On top of clouds
6 min read

With all sorts of time on my hands due to the coronavirus social distancing, I finally found time to write my article on “What I Did Last Summer.” We have another trip across the US planned for this summer, but I guess we’ll have to see how it unfolds. Right now, a “no recreational border crossing” rule is in place, but when it lifts, and it’s safe, we’ll be heading south once again.

On top of clouds

With an instrument rating and a 206, you can really travel.

My wife, April, and I flew over 11,000 miles in our Cessna 206 last summer. We pretty much circumnavigated the lower 48, with a couple of great loops to boot. Our mission: to take our daughter’s used Ikea furniture and household items from her Houston apartment to Bangor, Maine, where she was working on assignment. This was our extreme equivalent of the $100 hamburger, only it was a $10,000+ trip to move Ikea furniture with an estimated total value of $300.

So, it qualifies as a plane trip in search of a mission. And yes, we know she could have just bought new stuff a lot cheaper, or we could have bought designer furniture for her, but, hey, we had a new airplane, lots of time, and plenty of room, I like Ikea furniture, I love flying in the USA, and we wanted to see our American friends and family anyway. Would you believe: Victoria, BC, Hayward, CA, Tucson, AZ, Houston, TX, Charlotte, NC, Bangor, ME, Quebec City, QB, Urbana, IL, Houston, TX, Charlotte, NC, Bangor, ME, Ottawa, ON, Keene, NH, Charlotte, NC, Houston, TX, Billings, MT, Calgary, AB, Victoria, BC. Phew!

I love flying in America. Did I mention that? Yes, I’m Canadian, and yes, we have airports, but with 10 times more people, better weather, more ATC, NEXRAD, ADS-B, and tons more interesting places to visit, and the fact that we have kids and several sets of cousins living in the US, it’s always a pleasure to fly in the US.

Anyway, here are some of the highlights of our trip that show why flying your own plane anywhere is really terrific. And sometimes a bit scary. On the leg to Bakersfield, CA, from Victoria, BC, we started to get winds of around 50+ knots, mostly from the east. It was near Altamont that I took the above picture of what I think are vertically stacked lenticular clouds. I used to do a bit of gliding in the Rockies, so I knew those were potentially bad things to be avoided, so I started to get a bit nervous. We were at 11,000 feet, and I was afraid of mountain wave turbulence downwind. Fortunately, we had nothing but smooth air. I guess I was not all that near those clouds in retrospect, and the few peaks in the Mount Shasta area are not a Rocky Mountain range.

A few days later, we left Houston for Charlotte. We stopped at Key Field in Meridian, MS (MEI). I had no idea when I picked it that it was so great. It was just about near the halfway mark, and the gas price looked reasonable on ForeFlight. What can I say, it was just amazing.

Ramp at Meridian

Plane envy strikes again.

First, they parked me next to some Marine and Navy training jets. There were five of them. I definitely have plane envy. Who doesn’t, I guess. Anyway, we got to watch multiple training departures and landings. The noise of the jet starting up right beside my little ol’ Cessna was pretty deafening (which was, of course, the reason I stood there). The very careful military pilots went out of their way NOT to blast me with their jet wash as they taxied out. And those military men and women were super polite both in the FBO and on the tarmac. Good job, America.

Second, more about the FBO in Meridian, Meridian Aviation. Best. FBO. Ever! FREE hot dogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, popcorn, ice cream, iced tea—both sweetened and un-sweetened, of course, I was in the South, after all—coffee, etc. It’s no wonder the place is full of military and private pilots who pop in for some gas and a “top gun” free lunch. No such thing as a free lunch you say? I don’t know, I think here there might be. The fuel price for 100LL was “green” on the ForeFlight app, so it’s not like they are overcharging for gas. Anyway, just a recommendation from a neutral foreigner. But I’ll be back. In fact, I have been. And no, I’m not sponsored.

Oh, the places you’ll go and the people you will meet! Apologies to Dr. Seuss. We landed in Urbana, IL, for an overnight stop on our way from Quebec City to Houston (the first of our great loops). It was a nice college town, lots of students and families, good restaurants and bars, and decent, cheap hotels. But what made the trip memorable was our Uber driver.

Pi tattoo

Not your everyday tattoo.

When he got out of the car to help with our bags, my wife noticed the numbers on his leg, and commented, “Oh, it’s pi” (it helps that she’s an engineer). Well, as you can see, it’s not just the 3.14 version of pi; this one is to 150 digits, and it’s tattooed on his leg. Apparently when he was a kid, he responded to a challenge from a grade school teacher and memorized the first 150 digits. And this tattoo is testament to his enduring interest in pi. Wow. And ouch. And a very nice guy. Not sure how to actually find him but if you do, please overtip like we did.

I’ve also got other stories about unexpected and serious icing over the mountains on our way to Tucson (like, what icing ISN’T serious in a Cessna?), severe downdrafts near Washington, DC, that caused me to have to contact Potomac Approach to tell them I couldn’t hold my IFR assigned altitude, but, hey, I was expecting huge updrafts from all the hot air emanating from DC (I’m sure Ottawa has similarly severe politically-sourced updrafts), and stories of terrible experiences with wildly overpriced fuel and ramp fees and no free anything at certain yet-to-be-named airports (although perhaps I’ll only mention the ones I’ll never go back to). Next article, perhaps.

We can’t wait for our next trip down south, once the weather up here improves and the coronavirus outbreak is behind us. Stay tuned.

John Watt
5 replies
  1. Enderson Rafael
    Enderson Rafael says:

    A C206 is my dream plane – for its performance + “Cessna” way of being! Although, since my dream of having any plane is so far away that, if I ever have a C152 one day I am going to be happy enough. I had the chance of flying over the southeast and east coast of US years ago. Nothing compares to cross-country in America. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Scott F
    Scott F says:

    Great trip, on my list to do. Circumnavigate the USA. I have a Cessna 182 and it will happen in the next two years as I approach retirement.

  3. John Killian
    John Killian says:

    Great trip and story John. We are neighbors – practically, Sequim WA. I have traveled the western US – every state, but not much of the eastern US. You have given me the incentive to do so. Some of my most picturesque flights however have been in your countryside – Jasper National Park; it cannot be beat.

  4. John Watt
    John Watt says:

    Enderson, hang in there. I never thought I’d own a plane, let alone a 206. I got very lucky, although it took a while. In retrospect, I probably should have gone for something smaller sooner, but, hey, life happens. Scott, I should have bought a 182, my favourite plane. It’s almost the same speed and payload for what I do, and if I had known Canada was basically going to turn my expensive 6 seater 206 into a 4 seater (long story involving a lot of whining by me, so don’t ask unless it’s over drinks), I would have bought a 182. I may still. And John, I’ll pop over for cocktails once the border is open. It’s only 40nm direct, but I guess I’ll clear customs in Bellingham, your CBP border guys there are exceptionally nice. Or you can pop up here. Er, once the border is open again. Soon, I hope. Take care all, stay safe.
    Best, John


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