Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
"Hey Mark! Jackie! You guys gonna sleep forever? Thereís daylight in the swamp, so unass them sacks!"
Reluctantly, Mark gave up his dream, one that involved him and Jackie and not a lot of clothes. The morning was lighting the tent. What was Jack doing here? He dug out his watch. "Good God, Jack," he yelled back, "Itís 6:30 in the morning, after the day we had yesterday! Donít you ever get enough?"
"I thought Jackie might like to get in a little flying time before we get busy," Jack said, a little more quietly. "I brought you some coffee and doughnuts."
"Give us a few minutes to get around," Jackie told him.
"You go first," Mark whispered. "Iíll roll over."
By now they had gotten used to dressing and undressing in the tent with the other present when they had to, although it had been several days since theyíd last had to do it. Jackie slid off the top of the short pajamas sheíd bought back in Everglades City and looked for her bra. It wasnít easily findable, so she settled for her halter top; sheíd probably want it before the morning was over, anyway. She pulled on a flannel shirt over the top of it, then slipped the rest of the way out of her sleeping bag, pulled off her pajama pants, and struggled into panties and her cutoffs; it was probably a little too cool for them yet, but she might not get a chance to change, later. She gave her hair about four strokes with a brush, then, grabbing socks and shoes, unzipped the tent and crawled outside to put them on, sitting on the bare ground to do it.
Jack got out of his car, carrying a bag and a cup of coffee. "Itíll have to wait a minute," she said, "Iíve got to make a visit out in the bushes."
"Thought you might like a little coffee to prime the pump," Jack said, smiling.
"The pump is primed enough already, thank you," she said, getting up and starting for the cathole back in the bushes that Mark had dug earlier in the week. "Bruce brought his cooler out again last night, after you left. I sometimes wonder if he lives on Oly."
"That Tumwater will stunt your growth," Jack commented. "It stunted his, anyway. You ready for your coffee, Mark?"
"Give me a chance to get my pants on," Mark replied. "Iím half tempted to roll back over and sleep for a while, but youíre probably just going to shoot touch and goes and keep me awake."
"Something like that," Jack said.
Mark was outside the tent by the time Jackie got back from the bushes. She had a sip of coffee and reached for a doughnut, taking both with her as she and Jack went over to Rocinante to start the preflight. In but a few minutes, they had the plane started and were taxiing out onto the runway.
Mark scratched himself a couple of times, drank about half of his coffee, and decided a cigarette would taste good. He hadnít had one in several days, and had to hunt through his backpack for what was left of a pack of cigarettes. It wouldnít hurt to get another pack the next time they were near a store, he thought.
He sat down on the fender of Jackís car and watched the little Cessna fly around the pattern in the early morning light. He finished the cigarette, finished the coffee, and just sat there, taking in the morning. It was a beautiful day; the sky was a cerulean blue, the kind of blue it only gets in Colorado on the kind of day that from a plane you can see to Kansas. It was hot already; heíd noticed Jackie had already taken off her shirt before she and Jack started flying. It probably would be a heck of a day for soaring.
A few minutes later, Fred showed up in his pickup, bringing Bruce with him; Cumulus had hopped in the back, and he gave an obligatory bark at the Cessnaís takeoff.
"What happened to your car, Bruce?" Mark asked, listening to the Cessna take off and climb out.
"Got it in for a tune-up," the little professor said, "So I asked Fred if I could ride out with him."
"Thought weíd bring you some coffee and doughnuts," Fred said. "Itís going to be a long day."
"Just had a cup," Mark said, "But Iíd be willing to have another."
"Yeah, Iíll have one, too," Jack said from behind him.
Mark must have still been a little sleepy; it was interesting for Jack, Fred, and Bruce to see how long it took him to put two and two together. "What the hell are you doing here?" Mark said as comprehension began to roll over him.
"Is your old lady always that pissed off when she gets up?" Jack asked. "I told her if she was going to be that cranky, she could damn well leave me out of it."
Someone pressed a cup of coffee into Markís hand, but he wasnít aware of it; his eyes were turned skyward, off to the south, where the gray and white Cessna was turning onto the crosswind leg. He couldnít take his eyes off of it, and wondered how Jackie must be feeling. He remembered his own first solo, nearly eight years before. Heíd had vastly more flying experience than Jackie, had grown up with it, but he had still been so excited he could hardly remember what he was supposed to be doing. Nothing in his life had matched it; the first time he had made love with Mei-Ling back in Bangkok sometime in another life hadnít even come close.
He could hear Jackie cut the power back on Rocinanteís engine as she started her approach. The white wings he and Jackie had covered slanted and glistened in the sun as she turned onto the base leg of her approach. Was she a bit high? It looked like it from where he stood, but it was hard to tell. It had been hard enough to watch her fly with Jack, but now that she was up there by herself it was really difficult. He could see Rocinanteís shadow sweep across the ground toward them as she approached the end of the runway, and far in the distance he could make out her head in the cockpit. Was she nervous? Relaxed? How did she feel?
Even watching Rocinante touch down dead solid perfect did little to take his own case of nerves away, for she let it roll for fifty feet or so, then he heard the engineís power come back on again; the tail lifted into the air, and she was gone again for another flight.
The coffee grew cold in his hand as he stood there watching, never taking his eyes off of the little Cessna. Her next landing was perhaps a touch longer than the first, but there wasnít any trace of a bounce, and she was off again.
"Pretty good," Fred commented, but Mark was hardly aware of what he said.
The last landing was the best of all, laid right on the numbers, a perfect power-off approach, with hardly a puff of dust as the tires hit the runway. Mark watched as she let the Cessna roll out; then she swung it around, taxied back up to the tie downs. Mark set the coffee down on the car and raced over to the plane, getting there just as she shut the engine off. With a steady demeanor that was belied by the broad smile on her face, she opened Rocinanteís door and stepped outside into his arms. "You did it," he said. "Iím so proud of you."
"Mark, that was wonderful," she said. "Why didnít you tell me?"
"Itís different," he said, "You just canít know until youíve been there."
"I know," she said, and kissed him. They kissed each other hard, clinging to each other in joy and happiness, and the kiss went on and on, even though Mark and Jackie both knew Jack and Bruce and Fred were standing there watching; somehow, this time, it didnít matter.
Finally, they broke apart, and Jack and Fred each gave her a hug, too; even Bruce, although he had to stand on Rocinanteís wheel to get high enough for it to be a good hug.
"Howíd it go?" Jack finally asked.
"It went wonderful," Jackie said. "I thought I was a little high the first time, but I slipped it a little and it seemed to work out all right."
"Thereís only one problem I can see," Jack said, smiling and looking at Fred.
"You see, Jackie," Fred said, "Thereís a certain tradition normally followed at times like this one. Itís traditional to cut off someoneís shirt tail and label it with the date of solo, and those who witness it get to sign it." Jackie blushed, and broke out laughing, while Fred continued, "However, with that halter top, you donít have enough shirt tail to say so."
They all joined in laughing, and Jackie offered them the flannel shirt she had been wearing before they started flying. Prepared for the occasion, Fred pulled out a pocket knife and cut off the shirttail, then took a felt pen from his pocket, and all of them signed it, each making a joke about sneaky girls who thought they could save a shirttail by wearing a halter top.
* * *
A few minutes later, with Rocinante tied down, they clustered around the vehicles, with fresh cups of coffee. "When we set this up, Mark," Fred explained, "we wanted to get out here early enough to get this done, and give you a chance to get in your glider checkride before we get busy," Fred told them. "So letís drink this up, and roll out Golf Echo and a 2-33."
It was probably twenty minutes before Jack towed Mark and Fred off the short strip in front of the hangar. Fred told Mark the checkride was going to take two or three flights, since there were a few things he hadnít had a chance to demonstrate yet.
"Fine with me," Mark agreed.
"OK," Fred said, and pulled the towline release from the back seat.
They were maybe a hundred and fifty feet up. Mark took a quick look to his right; it might have been possible to turn back to one of the cross runways, but perhaps they were a little low. There was a field on the other side of the fence, but the fence was still a long way away. Really, the only choice was to land straight ahead. He yanked the spoilers wide open, and sideslipped the trainer hard, since the fence was getting closer rapidly. The trainer dipped down into a little valley, and Mark touched down on the gentle rising slope, and came down hard on the brake. "Let it roll," Fred said. "See if we can get up to the top of the hill."
They just barely made it. "I think you could have made it to the field on the far side of the road," Fred commented. "But this was just as good. I thought you could do it."
"Well," Mark told him, "I thought if someone was coming up the road weíd scare the shit out of them."
"Wouldnít be the first time weíve gone over that road ten feet up, although usually itís with the 2-32 on tow on a hot day," Fred said. "I wouldnít pull a simulated towline break like that on just anybody. That was a good job." He looked around, then up to the windsock by the office; the towplane was landing across the grass in front of them, far off the runway. "Still dead. No reason Jack canít pull us off this hill northbound. We can take off without a wingrunner, but weíre going to want a lot of aileron to get that wing up as soon as the tow begins."
On the next tow, Mark kept waiting for a simulated towline break, but it never came. They towed up high, and Fred put Mark through the various maneuvers around the towplaneís slipstream. They got off tow high, and did several maneuvers such as stalls and steep turns before entering the pattern for a landing. Fred told him to touch it down on the white line limed across the runway, and Mark hit it on the nose.
"Well, no point in going again," Fred said. "Thereís a couple of things we missed, but theyíre not important. Letís tie this thing down and go do some paperwork."
It wasnít 8:30 in the morning, and they werenít open yet, and already Mark felt so drained that it seemed heíd put in a full day. Jack tied down the towplane by the office, and by the time Fred and Mark walked up there, they found Jack and Jackie immersed in paperwork. "Iíve signed you off for solo," Jack told her. "Youíve got quite a bit else to do before you can get a license, but youíll pick up a lot of it flying with Mark, and before you two leave, Iíll give him a list of things to work on with you. Youíre going to have to demonstrate all of that to an instructor, and youíve still got ten hours of instructor-supervised solo cross-country flight to do. All your solo flights are supposed to be instructor-supervised, while Iím thinking about it, but thatís a rule you can bend a little, so long as you donít get caught at it. While Iím at it, Iím going to sign you off to take your written examination, but youíre not ready for it, yet. Iíve liberated a set of the books we use at the school for you. Work your way through them, and ask Mark if you have any questions, and weíll save you the several hundred bucks weíd charge you over at Greeley for ground school."
He finished signing the certificate and handed it to her. She took it and read it carefully; it was an achievement sheíd never thought of even trying for, a statement she could do things sheíd never dreamed sheíd be able to do. She almost wished she could frame it . . . "S. S. Daniels?" she said. "I thought your name was Jack."
"I was hoping you wouldnít notice that," the instructor said.
"Well, what is your name?" she asked.
"Do you really want to know?"
"Come on," Mark said. "After the way you kicked us out of bed this morning, we really deserve to know."
"Sylvester Shamus Daniels," he said, sheepishly.
"Then why do they call you Jack?" she asked.
"If your last name was Daniels, and you wanted a nickname, what would you choose?"
They all had a laugh at that.
"Come on, Sylvester," Fred said. Letís you and Mark and I roll out the other sailplanes."
"Hey, itís not funny," Jack said.
"I know," Fred said. "After all, Iíve had to live with Frederich."
Jackie sat and stared at the student certificate for a minute, still amazed it had her name on it. When Mark had her start flying with Jack, sheíd never dreamed this would happen to her. She started to put the certificate in her pocket, then realized it would be better to have it with the aircraft papers down in Rocinante, so started out the door toward the Cessna.
She found Bruce standing at the fence, staring across the field. "I wondered what happened to you," she said. "I thought youíd be over at the hangar."
"Didnít feel like it," Bruce said, looking down. "I guess, right at this moment, Iím a little ashamed of myself."
"Whyís that?" Jackie asked, leaning up against the fence to talk.
"Oh, itís nothing, I guess," he said. "I ought to be used to it by now. Itís just that this morning you did something Iíve never been able to bring myself to do."
"You mean, solo?" she asked. "I thought you were a pilot."
"Oh, Iíve flown a lot," Bruce said. "Iíve probably got a couple hundred hours in power, all dual. Iíve got maybe a hundred flights in sailplanes, all dual. I go flying with Fred every few days, and he always says I can solo whenever I want to, but Iíve never been able to bring myself to do it. I guess Iím what you call a coward."
"I guess it would have been hard for me this morning if Iíd have had time to think about it," Jackie told him. "I mean, Jack said he was going to solo me this weekend, but I never really believed it would happen, even when he got out of the plane. And then, I just went ahead and did it."
"Thatís what I mean," he said, looking up at her. "Iíve had plenty of opportunities to just go ahead and do it, and when the time came, Iíve never been able to do it." He turned and stared back across at the sailplane tied down near the end of the runway. "I suppose itís because Iím so short," he said. "All my life, Iíve been told, youíre too little for this, you canít do that, youíre too small."
"You think itís any easier to be a girl whoís six feet tall?" she said. "Iíve gotten over the worst of it, but I was always too big for my muscles, tripping over my own feet. Everybody always laughed at me like I was some kind of freak. Itís not like that with Mark. Heís the first guy Iíve known whoís taller than me whoís not some prick of a basketball player. Heís always told me, ĎTo hell with what other people think.í" Jackie caught her breath; sheíd almost said "little people," like Mark did, but sheíd caught herself in time.
"Itís not what other people think," Bruce said, "Itís what I think."
"Maybe youíre thinking about it too much," Jackie told him. "I mean, hell, youíre a college professor, youíve got a PhD, youíre supposed to be able to think. Iím just an unemployed waitress who barely made it through high school, and I guess I just go ahead and do things. Why donít you just quit thinking about it and do it?"
"Thatís easy for you to say," he said. "You knew you could do it."
"I think you know you can do it," she told him, watching Mark get into Golf Echo to taxi it around in front of the hangar. She put her hand on Bruceís shoulder and continued, "In fact, you know you can do it better than I can. Just say the hell with your fears and do it."
He was silent for a moment, then looked up at her and asked. "Will you run the wingtip?"
"Of course I will," she told him. "Do it now before you change your mind."
It took a few minutes to get the extra cushions for the trainer, and to put ballast under the seat so it would balance with Bruceís light weight. It wasnít until he was strapped into the cockpit of the trainer that he started to have second thoughts, but somehow Jackie sensed what was on his mind; she shook her head and whispered to him, "You know what you really want to do. Letís not put this off any longer." She closed the canopy, and signaled Mark to take the slack out of the towline.
The line came taut. Bruce looked up at Jackie and shook his head, but she shook her head back at him, and signaled Mark to take it away.
The surge forward caught Bruce half by surprise. For an instant, he thought about releasing from the towline and letting the glider roll to a stop, but he couldnít quite make himself take his hands off of the stick to reach for the release. In the cool morning air, Golf Echo and the trainer were soon above the ground and climbing fast.
"By God," Fred said. "Thereís something I never thought Iíd see happen." He had stayed back from Bruce and Jackie, not wanting to break whatever spell it was that she had managed to cast over the little man. "What did you say to him?"
"I told him if an unemployed waitress was smart enough to solo, then a college professor ought to be," she said.
"Letís get down to the runway," Fred said. "I want to be there when he lands."
Jackie got into the right side of the pickup, while Jack and Cumulus hopped into the back. They got down to the end of the runway while the glider was still on tow, and stood and watched as the sailplane released. Mark landed the towplane and joined them presently, but there wasnít much to say.
In the still of the morning air, the glider sank steadily, and in a few minutes it was entering the pattern over the reservoir. They watched Bruce fly around the pattern and touch down at the end of the runway. As it rolled to a stop, Jackie pointed at the towplane and waved her arm over her head, signaling Mark to wind it up.
Bruce was opening the canopy as they got there. He had a big smile, and there were tears rolling down his face. "I canít believe I did it," he told Fred and Jack and Jackie.
"I told you that you could do it better than I could," she said. "Youíve proved it to me, but now youíre going to prove it to yourself."
"Hey, thatís not necessary," he said, as Jack bent over to hook up the towline. "I know I can do it. I just did it."
"Then prove to me you can do it again," she said. Jack put tension on the towline; she reached out and pulled the release to check it.
"I donít need to do that," he said.
"Bruce," she said, "I think you do, and youíre going to do it for me, if nobody else." Before he could protest, she closed the canopy and signaled Mark to take up slack. She went over to the wingtip and picked it up, leveling the sailplane. Bruce smiled,pointed his finger ahead, and she signaled to Mark.
Bruce made still another flight before he quit, and Jackie didnít have to urge him for that one. At the end of the last flight, he let the sailplane roll off the runway, and Fred and the rest of them were waiting for him, scissors in hand. "Now, this is going to be one to tack on the wall," Fred said as he trimmed Bruceís shirttail while Jackie hugged him. "Itís too early to break out the beer, but we can save that for tonight."
"Hey, Fred," Bruce asked, "Do you think I could fly the 1-26?"
* * *
Before long, flight operations began in earnest, although it had already been an eventful morning around the glider port. Two students showed up within ten minutes of each other, and both Fred and Jack were busy flying with them, while Mark was back to being an elevator operator. It wasnít long before the sky started to perk up, and the flights became soaring flights in the rising air, rather than gentle sled rides earthward.
Other people began to show up; the day looked promising. Bruce and Jackie were busy for a while, helping to roll sailplanes out and launch them, and before noon, most of the sailplanes on the glider port were in the air, both the glider portís rental ships and the privately-owned ones. It was a while before Jackie got a chance to sit on the tailgate of the pickup truck and try to put it all together. It was wonderful to have soloed Rocinante, of course; three months ago, even two weeks ago, it would have been the furthest thing from her mind. But somehow, it was Bruceís solo, and what she had told him, that hit her even harder. It needed some thinking about . . .
It proved to be a busy day, the busiest theyíd had since theyíd been at Waverly. Mark made twenty-seven tows before the day was over with, and even had to eat lunch in the plane while he was towing.
Both Mark and Jackie were glad to have the day over with as they sat down in their camp to eat supper by the light of a spectacular sunset that reddened much of the western sky. "Actually," Mark said, "Weíve done everything we set out to accomplish here. As soon as Paul gets back, thereís no reason why we canít get on the move again."
"Itís sure been fun here," Jackie agreed. "Iím going to hate to leave, but I almost feel like itís time to be moving on, too. Iíve been thinking about it. Rather than head on to Yellowstone, I think Iíd like to see some of the higher country in Colorado."
"Iíll talk to Jack about it," Mark told her as he started in on the dishes. "He was talking about messing around in the high country last night, and I get the impression he knows what heís talking about. Iíve never done any mountain flying to speak of, and thatís kind of a tall order to start with."
"I kind of think a backpacking trip in the high country might be fun."
"I do, too. Thatís one of the things on the list for this trip. But, weíve probably got a few days yet to think about it, before Paul gets back."
Even though the sun had set by the time Mark finished the dishes, there was still a lot of light left of this long summer evening, not far from the solstice; it was much too early to go to bed, even considering how early they had gotten up. "Letís go for a walk," Jackie suggested.
"Fine by me," Mark told her, getting to his feet. "Iím stiff from sitting in that cockpit all day."
They started down the now-familiar path to the reservoir. It was an easy walk down through the gully, which ended at a small sandy spot. "Now that weíre down here, I canít help but think a swim would be nice," Jackie said.
"Yeah," Mark agreed, looking at the waters of the reservoir. "I feel all sweaty and grubby just thinking about it."
"I didnít think about swimsuits," Jackie admitted.
Mark shook his head. "Want to go back and get them?"
Jackie stood for a minute looking at the water. "By the time we got back, it wouldnít be as appealing," she said finally. "Want to just go without them?"
From the tone of her voice, it was hard for Mark to tell if she was teasing or not, and he was still too exhausted from the dayís flying to play mind games. "I will if you will," he told her.
"Why not?" she said, reaching up to untie her halter top. In seconds, she was naked in the dying light, heading for the water.
It took Mark longer to join her there; he had shoes to untie.
Much of the tiredness of the day drained out of them in the next few minutes, as they played in the water, splashed each other, and laughed and joked. It was almost as if they were not naked with each other for the first time.
Theyíd never managed a long swim in the reservoir before; it was mountain water, carried there by aqueduct, still cold from the winter snows, and a few minutes of it this time was about all that either of them could stand. It was not long before both of them collapsed on the little sandy spot that passed for a beach, to let the air and the remaining heat of the day dry them off a little. In the fading light, Mark took the opportunity to study Jackieís nude body. Her lack of self-consciousness about their lack of clothing surprised Mark a little, considering the lengths both of them had gone to in preserving their modesty over the past couple of months.
Still, he didnít want to act as if he were staring at her Ė which he was. He lay back on the sand, still warm from the sun, and looked up at the evening sky, now dark enough that the stars were coming out. He could see the summer triangle, his old friends Altair, Deneb, and Vega as they started to fill the blue, the precursors of a glorious sky full of stars.
She lay down beside him, on her side, her head resting on his shoulder. Her wet hair was cold on his skin, but her bare body was warm where she pressed up against him. "Itís been quite a day, hasnít it?" she commented.
"Quite a day," he agreed.
"Iíve been thinking about Bruce a lot, all day today," she said. "Do you know what I told him?"
"Not really," he murmured, enjoying the sensation of her body next to his.
"I told him to forget about his fears, and go ahead and do what he really wanted to do, before he had time to change his mind. Iíve been thinking about that a lot."
He rolled on his side to face her. "And?" he said, letting the question hang.
She pulled him tight and kissed him for a long time before she whispered in his ear, "I think you and I have had enough solo time. Itís time for us to get some dual."
It took a second or two for him to understand what she was saying. "You want to go up to the tent?" he asked.
"This is better," she said, "Out under the sky."
It was a scene that Altair and Deneb and Vega have witnessed the billions of times over the eons their light has shown down on this battered orb, but down on the sand of the Colorado reservoir, it was the first time for this pair.
It could have been awkward, except for what Mei-Ling had taught him, in what seemed a lifetime before. Jackie told him it hurt her a little, but sheíd kill him if he stopped.
* * *
The last barriers between them now down, they stayed in the tent rather late in the morning the next day, exploring their new world. Eventually Fred had to drive out in the truck and yell from its window, "Wake up, sleepyheads, weíve got a tow!"
Mark and Jackie hurriedly threw on what clothes they could find; it was the first night theyíd spent in the tent that they hadnít been wearing any. "Sorry, Fred," Mark apologized through the tent fabric, trying to cover things up a little. "You know how it is when you donít have an alarm clock. Once in a while, you sleep in, and after the day we had yesterday, Iím not surprised."
"You should have come to town with us to celebrate," Fred reported. "I had the good sense to leave early, but I donít know if Jack made it to work today. I think he slept on Bruceís couch last night."
They rode back up in the truck to discover Fred and a student had already rolled Golf Echo and the orange 2-33 out of the hangar. Mark looked around at the sky; it was clear overhead, and all the indications were that there was little thermal activity yet, but it looked like it could be a pretty good day. Back off in the mountains to the west, though, the clouds were already building rapidly, and thunderstorms seemed like a good bet.
Jackie had some coffee waiting for Mark down on the runway by the time he finished the second tow, but it took Fred and the student a while to get down, so there was time to drink it in peace, with just a little kissing and hugging to sweeten it.
It was a fairly lazy morning. Fred finished with the student, and flew with another over the course of the morning, and then after a while they all went up to the office to have lunch. By the time they finished eating, they looked outside to see the black wall of a thunderstorm building off to the west. It was not yet near, but obviously was heading their way, so Fred and Mark and Jackie rolled the 2-33 and the towplane back into the hanger. Mark drove Fredís pickup down to the camp to check that the tent was watertight and the tie downs on Rocinante were solid.
The storm was just about to hit when a car drove in. The driver proved to be a student named Kent, who had been scheduled for the afternoon. "No flying today, huh?" he asked from his car window.
"We can maybe do some up and downs after this storm goes through," Fred told him.
Kent came inside and joined the other three, just as the storm hit. It was louder than the one a few days before, with more lightning, more thunder, including a flash and a bang so close it made their ears ring; it may have hit the lightning rod on the windsock pole, right next to the office. But, in twenty minutes it was over, except for some light rain that continued for a while after the violence was done.
Once the rain stopped, the four drifted outside, to enjoy the fresh, clean smell of the air. The sky was totally overcast, except for a bright patch far to the south. They knew from practical experience that it usually clears up quickly following summer thunderstorms in Colorado, and there was no real desire to fly under an overcast, rather than in clear skies.
But the overcast went on for a while. "What do you think?" Fred asked.
Mark shrugged, "Back in Spearfish Lake, Iíd think weíd had a frontal passage," he said. "This is Colorado, and things work a little different."
"I think youíre right," Fred said, "But thereís something about this I donít like. Why donít you roll out the towplane and fly around the area to see whatís going on. Get out to the west, especially."
It had been days since Mark had taken off with the towplane without a sailplane, with the intent of gaining some altitude, he had forgotten how quickly he could get to 3000 feet above the ground. He flew a couple of miles to the south, then perhaps ten miles to the west, back over Owl Canyon, far beyond the first ridge. He turned and flew north a ways, then east again, starting his letdown for the glider port. "Smooth as a babyís butt," he reported on the radio.
By the time he got back to the glider port, the orange 2-33 had been rolled out onto the runway, and Jackie had a towline laid out. Mark stopped the towplane next to the glider and idled the engine; Fred came over for a talk. "I went maybe ten miles west," he told Fred, "Thereís nothing happening."
"I still donít like it," Fred said, "But it probably doesnít mean anything. Weíll be going to 3000 feet, two, maybe three times."
It only took a few minutes to get the tow up to where Fred released; Mark dropped off, cocked the nose of the towplane up and began his practiced sideslip. By now, he was getting pretty good at the steep, slipping approach to a landing, and this was one of his better ones; Golf Echo only rolled a couple of hundred feet before he turned off the runway. Jackie came over and stood next to him as he sat in the Super Cubís seat, waiting for the next tow.
A few minutes later, Fred and Kent were down. It was only a matter of a couple of minutes to get them on their way again; once more, the sky was smooth and the air was dead.
Until they hit 1500 feet above the ground.
All of a sudden it was if the whole tow had been thrown in a cement mixer. No, worse than that; Godís own cocktail shaker, perhaps. Mark had never seen such turbulence in his life; it went in an instant from dead smooth to a desperate and failing battle to keep the Super Cub upright.
They were a little to the northwest of the glider port; Mark started a turn to the southeast, in an effort to fly out of the wave of turbulence, but as he turned the ground seemed closer than it had before. Somehow, he stole a glance at the altimeter; they had lost a thousand feet in just a few seconds, and the rate of climb was buried at more than a thousand feet a minute down. It had to have been well over that; Mark was still trying to climb, and in smooth air, they should have been climbing at 700 feet per minute.
He pushed hard at Golf Echoís throttle, though it was still all the way forward, trying to squeeze a little more out of its engine, with the prayer that it could somehow help. He could tell from the jerks on the towline that he still had the glider on tow, and once he even got a glimpse of it in the rear-view mirror, wallowing and struggling to stay upright just as he was doing. He glanced at the altimeter again: 200 feet, as if there could be no stopping. The plane gave a lurch, and he could see the glider disappearing behind him; it was off tow.
Whether it had been released or the line it was on broke, Fred and Kent were on their own.
Mark kept the throttle all the way forward, just trying to keep the plane upright. He knew in his heart it was going to hit, and wanted to hit on the gear, if possible; it was his only hope left, but even that was a struggle, with the plane rolling sixty degrees and more either direction. He could see the windsock flash by, almost at a level with him, but miraculously, he didnít go any lower, merely because the air taking him down couldnít go any lower, either. Mere feet above the ground, he kept the throttle wide open, running for that patch of daylight, far to the south.
As soon as Fred saw Mark turn toward the daylight, right after the thunderstorm microburst hit them, heíd realized what Mark was up to; turn away from trouble and try to tow them away from the turbulence, even if it meant towing them away from the glider port. But, at 200 feet, Fred realized it wasnít going to work. If Mark could tow them away at all, it was going to be just above the treetops, and the glider might have trouble staying above them. Making the best of a bad deal, he decided to risk a landing.
Jackie had been watching, had seen the storm hit them, right at the beginning, and had watched in shock as the towplane and the glider almost fell out of the sky. She lost sight of the glider after Fred released; her eyes were only on Mark as he shot over her head and beyond her view behind the office on the top of the hill. Sure he was going to crash, she started running as hard as she could go for the top of the hill when all of a sudden the orange and white glider was in front of her.
Under normal circumstances, Fred had set up a good landing. He had the wind on the nose, and saw the sink, the falling air mass, dissipate as they neared the ground. They might not even hit too hard; once they got on the ground, if he kept the spoilers open and the nose to the wind, they might have been all right. But, just above the ground, the wind switched on them; in an instant, they were being blown sideways, at perhaps forty miles an hour. A lifetime of flying behind him, Fred mashed the rudder, trying to get the nose in the wind, and popped back on the stick, trying to give them a few seconds more in the air to make the turn, but it was not to be. The sailplane hit sideways, its tail low; it cartwheeled off one wingtip, then spun around it, coming to rest with the wingtip into the wind.
"Get out!" Fred yelled. Kent popped the emergency canopy release; the canopy flew off downwind somewhere. Kent tried to get out of the five point harness while Fred tried to hold the wing down with the ailerons. If the wind got under it, they could be rolled down the runway into a little ball.
"Get out!" they could hear Jackie yell over the wind. Fred could see her throw herself over the wingtip, to try to buy them seconds to get free of the glider. Kent clambered out of the cockpit and ran to join Jackie on the wingtip; Fred had somehow managed to get out of his harness while holding the stick over, and he tumbled backwards out the door for the back seat. He picked himself up, and ran to join Jackie and Kent when the wind shifted yet again, clear around this time. It got under the wing that was up in the air, picking it up in an instant, before Jackie and Kent could react. Fred could see the glider being picked up and up in an instant, until it was standing on the wingtip . . .
And the wind stopped as suddenly as it started.
With a BANG!!!! the empty glider slammed back down onto its single landing wheel and came to rest. Fred ran to Kent and Jackie, yelling "You all right?"
"Yeah, thank God," Kent said.
"What happened to Mark?" Fred yelled back. "I didnít see him after we released."
"The last I saw him he was going down on the other side of the line shack," Jackie said, remembering her mission before it had been interrupted by the glider crashing in front of her. Scared to the depths of her soul, she took off running for the top of the hill, Fred and Kent puffing along behind.
When she got to the top of the hill, what she saw only gave her a little relief: there was no crashed and burning Super Cub wreckage in the mile or more that she could see. She stood there in confusion for a moment, trying to carefully study the landscape, fearing he must have hit somewhere beyond view. How could she find the wreck?
The idea of running for Rocinante to search for Mark had just entered her mind when she heard the sweetest sound: the hum of an unmuffled short-stack 180-horsepower Lycoming, heading her way.
* * *
Waverly West Soaring Ranch
Fort Collins, Colorado
June 11, 1971
Dear Dad and Sarah:
Weíll probably be on our way again by the time you get this. The guy Mark has been filling in for called today, and will be starting on his way back. His dad is out of danger, and thereís hope he will eventually walk again.
Itís been kind of a slow week, and the weather has turned chilly. One of the gliders got banged up a bit in a windstorm last Monday, and Mark and Fred and I have been working on it in the shop. It seems strange to be working on aircraft fabric again.
Weíre planning on heading up into the mountains and going backpacking by ourselves for a few days. Mark and I just feel the need to get away from other people and be by ourselves for a while, just the two of us. Weíve really gotten close to each other. Still, Iím really going to miss this place; it holds some very good and special memories, and weíve met some really great people. Mark says maybe weíll drop back by here some time.
I donít know when weíre going to be in one place long enough for you to write to us, but weíll let you know when we find out.