Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online


Rocinante
An Aerial Adventure
A Tale From Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
©1993, ©2001, ©2007, ©2011



Chapter 17

Mark knew he would never fly a fighter plane and never ride a rocket, but he learned in only a very few seconds that a Super Cub with a 180 Lycoming and a long-climb propeller was about the next best thing. With Fred and himself on board, and no glider in tow, they were off the ground in fifty feet. "Climb at about sixty," Fred told him, Mark was awed by how far upward the nose of the plane had to be to hold it down to sixty miles an hour. The rate-of-climb indicator on the dash of the plane was pegged at more than a thousand feet per minute, and the altimeterís needles almost blurred as the Super Cub raced skyward. Mark had flown planes with more power, but never one that had anything like the Super Cubís power-to-weight ratio; it was a different world.

In spite of all the power, it was an honest airplane, turning precisely, with good control response, and a stall that was sharp but docile. Over the noise of the engine Ė it had no mufflers, and was LOUD Ė Mark got the indication from Fred to try a landing. Still getting the feel of the airplane, Mark set up a pattern and pulled the power back for the descent. With the engine idling, he and Fred could talk. "Just do a normal landing, donít worry about that steep approach stuff," Fred told him. He floated in over the fence, with the plane telling him it would be just as happy if it were going a little bit slower, and touched down on what passed for the runway numbers.

"Take it around again," Fred said as they rolled down the runway. Mark cobbed the throttle forward Ė that was a little unfamiliar, the throttle was on the left, rather than the right like he was used to, but he figured heíd get used to it Ė and the plane was in the air almost before he could think about it. He was at pattern altitude and heading downwind even before theyíd passed the boundary of the glider port. "What a powerful beast," Mark mumbled to himself over the roar of the engine.

On this landing, Fred told him to roll it to a stop. "You can fly it," he said. "Youíre going to have to learn a little bit about flying it towing a glider. He talked for a few minutes about the airspeeds to fly, about signals and such, and explained the engine got hot after a long, full-power climbout, and it wouldnít do it any good to let it get shock-cooled. The normal procedure for a letdown, Mark was told, was to run the engine at 1800 RPM, in a deep slip.

"The other thing to remember is youíre pulling a two-hundred foot rope behind you, and the end dangles about fifty feet below you," Fred said. "So you want to be at least fifty feet over the fence, or youíre going to rip out the fence and weíre going to have sheep all over the place. Youíve seen Paul do that steep approach of his. Thatís to keep the rope out of the fence and still be able to stop so there isnít a lot of towline chasing you, as you donít want to wear the towline out dragging it. Heís learned how to do that with a lot of practice, so donít you worry about it. If you have to taxi back, you have to taxi back. I see weíve got a glider waiting, so letís tow it."

Making the Lycoming do the work for two airplanes settled the Super Cub down a lot, but Mark was still amazed at the power available. It broke ground a lot better than his dadís Stinson did, and with the glider in tow, there was no problem with controlling the rudder on takeoff; the plane wanted to go straight whether Mark wanted it to or not. It turned out to be a long tow, to 3000 feet above the glider port; Mark broke off the tow and began his letdown, learning very quickly that he wanted to sideslip to the left; to the right meant he leaned up against the door, which didnít seem too substantial.

Fred made one more tow with him, and Jack took a couple more along with him. Jack also warned him against doing Paulís steep approaches, saying, "Itís not that difficult, but it does take practice. Work up to it, a little at a time. Youíre also coming down pretty fast, which is good, but you need to plan your pattern entry while youíre descending, or you can waste a lot of a time in level flight. Remember, youíre an elevator operator."

The day was dwindling down when Mark made one last tow, this time solo. "Anything left?" he radioed to Fred.

"No," he was told, "Take it up to the pump, fuel it up, and weíll put it away."

Mark was a little surprised to find Jack waiting at the fuel pump for him, a wheelbarrow with a generator sitting beside him. "I donít know if you noticed or not," Jack told him, "But thereís no power out here, so you have to get the generator out to pump fuel." Starting the generator was tricky, but once it was going the pump worked easily. Mark was surprised at how much fuel the Super Cubís tanks took.

"On a busy day, you have to fill it twice, maybe three times," Jack told him. "These things use fuel like itís going out of style. Keep an eye on your fuel level. The way we fly here, thereís no reason you canít glide back to the airport if you run out, but it is rather embarrassing."

After flying the Super Cub, Rocinante seemed positively puny when Mark flew with Jack a few minutes later. They went around the pattern a couple of times, mostly to make sure Jack knew where the switches and controls were. "I donít know if it makes any difference," Mark told the bearded instructor, "But Jackieís done all of her flying on the right side, and youíll have to make up your mind whether to let her stay there, or put her on the left."

"If sheís going to solo it," Jack told him, "She probably ought to be on the left, where she can see the gauges better. Weíll try it that way and see."

Jack started Jackie right out on the basics, showing her how to do the walkaround. Right away, Mark noticed that Jack explained a couple of things he had forgotten to mention to Jackie, and he realized having her fly with an instructor was a good idea. It probably would work out well; Mark could tell that Jack was a good instructor.

While they were doing the walkaround, Mark took the packs and the camping gear out of the luggage compartment, and with Bruceís help carried them over to a place near a brushy gully that led down to the reservoir to the west of the glider port. It obviously would make a good place to camp.

As he and Bruce were setting up the tent, Mark watched as Jackie and Jack started Rocinante, taxied it out onto the runway, and ran it up. It was a little strange to be standing there watching. It was the first time since he had owned the little Cessna that it would be flying without him on board. He wondered if this was such a good idea after all . . .

With nothing of the sort of power that the Super Cub exuded, Mark could see the little gray and white Cessna begin to roll down the runway. He stood up, holding onto a tent stake, and watched as the tail came up, and it broke ground. He watched until it was far away, a mere dot in the distance to the south.

As he was standing there, Fred drove up in his old brown pickup truck. It was a Chevy, old enough to have running boards, and it was in top-notch condition; somehow, Mark realized it must have taken a lot of hours to keep it that way. "Iím going to take off out of here," Fred told the two. "Bruce, would you or Jack make sure the office and the gate are locked when you leave? And, Mark, remember, donít go near the office after dark."

"Sure, will do," Bruce said. "I probably wonít be here too much longer, but Iíll see Jack gets the message."

"Well, have a good evening," Fred replied, waving as he dropped the truck into gear and rolled away.

"Interesting guy," Mark said. "I think Iíll light up a stove and make some coffee. You want some?"

"Iíll have some. Iíve got some beer in the car," Bruce said, "But we operate on the rule that we never break out the beer until the airplanes are put away."

"Sound rule," Mark said, digging in the pack. Making coffee gave him something to do rather than think of Jack and Jackie, out there in Rocinante somewhere. It was a strange, disquieting feeling. He lit the stove, and set a pot on top of it.

"Hey, look," Bruce said, pointing at the sky.

Mark looked up, to see the eagle circling overhead, not far up Ė a hundred feet or so, he guessed. "Heís hunting," Bruce whispered. "I think heís found something."

They leaned back to watch. The bird flew in a tight circle, not far away from them, and Mark could sense it was looking for an opening.

All of a sudden, the bird folded its wings back and dropped like a dive bomber on some unseen target in the grass below. Down, down he came, like a streamlined rock. Just at the moment when it seemed he would crash headfirst into the ground, the bird opened its wings wide and extended its claws. It gave one powerful flap to break its fall, and in the same instant thrust those huge talons at something in the grass, a mouse perhaps. With another powerful sweep of its wings, it was gaining altitude, and in a few more flaps, was high in the sky again, heading back to its secret aerie somewhere on the ridge.

"Wow!" Bruce said, "Iíve seen him do that before, but never from this close!"

"Wow!" Mark agreed, "That was something else." It was the second time this day that the eagle had treated him to the sight of a lifetime, and, he realized, the second time today that Jackie hadnít been there to share it with him. He felt sorry about that; she would have enjoyed it as much as he had.

They stood there in awe for a couple of minutes, until Mark became aware of the sound of an aircraft engine. It was far off in the distance, but it was heading their way.

The coffee was made, and Mark and Bruce finished a cup and worked on their second while Jackie and Jack shot landings in the fading light. From Markís experienced eye, it didnít seem like Jackie was having any problems. After what seemed like hours, the little Cessna rolled to a stop, swung around, and taxied back to the tie downs. Mark and Bruce got up and went over to help tie it down, getting there just as Jack and Jackie got out of the airplane. "Howíd it go?" Mark asked.

"Pretty good," Jackie told him. "It took a little getting used to being in the left seat, but it went OK."

"You guys done for tonight?" Bruce asked.

"Yeah, might as well call it a night," Jack said.

"Well, Iíll hike up to the office and get my car," the short man said, "And we can talk about it over a beer."

"Been looking forward to that," Jack said.

Back at the tent, while they were waiting for Bruce to return, Jack summed up the last hour or so. "Jackie, youíre pretty good," he said. "Youíre experienced and confidant, which helps, but youíve got a few points that need some work, and Iíd like to see you get a little more practice in the left seat. I want to at least touch on everything in a normal student program, although youíre not going to need the normal amount of practice. We can fly again tomorrow night, and if you can slide into town next week and get a medical and a student permit, I ought to be able to solo you next weekend. You got a logbook?"

"No," she said. "Should I get one?"

"Yeah, then I can sign you off," Jack said. "Iíll pad out your hours a bit so it doesnít look like Iím soloing you with only three or four hours, or look like youíve got all your time bootleg."

It did not take the four of them long to polish off Bruceís eight-pack of Olympia, but dusk was falling when they did. "Suppose Iíd better get a move on," Jack said. "Itís a long drive back to Greeley, and if I wait much longer, Cumulus might not let me get in my car."

"Iíll drive you up to the office," Bruce offered. "See you tomorrow."

They said their goodbyes, and in a minute or two Mark and Jackie were alone. From their campsite, they could see the foothills of the mountains rising to the west, spread out in a golden brown light above the flatlands below. Both of them were famished, and they turned to making supper as they talked.

"We are in the middle of nowhere," Jackie said. "Did you see when we were flying? There must not be a house for a couple of miles, anyway."

"How was the flying?" Mark asked.

"It was really strange to be sitting in the left seat, with Jack next to me, rather than in the right seat, with you," she said. "For a while there, it didnít seem right at all."

"Iíll tell you what seemed strange," Mark said, leaning over to put his arm around her, as if to make sure she was really there, "Seeing you and Rocinante flying away from me, while I just stood there watching."

"Weíre going to stay around for a few days, then?" she asked.

"I guess," he said. "Youíve got to figure Paul wonít be back until the middle of the week, at least. I wouldnít mind tacking the glider rating onto my license, and at least getting you through solo. Youíve got solo cross-countries and stuff like that to do to get your license, but that shouldnít be any great trick to pick up when weíve got an instructor around."

"Iím in no rush," Jackie said. "Just knowing something about flying the plane is fine with me."

"Well, getting you a license may have to wait until we get back to Spearfish Lake," Mark said. "That is, of course, if we get back to Spearfish Lake."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I keep thinking that sooner or later, weíre going to come across a place that we like a lot, and people we like a lot, and a job good enough to stay," Mark said. "I donít think this is the place, but it could be, itís darn close. We might end up saying the heck with going home."

Jackie shook her head. "Well, I guess Iíd kind of figured weíd get home eventually, but I do have to admit Iím not ready for all the gossip and stories about me running off with you so we could live together."

"Thatís part of it," Mark said. "Although, in the long run, I donít suppose it would matter much, especially if we decide to get married. Itís just that on days like today, I have trouble accepting the idea that Iím going to spend the next forty years as a phone repairman."

"Itís been quite a day," Jackie agreed, stirring the pot of stew in front of them. "I never thought it would end up this way. I thought we were just going to have a long, dull day of looking out the window at brown while we flew up toward Yellowstone."

"To tell you the truth, I wasnít really looking forward to it, either," Mark admitted. "I guess this will be a good place to spend a few days."

They finished their dinner in the last rays of the dying twilight; it was dark before they had the dishes washed, by the light of a flashlight, the flame of the stove, and the light of the gibbous moon hanging in the sky overhead. With the slight hiss of the stove gone, the silence of the empty landscape crashed down even harder on them. At their campsite, down by the gully, they lay back and looked at the sky. "Would you look at that moon," Mark said. "Itís so clear that it looks like you could reach out and touch it."

"You want to get the telescope out?" Jackie asked.

"Naw, itís going to set too late to want to look at any of the faint stuff. If weíre still here a week from now, though, and we can catch a night like this, itíll be neat to look at some of that stuff down in Sagittarius again. Besides, Iíd just as soon sit here and look at the moon and hold on to you."

"Funny," Jackie whispered, not wanting to break the stillness of the night, "That was my idea, too."

It was so clear and dry that they decided not to sleep in the tent, but dragged their sleeping bags and air mattresses out under the stars, the better to lay back and enjoy the night. Each in their own sleeping bag, they hugged each other a final time and kissed goodnight, then fell asleep under the huge dome of the sky.

*   *   *

They were sitting up, making coffee for breakfast, when Fred drove up in his pickup. "Have a good night?" he asked.

"Yeah," Mark and Jackie both chorused.

"Have any trouble with Cumulus?"

"Never saw him," Mark said.

"Good," Fred said, "I didnít think youíd have any trouble with him, but you never know for sure. I brought you some doughnuts, if you want them."

"Hey, great," Mark said. "Weíve got some coffee hot, if youíd like."

"Iíll pass," Fred said. "Itíll be a busy day, but itíll be a while before it gets started."

Half an hour later, Mark and Jackie walked up to the office and hangar, and helped Fred roll out the towplane, Golf Echo; the nickname came from its registration number, N474GE. "It used to be ĎGF,í" Fred explained. "It belonged to the Wyoming Game and Fish, and they used it to plant fish in mountain lakes. When we got it, it had a big fish tank in the baggage compartment."

"That must be interesting flying," Mark commented.

"Yeah, bombing with fish, tiny little ones. Thatís got to be a little different," Fred agreed.

Mark had not taken a good look into the rather small hangar the day before. It was no larger than the one in Spearfish Lake, but there were three sailplanes, as well as Golf Echo and another towplane in the back. The sailplanes sat sideways in the hangar, each sitting on their single wheel with one wing down, and it was easy to see it was a complicated and precise puzzle to get everything in so it fit.

The three of them turned to rolling the sailplanes out. Once they had the two trainers and a smaller single-seater outside, with the single-seater tied down, Mark ran a preflight on Golf Echo. He was just finishing up as Jack arrived, followed by two other cars with students.

"OK, Fred, whatís the drill?" Mark asked. "Do we haul the sailplanes out to the runway by hand?"

"No need," Fred said. "Weíll just take off from here." He pointed at a thin track on the far side of the driveway that ambled a short distance out across the shortgrass prairie.

"Youíre kidding," Mark said.

"No, we do it every day the wind will let us," Fred said. "No reason not to today. Give the plane a good runup and let the oil temperature come up a little, and it will be fine."

A little unsure, Mark got into Golf Echo, started it up, and did the runup, while Jackie laid out a towline. Runup complete, Jackie fastened the towline to Golf Echoís tailhook, and then hooked up to the glider the way Bruce had taught her the day before.

Mark let the slack come out of the line gently; it didnít even take goosing the engine, as there was a little hill on his side. In the rear-view mirror above his head, he could see Jackieís arms go up to signal him to stop; then, a moment later, she swung her arms around in the "Take her away," signal.

Shaking his head again, Mark looked at the short length of the alleged runway, and shoved the throttle forward. Presumably, Fred knew what he was talking about.

Even with the heavy trainer on tow, they were all flying before they ran out of track. As they climbed out, Mark could see little puffs of cumulus clouds building back in the mountains; it promised to be a great day.

The next couple of hours were busy. Mark no sooner had one sailplane to altitude and off tow when he could see another one waiting alongside the runway; sometimes two or more were waiting, as sailplanes began to appear from some of the other hangars around the field. At some point, either Fred or Jack rolled out the other towplane to help Mark with the backlog; but even so, Mark had only a minute or so on the ground before he was away again. He began to see what Jack meant by calling the towplane pilot "the elevator operator."

Mark had lost track of time when he heard Fredís voice on the radio, through the big, padded headphones he wore over his ears to deaden some of the engine noise. "Golf Echo, howís your fuel holding out?"

Mark pressed the button on the stick to key the boom microphone in front of his lips. "Still got some," he radioed back.

"Better top off," Fred told him. "Iíll have Bruce get the generator out and meet you by the gas pump. This is going to have to just be a pit stop."

Bruce had the generator running when Mark taxied up to the gas pump. Heíd brought a stepladder with him; at what Mark later found out to be four foot eleven inches, Bruce was nowhere near tall enough to reach the top of the wing without it, but as soon as the prop stopped he was scampering up the stepladder, fuel hose in hand. Mark hopped out of the cockpit, and stood on the tire on the other side, where he could reach the filler; Bruce handed him the hose, and he started to fill the other tank. "God, doesnít it ever let up?" Mark asked.

"On a good day when you get everything in the air, sometimes they stay up for a while," the little man said, looking at the sky, which was now filled with puffy white cumulus clouds. "It looks like it ought to be a great day, but it could get interesting later." He pointed off to the west.

Mark glanced back in the hills, where Bruce was pointing. There in the distance were some cumulus clouds that had grown beyond the puffy little-cloud stage, into what he knew to be "towering cumulus." If they kept growing, those clouds could develop into thunderstorms. "I see what you mean," Mark commented.

"Theyíre a ways off, yet," Bruce told him. "Maybe fifty or a hundred miles, so itíll be a while before they get here."

"I just canít get over how clear the air is out here," Mark replied. "The murk weíve got back home, youíre lucky to see ten miles."

"I canít get over it, either," Bruce said, "And I know what you mean. Iím from Pennsylvania, myself."

Mark could hear the tank getting full. He shut the nozzle off, and handed it to Bruce, who took it back over to the gas pump as Mark was getting back into the cockpit. There were now two sailplanes waiting for tows, so there was no time to waste. Mark started the engine and took off right from the gas pump; as soon as he was up a little ways, he began a wide left circle that would take him back to the end of the runway faster than taxiing would. It seemed like a natural thing to do in this plane, to fly out to the end of the runway for takeoff. He couldnít do that in Rocinante!

Sitting out at the end of the hanger was the big Schweizer 2-32 that hadnít flown the day before. This was two-place, a larger, sleeker glider than the trainers. It also had a radio, which the trainers didnít; Fred was in the cockpit. "You want to tow this a little faster than the 2-33s," Fred warned over the radio. "Around seventy is fine."

"Seventy, fine," Mark replied, but when he was given the signal to go, it was like the tow line was tied to a fence post. The tautness of the towline lifted Golf Echoís tail into the air, but even the 180-horse engine barely set the tow moving. They gathered speed only reluctantly, but once Golf Echoís Lycoming had gotten the tow moving fast enough for Fred to get the skid off the ground, things improved a little. Still, the towplane was far beyond the marked end of the runway before Mark could get it flying. They cleared the fence at the edge of the field by perhaps fifty feet, and it was a long, slow climb to altitude. Fortunately, Fred found a good patch of lift fairly low, and released from tow; Mark thought they might have been all morning getting to 3000 feet. With that thing on tow, this plane could really use more power, he thought.

It had warmed up as the morning went on. Mark and Jackie had both started out wearing jeans and flannel shirts in the cool of the morning, and it was uncomfortably warm in the cockpit on the rare instances that he was on the ground. Looking in the rear-view mirror as he took out slack for the next tow, he could see Jackie had discarded her clothes from earlier and was wearing the cutoffs and the halter top she had made back when they were at Cape Canaveral. It seemed like those days had been a long time before, but it wasnít two months, yet. In the rear-view mirror, he took a good look at Jackie and her now-deep tan. "God, sheís beautiful," he thought. He was still looking and enjoying the view when Jackie gave him the signal to "Take her away."

Jackie had gone through a busy morning herself, though not as busy as Markís had been. It turned out that moving sailplanes on the ground was a two, or sometimes three, person job, sometimes involving a car to tow the sailplane around on the ground. Between hauling gliders around, hooking up tow lines, running wingtips, and talking with Bruce and some of the other people who hung around where the sailplanes were clustered at the end of the runway, she had a busy time Ė but it was a fun time, too.

There finally came a time when Mark had every waiting sailplane in the air, and they were staying up. He landed on the runway and rolled off to one side, to wait for another tow. He strolled over to the campsite to get a drink of water, then returned to the end of the runway, where a cluster of people awaited. He sat in the shade under the wing of the towplane and talked with Jackie and Bruce for a few minutes, thankful for the break.

Just about that time, Fredís voice came up on the radio. "Take the towplane up to the office and tie it down, then get ready to pitch in. In a few minutes, itís going to rain gliders."

With a quizzical look, Mark got up to get to the microphone, so he could answer Fred. As he did, he could see a dark, glowering wall building beyond the ridge to the west. "Where the hell did that come from?" he asked, looking off at the gathering thunderstorm.

"They get started early and blow up quick," Fred said.

Mark told Jackie to check Rocinanteís tie downs, and to button up the tent for a blow; then Bruce hopped into the back seat as Mark taxied Golf Echo up to some tie downs near the office. Since it had to be the last plane in the hangar, it would have to sit out the storm unless the gliders could be gotten into the hangar first.

"Weíd better get the other towplane in," Bruce said. Heíd been through this drill before.

They had no more than gotten the towplane in when the first glider arrived Ė not down on the runway, but landing on the little track leading to the gas pump. Jack was in the back seat, and he touched down a ways away, then let it roll up to the hangar, bringing it to a stop right on the ramp, its wing tip only a few feet clear of the door. Bruce rolled a dolly in front of the single wheel as Jack and the student got out, and the four of them pushed the sailplane inside.

It was wild for a few minutes. Two other sailplanes arrived next, but the single seat 1-26 had to be the next one to go in, and it was still in the air. Jack started to tie the second 2-33 down to tie downs outside, and was halfway done when the 1-26 arrived; Bruce, Mark, and the pilot, who was no more than fifteen, wrestled the little sailplane into the hangar while Jack backtracked on the tie downs. In a few minutes more, they had the second 2-33 in the hangar, and Mark went to get Golf Echo.

As he had been busy around the hangar, he hadnít seen what had been happening elsewhere on the field, but there were several other sailplanes down on the ground being tied down or put into some of the other hangars around the property. Mark looked out across the reservoir, and had second thoughts about trying to untie the towplane and move it; not half a mile away, the storm was kicking up whitecaps on the water, and moving toward them quickly. "Button up the hangar," he yelled to Bruce, then looked around to see if anyone else needed help and if all the sailplanes were down.

It appeared that all were down but one Ė the 2-32 was on final approach. It went into a single hangar down by the main runway, Mark knew, and he could see Jackie running for the hangar to help Fred put it away. Mark took off running, too, then stopped when he saw Jack shoot by in his little red Hornet, bent on the same mission.

A teacher to the last, Fred touched the big 2-32 down on the numbers at the end of the runway, the storm not far behind him Ė then closed the spoilers, and let the sailplane float a couple of feet back up into the air again. It drifted across the field a couple of feet up, heading for the hangar, burning off its excess speed. Finally, it wasnít going fast enough to stay airborne, and it touched down, still rolling toward the hangar, which Jackie had reached by now.

Right in front of the hangar, Fred yanked hard on the brake and shoved the nose down, to let the skid drag it to a stop. Before Fred could get the canopy open, Jackie had grabbed the tail of the big sailplane, swung it around and was dragging it into the hangar. Just at that moment, Jack exploded out of his car and ran over to grab a wing to help push, even as Fred was getting out of the rear cockpit.

The storm hit at the hangar only seconds later. Mark realized he was going to have to hustle to get inside the office, or he was going to get wet.

Mark got into the office just as the storm hit, to find several people there, including Bruce. Cumulus was there, too, hiding underneath a table, scared at the sound of the thunder. "This sort of thing happen often?" he asked.

"Maybe once a week," Bruce told him. "When it happens during the week, itís no big trick, but today every sailplane on the field must have been up, making it a little more interesting."

Mark looked out the window. Rain was coming down hard, and the wind was blowing in big gusts. Golf Echo seemed to be riding out the storm all right, at its tie downs right outside the office, but only rarely could Mark see through the storm far enough to see how Rocinante was doing. As far as he could see, the little Cessna was riding out the storm all right, but at a distance it was hard to tell. He hoped it wouldnít turn into a hailstorm; heíd spent most of the winter repairing the damage a hailstorm had done to the Cessna, but the fresh Ceconite ought to be able to take more of a beating than the aged linen it had replaced.

In the sheet-metal hangar where Jack, Jackie, Fred, and the student were waiting out the storm, the noise was incredible. The temperature dropped fifteen or twenty degrees in a matter of seconds, and Jackie felt herself getting cold in her light clothing, not that there was anything she could do about it. "You moved quick, and that was exactly the right move," Fred told her. "I shouldnít have cut it quite so close."

The storm didnít last long; perhaps twenty minutes passed before the rain and the wind slacked off. Off to the west, there was a patch of blue. From a distance, Mark could see Rocinante was still sitting there, apparently undamaged; although a gentle rain was still falling, he walked out to see for sure. Jackie met him part way there, on her way to get some warmer clothes. "I couldnít believe it when you grabbed that big pot licker and dragged it inside by yourself," Mark said.

"I knew they didnít have much time," Jackie said. "I could see the storm coming, and all I could do was take off running."

Mark walked around the Cessna carefully, but couldnít see any sign of damage. He went over to the tent and checked it out, as well, but everything seemed all right there, too. He found the flannel shirt he had taken off earlier and put it on, and then, with Jackie, walked back up to the office. Other people were coming outside, now, enjoying the clean, cool smell of the storm washed air; even Cumulus danced around excitedly in the mud, glad to have the storm over with.

Mark was checking Golf Echo out when Fred came out of the office. "That thing OK?" he asked."

"So far," Mark told him.

"Finish your checkout, gas it up, and then bring it around," Fred said. "Weíll roll out one of the trainers."

"With all this rain, itís going to be dead out there," Mark protested.

Fred smiled, "Great for tow and landing practice."

Mark spent most of the remaining afternoon playing elevator operator. Jack got the second trainer out for a while and made half a dozen flights, but most of the flying was taking Fred with students to a low altitude, dropping them, then racing them back to the ground. Still, it wasnít quite as frantic as the morning had been.

After a while, Jack ran out of students. They put the glider away, and then he and Jackie fired up Rocinante so she could get her flying in. They flew around the pattern, making touch and goes for an hour or more, while Mark hauled Fred and the remaining trainer.

It was getting along toward evening, now; Fred finished up with his last student, then he and Mark stood alongside the end of the runway, with the trainer and the towplane sitting nearby, and watched Jack and Jackie shoot practice landings. "She handles it well," Fred commented.

"I think so," Mark told him. "I just hope sheís not having to unlearn any bad habits Iíve taught her."

"We all have bad habits," Fred said. "I tend to cut things a little too close, for example. There was a time . . . well, thatís neither here nor there, now. It was a long time ago. You saw what I mean this afternoon, anyway. I should have had the 2-32 on the ground fifteen minutes earlier, and I knew it when I called you. But, it worked out in the end, at least partly because Jackie was on her toes. But, I like the way you fly. Youíre careful, and youíre smooth. If they decide to quit flying pretty soon, howíd you like it if Jack gave you and me a tow, and then Iíll turn you loose."

"Sounds fine to me," Mark said.

It wasnít much longer before Jack and Jackie landed and taxied back to the tie downs. Mark and Fred went over to help tie the plane down, and in a few minutes, Mark was in the front seat of the trainer, with Fred in back, Jackie running the wingtip.

It was a brief flight, just long enough to satisfy Fred that Mark hadnít forgotten much about flying the trainer since the day before. They touched down on the runway, and Jackie brought the towline over for another flight. "Land it on the runway," Fred said, and got out of the back, and almost before he knew what was happening, Mark was on tow alone behind the towplane.

He didnít tow up very high; he was tired, and it had been a long day. Besides, this solo flight was more ceremonial than anything else. It was over in ten minutes or so; then, they put the sailplane and the towplane away.

With everything over with for the day, about six or eight people gathered in the office to break out a cooler of Olympia. "Tomorrowís Tuesday, isnít it?" Mark asked.

"Yeah," Fred said. "We wonít be anything like as busy. Itíll be just you and me and Jackie."

"I might be out later on," Bruce said.

"Do you think weíll get started very early?" Mark said. "We need to get into town, get some groceries, get Jackie her flight physical, get some gas in the Cessna, and pick up some other things, and we need to figure out a way to get there. I hoped maybe we could borrow a car or something."

"Fly right down to Fort Collins Valley Airpark," Jack suggested. "You can do everything you need right within walking distance."

"I donít really care if I go near that place again," Mark said. "They were pretty snotty, and I didnít see much of anything close by."

"Oh," Jack said, "You stopped at Loveland-Fort Collins, not Valley. Yeah, theyíre a bunch of pricks, all right."

"Weekdays always get started slowly, and we probably wonít get very busy anyway," Fred told them. "If youíre back by ten or eleven, then it ought to be all right."

*   *   *

Waverley West Soaring Ranch

Fort Collins, Colorado

June 6, 1971

Dear Dad and Sarah,

It was so nice to get that package of mail from you today! It seems so long since I last got mail and stuff from you, down in Texas, that I was really anxious to paw through it when Fred brought it to work with him this morning.

We heard from the guy that Mark is filling in for this morning, too. He still doesnít know how long it will be before he can get back to work. His dad is still in real bad shape, but getting better. I donít think heís going to race a train to a crossing again. I think weíll probably be here another week or so, but itís hard to be sure, so youíd better not send us any more mail after you get this letter.

Itís a lot slower here during the week than it is on the weekends, so Iím just sitting here in the office, writing you this letter, while Fred is in the shop working on something and Mark is out in a glider. Mark has made several solo flights in the 1-26, the little single-seat glider, and Fred said heís ready to be signed off for his license when we have another tow pilot here. Jack will be here tomorrow Ė heís a flight instructor over in Greeley during the week Ė and he can give Mark and Fred a tow for Markís checkride.

Itís been very hot here all week. Mark and I discovered a path down to the reservoir, with a little sandy beach there. We go swimming most every day after work, which helps some. A couple of nights after work weíve flown into Fort Collins for dinner Ė they have absolutely the best Mexican food Iíve ever had Ė but we have to leave early so we can be back before dark, as the field here doesnít have any lights.

Itís been a lot of fun to be here, and Mark says heís learned a lot; but I think we are both a little anxious to get moving again. Itís very hard to stay in one place so long when we know this trip is going to come to an end all too soon. I see Mark is landing, so I guess Iíd better wrap this up.

Love,

Jackie

<< Back to Last Chapter
Forward to Next Chapter>>

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.