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Oakland, Crescent City, Astoria

Flying the Edge of America

Tuesday, June 24, 2008: Oakland, California

A shot of 51-Juliet

What a lot of work Julia and I have completed since we sent the first posting for this trip. There were many bits and pieces we had to buy, weigh, and then pack; mainly camping equipment for the camping parts of the trip. Weight is a big issue, as you can imagine, in a small airplane. So everything we have packed had to be weighed before it was allowed onboard. But the weight of an item is not the only issue, its placement in the aircraft is very important also. Effectively we have two locations to store our stuff in the airplane, one is the rear passenger seats, and the other is the baggage area just behind the passenger seats.

So after much finagling in an electronic spreadsheet we finally had a viable list of items within our weight restrictions and also a packing placement list.

Then there were the last minute adjustments to our travel plans. Commander owners have a web site forum which we use to communicate with each other. So I thought it would be wise if I posted our trip plans on the site so my fellow Commander owners could review them. Commander owners are scattered all over the USA, I was expecting to get good advice. At the time of writing 1,327 Commander owners had reviewed our plans and we received lots of great advice. Julia and I had to review all of the suggestions and make changes, this took some time.

Even before we left for the first step of our adventure the magnetic compass onboard 51-Juliet (our airplane's name) leaked its suspension fluid and became inoperable. A compass is vital to aircraft navigation, even in these days of GPS navigation, so it had to be replaced.

The weather forecast, for Crescent City, has been improving so we are both getting very excited about taking our first step on this adventure.

Monday, June 30, 2008: Crescent City, California

A shot of 51-Juliet taken by my brother Lawrence

We took off from Oakland, California this morning at 10:00 am as scheduled headed for Crescent City, California and the Redwood National Park and our first camping on the trip. The entire west coast was socked in this morning. Oakland had cloud down to 1,000 feet with the tops of the clouds at 2,000 feet and the cloud at Crescent City started at 2,000 and went all the way down to 500 feet.

This cloud layer made for an interesting take off and landing. I had to use what is called instrument flight rules or IFR to make this flight. The landing at Crescent City required a lot of concentration on my instruments as I could not see anything until we got under the cloud layer. It also required much bravery from Julia as she is not used to this type of landing in complete white-out. The whole flight was quite uneventful though and we made it safely to our first destination on our around America trip.

San Francisco as we departed.

Once on the ground we picked up our rental car and headed to Safeway to buy our two dinners and one lunch; the airplane weight restrictions mean we cannot carry much in the way of food and drink so we have to buy our supplies every time we land.

We took with us my Garmin car GPS. This device really helped us find our way around Crescent City. After grocery shopping and eating lunch we drove our rental car to Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. Nav-Sheila, which is the name we have given to our GPS, guided us faithfully to the camp site. We christened the GPS Nav-Sheila because she has the voice of an Australian woman.

Julia hiking and looking a lot happier than flying

We set up our tent, for only the second time, and unpacked all of our other camping gear in one hour.

We had everything we needed except for an extra set of knives and forks so I think we did well considering how many things we could have left behind. We then set out on a wonderful hike through the redwood forest which surrounds the camp. After the hike we return to camp, made an excellent dinner, drank some great wine, made a camp fire, and turned in as the sun set for the evening.

From Julia: We set out at 8:30am when the limo came to take us to the Oakland airport. We were to take off from an historic airport where Amelia Earhart took off on the flight in which she was to disappear. I hoped we wouldn"t disappear and so I text messaged various friends before take-off to ensure they knew exactly where we were; even though it was still on land at Oakland, our home base.

The amazing redwood forest

It was very foggy when we left home but was clearing as we were packing the plane and getting everything ready to go.

This included getting the knob on the throttle cable fixed up with a new bolt so it wouldn"t stay wobbly. 51-Juliet was made in 1974. It has 4 seats and It's a single engine propeller plane. I have always felt somewhat reassured in the big jets because they have more than one engine. So, with only one engine to drag you up to 10,000 feet above mountains and fires and ocean amongst other hazards seems scary to me. Especially, with no escape. Many friends asked about a parachute option before the trip but apparently there's no way to maneuver with one in this plane. It is better not to bother...

A forest flower

We took off and easily soared off into the foggy blue sky. David reassuring me all the way that everything was ok.

I had a novel about Arthur Conan Doyle and his friend George at top volume in my ears to distract me from the knowledge that we were zooming up into the air in a small metal box. We got to Crescent City a couple of hours later and had to dive down into dense white fog to get to the small airstrip on the coast. As we hurtled towards the whiteout at 176 nautical miles per hour I reassured myself by thinking that David would only do this if it meant our future held a safe landing. I felt joy when the airstrip popped into view 500 feet below. All the rest of the day was as easy as pie—rental car, campfire, redwoods, delicious dinner and best of all wine then bed.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Resting during the 15 mile hike

For the first time we spent the night in our tent and even though it was very cold outside we were both warm and slept well in our sleeping bags. We got up at 8:00am and we were hiking on the trail by 9:00. We completed a 15 mile hike of the Mill Creek trail and returned back to camp very tired but satisfied that we had really done our best to see as much as possible of the amazingly beautiful Northern California Redwood Forest. We walked through cathedrals of giant redwood trees (some over 2,000 years old), green fields of ferns, gardens of giant clover, wall to wall rhododendrons, and acacia. Whatever we see after this forest will have a lot to compete with.

From Julia: I woke up a few times during the night but fell back to sleep in thermal underwear and on a divine air mattress to keep warm and comfortable. I had to go out to the bathroom once and it was quite scary in the dark in the trees. Due to an irrational fear of marauding bears and bathroom perverts I decided to pee in the bushes rather than walk to the lavatories. At last, daylight came and after coffee and breakfast we set out on a wonderful trail through beautiful primeval redwood forest. We were so caught up in the beauty of it all that we ended up hiking for 15 miles along the trail. One of the good bits of feeling completely exhausted on return to camp is that the shower felt really good. That's quite amazing as the shower block has 2 tiny showers (with resident spiders) for a full campsite of over 200 dirty campers. You have to put quarters into a strange metal box to start the hot tap to a trickle. Nevertheless, it felt good to clean up, put my dirty clothes back on (due to a clothing ration) and make a lovely cup of tea.

Crescent City Video

Wednesday, July 2, 2008: Fort Stevens State Park, Oregon

Looking back at 51-Juliet in the hazy skies.

We went to bed very early last night as we were so tired from our long walk. I think we may have slept 14 hours. Anyway we tore down our camp in much less time than it took to put it up and were soon on our way back into town; biding a fond farewell to the magnificent redwood forest. We had to pick up a few things that were missing from our kit and visit a Wi-Fi café to get our Internet fix for the day.

Then it was off to the airport and preparation for our flight to Astoria in Oregon. The preparation consisted of re-packing the airplane with our luggage, checking the tire pressures, filing an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan, and fueling the airplane.

The flight to Astoria was uneventful but hazy skies ensured we flew IFR all the way to Astoria. At times we could not tell which way was up it was so hazy. Once in Astoria we, shopped for our meals, found the state park, set up our camp (in much less time than Monday), and ate a fantastic dinner which Julia cooked.

Julia looking a little happier about flying

From Julia: We realize that camping is very exhausting and hard work. We packed up, organized our stuff and then got to the airport to plan the flight, again using instruments as visibility was so poor out of Crescent City.

At each airport so far there have been these things called FBOs. I have no idea what that stands for, but they are these reception areas that provide services to the air traffic. So, while David figured out all the stuff for the plane, I sat in a soft old couch in the FBO watching some gossip TV show catching up on stuff like the progress of Angelina Jolie's latest pregnancy. It was a great bit of luxury vege out time! I only gave up my spot when a tired looking FedEx pilot came in to eat his sandwich and when he glanced longingly for the couch I figured it was time for me to head out. It was another very cloudy and foggy day with air pollution from forest fires. I listened to audible books all the way. The flight was fine except for nearly sucking a passing raptor into the propellers as we came into land.

The campsite is a strange experience absolutely huge, filled with families with trucks and RVs, and even one guy with a satellite dish on his RV. Not as fun as Redwoods. Next stop is a B& B in Washington.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

We spent another night under the stars last night. It threatened rain all night, but it never fell. In the morning it really looked bad so we packed up camp early and booked ourselves into a hotel in Astoria for our one remaining night here.

After breakfast we took a stroll on the shore of the Columbia River just where it meets the Pacific Ocean. It is a very scenic spot and we really enjoyed our walk. Julia and I are both feeling a bit tired from all of the camping and looking forward to having a roof over our heads tonight.

Astoria Video

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