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Grand Forks, Grand Marais, Hancock/Houghton

Flying the Edge of America

Wednesday, July 23, 2008: Grand Forks, North Dakota

A busy morning at Rapid City Airport.

Boy this was a tough flight today. We lifted off early morning with reasonably clear skies and a weather forecast that seemed favorable. Then just as we crossed over into North Dakota the weather closed in on us. Fortunately we did not have to contend with high ground as well because the weather sure made me work.

Lots of rain.

We found ourselves in instrument meteorological conditions, which in plain English means complete whiteout. To make things even more interesting the air traffic controller warned me that there were three thunderstorm cells directly in our path. As I could not see anything outside the aircraft I guessed a new heading to avoid the storms based on what I had seen earlier. Not too long after the course correction the cloud opened up which let me see the cells ahead; I had guessed correctly and so we passed by the storms unhindered.

The landing at Grand Forks, North Dakota was interesting too as I had to contend with a 15 knot crosswind gusting to 25. We found out after touchdown that it is always very windy in Grand Forks even in the winter when it is 30 degrees Fahrenheit below zero!

Grand Forks Video

Thursday, July 24, 2008: Grand Marais, Minnesota

Julia is getting better with flying and her concern makes her a good copilot as she keeps a close scan on all of 51-Juliet's controls and instruments letting me know if I miss anything.

We returned to the US/Canadian border today after flying out of Grand Forks, heading north to Baudette before turning eastward to Grand Marais. Alas, because of cloud below us we could not see the terrain. The good news, it was a sunny day (where we were) above the clouds; at least for the moment.

The fluffy whites.

I am writing you this while we are in flight between my piloting duties. It is hard to describe my feelings as we transit this world of blues skies above oceans of fluffy white clouds below us. But just when you get romantic about it all, the clouds reach up and touch the airplane, jostling us about as if to remind us of their true nature. Almost without warning we find ourselves completely surrounded by clouds; everywhere you look it is white.

Then beads of water begin racing up the windshield just like little racing cars. The sound of rain pounding against the aircraft gets louder and louder. The clouds go from white to a dark grey and then almost black. Then, one, two, no three bolts of lightning illuminate the darkness engulfing us. I realize we are in a thunderstorm. Not just close to one but right in the middle of it. I am surprised that the controller did not warn us; then I am just scared. I start thinking about what to do, should we turn around, what is the closest airport to land at, how far have we got to go before reaching our destination? I find a nearby airport which we could make. I turn to ask Julia what she thinks we should do and find her face buried in her hands. Now I am really frightened. The aircraft is pushed up and down and left and right but it keeps going back to its programmed course oblivious of the danger all around us. Julia asks me if we should contact the controller to see if there are more cells ahead of us. I think to myself, "Why didn"t I think of that". I press the transmit button of the radio and ask the question. The answer, "all the weather is behind you now nothing but light rain and clear skies ahead of you". I continue my scan of the instruments which have been my only reference for the last 30 minutes to which way was up. Then Julia says, "Look at that"! I look up and the sky is clear once more and the ground is visible again.

Lakes or Islands?

The terrain here in northern Minnesota is the most interesting we had seen so far.

There are so many lakes and islands that it is hard to know if the terrain is defined by lakes or by islands. But it is extremely beautiful. Every island is green with trees and pastures; and not a road or building in sight. It is not long before we are back on the ground at Grand Marais airport. I cannot tell you how glad I am to be on solid ground once more. I will never romanticize about clouds again.

Churning clouds

From Julia: I felt relaxed before this morning's flight. The guy at the service area joked with me while David did pre-flight checks, and I remember thinking about how calm I felt before getting into the plane. We took off and the sky was clear. David started working on his computer and I listened to American Short stories and watched the clouds appear. I noticed a big block like a giant apartment building in front of us and to the right. I wondered if this was something I should mention, but as I was relaxed my mind wandered off to follow Rip Van Winkle into his night of pleasure in the mountains. Quite quickly we were in much thicker cloud, rain started, it became very black. I tried not to pay attention. I started to feel scared. It's difficult to describe the fear. In the plane It's imagining what falling several thousand feet to the ground would feel like. My concern gets manifested as an obsessive worry about the gas levels.

I am always glancing over and thinking that it looks as if we don"t have enough to get there and wondering why David hasn"t noticed that we are about to run dry. Some other symptoms were dry mouth, nausea, inability to think straight. It seemed we were going straight down or I imagined giant hailstones would appear. Thankfully, the plane soldiered through it all. I noticed that it wasn"t so dark any more. David saw a patch of land below through the clouds. And I looked up from my lap and saw the clouds open and land appear below. It was covered in thick forest with no roads or farms or buildings just trees and lakes. I thought that if we had to crash land here, those trees that look so small and soft, like fur on the ground, would, on close up, be very big and cause lots of damage to us in our aluminum box. This thought was soon replaced with immense relief as light suddenly appeared and the clouds shifted apart and became small white fluffy things again. Soon after I noticed that David had started to descend. It felt fantastic to be coming down.

Grand Marais Video

Friday, July 25, 2008: Hancock/Houghton, Michigan

Early morning start at 51-Juliet.

More bad weather today as we flew from Grand Marais, Minnesota to Hancock -Houghton, Michigan around the edges of Lake Superior. No thunderstorms this time but lots of clouds that wanted to be thunderstorms. We had to make a full instrument approach into Hancock airport but the thrills were nothing compared to our encounter with the thunderstorm yesterday.

We are so looking forward to the air show at Oshkosh tomorrow, and it looks like we have good weather finally!

Hancock Video

Trip stats


McCain: 2

Miles Hiked: 93

Miles Flown: 3,309

States Visited: 9


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