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Selma, Jackson, Galveston

Flying the Edge of America

Wednesday, September 3, 2008: Selma, Alabama

The hurricanes chased us away from our planned route. So we left Gatlinburg behind us and headed to Selma, Alabama. This means our official third corner of the circumnavigation of the contiguous United States of America, where we turned westward, was at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina. We are now four weeks in front of our original schedule. We will miss visiting with Julia's friend in Tampa, and we will miss attending the Commander Fly-In at Fredericksburg, Texas.

The famous bridge in Selma.

Plus, we will miss traveling around Florida. There is not much we can do about it with so many hurricanes scheduled to come through the area. Even if we were to time not bumping into them in the air there was still a high risk of getting stranded on the ground someplace and perhaps damaging 51-Juliet. I can imagine hurricane winds peeling sheets of aluminum off her as she sat tied to a runway apron someplace. Our plans have changed and we are making the best of it.

Dr. King's monument.

It turns out that Selma, Alabama is famous for two reasons. The first is that during the US civil war Selma was one of the main towns producing armaments for confederate troops. It was eventually captured by Union troops and its manufacturing capabilities destroyed. The second is that Selma was a place where pivotal civil rights events took place in the sixties.

There seems to be a theme of the word civil with Selma. Anyway, Dr. Martin Luther King, who ministered just down the road in Montgomery, Alabama, was part of the famous march that ended in much violence, but helped change popular opinion to support civil rights causes in the USA.

We were picked up at the airport by Mr. Johnson who we were honored to meet as he was there in 1965 marching with Dr. King. He is now a spritely 73 year old man and was very friendly to us. He went out of his way to drive us to the Edmund Pettus Bridge where the march took place, the St. James Hotel, and to the King Monument.

Hurricanes blew us away from our planned route but these winds pushed us to a place where more great American history took place. I would say that Selma is a must see place for pilgrims seeking the history and spirit of America.

Flight to Selma Video

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A southern manor.

Today we ate hushpuppies and many other deep fried local foods at Grumbles restaurant. I must say fried food does not sit well with me these days although I am sure what we ate was a fine example of this cuisine. It turns out that Alabama has the third highest adult obesity rate in the nation. I can see why given our lunch today. Check out this link to see how fat America has become. If the data at the CDC is correct and America continues on its current weight gain rate I predict the entire continent will sink into the sea by the year 2020 from the sheer weight of its population.

After lunch we visited "Sturdivant Hall" museum. The museum was once the home of a rich local cotton plantation owner and is a fine example antebellum neoclassical architecture. A very pleasant woman gave Julia and me a tour of the museum which is filled with many pieces of antique furnishings, period paintings, and other period items. It was worth the visit.

Downtown Selma.

From Julia: So far my experience of the south has been no exercise, cheese, mayonnaise, and fried everything. If I stayed here I would be obese within the year.

And I would be depressed if I stayed in Selma. Despite its amazing history, as David has described, it is also the poorest place we have visited in America and with the appearance of one of the poorest in all our world travels. The downtown is crumbling into dust and people look like they are suffering. The monument garden to the civil rights marches appeared to have been set up within recent years, but it was already neglected and felt like a wasteland. The antebellum mansion was fascinating, but as we wandered around and listened to how the owner summoned his "servants" not slaves, I felt disgusted at how easy it is to slip into romanticized nostalgia about the past.

Friday, September 5, 2008: Jackson, Mississippi

Julia's latest ride.

Lifting off into the cloudy skies over Selma this morning we soon found ourselves in even more weather. Our westward progress seemingly being restricted by cumulus clouds bubble upwards. Everywhere in America, except California, in summer the normal drill is: Rain falls, very hot sun comes out, water evaporates and forms clouds, and very hot sun heats clouds until they form thunderstorms in the afternoon. This is at least what we have experienced since North Dakota. The advice we got, from the eastern chapter of the Commander forum, to do all our flying in the mornings has been spot on. We followed this familiar pattern on today's flight and made it safely to Jackson, Mississippi. Yes, we went to Jackson.

Jackson's history is not too dissimilar to Selma in that it was an armory during the civil war and was a pivotal city in the sixties for civil rights demonstrations. Unlike Selma there are few antebellum structures left today most have been destroyed. Unlike Selma, Jackson seems to have a thriving economy from what we could see of its posh suburbs and shopping centers. The good news for me, was I got two more "Obama will win" votes on our poll. I am very confident that Obama will win the election now; but the trip is not over yet and Texas still awaits us.

Flight to Jackson

Saturday, September 6, 2008: Galveston, Texas

After the big news at 6,000 feet.

The skies over Jackson were thick with clouds this morning as we lifted off for Galveston in Texas. The flight was over two hours long and most of it was in complete whiteout. I got a good workout flying on my instruments. Eventually we did pop out of the clouds. They did not leave us until Lake Charles in Louisiana but we did climb above them eventually. While at 6,000 feet over Lake Charles I asked Julia if she would marry me and she said yes.

Well not at first as she was so surprised, excited, and emotional that she had pushed her microphone away from her mouth so I could not hear her reply. In time she realized and did indeed agree to marry me. It was very romantic in an aviation kind of way; but we will never forget it.

The Strand.

Galveston, Texas is an interesting place. It is an island in the Gulf of Mexico with really long and nice looking beaches.

The problem is the water in the gulf is not so nice. I am not sure how clean or dirty it is but it sure looks unpleasant. On the positive side we saw many pelicans fishing off the beaches so the sea might look bad but it has fish in it.

The Supermarine Spitfire helped change the course of human history.

We visited the old part of town know as the Strand in Galveston. This is basically one street which has restored nineteenth century buildings now boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants; quite nice really.

After this we visited the Lone Start Aviation Museum back at the airport. It is well stocked with world war two vintage airplanes and other interesting aviation artifacts.

Flight to Galveston Video

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The mighty Saturn V rocket. A testament to American, and German, engineering.

We had planned to visit the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but the hurricanes changed those plans for us. So we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the Johnson Space Center, more commonly known as Houston, was only a 30 minute drive from Galveston.

This photo seems to sum up my experience of Galveston. Raw beauty set against oil rigs.

It was great to take the tram ride around the actual working facility. We saw the current mission control room where live video from the Space Station was being displayed. We toured the space simulation facility where most of the real hardware in orbit, or used to get back and forth, is simulated so astronauts can train for missions on the ground. Then we visited a Saturn V rocket lying on its side enabling us to walk around it. These were great experiences that helped us understand the true nature, and cost, of space exploration. Then there was the rest of the Space Center that was a cross between Disneyland and a Star Wars movie. Somehow this part of the center cheapened the real efforts people have made to explore space. In fact this merging of reality with fantasy has been a theme of our trip around America.

We saw it in the Smoky Mountains where Gatlinburg is a kitsch appendage to the real beauty of the mountains. We saw it in Niagara Falls where everything outside of the State Park is tastelessness and rundown. Julia and I refer to the phenomenon as "fudging it"; as the selling of fudge seems to be the common thread between each occurrence. Why the Johnson Space Center is not more like a Smithsonian museum we just do not understand. Anyway there were parts of the experience we found rewarding and a fitting remembrance of the efforts and lives given to this amazing achievement in American history.

Space Center Video

Trip stats

Obama: 22

McCain: 5

Undecided: 7

Miles Hiked: 169

Miles Flown: 7,681

Flights Flown 35

Hours Flown 56.82

States Visited: 27

Towns Visited: 43


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