Monday, February 14, 2011

California - Day 15 Homeward Bound

The ride to Palomar must have really taken it out of me because it's been a week since I last did a post. I remember not-too-much of that evening, just going out for some steak (thanks guys!) and hanging out with the kids a bit.

Of course there was the whole "packing my bike" bit. Usually it's a drag for me anyways; it's always easier to unpack a bike than to pack it. I remember stopping a few times, sitting in the garage, looking at the half-done bike, and realizing it's like climbing Palomar - just keep doing it until it's done.

The morning of my trip back seemed much cooler than the day before - it seems I was getting out on a good day. I take the Cloud9 shuttle to and from the airport, and it's always been a good experience. Nice driver, friendly, and they drive reasonably safely. I had my heart in my throat a few times but I think I tend to drive further behind cars than others and I also slow much earlier than they do in SoCal. At home it's kind of a "coast up to the light, braking gently". But in SoCal it's "stay on gas until last possible second and then slam on brakes".

Hm I should sell brake pads in SoCal. Focus on the SUVs with their big mass that require a lot of motion-turning-to-heat-energy stuff, i.e. lots of brake pad material.

Regardless, we took off fine. I didn't have any flight neighbors worth speaking of on the way home, but this ended up a good thing. Instead of jabbering for the whole day, I spent it writing.

Writing, writing, writing.

I wrote stuff for Bethel. I wrote stuff for the clinic. I wrote other stuff. I made notes on who knows what. I'm definitely someone that writes a lot of lists so put in a list or two. I spent the better part of 7 hours writing.

And although I had two laptops with me, I prefer the actual writing part. My handwriting has deteriorated significantly, especially when I write in cursive, but I find writing on paper more versatile than typing on a keyboard. Fine, I should try a tablet or something, but the biggie is that I don't have to turn off my pen and paper when the flight attendant walks by as we taxi down the taxiway.

The flight back was exceptionally uneventful for the most part, with no rough patches over the Rockies, no choppiness descending down into Chicago (for a touch and go landing). In fact the landing in Chicago was so gentle I almost couldn't tell when we became a ground vehicle once again.

But when we started descending out of the cloud cover over Hartford...

Call me old or something. It wasn't as bad as when I was on a 747 going to Tokyo from JFK, where the plane's range (in the plane information leaflet in the seat back pocket) was less than the official flight distance from NYC.

In other words we were running on fumes.

Therefore, no matter what the conditions, when our flight showed up, we didn't circle for an hour, we didn't do a dry run, we just headed straight in for the runway.

In this case we descended into a terrific thunderstorm, with angry grey clouds everywhere, lightning flashes, rain, and all the "end of the world" kind of imagery you can conjure up.

I remember being bounced up hard into the seat belts, the 747's wings fluttering like a bird's wings. I thought it was great, just tons of fun. I grinned and looked out the window and watched the wing flex up and down some insane amount of distance. I even tightened my seat belt so I'd really get a good oomph whenever the plane dipped hard.

I must have been younger and dumber because I didn't appreciate the delicacies of bringing down a 450,000 lbs plane (which is the "sorta empty" weight) from 30- or 40-whatever thousand feet altitude.

Well, we made it fine in Tokyo.

But when we came out of the clouds into the "windy Hartford area", let me tell you, all my chuckling from that flight in Tokyo came back and repaid me in spades. I started thinking of how fast I could text the Missus if the plane started to fall. I thought of wind shear and looked down and tried to calculate if a 500 foot drop would put us into a house or if we'd still be flying.

The plane got pretty quiet, kind of like when a teacher gets mad (well at least when I was a kid) or you're at your friend's house and your friend's dad yells at him. It's one of those whole-lotta-trouble silent.

We bumped our way down lower and lower, the wings bouncing like they were inflatable wings.

That's bad, yes. Worse was the way the plane was yawing pretty hard. That's when it's flying in one direction (like "straight ahead") while pointing in another (like "to the right a bit") - a disadvantage of playing flying games is I learned about yaw. And, specifically, what a lot of yaw does to my own plane when I try and land them - I crash.

It's like doing a jump on a bike, turning the bike so it points to the one o'clock area, then landing. If you don't correct really fast, you're going down.

At least, I told myself, a computer is driving the thing. Computers generally fly the plane when they land. They can fly unflyable planes, planes that require so much instantaneous input and corrections that it would be impossible for even a top gun pilot to keep one aloft. The F-117 is alleged to be one such plane, the stealth design not very good for aerodynamics. But it flies and it flies well. Computers can do wonders.

But a large plane can only respond so quickly to environmental factors. Shove the plane down 500 feet and it doesn't matter how quickly the computer says to pull up, the plane just got shoved 500 feet down.

Anyway I wasn't feeling comfortable at all, and as we felt the plane swoop and dip we were all thinking the same thing: "I hope we land okay."

We did a full lap around Hartford, something I don't remember doing before (although, to be totally frank, I didn't pay as much attention as I did in my heightened-awareness I'm-about-to-die state). Sometimes it felt like the pilot put the brakes on, kind of normal, but then the plane's engines would surge hard and we'd be accelerating again.

The braking bit normally worries me ("Brakes? And we're flying?"), but the accelerations made me worry even more. The braking feeling simply doesn't feel natural, but at 400 mph or whatever, it's normal to slow down to a landing speed closer to 200 mph.

But to surge forward simply to keep air moving over the wings so that we stay in a flying mode?

Yeah, it's not good.

I started thinking about putting my head down in case we hit hard. I made sure my seatbelt was securely fashioned, like the flight attendant always says, and my stuff under the front seat was okay (it had to be - there was nothing there).

We accelerated yet again when I could practically pick out a license plate on the ground, then suddenly there was a road, snow, and then, almost too late, runway.

We hovered over the runway for a couple seconds, somehow stable, then the pilot dropped us hard onto the tarmac.

He put the brakes on a bit, then hit the reverse thrusters like normal, then hit the reverse thrusters for real.

Luggage slammed into the front of the overhead bins.

We all slammed into our seat belts.

The plane slowed. Taxied off the landing area.

I looked over at the guy two seats away from me. He had just turned to look at me.


A girl was a bit more descriptive on the phone.

"I was scared for my life."

You know it's bad when the pilot doesn't say anything. It's really bad when the funny flight attendant, cracking jokes on the intercom during the flight, doesn't say a word. If the experienced fliers were wiping their collective brows...

But I was on the ground so it all ended okay.

I called the Missus as planned then collected my bags. She rolled up as I rolled out with the bags, a carefully choreographed dance with the airport police.

It was cold out, a stiff breeze blowing, but not crazy unbearable. Even though I'd just ridden in mid upper 70s weather, the windy single digit weather seemed... normal.

We headed straight home, she having had a long day, me having had one too. I, of course, relayed my near death experience, probably just like everyone else on the plane.

I got home and pulled out the helmet cam, just the cam bit. I wanted to see how the cats reacted to me after a two week absence. They normally run up and greet me, but after trips they scatter like I'm the boogeyman.

I opened the door. Mike was there, looked at me. He ran.

I was home.

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