverse City for the night.

Traverse City is a small city located on the south shore of Grand Traverse Bay.  The region around Traverse City is the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States and the airport there bears the name "Cherry Capital" as result.  The towered airfield is home to commercial and military operations, a university flight school, and general aviation.  We landed slightly ahead of a medical helicopter and followed the tower's instructions to Harbour Air, the airport's only FBO.

Harbour Air was ready with our rental car, a new 2013 Ford Escape with the redesigned body style.  We stayed at a Fairfield Inn, conveniently next door to a Cracker Barrel where we could get a simple meal for The Bear without needing to worry about her peanut allergy.

The Bear asleep with her handmade airplane blanket from home, with gratitude to Jan Harley.

Before long, we had an actual sleeping bear in our hotel room.  We settled down for the night in preparation for a big day of exploring, this time at ground level.

GPS track for Day 1.


  1. Well I'll be... it appears we had a Two Degrees of Helicopters on Floats moment. Another helo from that same company was parked at DET on Sunday when we left to fly home - and we had seen it flying over the Detroit River a couple hours prior while we were on a boat cruise. And on yet another related note, AvFlight runs the operation there as well. I agree, great folks!

    Wonderful photos. I don't think most people in this country understand just how beautiful Michigan is - especially the west side. The scenery is just spectacular!

    1. Steve - that's hilarious. Before this trip, I did not even know these guys existed. They seem to have gone from unknown to ubiquitous in an instant.

      Fortunately, we have Good Morning America to TELL people how beautiful this region is. If you can't blindly follow the advice of GMA, whose advice can you blindly follow?

      But I agree with you completely. The next few sets or pictures are even better than these. We were also struck by Lake Michigan's sandy beaches, numerous large piers and lighthouses, the significant shipwrecks...all of which led us to conclude what we've always suspected: Lake Ontario is lame. A good lake, maybe, not a great one! :-) A popular shirt we saw simply said: "Lake Michigan: Unsalted". To me, it emphasized the fact that it's a big enough body of water to behave like a sea, just without the salt.

    2. I love that t-shirt quote. And it's true - in the summer, you might as well be on an ocean when you're sitting on a dune watching the sun set over Lake Michigan. Well, minus the palm trees at least.