Friday, July 26, 2019

Holiday Road: Voyage to Dudesburg


Kristy, The Bear, Pam, Stephen, and I were the first to leave the rental house. We stripped our beds, made an effort to use up leftover food (I had a weirdly eclectic breakfast), and got the dishes washed before beginning the journey home. Hugs were exchanged and, before long, we were pointed straight downhill on that absurd driveway for the last time. Pam and Stephen dropped us off at Western Carolina Regional on their way out of town (a common motif, it would seem). This gave them an excuse to take a more circuitous route home that avoided the Tail of the Dragon, which they were very pleased to do.

Now boarding, flight number 21481 from Andrews, NC to Sodus, NY.

After I took on fuel, a lineman helped me push Warrior 481 back from the fuel pump ($4.95/gal).

"Nice airplane! 235?" he exclaimed, mistaking my airplane for a Dakota.

"Nope, 160. It's a Warrior."

"160? Really?" He shook his head as though he was not aware that the Warrior variant existed.

I shrugged. "She's not much of a climber, but goes nicely in cruise." I know my limitations.

Retracing Our Steps

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
26 July 2019 N21481 RHP (Andrews, NC) - DKX (Knoxville, TN) 0.9 1997.6

We launched and followed US19 southwest out of the valley. Once past MARBL intersection, I contacted Knoxville Approach for flight following back to Downtown Island. Dad and Carol had agreed to meet us for an early lunch before we continued home to New York.

Knoxville Downtown Island Airport, DKX

Downtown Island Airport is tough to spot from the south because of terrain, but we finally got a visual on the airport and entered a left downwind for runway 8.

I am always struck by the appearance of this heavily excavated hillside beneath the downwind leg of the pattern.

Ground track from RHP to DKX plotted in ForeFlight

On the ground, I met with Dad and Carol for the third time that week. We went to lunch at Panera Bread, which served a useful purpose beyond mere sustenance. The internet connection at the rental house was ridiculously slow. On the one hand, it forced me helped me to disconnect from work. But it was so slow that ForeFlight required a few minutes just to download a single teletype-optimized METAR report. It was not practical to flight plan and file from Robbinsville, but a Panera Bread in Knoxville worked in a pinch as a pilot's lounge.

Homeward Bound

I said goodbye to Dad and Carol for the third time that week. Somehow, I failed to take a single picture of all of us together. What's wrong with me?

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
26 July 2019 N21481 DKX (Knoxville, TN) - LWB (Lewisburg, WV) - SDC (Sodus, NY) 5.3 2002.9

Climbing away from Knoxville, we passed some incredibly blue quarry water (note the contrast with the nearby river water). Even The Bear was impressed and it's pretty rare for her to pull her head out of a book when flying cross country these days.

Along the Holsten River, we saw the beginnings of an air park taking shape.

Though there were no structures built yet, the airport was already charted: Landing at Rivers Edge. Looks nice. Or, more accurately, it looks like it could be nice.

Cherokee Lake photographed from a Cherokee.

"Rrrrruffles have rrrrridges."

We had smooth sailing over Tennessee, a corner of Virginia, and finally, West Virginia. Unlike the flight south from Cleveland, the air remained cool at altitude and we enjoyed the easy, comfortable flight.

When the Earth gets a case of eczema, it is no laughing matter.

Welcome to Dudesburg

Our destination was the Greenbrier Valley Airport in Lewisburg, WV (KLWB, airport #195). I selected it based on location, fuel price ($4.92/gal), availability of a restaurant, and the fact that it was a towered airport because that makes life easier when flying IFR.

As I pondered the name of the town in the context of other West Virginia airports we've visited, I detected a pattern: Parkersburg, Clarksburg, and Lewisburg. Random guy's name + "s" + "burg". Huh. The obvious exception was Morgantown, created by dropping the "s" and substituting "town" for "burg" in the above algorithm. Still fits, though. Clearly, the Powers That Be are just trying to throw us off.

As we let down toward Greenbier Valley, the Bluestone Dam caught my eye.

A small rain shower hovered immediately west of the airport, but we skirted around it on a visual approach. Though weather radar color coded it yellow, we could see through the rain shaft and encountered no disturbances in the air.

We were marshaled to parking and I asked the line staff to top-off the fuel tanks. The ramp was actually busier than it appears from this photo. All the jets were out of frame.

When The Bear got feisty with me in the FBO, I suggested that we pause in our return home to get an early dinner (it was around 3:30 pm). No one wants to fly with a hangry Bear.

The Tower was undergoing some maintenance as we walked from the FBO to the terminal building for dinner.

The Landings Restaurant was in the passenger terminal. It was nicely appointed and the staff was friendly and attentive.

We all got burgers and they were outstanding. We highly recommend Landings at Greenbrier Valley. 

My greatest disappointment with Greenbrier Valley Airport was the $25 landing fee and the $12.50 ramp fee that we were charged despite purchasing 26 gallons of gas (all that the Warrior could hold). I usually do a better job of calling ahead to understand fee structures, but did not do so in this case. I paid for my lack of diligence.

Even so...that was a good burger.

While waiting for food, I saw that radar showed weather popping up all along our route home to Sodus. It is surely no coincidence that the weather was churning along the western edge of higher terrain between Lewisburg and central Pennsylvania. I realized that if I added the Clarksburg VOR to our route, I could bypass all the weather shown in our path. That was good back pocket information.

Slalom Course

We thought these benches at the airport were really cool, as capably demonstrated by our spokesbear (like a spokesmodel, but way more adorable, especially when no longer hangry). 

We managed to launch from Greenbrier Valley despite my apparent inability to use my audio panel properly. Although I had the radios set correctly, I twice called the wrong facility because I had the incorrect radio selected. I called Ground on the radio set for Tower, then called Tower on the radio set for Ground. Even though it was the same guy working both frequencies, he was a stickler and called me out on it both times.

Just when I think I know what I'm doing, I am humbled again.

Aloft, Washington Center advised of weather ahead. I suggested a deviation west via Clarksburg.

"Hmmm...that might work," responded the controller. "Actually, that's not going to be enough of a deviation." He provided new vectors around the weather. He was right. The dynamic weather now covered a broader area than when I first observed it from Landings Restaurant.

We remained in the smooth air while detouring around the thunderstorms, marveling at the impressive cloud structures forming in the late afternoon.

Near Pittsburgh, we continued to deviate from our original course. Cleveland Center authorized me to make any deviations, in any direction, that I needed to make. So I did.

I confess - I truly enjoy slaloming around buildups. We followed a twisting, turning path through the sky as though tracking an aerial version of the Tail of the Dragon. Except that, in this case, there were no obnoxious tailgaters and it was much more fun.

Once past Pittsburgh, we left the weather behind and continued on a direct course to Sodus.

In the back seat, The Bear dozed, completely unaware of the convective power churning a few miles beyond our little bubble in the sky.

Two Kilohours

Sometime shortly after departing Lewisburg, I flew my 2,000th flight hour. I did not realize it in the moment. It was only after updating my logbook that I realized that the milestone had come and gone without any fanfare. Break out the party hats and noisemakers!

A dark overcast hung over New York state as we closed in on home. A massive thunderstorm had blown up south of Sodus, but we watched it dissipate on radar as we crossed the state from south to north. By the time we reached Sodus, there was nothing left but the ghostly afterimage of a mature thunderhead being reabsorbed into the atmosphere.

Kristy and I disembarked, apparently leaving a rather ferocious Bear on board.

Ah, that's more like it. Too bad the sun went behind a cloud by the time we coaxed our ferocious Little Bear out of the back seat. Welcome home!

Ground track from ForeFlight. The straight track north of Pittsburgh shows when we finally emerged from the weather.


In 14.0 flight hours, we visited five different states (OH, KY, TN, NC, WV, and NY), five airports (KBKL, KLOZ, KDKX, KRHP, KLWB,) spent 0.8 hours in instrument meteorological conditions, and crossed the 2,000 hour mark. It is worth noting that driving would have required at least 13 hours one way, so despite the weather delays, the Warrior still gave us more time to do fun things. We had two outstanding $100 hamburgers (Nuevo in Cleveland, Landings in Lewisburg), sampled mead, were thwarted by a hot laker, saw a Ferris wheel on top of a mountain, visited the birthplace of KFC, managed some challenging weather, experienced driving the Tail of the Dragon (twice for me), took Pam and Nate for an airplane ride, visited with Dad three different times, figured out the secret algorithm for naming West Virginia towns with towered airports, participated in a WFC fly-out, and spent a week with Kristy's family.

I would say that's pretty good for one week's vacation.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Holiday Road: Boxing Bears, Swallowed Salamanders, and Resourceful Resorts

In Summary

SurnameFest was a big success this year. We played games, read books, communed with nature, and played the mandatory and traditional round of miniature golf. Oh, and as usual, we went to public places and behaved strangely -- because, if you can't do that, what's the point in going anywhere?

Here's the week compressed into a smattering of photos.

We awoke to this view every morning. I could get used to that.

It was a Bear Battle Royale! I'm not going to say who won, but the Bear on the left was the only one able to walk away afterward.

Wehrloom Honey is a local Robbinsville business. It is interesting that they choose to advertise their business with a mutagen like coronene, but that's just the chemist talking. We went to sample the honey and the mead. Hopefully, none of those products actually had any coronene in them.

Honey candy? Yes, please!

The many unpaid employees of Wehrloom Honey

We discovered that Robbinsville is in the only dry county remaining in all of North Carolina (we sure know how to pick 'em). As he set up for our mead tasting, I asked the guy at Wehrloom how they were able to serve mead in a dry county. The answer in brief: loophole.

He explained another loophole being used down the street. Moonshiner Steakhouse installed tennis courts (small, ratty looking tennis courts to my eye) and declared themselves to be a resort. Resorts are waivered to sell alcohol. Points given for knowing how to work the system.

Bear meets Mustang convertible and finds it to be an agreeable mode of transportation.

We had lunch in Murphy, NC at ShoeBootie's Cafe. The odd name was taken from an episode of "All in the Family". There was no sign of Archie Bunker inside and, rest assured, the food was good.

The Bear poses with her wacky aunts after months of wacky aunt withdrawal.

The Bear has always had a comfortable, solid relationship with Uncle Stephen. There is no danger of her considering him to be the "weird uncle"...

...especially when Uncle Nate is around. This kind of family affection absolutely melts my heart.

ShoeBooties Cafe proudly displayed the famous painting "The Bear Dance". That inspired Stephen to create his own masterpiece of the same title. Said the digital artist of his creation, "It must be shared."

Yellow Branch Pottery was an unusual marriage of fine-crafted pottery and homemade cheese (I particularly enjoyed the basil cheese). When I asked why the potters started making cheese, the answer was a simple one: they bought a cow. What else were they going to do?

The garden outside of Yellow Branch Pottery was overrun with butterflies.

The cool kids traveled by Mustang convertible. Notice my absence from the picture. that an ewok? Is the Flying Bear literally wearing a picture of a Space Bear?

I wonder how many abandoned towns lie beneath this man-made lake?

Fontana Lake

Fontana Lake

You can't go into TVA country and not visit at least one dam. We traveled to Fontana Dam, the tallest dam east of the Mississippi in the United States. It was built in the 1940s to power Alcoa factories making aluminum sheet metal for World War II aircraft. When you think about it, pretty much everything ties into aviation.

When I peered down the spillway of the Fontana Dam, my insides liquefied. Have I mentioned that I do not care for heights?

There were two massive spillways on one side of the dam. This one was shut down.

Fontana Dam

This spillway was active. It was like the world's biggest water slide. I cannot help but imagine that it would be a wild ride (which is why peering down this thing makes me so nervous...because I cannot help but imagine such things).

The Bear and The Crushinator, the two smallest mammals in our party.

Why act strangely in the privacy of the rental house when we could take this behavior on the road? Grab your Wegmans brand sunscreen, Little Bear, and let's get moving!

Miniature golf is a tradition at SurnameFest and 2019 was no exception. We enjoyed a hot round of mini-golf under the North Carolina sun at Bear Creek Adventures Mini Golf. Given the name, The Bear felt right at home.

We split into three teams of three. Here, I present "Team Awesome". There was no point in naming the other teams.

Hey! I'm puttin' over here!

Stephen looking cool in the heat.

Awkward putt #1.

Awkward putt #2.

Awkward putt #3. Seriously, people, we are not good at this!

Pam and I invented a putting style called "asymptotic putting" that involves getting the ball as close as possible to the hole without it actually going in. Extra points if the ball rolls past the hole with such slim margins that it actually changes trajectory.

The party wagon! Granny is practicing leaning into turns.

We hiked the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and wondered at the massive, old growth trees.

This snake hastily retreated off the trail while simultaneously trying to swallow a salamander head-first. The snake was clearly startled by our presence, but I suspect that the salamander was having a worse day.

I was hiking with vandals! Vandals, I tell you!

This little troll seems to follow us no matter where we go. I thought we left her back in Alaska.

Holy Endor, Luke!

Photo by Some Other Random Hiker. It was a quid pro quo photo.

The whole gang!

"I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree."

That tree sure is poplar.

Huge twinsies.

Yes, The Bear is still stuck in her Zoidberg phase. Stop encouraging her, Uncle Stephen!

We also visited the Cherohala Skyway, climbing to a maximum altitude of 5300 feet at Huckleberry Knob. I was riding in the Mustang for that part of the trip and definitely felt the temperature plunge at the higher elevation (unlike what happened while flying Warrior 481 out of Cleveland).

As twisty as it was, the Skyway was not nearly so challenging as the Tail of the Dragon.

I don't think that yawps can be sounded any more barbarically than that.

Small dogs, big mountains. Our vacation was filled with incongruities.

On our last night in Robbinsville, with the warm glow of the setting sun illuminating the side of the mountain mere feet from the front door of our rental house, I took the obligatory SurnameFest group photo (with a timer).

Also captured was the equally obligatory silly group photo. I still wonder who my father-in-law was intending to brain with that bit of rock he's brandishing. Maybe it's best that I don't know.

Part bear, part mountain goat, all ours.

A parting shot of Billy's Big Eli Wheel perched above the house.

Sunset viewed from our rental house on the final evening in Robbinsville, NC. This is how I will always remember it. Good memories.