Created By Rob
Anyway, it probably isn't much of a secret to anyone who knows me, but most of my stories start with the fact that I'm a pilot. There's a somewhat odd stereotypical vision of pilots in general. People usually expect me to say that I tear through the sky at light speed wearing a fancy leather sailor suit mumbling things into a microphone like, “Roger, roger, Victor, Bravo One-Seven. Keep downwind of the Class Zulu and watch for downdrafts. Request fly-by, Tower. Inject afterburners. See you in my six, wilco.” In reality, though, it's not really anything to 'oooh' or 'ahhh' about per se... Most of my experiences are significantly less exciting and consist mainly of fighting against a severe headwind in an airplane that has about as much horsepower as a riding lawnmower.
That said, it does open up some very fascinating ideas for adventures, and this one in particular started about 4 years ago. Shortly after acquiring my license I joined an organization for pilots and aircraft owners. I think at the time I was just trying to join any club that would send me a hat and pin to wear around advertising my newly-acquire skill, but I got the added benefit of getting some truly valuable subscriptions to flying publications. I happened to be reading an article shortly thereafter about attractions for pilots in the winter. I found this article particularly exciting simply because in Central PA, winter is a very weird and mysterious time to be a pilot. The clouds are constantly overcast, the winds are cold and brutal, and it's really not easy to go anywhere without worrying about your wings icing over and falling off. Considering that I had just received my license, the idea of going a huge distance in the winter was the aviation-equivalent of a 14 year old sneaking into an R-rated film.
So I obviously started making plans to have an adventure.
New England is everything that Pennsylvania is not in the winter. It may be a little colder, but the weather is at least fairly predictable. Sunny skies aren't uncommon, winter sports are in full swing, and people can actually justify having snowmobiles as recreational vehicles. It's also the location of one of the most populated resort lakes (outside of the Great Lakes) in the northeastern US. Housed dead-center in the middle of New Hampshire is Lake Winnipesaukee. A haven for boaters, scuba divers, retirees, and every other type of leisure-citizen, Winnipesaukee has the added benefit of being just as popular in the winter as a playground for snowmobilers, ice fishermen, hovercrafters, and other winter sportsmen.
One of the things that makes Winnipesaukee unique in the area is the fact that the lower section of the lake is designated as a seaplane base called 'Alton Bay' in the summer. The narrowness of the inlet makes it perfect for smooth takeoffs and landings that generally match the prevailing winds and flows of the water. Obviously, however, when winter rolls around, the seaplane base has no way to continue to function. It shuts down as soon as the ice starts to form, and reopens once spring is in full swing. And such was the way of it for years upon years. The odd thing about New England, however, is that the ice levels on the lakes are fairly predictable, and it's practically commonplace for people to take vehicles of every kind onto the lake once the ice reaches certain levels of thickness. It was only a matter of time before someone said, “Huh... It sure is a shame that the seaplane has to be closed in the winter.”
Despite how completely illogical it may seem, a group who lived at the lake decided to call the FAA and inquire about the status of the seaplane base even though the surface was frozen. The FAA, not really having a precedent to work with, basically said, “Uhh, I guess it's still an airport year round... Maybe...” That was the only excuse the group needed to take things into their own hands. They took a group of trucks out onto the ice, plowed out 1000 feet of it, and popped the cork on a champagne bottle celebrating the founding of a brand-new FAA-endorsed 'airport'.
Ever since that fateful day a new era of winter events swept Winnipesaukee. Airplane landings are a fairly common occurrence amongst the brave pilots who trek up to New England during the few-week stretch when the ice is thickest. Every year there is one weekend dedicated to an annual Winter Carnival and Fly-In where there are a multitude of bands, games, and events on the ice. People come from hundreds of miles away to participate in the obscure but beloved tradition on the icy waters of Alton Bay.
And I desperately wanted to do it.
Sadly, however, things don't always work out the way we want. The flight from our Central PA homeland to New Hampshire is lengthy and expensive. I put together a small group who were interested in going along, but between the trickiness of scheduling and the unpredictability of winter weather, I was forced to watch the painfully short window of opportunity open and close on my Ice-Runway plans.
I watched the same thing happen the following year.
By the third year I was a basketcase. I was calling the runway info line every few days waiting for it to open. I was worried about scheduling and becoming more and more concerned with every moment that Alton Bay would defeat me once more. The original members of the group were becoming increasingly more skeptical that the trip would ever happen.... And so was I.
It's strange how an experience like that can impact you in odd ways when it drags out over a few years. I was Captain Ahab, and my white whale was manifesting itself in the visage of a frozen lake that I just couldn't quite wrap my hands around. I knew it was there, and despite my endless hunt it always seemed to be a few steps farther into the mist.
We were having a mild winter when things finally came to a head. We hadn't had a single snowstorm, and the temperatures had barely dropped below freezing. I was convinced this was the end. I didn't have another winter of failure left in me.
But Fate has a funny way of intervening when you least expect it to.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Upon further review of this column's title, I'm struck that a more appropriate heading may be 'Rob's Adventure 10 Minutes'. Oh, well. Hindsight is 20/20. Catch you next week!