Finally back in the air!

August 23rd - Back home: No sooner did I get home from the pain shop and the spring 99s meeting than COVID-19 hit us all. Although we had a couple good local flights including our WASP Honor Flight on June 14th, seeing our 99s sisters, aviation friends, awesome scenery and just having flying fun was pretty much a bust. So I decided it was time for an extensive annual and fortunately Vern was able to accomodate me. This weekend Vern brought Wild Mama back home all ship shape and ready for the next adventure. I will be departing for the cabin in TN mid-September with the hope of taking a few minor excursions in the mean time. As usual .... stay tuned!

September 15: Belly of the Beast: My planned departure was for tomorrow but Mother Nature has her way of making you change plans ... kind of like my cat, Stubby deciding when she thinks it is time for me to wake up and pet her. Hurrican Sally changed my plans. After taking the Keys by surprise by dumping 12.21" of rains on us in 24 hours, she meandered her way through the Gulf of Mexico. I thought she would get with the program and move on but nooooo. She hung around just long enough to put a small kink in my plans.
Today was my final doctor appointment for my foot. Everything has healed perfectly and I was released to do anything I wanted ... except fall down the stairs again. The doctor got me in and out in record time with the only "restricton" being to "be careful." I can handle that. I had my friend Anne standing by to get me to the airport and in a flash I was loaded and rolling down the runway at LaBelle for a quick VFR flight to Williston for an early fuel stop. Normally, I land in middle GA for a fuel stop but with the storm and low ceilings I thought it best to stop early, tank up and give myself lots of options for ariving in Middle Tennessee. As I neared Williason, the weather was threatening so I put Wild Mama in racing mode, fueled quickly, filed my flight plan to KSRB and launched.
I picked up ATC pretty quickly on the climb out and was able to stay VFR through 2000' where the scattered clouds became more numerous and difficult to avoid. I settled in at 4000' with the best tailwind available and watched the reds, browns and purples in the NEXRAD image courtesy of SiriusXM. I was far enough away that the ride was relatively smooth but I knew I had to pay attention. Rogue cells were popping up all around me. My flight plan took me to the east of Valdosta and kept me at bay from the storms. But ATC had other ideas: they vectored me to the west and pointing straight at the belly of the beast. I kindly suggested that routing would not work. I got the polite ATC version of "Tough". I flew on. Again, I suggested that the preent heading was going to cause me some difficulties. I was told the MOA was active. Another ATC version of "Tough". At 30 nm from the beast I was fully prepared to make the request again then declare an emergency if they did not offer me a turn to the NE. "I have 30 miled before I run out of clear blue sky and I am NOT going in there. Request VADMN-TIF-HEFIN." ATC finally responds: "Are you aware of the restricted area?" I was and told them I would remain clear of the restricted area. After a rather pregnant pause, I was given HAAWG-TIF and told the restricted area was not a problem at 4000' if I could stay there. Hot dog: out of danger!
Unfortunately the path put me closer to the storms and I rode the ragged edges in some of the thickest, wettest clouds ever. Wild Mama "sings" in the clouds. She make a whirring sound the increases in intensity as the clouds get wetter and thicker. She was singing at her maximum volume! It was not a bad ride, but I had to pay attention. I was happy to have The Highway on SiriusXM radio to keep me company. Fortunately I had a great tailwind and landed in record time in KSRB. Sarah was right there with my rental car, tie down assistance, a kind word and a smile. I love coming here!
September 17th - Burgess Falls:  After a solid day and a half of selling furniture and packing, my friend, Inger Anderson, came to visit while she was vacationing in Middle TN. We took the day and went hiking in 
Burgess Fall for some relaxation and to give my foot a great work-out. All is still well. Burgess Falls State Park is one of 10 state parks in the area boasting spectacular waterfalls. Fall Creek Falls State Park get the most visitors but Burgess and Rock Island Twin Falls are my favorites. It was good to relax as the flight and packing had me whipped. 
I have 2 weeks to sell the furniture, pack the small stuff and prepare the cabin for an October 1st closing. The sale is bitter-sweet. I built this cabin in 2008. I had plans for a second cabin on this property. The view is am amazing bluff view and I own the waterfalls on the property. It has been a successful vacation rental since them but as I inch my way toward "retirement age" I do not want to keep managing the vacation rentals so they are all up for sale. This Stone Creek Cabin was the first to sell, being purchased by one of my llong time guests.

I am happy to have this last 2 weeks at a place that is so beautiful and peaceful. It is so quiet at night that it is loud with nocturnal creatures. It is dark. It is isolated. It is beautiful. I have little to no phone service. If it were not for the great wifi I would have no connection to the outside world. It has been a great place to vacation. But with the passage of time, we must all change, evolve and move onward. It is time.

September 21 - Ellen arrives: After attending a wedding in Michigan, Ellen came to visit for the week and to help with packing. Since the packing was done so fast there was nothing left to do except have fun. Tennessee has 56 State Parks and countless natural areas so there were abundant opportuities for hiking and sightseeing. We started out at Cummins Falls State Park. Since this is the first real hiking after my ankle injury I was caution and wanted to stay on more level trails. We founf a nice trail to the falls and took off. The leaves are just starting to turn so there was not an abundance of color but it was a very pretty hike. I had flown over Cummins Falls before with Logan and his friend but this is the first hike. We took "an alternate route" back as many of the routes were closed to visitors. Lots of social distancing but still lots of people so the alternate route was quite private. We finally meandered back to the starting point via the back door and all was well with the universe again.

Evening was perfect for a fire. I had gathered some stuff that was left over to burn and we got a real roarer going. Ellen brought marshmallows so we had fun roasting a few and flaming out on others! The evening was even perfect to open all the windows and sleep with the cool breeze. It was so dark we gazed at the stars forever before going to sleep. The horned owls were hooting and a symphony of crickets and bugs serenaded us until we were ready for bed.

September 22 - Old Stone Fort Archeolgical Site:  The Old Stone Fort was built during the Middle Woodland Period, 1,500-2,000 years ago. Native Americans used this area continuously for about 500 years, eventually leaving it abandoned. By the time European settlers arrived, it was unclear of what the area had been used for which resulted in it being misnamed as a fort. In 1966, the state of Tennessee purchased 400 acres of the Chumbley estate as the core of what is now Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park. The park was beautiful. We hiked the loop around the site seeing numerous waterfalls and pretty water features. There was a still pond section that caught the reflection of the trees above just perfectly.


We then headed off to Cedars of Lebanon State Park.   We hiked a beautiful trail lined with cedar trees and shagbark Hickory. Lots of wildflowers in their waning days but still a very beautiful walk. The trail was a loop around the park. It wa surprisingly close to civilization but the noises of humanity (other than the airplanes flying overhead) were seldon heard. The shagbark was pretty cool. I had not seen it before. There were also tns of lichen and fungi all over the park floor. Lots of undisturbed growth to make for some interesting formations.


September 23 - Natchez Trace:  I had a load of books with me to send to Aviation Adventures new library in Jackson, TN. I was hoping to fly them over but the ewather was not the best. JoAnn was trying to come get them but work was getting in the way. We finally were able to meet half way and make the exchange. Ellen and I drove to Dickson to meet JoAnn, make the swap and headed on to Natches Trace. There was a hike called Devils Backbone that looked interesting. With the drizzle we decided to wait a bit an headed to the town of Hoenwald. We walked around the little park, toured the visitor center and the museum before heading out on the hike.

Devil's Backbone wa advertised as an easy 2 mile trail. I beg to differ with both. It was not strenuous but easy it was not. It had a steep decline followed by the steel incline, rocky and longer than 2 miles. We enjoyed the hike and were rewarded at thebottom with a picturesque little stream. I played the "rocky" theme in my head as we trudged back up to the top and finished the day quite a bit later than expected, especially for a long drive back. We stopped for take-out BBQ and made it home way too late for a fire. But the wood and all was wet so that would have been a total bust anyway.

September 25 - Finding old friends:  By now (I missed telling this part) I had an exaggerated hystemine response to my first ever case of poison ivy/oak/sumac. We decided to stay close to home and hike Fall Creek Falls. There are so many trails there that it is nearly impossible to do them all in a short time. We took the Paw Paw trail by the Nature Center. This was an awesome trail and there were tons of varieties of fungi and lichen the likes of which we had never seen before I snapped quite a few pictures with the hopes of identifying them later.  The trail fro the Nature Center to Fall Creek Falls was closed for repair so we drove around to the main falls. As we approached the falls, I saw the unmistakable red hair of my friend Ruby and her new husabnd. I missed the wedding due to the Covid and had been anxious to meet Albert. When I hollered "That must be Ruby Mina," she turned wondering who could that be. It was a great reunion and first meeting and we spent a bit of time chatting before making the scenic drive and hike to Piney Falls. A second fire was in order although with wet wood it was a hard time to get/keep it going. We did manage to roast and flame out a few more marshmallows and had another awesome astrological display accompanied by the symphony of nature.


September 26 - heading north:  Having nothing to do early in the week, I signed up for a real estate sale of mountain view property in northern TN. Ellen came with me because there was an area called Pogue Creek Natural area that we wanted to visit. The real estate sale was good: we were literally seconds away from purchasing a vacant lot when someone else grabbed it out from under us. Oh well. Plently of good views elsewhere.

Pogue was an easy hike with an awesome overlook. Lots of wildflowers adorned the entrance to the trail head. There were lots of interesting rock formations but not nearly the colletion of fungi and lichen as we had seen in other parks. By this time we were pretty well hiked out .... not so much from being tired but from me still having the itchies from the poison ivy/oak/sumac issue.


October 1 - The Kids arrive! -  Ellen headed out Sunday morning leaving me a week to entertain myself. I drove to Chattanooga and through Soddy Daisy; drove around the local area in Van Buren COunty on roads that I have never seen before; I went to the Urgent Care Clinic since the itching was out of control. I got a shot and some medication to help but got not more than a little relief. On Thursday I went to Helen, GA - a place I had heard about and bever neen. It was a beautiful 3.5 hour drive through Cherokee National Forest and Ocoee River area. The views were breath-taking and it was difficult at time to gawk and drive simultaneously.

Helen was an interesting Bavarian town. I elected to have a favorite (splurge) lunch of sour beed spatzel and red cabbage. Oh, yummy!!! I folled with a ride on the Alpine Coaster and headed back through the forest to home. It was as awesome day. 

Friday was closing day and the kids and my gransdon were set to arrive. I had not seen little Harrison since I dropped them off in Huntsville, AR the end of May. I hoped he would remember me. When I saw him he jumped to my arms and gave me a big hug and smile. And just like that all was right with the world. Amazing what a wee one will do. We had dinner out and headed home for a  little fire and marshmallows before  Harrison and Carrie went to bed. This would be my last night at Stone Creek. I built the cabin in 2008. Mario saw its beginning but died before he ever saw it finished. I remember standing on the rock and buying the property on the spot. It was good to have family for the last night of memories at this cabin. Jeremiah and I stayed out for an extended time looking at the stars, looking at the night view from the rock and listening to the sounds of nature. we talked about everything. It was a night to remember.

October 3rd - moving day: I was up early with the van packed full of boxes and ready to go. The kids slept in to 8 am. By then I had the van unloaded at Mountain Crest with everything piled onthe stairs. I did a quick cleaning and prepared the place for Carrie and Harrison while Jeremiah and I completed the move for the remainder of the day. All went exceptionally smoothly. With a break for lunch and a quick shopping stop or two we finished all the move by 4 pm. I was relieved that it was done and I notified the Buyers that I was out of the cabin and they were all set to move in.

October 8th - moving on:  The week with the kids was great. We went back to Fall Creek Falls and watched Harrison play inthe freezing water, conquor the plyground and take his first hike int he woods. Too much fun. We were house hunting for the kids and found some possibilities. We agreed that Jeremiah would drive the 10 hours to Huntsville and I would fly Carrie and Harrison the following day since a 10 hour drive was rough on a toddler. We departed on schedule to "clear below 12,000 and 10 sm visibility". I am not sure where they were looking but we flew in schmutz for the whole flight. I dropped them in Huntsville, AR and headed south to TX to drop Wild Mama for some touch-ups and spend some time with some warbirds - people and planes.

 October 10 - CAF: Today was a scheduled CAF meeting at Corsicana Airport and I got to accompany my friend Jim. Imwqs happy to see that full social distancing, masks and temperature checks were mandatory fr the regular monthly meeting and lunch. The nightlight was after lunch where I got to fly a T34 and PT19. Way too much fun. 

October 15 - Homeward Bound: We got up early to drive out to Jacksonville, TX to fetch Wild Mama. It was time for me to head home. I was hoping for an early VFR departure and nice sunrise flight but circumstances were not having that. The low layer of fog killed both the idea of VFR flight and an early departure. I filed my flight plan and departed late but was granted a nice tailwind by the flying Gods. The flight was uneventful but I was tired by the time I arrived in FL. I managed to pick up a cold that I could not shake and because I was flying cold medication was not possible. I spent the night in LaBelle then made it home in the morning. It felt good to have gone on a long trip, stretched my wings and see some different scenery. But it was equally good to be home.