Saturday, September 22, 2018

Sudden Autumn

Displaced in Time

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
22 Sep 2018 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI) 2.7 1862.9

Solo over Canada. Again. It was my twenty-first flight across Ontario between New York and Michigan for 2018.

Clouds over Lake Ontario just east of Hamilton, ON

The Warrior's wheels seemed to drag through the tops of a ragged stratus layer that occasionally allowed peeks of the underlying farmland.

I was swimming upstream against a significant headwind and chose a lower altitude of 4,000 feet to shorten the flight time as much as possible. I had a lot of work to accomplish in Michigan that day.

I caught my breath when the colors below finally registered. What happened to summer? Nature had slipped on her colorful autumn gown while I was not paying attention. My mind reeled for a moment. The last time I consciously thought about the season, it was July. I have clearly been distracted.

Near London, the 401 swings to the southwest toward Windsor and Detroit.

As I neared the St Clair River and the international border, Toronto passed me to Selfridge Approach. Selfridge was in contact with two other aircraft crossing from Canada to the United States. One of them was a speedy Lancair Legacy.

Selfridge: "Legacy XYZ, overtaking traffic, five o' clock, same altitude, a Cherokee. It will pass off to your left."

Overtaking aircraft: "We're a Pilatus."

Selfridge: "Legacy XYZ, correction, overtaking aircraft is a Pilatus, not a Cherokee."

Legacy XYZ: "I was wondering what kind of Cherokee could overtake us!"

So was I. I may be a "fast Cherokee", but I know my limits.

"This Is Your Life"

Oakland County International was busy that morning and landing to the east. As a result, Pontiac Tower vectored me north of the field to sequence me into the flow of traffic.

Lake Orion nearly slipped under my wing before I noticed it. I lived the first six years of my life in the eponymous town and spent nearly every Fourth of July until I was in my 20s watching the municipal fireworks show from my uncle's lakefront property. Lake Orion was where The Bear was introduced to fireworks. Eventually, my uncle and aunt moved away from their house on the edge of the lake and then, my uncle was gone. More than mere geographic distance separated me from the place of my childhood.

In the next moment, I was over Elkhorn Lake (lower right corner of frame) and the subdivision that supplanted the farm where I was raised. When I was six, we moved from Lake Orion to Clarkston. Following historical suite, my trajectory led me over Clarkston next.

Looking southwest over Pine Knob with the I-75 / Sashabaw Rd interchange in the upper left corner of frame.

My perception of distance between Lake Orion and Clarkston, my two home towns, was forged when I was six years old. Still flying vectors for sequence to Oakland County, the airplane covered the distance from one town to the other in mere moments. That these two places were instantaneously adjacent confounded my youthful memories of time spent traveling Clarkston Road between them.

Clarkston is perhaps best known by Michiganders as the home of Pine Knob, a ski resort with a large outdoor amphitheater (much like CMAC in Rochester or Deer Creek in Indianapolis). The music venue is now known as "DTE Energy Music Theater", but most people still stubbornly call it Pine Knob rather than appease the corporate sponsors (not to mention that the DTE name is a mouthful). My high school graduation was held on the Pine Knob stage. It was the only local place large enough to accommodate a 500+ graduating class.

After all these years of flying, it was my first time photographing Pine Knob from the air. Because of its proximity to Oakland County International, I have always avoided loitering in the vicinity.

Directed to join a left downwind for runway 9R, I passed just east of downtown Clarkston. Below was one of four different elementary schools that I attended (lower left corner of frame), what was left of the old junior high (lower middle portion of frame), downtown Clarkston (upper right corner), and the Clarkston United Methodist Church that hosted Mom's memorial service (center). Mom's house is hidden under the trees to the right of frame. The world of my teenage years was handily contained within a single snapshot. My world is so much larger now.

I have some good memories of that playground behind Clarkston Elementary

As I completed the flight from Sodus to Oakland County, my early life literally flashed before my eyes.

Jetsetter Lifestyle

I parked at Michigan Aviation and stowed my iPad and Stratus before locking the Warrior. I walked 50 feet to where Mom's car was parked and brought the engine back to life. A guy could get used to that kind of convenience, but it was about to end.

Mom's car at PTK, 26 August 2018

Though Mom's house was not officially on the market yet, I already had a buyer and a fair offer in hand. My goals for the day included signing paperwork for the house and returning Mom's car to the dealership. I had some angst around the latter because the Subaru was leased and there is a lot of conflicting data out there on what actually happens when the lessee passes away.

Mom was told that, if anything happened to her, all I needed to do was return the car and the remainder of the lease would be excused. The finance manager at the dealership affirmed that most people in my situation simply return the car and walk away. However, I was told by someone else at the dealership that the estate would be liable for the 18 months remaining on the lease and the bank echoed this. I had been making the lease payments during the time that I used the car because I wanted to do the right thing, but the need for the car was dwindling with the sale of the house on the horizon.

I washed the car (it was filthy), removed all personal effects, and placed the original floor mats in the trunk before journeying to the Southfield dealership to surrender the car. Kathy followed in her Jeep to return me to Clarkston. I decided that the best way to resolve the mixed messaging around the lease was to speak with someone in person. I accosted the first salesperson I encountered and explained the situation. His face twisted with a grave expression and he began lecturing me about all of the estate's obligations under the original lease.

My face fell. Then he paused for a moment and asked, "Wait. Is this a Subaru or a Hyundai?"


"Oh, you're all set. Just hand over the keys. Subaru does not go after the estates of deceased leaseholders. Hyundai is really aggressive about it, though."

I provided him with all sets of keys and he pushed a form across the table at me that required my signature to "ground" the car. "Subaru may contact you for a copy of the death certificate to verify everything, but otherwise, you're all set," he explained.

"Oh. OK. Do you want my contact information?"

"No. They'll figure it out." Kathy and I exchanged confused looks and I glanced at my illegible scrawl of a signature on the paperwork, the only link that the dealership had to me.

"How, exactly, will they do that? I can give you my contact information."

"No, don't worry about it. You're all set. Have a nice day." He practically shooed us away.

And, with that, the matter of the car was settled more easily than I expected.

Back in Clarkston, Kathy reviewed the real estate paperwork with me and I signed where indicated. Then I mowed the lawn and took a stroll around town, walking the adjacent street where my childhood friends lived. Perhaps it was my last time to roam the old neighborhood. I did not stop at any of the houses, though. Even my friends' parents had moved away in the decades since I last played on that street.

Another Case of Mistaken Identity

My Mom's dear friend Tracy asked if she could visit the house one last time while it was still "Mom's". I invited her over for the afternoon. I had also promised that I would take her sixteen year old son Tre'vyon for an airplane ride. It would be his first time flying. Tracy and Tre were kind enough to drive me back to Oakland County Airport now that I was without wheels.

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
22 Sep 2018 N21481 PTK (Waterford, MI) - local flight 0.7 1863.6

Aloft, we turned north to avoid the Detroit Bravo. As we crossed I-75, I oriented Tre by pointing out Great Lakes Crossing, the "new" mall that directly precipitated the demise of the mall from my youth.

Tre seemed comfortable enough, so I offered to let him fly. He shyly declined and I was not inclined to twist his arm. We had a nice ride, flying over a late afternoon landscape that glowed warmly with an amber hue.

Approaching from the north, I was directed to enter a left downwind for runway 9L.

"Pontiac Tower, Cherokee Four Eight One, could we get 9R? We're parking on the south side at Michigan."

"Cherokee Four Eight One, I have another Cherokee on a long final for 9R. Once you see him, you can follow him in to land 9R."

I scanned the horizon and located a small black dot moving in the correct direction. "Cherokee Four Eight One has the Cherokee on final," I called.

"Cherokee Four Eight One, cleared to land Runway 9R, number two."

I studied the dot as it drew closer and noticed a distinctive forward slope to the vertical stabilizer on the low wing aircraft. My gut liquefied in fear. That was no Cherokee! Was I following the wrong aircraft? Was I about to cause a conflict with another airplane that I did not see? I immediately swung the Warrior's nose back toward the downwind for safety while scanning the sky for a different aircraft.

"Ah, Pontiac Tower, the traffic on final appears to be a Mooney. Four Eight One does not have the Cherokee in sight," I broadcast.

"Oh, correction, traffic on final is a Mooney. There is no other Cherokee in the pattern. Cleared to land number two, 9R."

It was the second case of mistaken identity for the day, but this one nearly caused me to wet my pants.

I gave Tre a sweet landing on the enormous runway and returned him safely to his mother. When I told her that Tre declined the controls, Tracy exclaimed, "I would have done it!" Tre is a quiet kid and it was hard for me to discern if he had fun, but Tracy later assured me that he enjoyed his first flight very much.

Here's HHOWE To Fix It

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
22 Sep 2018 N21481 SDC (Sodus, NY) - PTK (Waterford, MI) 2.7 1866.3

After paying my fuel bill, I informed Scott that I had surrendered the car and would no longer be keeping it on Michigan Aviation property.

"Does that mean you're not coming back?" To my surprise, he actually sounded disappointed.

The "ADRIE" route between PTK and SDC

The struggle continues.

After a summer spent successfully filing the ADRIE route home (above), the FAA had another, "better" idea for my return home that evening. A new departure procedure had been commissioned, the HHOWE1 departure. I was issued a route that would carry me southeast via the HHOWE1 departure BROKK transition, then northeast to DERLO, then southeast along T608 to WOZEE, then northeast to KSDC. If it sounds inefficient in writing, it looks even worse when plotted on a chart (below).

The cleared HHOWE1 route home

I was already departing later than intended and knew that I would be flying much of the trip in the dark. The new clearance would add an unnecessary 30 minutes to the flight through uncongested airspace.

As the sun settled toward the horizon, I made the interminable taxi from Michigan Aviation to the west end of the airport for departure on runway 9R for the second time that evening. I shielded my eyes from the sun as I taxied directly toward it, the light flickering nauseatingly as it was sliced by the Warrior's propeller at low RPM.

I admired the Warrior's shadow on the taxiway as I waited for IFR release.

Downtown Pontiac was positively aglow as I passed overhead while direct to MALTB intersection, the first fix on the HHOWE1 departure.

Temporarily held at 5,000 feet by Detroit Approach, I flew deeper into the Bravo, passing a few miles northeast of downtown Detroit as shadows stretched eastward.


I crossed the edge of Lake St Clair with Lake Erie ahead in the windscreen. Colors in the sky gorgeously morphed from a peach blush to crimson as the sun retreated beyond the horizon.

As I approached BROKK intersection over the cold water of Lake Erie, Cleveland Center called.

"Cherokee Four Eight One, proceed direct WOZEE after BROKK." Evidently, the ridiculous detour to London, ON from my original clearance did not make sense to Cleveland Center, either. Cleveland's unsolicited short cut saved me a respectable fifteen minutes of flight time.

The Gift

Actual ground track from PTK to SDC courtesy of FlightAware. Not bad for hand-flying the whole way.

Unfortunately, proceeding direct WOZEE (Buffalo, essentially) from BROKK meant a lot more time over water. From 7,000 feet, I was within gliding range of shore at all times, though sometimes just barely. Through the wonders of geometry, I have known for years that I can glide to any point that appears under the left wingtip from my vantage point in the left seat. But it was also a dark night, which put me right on the edge of my comfort zone. Still, I preferred this new routing over the absurd excursion via London.

With the radio virtually silent after nightfall, I broke my usual rule about only listening to instrumental music in flight and enjoyed the Hamilton soundtrack as I flew east. It was a beautiful flight along the dark Canadian shore, then over the lights of Buffalo and Rochester before landing at Sodus around 9:30 pm. I returned exactly 14 hours after departing that morning. It was a long, but productive day, from making significant progress on managing Mom's estate to giving a terrific sixteen year old kid his first airplane ride.

Somewhere along the way, I saw the fall colors spread across Ontario and experienced a sense of lost time as though I had somehow skipped from summer directly to fall. Thoughts of "how is that possible?" dominated my internal dialogue, but I knew the reason at a deeper level. It spoke directly to my state of mind since July.

The true gift of the day was looking beyond the Warrior's windows -- momentarily putting aside the instruments and the responsibilities and the work and the grief -- to not only gaze at the harvest quilt draped across Ontario, but having the mental bandwidth to actually see it.

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