Monday, October 11, 2010

The full circle

I had a nice paddle in the St Croix River on Saturday and then had the opportunity to check out the fall colors from a different perspective on Sunday. RonO has renewed his pilots license and asked if I wanted to get some hours in with him. The answer of course, was 'damn right I do!'. We met at the airport at high noon and jumped into a 1954 Piper Super Cub, an aircraft that's the same vintage as I am. Coincidentally, this was the very same aircraft model that I flew in on my very first flight in 1964.

My mother and her parents believed very fervently that if God had meant for man to fly He would have given them wings. My grandparents never flew and thought it to be a wildly reckless activity, probably akin to wing walking in their minds. My dad on the other hand, loved to fly, especially without FW-190's, ME-109's, and the 9th and 10th SS Panzer division's flak batteries trying to interrupt his flights as they did from 1942 to 1945. He got his private pilots license when he got back from Europe and it was my arrival in 1954 that put and end to that particular type of fun. My mother finally got on an airplane when the old man delivered an ultimatum as they were considering a Vegas trip sponsored by the American Legion. The trip required flying out to Vegas on the North Central Airline's DC-3 and he told her that if she didn't want to fly, she could stay home. She flew. Very reluctantly, but she flew. One afternoon when I was about 10 years old, the old man and I snuck off from a family gathering at the cottage 'to get some groceries'. We headed to the Chetek,WI airport and its grass strip and, after being sworn to secrecy, I was stuck in the back seat of a Piper Super Cub, owned and piloted by a World War I vet and buddy of my dad's, Walt Homme. It was an incredible experience since I'd been reading about and watching airplanes since I could remember. I never thought I'd be climbing into the same aircraft 46 years later.

But there I was, trying to stuff my 6'4" frame into the back of this fairly small two seater. We had miked headphones so we could hear each other and quickly got clearance from the tower and took off. We headed west to avoid the MSP International traffic pattern and cruised at about 2,500'. It was a bit hazy but the colors were still spectacular as we followed the Mississippi River river west toward St Cloud. We headed south and flew over St Johns University in Collegeville, a beautiful campus in the midst of a number of lakes. By this time Ron let me take the stick, which took us from straight, level flight to drifting left, right, up, down, and I think we even were sideways like a three legged dog for awhile. I got the hang and feel of the stick after awhile and things got a bit more consistent. I remember Woody telling me the same thing happened to him in flight school when he learned how to hover a helicopter. We headed south toward Lake Minnetonka, scouting out the past and future sites of the annual Gales of November paddle, and then back to the hanger.

It was great. I boarded the plane with my shoes on, large jacknife in my pocket, nary a metal detector or full body scan, and no line. We flew at an altitude and speed that allows a person to see whats going on at ground level. Heck, we even opened the window to take a few pictures, an interesting sensation at 100mph. I noticed that the rudder on the Super Cub reacted exactly like the rudder on my last pre skeg kayak, and both Ron and I decided we needed to get a Mississippi River paddle in after our extensive aerial recon. It was a great afternoon and somehow had a certain symmetry after 46 years between my Piper Super Cub experiences.

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