Blue sky dreaming

I’ve been dreaming about flying float planes for most of my life. Especially after sore knees and hips made it increasingly hard to reach the silent lakes of my youth via canoe and hiking boot. I always remember that time on a remote lake in Algonquin Park where a park ranger dropped into our lake in a deHavilland Beaver and paddled the plane ashore. He was there to set up some toilets at a new campsite that wasn’t on our map, but he stopped over to check our permit and make sure we weren’t cutting down live trees.

Since then, I’ve often thought how cool that would be, to fly a Beaver into a lake that was only known to a few paddlers, and after the engine stopped making pinging noise as it cooled down, just listening to the loons and the breeze in the trees. I got to experience some of that on the Alaska cruise as we stood on the float of our Beaver for a few minutes.

Vicki and I were talking about it the other day, and she suggested that when I retire (or it becomes impossible to find my sort of work anywhere outside of Asia), I could fly floats as a second career. A little research shows that there are a couple of hitches to that:

  • Nobody will hire a float plane pilot without hundreds if not thousands of hours of float time.
  • Nobody (with the possible exception of Twitchells Seaplane Base in Maine, but that’s a long way to go before starting your flight) will rent you a seaplane except with one of their instructors sitting beside you.
  • Probably most importantly: float plane flying is strenous work, since the customers will expect you to do all the loading and unloading and dock work.

But before I throw out the dream entirely, I did some more research, and some more dreaming. On the dreaming side, there is Georgian Bay Airways, which as well as initial and advanced float plane training, also has a Career Bush Pilot Program where you get 50 hours of training, including 1 in their Beaver. I wish I’d known about this when I was 20 years old – they hire one or two of the students from this program to be dock hands for the summer, and you’ll get some more time flying both their Cessna 180s and Beavers. They tell me that last year’s two dock hands got an additional 50 and 80 hours flying time.

But on the more pragmatic side, I’m probably not going to be able to do that. But I could at least get prepared – I need two things: a commercial rating and a float plane that I can put a lot of hours into. So I’m looking around to see if there are any other local pilots interested in a small partnership on some sort of float plane. I can’t afford one of my own, but I might be able to swing 1/2 or 1/4 of a sufficiently old Cessna 180 or similar. These new Light Sport Aircraft are tempting, but the only LSA ambhibian is a boat-hull flying boat rather than a float plane, and none of the commerical operators seem to use flying boats so I doubt the flying time would count for much. I’m not sure if I’d even fit in a CubCrafters Super Cub on floats.

Before I get the commercial, though, I’ve got to fly a lot more. I’ve got the minumum hours for the requirements, but frankly, I consider myself a safe pilot, but not a great pilot. I have always flown “good enough” instead of “as good as I possibly could get”. I just don’t fly enough, and because of that I don’t nail my airspeeds and altitudes, I don’t use the rudder enough, and I’m not totally smooth. But I know I can do that stuff with practice. So that’s my goal this year – to get 50 or more hours of flying, and some of that time going out to do real airwork to get more than just proficient at the normal Private Pilot maneuvers before I start thinking about learning the commercial maneuvers.

Has it been two years already?

Well, it’s been approximately two years since my last HSE (Health, Safety and Environment) orientation for contract employees, so it was time to renew.

They’ve moved it even earlier, to 7:00am. And it is just as boring and unapplicable to my type of contracting as I remember it. But at least the guy giving it this time was a much more positive person.

I had to get up much earlier than usual, and get out of the house promptly without checking my morning email or anything. I had hoped that I’d be able to catch up with my Treo in the HSE training, but of course they hold it in a basement with no cell phone coverage.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that I had anxiety about getting up earlier than usual so I kept waking up in the middle of night to check the clock to make sure I hadn’t missed the alarm. I swear, I remember checking the clock about 3 times between 2:00am and 2:30am, and then again a couple of times between 5:00am and 5:30am. But of course when the alarm did go off at 6:00am I hit snooze, forgetting for the moment that I didn’t have enough buffer time in my schedule to allow for snoozing. Fortunately I remembered a minute or two later.

You know, I love this job. I bitch about my cow orkers and management every now and then, but that’s true of any job. But the work is challenging, it’s interesting, and it’s in a field I like (ok, it’s not GIS or aviation, but it’s close), on a language and OS I like developing on. And it pays more than my previous job, which means I don’t have to ask myself “can I afford to go flying this month” or ask my friends for money to help run the server that does our shared mailing lists, but most importantly it means we didn’t have to ask “how are we going to afford to have three kids in college at the same time?”. Being bored for 45 minutes at a god-awful hour of the morning once every two years is a small price to pay for that sort of freedom.

Overdid it a bit. Or a lot.

I went paddling today. This time I didn’t have anybody with me to moderate my paddling, so of course I went out too fast and went too far. I got to the point where Vicki and I turned back on the weekend, and it only took me about 20 minutes (Vicki and I took about an hour there and back). Just past there the creek doesn’t seem to get any narrower, but it gets very shallow except for a deep channel on the outside of curves, so the current gets very strong. Also, it gets pretty twisty with overhanging trees upstream from there, so you spend a lot of time pausing to read the river and sweeping on one side or the other.

That’s where I noticed something that I’d mentioned last year some time – sometimes when I’m going around the inside of a corner where it gets shallow, my wake will hit the bank and bounce back and push my stern out, helping me around the corner. Also on straightish sections, the boat seems to hunt around for the deep part – it’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going, but I think the wake is bouncing off the bottom or something.

There were a fair number of people out on the river, including three racing canoes hammering downstream in close formation. It was just that sort of day where you had to leave work early and enjoy it. As well as the canoes and kayaks, I saw my first swan of the season, plus it appears that the female redwing blackbirds have finally come to join their males. I also saw a couple of nests in the reeds – sort of basket-like and up high. I think they must be last year’s.

According to the Google Maps Pedometer, I went 4.3 miles, and it took me about an hour and five minutes. It took me about 35 minutes to get up to Browncroft Ave and 30 minutes to get back. I guess that shows how much I overdid it – in spite of the strong current I couldn’t go downstream much faster than I went up.

One strange thing – last time I paddled, I found a lump of dried blood on the side of my left leg and a small scab. My legs get a bit numb when I’m paddling, so it’s easy to imagine me cutting myself without noticing. This time, same thing. Dried blood in the same place, and some on the floor of the cockpit. I can’t tell if I re-cut myself or re-opened the same wound. I looked very hard to find something I could have cut myself on in the cockpit, and I can’t find it. I’m going to have to remember to put on a bandaid next time.

My elbows are throbbing now, but I’ve taken some Alieve and I’m hoping it will get better.

Second paddle of the season

This is my first real weekend off in nearly three months. Last weekend didn’t count because I was sick, although I spent half of today napping and reading in bed, so it’s not like it’s any different when I’m well… But it looks like the crisis is mostly over, and I might be able to start keeping regular hours again. It will be nice to come home in the evening and have time for more than eating and going to bed.

Vicki and I took advantage of the glorious sun and went for a paddle on Irondequoit Creek. My second of the season, Vicki’s first. The water was WAY higher than it had been for my first paddle, but surprisingly the current wasn’t too strong. Vicki’s favourite kayak, a Hurricane Tempo, was just sitting there on the dock. On the other dock, there was a carbon fibre racing canoe with a carbon fibre racing paddle in it. Oh, how I wish I had the knees and elbows to give that one a spin around the block! We couldn’t find any unoccupied staff around – one guy was building new canoe racks, and somebody else was showing some people around the kayak sale racks. So Vicki signed the form and waiver, and grabbed the Tempo. But first, some guy there was rather perturbed that she was taking it – it seems that he had just returned from renting it, and had wandered off to find somebody to help him put it away and let him pay. We assured him that we were renting it, and he should just relax and enjoy the fact that he didn’t have to put it away.

While this was going on, a guy who’d been standing around our dock not saying or doing anything went over to the other dock and took the racing canoe, heading downstream to the bay.

We went up to the weir and a little bit further – exactly the same place Rob and I turned around last time. The weir was a total non-event with the river so high. Except my hat blew off and I had to go back and get it. Coming down, we crossed the weir just as the guy in the carbon canoe was coming up. I said something complementary about his canoe, and he told me that according to his GPS he was making 5.5 mph upstream. That’s pretty impressive, but not exactly world championship speed. He asked me if I’d ever though about racing, which of course I have, and he told me about a race he organizes on the Genessee river, with an amateur 3 mile race and a pro 10 mile race. I’d love to give the 3 mile race a shot. Unfortunately I didn’t get most of the details, but he said he was going to be putting flyers in the Bay Creek shop in the next couple of weeks. I suggested he also post it to the chat forum.

It was a fun little paddle, and my elbows only hurt a little. Last time I was given some suggestions about seating position to stop my legs from falling asleep, and it helped a little but not entirely.


Paris-Roubaix. The Hell Of The North. One of the most classic of the one day Spring Classics. Long stretches of “pave” (cobblestones) that test man and machine. You expect crashes and you expect upsets. And this one didn’t disappoint.

First you had race favourite and defending champion Tom Boonen isolated in a 15 man break-away with no team-mates, but all his big rivals there, including George Hincape who had two team-mates with him to help. Things were looking good for George Hincape, until suddenly you saw him sitting up with his hands not on the handlebars. Of course he crashed – you can’t ride no-hands on pave. Then they showed the replay and it was obvious that the reason he didn’t have his hands on the handlebars is that they’d broken off!

Then that leading group broke into chunks, and Boonen wasn’t in the lead group of one, or in the chasing group of 3 (which included Hincape’s two Discovery team-mates). But then another disaster for Discovery – a train crossing barrier dropped in between the single leader and the group of three. But they obviously had their eyes on the leader rather than the rulebook, because they went through the barrier. The race mashalls stopped the next group with Boonen, which is just as well because the second they stopped the train went through.

Boonen was fuming about the stop, but it was probably the best thing that happened to him in the race, because after the finish they disqualified the three who went through the barrier, and so Boonen ended up second.

Well, that’s bike racing.