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Pontiac, Cleveland,London, and Stratford

Flying the Edge of America

Saturday, August 02, 2008: Pontiac, Michigan

Blue waters of Mackinac Island.

We left behind the fudge shops, horse poop, blue waters, and lush greenness of Mackinac Island this morning as we lifted off into the clear blue skies headed for Pontiac, Michigan a suburb of Detroit. This was our destination for two reasons. The first was there was no aviation fuel on the island so we had very limited range left in our tanks. The second was to get the chance to meet a fellow Commander owner, Mark.

Mark, our gracious host.

Mark had invited us to drop in on him to have lunch and we did just that. Mark made us feel very welcome, met us at the airport, drove us to the restaurant, organized our refueling, and even paid for lunch; thank you Mark it was a pleasure to meet you. It seems bizarre to me that a machine can bring perfect strangers together and help form friendships. I guess this is why we saw so many people on shiny and pristine motorcycles traveling in large groups during our travels. Machines not only extend our physical capabilities but the somehow expand our social networks as well.

A psychedelic view of 51-Juliet.

We bid Mark goodbye and made plans to meet with him again at the next Commander's Owners fly-in. Mark gave me a new flight plan based on his local knowledge which took us over Detroit City downtown. After enjoying the view we turned out over Lake Eire and flew on to Cleveland Ohio. We landed at Burkes Lakefront and it gave us a spectacular view of the Cleveland Brown's Baseball stadium as we zipped down the final approach to the runway.

We checked into the hotel, the best we have stayed in so far on this trip. Then we went out on a mission to eat sushi; something we have not experienced in awhile. We were rewarded when we found the Sushi Rock restaurant in downtown Cleveland. It sure was great to be back in civilization.

Cleveland Video

Sunday, August 03, 2008: Cleveland, Ohio

Julia with the Science Museum in the background.

We spent a pleasant and sunny day in downtown Cleveland. Our visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was worth the effort. It was full of rock and roll memorabilia and strung together by a solid audio-video history. We spent several hours drifting around the exhibits.

After this we returned to the Warehouse District, where we ate last night, and found another excellent place to eat lunch. We hope the weather stays clear for our planned flight to Canada tomorrow.

Here is a an Oshkosh update from my good friend Carol H a fellow Commander Owner who went to Oshkosh.:

I think the message that Julia is looking at might apply to Carol's story.

We stayed until Thursday morning. We had planned to leave around 7 but took a couple of hours getting weather reports re a big storm, and debating whether to launch or not. We were parked in the 2nd row from the taxiway direct to runway 27, so it should have been an easy departure, but the planes were all held up by an accident on 27 -- a plane stalled and flipped onto its back at the approach end of the runway. Therefore maybe 100 planes had to weave around the airport over to runway 36. This took one HOUR of taxiing and just holding in position, during which time the plugs were fouling out on my #2 cylinder so often that I ended up just keeping the engine at full power and standing on the brakes until rolling for takeoff. There was a big nasty that looked like it was covering all of Minnesota and moving into Wisconsin when we left so we headed Northwest to Duluth, a huge deviation but the only way to get safely out of OSH.

Although the radar picture looked ugly over a very large area, in fact we had good VFR under an overcast cloud deck and were able to cut the corner a bit to head West before going all the way to Duluth, thanks to my wonderful Garmin 496 with XM weather painting that was showing us the thunderstorms moving South. (I don"t file IFR in thunderstorm conditions -- too easy to blunder into embedded ones.) We landed at Alexandria, MN for fuel and then headed to Rapid City for fuel again. In the late afternoon I took the last leg to Rock Springs, WY where we got the last room at the Days Inn. Friday morning we headed out early while it was still 65 degrees at the 6700" elevation at RKS and took on fuel and early lunch at Elko NV, then on to OAK. Got fuel at the Jet Center (price down to $5.95 minus $.25 for AOPA members) but then had TWO cylinders give out on me (fouling plugs) on the taxi back to the hangar. So, will have to do some investigating now re what's fouling out the plugs repeatedly.

Boy it sounds like our experience of Oshkosh was serendipitous compared to Carol's. I guess the gods of randomness are with us so far; I hope they stay so.

Cleveland to Canada

Monday, August 04, 2008: London and Stratford Ontario, Canada

First sighting of Canada.

We left Cleveland in the morning and landed in London, Ontario so we could have the Canadian customs make us completely unpack our airplane so they might check if we were smuggling something over the border. This was most annoying but I guess they were only doing their job. After this it was a quick flight to Stratford on the river Avon (I am not kidding you), Ontario where we were greeted by Teresa and her two children, Greta and Harry.

It was really good to see Teresa as the last time must have been the better part of ten years ago. Teresa drove us into Stratford upon Avon which turned out to be a Shakespearian performing center for Canada and was full of lovely homes to boot. As we had made this flight surrounded by thunderstorms not over us but all around us I really doubted that we would be able to maintain our schedule and leave for Niagara Falls on Tuesday. Teresa was more than happy to let us stay longer than planned if needed.

New friends and happy family.

We eventually arrived at Teresa and her husband Rich's pig farm just outside of Stratford. We dropped in on Rich as he was working in his brother's paddock on a malfunctioning hay baling machine.

Rich's brother had died unexpectedly only two weeks earlier so Rich was not only looking after his own farm but helping out on this brother's farm to; so he was very busy. In fact later that same day Rich asked if I could help him by driving a tractor around one of his fields to turn hay so it could dry. I had never driven a tractor before and wanted to help so I agreed. I got a quick lesson on tractor operations from Rich. "This is the clutch that is the brake, this is the gas pedal." Then a brief plan on how to approach the task, "leave about six furrows and then turn", and I found myself alone barreling up and down the bumpy paddock on a powerful tractor which I really knew little about operating.

A busy farmer at work.

It felt quite good to be outside working on the land, after the first few furrows I began to get the hang of controlling the mechanical monster.

I even eventually began to understand Rich's instructions; after missing a few rows. Swallows moved in a murmuration as the meandering machine forced them to stop munching on the meals they had found in the overturned grass. The sun was low in the cloudy sky which made the afternoon light mesmerizing. Suddenly I remembered reading something about the most common cause of deaths on a farms; driving a tractor. Soon this thought took first place in my mind as the now semi-controlled tractor tore across the field. Tractors have such big wheels and so much torque that it is apparently common for them to hit a bump and then turn themselves over crushing the poor farmer. This did not happen to me; but then again I am not a farmer.

We ate a wonderful dinner prepared by Teresa from her vegetable garden and her own pigs and then we drank homemade wine which was quite tasty. We shared some memories and all retired for the evening. I now know that farming is a very hard pastime indeed. It made me feel good to be working the land but I am afraid not cutout for this line of work.

Flight from Canada to Niagara

Tuesday, August 05, 2008: Niagara Falls, New York

First sighting of the falls.

I slept well and got up early to check the weather reports on the new Garmin GPS. It looked like we could stay in front of the nasty weather if we left as soon as possible; but the storms were right on our tail. I woke up Julia and we decided to go for it. Teresa was up soon preparing breakfast so we informed her of our quick departure and she agreed to get us to the airport as soon as possible.

The cascading falls.

We bid Teresa and the kids goodbye, packed up 51-Juliet, performed our pre-flight checks, kicked over the engine, and soon found ourselves zooming through the morning sky. The weather behaved as predicted and even though it was a bit cloudy the air was smooth and we made the short flight to Negara International airport without a problem. The US customs met us and did not ask us to unpack our airplane; but I guess they were just doing their job.

In no time we were in our rental car and being directed by another Garmin GPS this time the Nav-Sheila. We had run our propane gas bottle out at Oshkosh so the first task for Nav-Sheila was to find a gas station that could also fill propane tanks; she did this without an issue. Then it was on to the falls for a walk around followed by lunch as we looked out over the awe inspiring views of the massive cascades.

After this we went on another errand to find some food for our dinner at a local grocery store. Once again to deployed the Nav-Sheila to this donating task and once again she found our desired location, well she did take us to Safeway but not the Safeway we are used to on the west coast. Instead of a large well stocked supermarket the Safeway we arrived at was a small mom and pop flea market. Now we found ourselves in the not so touristy parts of Niagara Falls, this was the more run-down and deprived part of town. Just like Las Vegas, Niagara Falls has a not so nice under belly. And just like Las Vegas, Niagara Falls has casinos of which we stayed in one.

Mighty Falls

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Getting ready for the soaking.

While planning this trip I spoke to my best friend Alex about how I was concerned about the food we might encounter on our travels. He assured me that "this is America Dave, the food will be fine". I must admit I was rather skeptical of his enthusiasm at the time but you know his advice has been mostly right. With the absolute exception of Keystone in South Dakota the food has ranged from just alright to San Francisco quality.

Last night we ate at the Seneca Casino and Hotel Italian restaurant and both the wine and food were excellent.

We had to take the tour on the Maid of the Mist today; it is apparently a must do while at Niagara Fall. So we left the hotel after sleeping in a bit this morning and walked back to the state park past the turbulent Niagara River to buy our tickets for the boat trip. Included in the price of the ride was a spectacular view from a towering platform built specially to put you right out over the river. They gave us plastic ponchos as we streamed onto the boat to protect us from the down pour awaiting us as the boat nosed up to first the America Falls and then the much larger Canadian Falls. Simply stupendous!

Maid of the Mist tour

Trip stats

Obama: 13

McCain: 2

Undecided: 2

Miles Hiked: 125

Miles Flown: 4,404

States Visited: 14

Towns Visited: 20


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