Timing is everything, particularly in aviation and as I exit I5 to park at the Albany “airport” I see the little red and white Cessna coming in on final approach for a graceful landing. As Gavin has just flown up from Cresswell I have driven down to our meeting point, from where our lunch expedition to Bandon will depart. Car parked, sundries stuffed into the back seat of the Skyhawk, headset and microphone adjusted and mindful of a crop duster in the vicinity we are throttled up and off down the runway, gaining altitude and then turning onto a heading for Newport on the Oregon coast and places beyond all those billions of trees and high hills.
Gavin is talking to Seattle Center and requesting flight following as he twiddles knobs, adjusts the GPS, presses switches and tunes radios to various frequencies. I listen intently and try to make out our call sign as I gaze out on the horizon and try not to let the odd bump and lurch have me requesting a hasty return to Albany. He appears very calm so I suppose I should follow suit, but calm doesn’t appear to be quite as contagious as I might hope. We come up to 5000′ as I recall and it looks sufficient to clear most of the humps looming up in front of us. Gavin leans out the fuel to the smoothly running little engine and settles in to show me the magic of my being able to follow our little plane on his ipad as it traverses the sky above all the trees. Talk about cool. What can an ipad not help with these days?
Way to our south an enormous plume of smoke is climbing into the atmosphere and spreading far to the south and west. A forest fire or possibly a controlled slash burn, its impossible to tell. Radio chatter indicates at least two aircraft circling the smoke column. Itâ€™s smooth up here now and the coast draws ever closer while our nose seems firmly locked on a slim column of smoke, which turns out to be coming from the paper mill just outside Newport. We fly right over the top of it and the sawdust piles, smoke stacks, conveyors and effluent ponds make for a rather beautiful picture of industrial vigor. Newport’s bay, bridge and harbor are in clear view as we turn south and parallel the airstrip …and there, stretching off into infinity is what we have really come to see. The Oregon coastline, despite the indigenous sea mist and now a little smoke drifting over from the forest fire remains exceptionally clear. The ocean surface is more or less unruffled and only the gentlest of waves are caressing the beaches. Crab boats, trailing their seagull retinues are busy and the ocean surface is dotted with the floats of their jettisoned pots.
This section of coastline is all rugged headlands, mellowed by a bluish light caused by an almost unseen sea mist. From the right seat I look straight down into water that is surprisingly clear and looks almost “tropical” in the colored shallows close in to shore. Not so the water temperature, so I think sweet things of the little engine and the propeller that seems to stop when viewed through the lens of the iphone camera but not that of the pocket Canon, which is far more reassuring. My pilot seems quite interested in our being just off shore from the Sea Lion Caves and eagerly dips a wing so I too might admire all the basking blubber on the rocks below. That’s a whole lot of sea lion. Some are presumably contemplating taking a vacation cruise up the Willamette or Columbia to feast on easy Salmon pickings at the Willamette Falls or Bonneville Dam. The view down the coastline is spectacular and we have gently worked our way down a couple thousand feet in altitude to get a better view of things. We are now cruising at approx 2500′ and 110 knots as the headlands give way to the far flatter (from the air at least) dunes area around Florence. The whole region glows golden perched as it is between dense green forest and the blue depths. We can make out motorcycles and dune buggies sprinting about the dunes, carving patterns into the sand while a group of ant like riders cluster at a small lake, locked deep in the dunes. Along the shoreline the dunes are held in check by grass through which the reticulated patterns of paths seemingly run â€¦looking something akin to the hide of a giraffe.
The dunes and the plane drone on and we pick up radio traffic for a Falcon Jet approaching North Bend/Coos Bay. We each try to get a visual on the other though I don’t believe either of us ever did. The last of the sand dunes slip buy with large pockets of tannin stained water glinting in the sunlight as we approach the estuary and the jetty that sticks out into the Pacific, signaling Coos Bay. The beach perimeter of the pale blue ocean is laced with a pearly white filigree of surf for as far south as the eye can make out. Passing south of the jetty we see spits of rock running north -south and connected to the mainland by a spidery looking bridge. A small lighthouse is perched in a sea of grass and surely makes a perfect picnic spot on a day like this. Next under the wing is an exquisite little bay, a natural swimming hole of aquamarine waters.
From our lofty perch we can already make out Bandon in the far distance with its own distinct estuary from which the Coquille River spills itself into the ocean. Prior to setting up to land we peel off over the links courses ofÂ Bandon Dunes Golf Club and make for the large pink hued area just inland which are some of the Cranberry bogs this region is known for, Indeed it terms itself as the Cranberry capital of the world. We just happen to be here to lunch with Charlie Ruddell who I teasingly refer to as ‘King Cranberry’. Gavin maneuvers the plane over and around the bogs as I snap a few photos of Charlie’s kingdom nestled in a lazy sweep of the river and proceed to mail a couple off to Charlie in order to announce our arrival and schedule the promised pickup at the Bandon airstrip. The strip is easy to make out and as we scout for other traffic in the pattern we feel for the first time today the presence and strength of an ocean breeze. My pilot deftly settles the little plane on the tarmac and taxies over to the tie downs where a couple of turbo propped birds are chained down against the stiff breeze.
With another display of impeccable timing ‘King Cranberry’ walks out from behind the awesome Bandon Aero Club to greet us and escort us to his royal chariot. An impeccable and highly powered 1957 Dodge, replete with tail fins larger than the Cessna’s wings that we have just flown upon! Now I have seen this auto before, tucked away in a garage amidst the Cranberry bogs but this is a first for Gavin and he seems suitably impressed, both with the welcoming committee and its killer wheels. We are whisked away for a home made lunch in the most beautifully repositioned and renovated old schoolhouse in what may be all of America. Itâ€™s been a labor of love for Charlie and other craftsmen for quite a number of years, a piece of architectural nirvana perched on a bluff a couple hundred feet above the Coquille. It is sheltered by deeply layered trees to the west and afforded expansive riverine views to the south and east. It is always breathtaking …be it in todayâ€™s sunshine or as prior seen in driving rain and coastal mists. There are tall, tall windows and even taller ceilings in the main body of the building through which light streams in, highlighting the neighborâ€™s purloined pink roses on Charlieâ€™s kitchen table. We feast on a variety of salads and cold pork and naturally it is all enjoyed and enjoined with an endless supply of Cranberry juice. This certainly is living well and a real treat. To be flown across ancient forests (and a few clear cuts), to skim down a clear and glorious coastline to this little town far south and otherwise a rugged days drive away. Its very special to be greeted and fed like this in the most perfect of surroundings and in the company of the once a child now a man and proficient pilot â€¦plus long time friend Charlie, well met in Chile a long time back.
As at the dayâ€™s outset, timing remains everything and having ground and sky yet to cover we make a quick clean/pile up of lunchtime detritus that we then leave for Charlie’s afternoon and off we go for a regal tour of the always fascinating cranberry bogs that are now in bloom and keeping a billion pairs of bee’s wings pretty busy in pollinating. I poke and prod to glean learned first impressions of Cranberry crop 2012 volume, futures pricing and so on while Charlie refines the ancient agrarian skill of being politely non committal. Next up we cruise through the beautiful coastal hummocks of Bandon Dunes golf course with its wind tortured trees, brown grasses and still, dark ponds. Its a beautiful day here and yet there is scant evidence of golfers and its difficult right now to imagine weather bad enough to really sweep this place bare of all players and place them happily in a clubhouse, presumably of rain lashed windows, brandy fumes and Â lazy coils of cigar smoke. Onwards across the river and into the old downtown, past the thuggish looking Coast Guard boat at its dock, all the tourist venues and then up a slight rise upon which are rather nice homes. Not a bad place to live at all …given that one likes full and unadulterated exposure to a seascape and the inclemency that can accompany it, even here in this climate favored bend of the coast. All along this â€œtourist routeâ€ Gavin is peppered with Charlie’s none stop, piercing questions. Give an answer â€¦then be prepared to validate that answer. Dare to sound wishy-washy â€¦be prepared to close with a lot more conviction. I’ve witnessed it before and quietly relish that Iâ€™m not being subjected to todayâ€™s inquisition. Iâ€™m rooting for Gavin as at the same time observing kids and dads giving Charlieâ€™s car the thumbs up. Gavin appears to be giving as good as heâ€™s getting.
Back at the airport we push the little airplane over to the $5.50/gal gas pump and Gavin goes about the refueling. I have King Cranberry and Pilot Gavin pose for a silly but fun picture and then Charlie and I natter away as Gavin gets on with all his pre flight stuff. I’d like him to get it right as our proposed flight path from Bandon to Eugene shows most of the worlds trees laying in our path with nary a flat spot to put down in. Accelerating into the wind the little Skyhawk practically leaps from the tarmac and proceeds to weave and bob a little in the wind coming off the ocean. All calms down once we are over the 1000′ mark and we get a good last look at Charlie’s bogs before heading northwest. Gavin proficiently resumes the button pushing and knob twirling as we gain altitude enough to request flight following and as he settles down into his routine I alternately gaze outwards, do my own scan of the instruments and watch the 110 knot progress of the little blue plane icon crawl across the ipad with all its convoluted info that only a pilot could make head or tail of. The trees are every bit as numerous as I had thought, the mountains are as steep as steep can be and every logging track has switchbacks galore. A perfect time for the engine to sing sweetly, the fuel to flow perfectly and the wings to stay on. Gavin is relaxed, inscrutable behind the aviators and shrouded by his headset. He makes the perfect captive audience for one of those father/son conversations. The kind that a son might dread and a father might relish. Let’s face it, he’s in pretty safe territory as he has my stomach not to mention my life in his hands …so what I have to say can’t be all that bad now can it? He’s about to graduate school with a commercial pilots license and depart the State of Oregon for life’s further adventures. Any immediate influence I might retain diminishes to almost zero, so a chat is in order and rather fitting that it is in his chosen environment. Do you not think?
We cover the gamut with the ultimate object being his knowing that I wish him the very best, that he carries aloft with him the enormous pride I have in him and never more so than on a day like this, that as always, I am a resource to draw upon for advice, for encouragement, for moral support and for ongoing love and concern …and never again for dollars other than for dire emergencies and sound, revenue generating ideas. Â That final point obviously didn’t come across quite like that but am sure we all get the gist of it.
Its fun and satisfying to sit shoulder to shoulder with this big strong man that as a baby once laid upon my knee, barely longer than my forearm and no heavier than a gallon of avgas. Heâ€™s the same kid that balanced on my hip as we went about town, who rode in a backpack as we farmed, moved irrigation pipe and chased an unruly Golden Retriever. At times like this I get to wonder if in turn my own parents had moments like this as I fledged and flew off. I wonder if their feelings were similar to mine right now, some three decades later. I cant imagine them being a great deal different despite times and locations being quite different. Surely its a universal moment of love and fear, of pride and joy, of trepidation and no small amount of envy, with every different facet dressed with some sense of loss, of a sweet sadness for experiences lived, of opportunities missed and the ever present questioning of oneself over a job carried out to the fullest of ones abilities. Well, it takes two to tango and from up here the whole world lays before him today. If I fell short anyplace he has the skills and fortitude to make it up and if in turn he feels he is coming up short then he can dig deep into what I worked hard to instill, and there he will always find me …pushing hard and cheering as loudly as ever for him. Between the two of us it looks like we have bases covered.
The trees of the coastal range thin out and turn into the Willamette Valley, that Eden at the end of the Oregon Trail. I can breath easier at the abundance of flat land on which to land should the need arise. The kid behind the aviators takes care to skirt Eugene airport and an incoming Skywest flight as we proceed north to deposit me back in Albany. Back in the valley we admire the manicured beauty that is agriculture in this part of the world. There is perfection in the center pivots, perfection in the lines of orchard trees and a glorious imperfection in the breeze ruffled heads of the grass seed fields. We cross to the east of I5 and set up for a straight in approach to the Albany airport and before I know it the wheels give the merest chirp as they settle on the runway and we make a turn onto the first taxiway. What a gorgeous, incredible day. It was worth the wait in every way, and sometimes what a wait it was! I really don’t want the propeller to stop spinning as it signifies the end to something, but stop it does. I remove the headset and collect my bits and pieces (even as I forget my camera).My pilot escorts me over to the car and there we hug and fist bump and off we go by road and air with mission accomplished.
I really hate to leave so drive on down to the end of the runway and park. I am very much like that kid again on Park Rd, having ridden my bike to the â€œhole in the wallâ€ from where I can view the aerodrome at Samlesbury and wait endlessly for an airplane to take off, only this time itâ€™s not just any airplane. Today, I know the pilot, its my own kid at the controls, yoke and throttle in hand, feet to rudders, eyes scanning for traffic and I soar with him as he lifts off and clears the perimeter fence before turning south and returning the aircraft to Cresswell. I wonder if he sees the white car at the end of the runway and did it take him back all those years when he and I would sit together and watch planes take off for who knew where?
Thank you for a great day Gavin. We could not have had a more beautiful one or spent it in better company. Keep your love of flying alive and your aviating skills well honed. As Conrad once said â€œNow go kick the tires and light the firesâ€