New Years in Zephyrhills

After a day of jumping with our New York skydiving friends, I was whisked away in an RV6 aerobatic home-built plane, twirling around the skies performing barrel rolls and loop-de-loops with ’Spoon’, a resident pilot friend also from NY. What a way to catch sunset on the last day of the year!

Ringing in 2011 with amazing fireworks from DJ TK-Explosive, night jumps a-plenty, hard-core drum beats, and slaDE~ at my side was a fabulous beginning to an exciting New Year. Big plans ahead. We’ll see how they gO. 🙂 In the interim, loving the pirate life thus faR!

The Gift of Flight

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.
Quotation of Leonardo Da Vinci

Flight is a huge part of my life and has been for over 19 years (for those who know me, you’d never guess!). Being both a licensed Private Pilot (1999) and a D-Licensed Skydiver (D18185, October 6, 1991), it’s always been a fascination and dream of mine to visit the site of where man made free, controlled, and sustained flight in the world’s first power-driven heavier-than-air machine. That date in history: December 17, 1903 near the Kill Devil Hills, about four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina —  the historic launching grounds of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s The Wright Flyer. Although I thought I had known a fair bit of the historical events behind their first flight, I actually discovered today that I knew very little. The history is rich and steeped with amazing FAQs. So much so that the curator of the visitor center spent an hour telling the story of the history of flight, followed by a 40 minute film on the Wright and Tate families. Fascinating info that had us scrambling to try and fit in everything in in just one day. For me, it was compelling and relevant to also walk the grounds, from where each flight was launched onwards to the landing marker of each successful flight — 4 in total on that glorious day. This day was similar in weather to December 17, 1903. The winds howled, the temperatures were extraordinarily low and the visibility was clear with scattered clouds fringing the deep blue skies. Orville’s account of that fourth flight is as follows:

Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o’clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred ft had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet; the time of the flight was 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of the machine was not injured at all. We estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight again in about a day or two.

Truly amazing to walk those steps … 852 feet may not seem like a lot, but in those days when no man or woman had ever lifted off of the earth via a manned powered vehicle, 59 seconds was truly a spectacular feat, I believe.

Following the path of the Wright Flyer’s trajectory, we strolled up the Kill Devil Hill to the centenary monument of where a behemoth rudder made of granite, sand, gravel and cement stands tall and proud, witness to the historical importance of Kitty Hawk and aviation. A stunning view of the area and an impressive memorial to the Wright Brothers. So breathtaking and a memory that both slaDE~ and myself will treasure forever!

Airports, Jack Daniels and Jesus

What an exciting, fun-filled day! On this day we experienced an amazing airport extravaganza, a fascinating tour of the Jack Daniels distillery and Jesus. But first, let me explain ……

Last night, whilst driving through the glorious green spaces of Tennessee, we were grazing for a unique place to park our Airstream overnight. Walmart and Truck Stops are okay places to use as a standby when boondocking (i.e. dry-camping with no hookups — electric, water and sewer), but the crowds and noisiness can be quite interruptive at times, with the question of safety always a factor. So why not search out the local airport, was slaDE~s suggestion.

We’ve camped at drop zones across the country. Why not non-skydiving operations as well, if they’re open, willing and able? Being a Licensed Private Pilot with 130 some odd hours of flying until my belt, I can talk the talk and walk the walk :). And that’s an important step in to building new communities and possibilities … finding a mutual interest with common dreams and values. It also helps to have a good looking trailer than has similarities to an airplane! :).

So around the airport we walked and knocked, until we found an authority figure who had the say as to whether we could park for the night. Blessed be the Fleeman family!

And park we did …. the only ones in the parking lot, on a starry-bright pitch black skied night, 5000 foot paved runway aglow, with a Wifi connection to boot! All you could hear were the chirping of birds, the waving of freshly born leaves in the wind and the occasional drone of a passing airplane. Life doesn’t get pretty much better than this.

Speaking of walking, I started out my day with a gorgeous walk in the country. Strange how passerbys can turn around and drive by several times out of curiosity to see who you are. But I carry forward at my speed-walking pace, not really giving them much notice. And it’s at opportune times like this that I LOVE carrying my camera when out-an-about in new territory and find awesome signs like this! How would you label this photo? ‘Jesus, just around the corner’ perhaps??

Before getting ready to pull out, Reford, one of the airport staff, suggested that we go and visit Joe Fleeman in his shop where he builds new and restores antique aircraft. Oh what a treat!  It was like an aircraft playground with the most unique and fabulous airplanes one could witness: a cloth-winged Piper, a Cessna T-50 called the ‘Bamboo Bomber’, a Pitts Special, a Mustang II and Joe in the process of building a wooden framed Aeronca Champion from scratch (no quick build kit needed). WOW. Such brilliant talent, and Joe doesn’t even use the internet at all to acquire his knowledge. Rare indeed … old school, the way I like it!

After enjoying what seemed like our own museum tour, we made our way through to Chattanooga, but not before stopping along our scenic route in Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniels. I never knew what a treat visiting such a small town and going on a 1 hour Distillery tour could be. Lynchburg is a unique small town, population 361, rooted upon the growth of the infamous JD Tennessee Whiskey. Fascinating history around the origins of Jack Daniel and his emerging company registered back in 1861. “Even though it’s home to the Distillery, it’s a dry county and has been ever since Prohibition.” The 1 hour walking tour was awesomely unique and filled with interesting tidbits around the complete story of JD whiskey. No samples per se but lovely cold lemonade at the end of the tour helped to quench any thirst hunkered up through the succulent temptations of our tour (the wafting smell of whiskey from the vats was incredibly appealing). We had such a great day, touring the town and meeting some wonderful Tennessee people. We’ll surely be back, especially if we can go for a ride in some of Joe’s aerobatic airplanes ;).

Feeling Like Home

Having arrived late last night in Waller Texas, it was only this morning that upon stepping out of our Airstream into the warm glistening sunlight that I realized our return to Skydive Houston was feeling much like a return to home for me. This morning slaDE extended all the awnings and set up shop for our weeks stay on the drop zone. I absolutely ADORED staying at Skydive Elsinore for the length of time that we did, but the only thing it was lacking was the greenery and lush grass surrounding us like it does this very moment. No arid desert conditions with wandering dust devils and runway remnants to spit, blanket and taunt us. The covered packing area / hangar lacking the tell-tale desert remnants (which age both my skin and canopy) is a welcome reprieve. Add on top of this our old new-found friends and we have a whopping successful cocktail of fun and frolic.

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