Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It Is Hard Sometimes

It has been a while since I've posted ... since Stimpy died. Not that I haven't done any flying, I have. Just when I sit to write my inspiration disappears like a wisp of a cloud. I've noticed I haven't been interacting as much with my close friends either. So I'm going to force myself to write a bit. This probably won't be a great story, but its mine and its all I've got.

Stimpy's illness and subsequent death kept me grounded for almost two weeks after my grand adventure. Finally the Friday after Stimpy died I got some air time in an Arrow, just reminding myself what it is like to fly that type of plane again after 17 hours in a 182. I did three laps around the pattern and then brought myself in. I verified I could still fly an Arrow and it was hot, so 3 was good enough for me.


A couple weekends ago we had a BBQ at our flight club. My husband and I helped set it up. He got his Porsche 928 club to join us at the flight club BBQ. He also volunteered to make smoked chicken breast and smoked baked beans. This meant we had to be at the club before 7AM. We were and the BBQ was a success. Jeff got the idea of having me give some of his 928 club friends a ride if they wanted one. So I reserved a 172 for the day. Early in the morning I took the 172 up for three laps around the pattern. It has been months since I've flown on of those! I found I could still fly a 172 as well. I parked the plane and hung out for a while until one of the 928 drivers wanted to go up. I took him for what I thought was a quick flight to take a peak at Monterey Bay and Watsonville then fly back. I forgot I was in a 172 which was not so quick and we took more than half an hour on the flight. I enjoyed it and so did my passenger whose face looked like it would break from smiling so much! It was a long, exhausting day but it was good.

The next day my friends and I were going to fly up to Santa Rosa for lunch, but a very late season storm came in and made the flight unlikely for the VFR pilots in the group. We canceled the flight and got together for breakfast instead and then hung out at the flight club to watch NASCAR at Sonoma.


The following week I went back up in the Arrow to do some more pattern work in winds and crosswinds. I took my husband with me and flew down to South County to practice. I was consistently high on final time and again but I was able to fine tune other aspects of my approach and landing. Then, coming in on the straight in back at Reid-Hillview I was high and fast and the cross winds were even more gusty and strong. Just a 10 knot direct cross wind but that combined with being high and still fast half way down the runway I decided to go around. On the second time around I was low but fixed that and landed OK.

My husband had tried to help me "fix" being high on final at South County but failed. Then on that approach to RHV he questioned why I did a go around. I told him I was over 1/2 way down the runway at that point, I wasn't going to try to force it down. I was frustrated with my flying. I recalled how, the previous time I was consistently low on final at RHV in the pattern the time before that as well. There was something going on but I couldn't figure out what it was. All I knew is it was frustrating and my poor husband's help wasn't helping.

Yes I was flying safely and making, in my opinion, good decisions, but I was not flying stabilized approaches nor was I demonstrating the ability to put the plane where I wanted it in the sky or on the runway. Both skills are something I considered required for a commercial pilot, which is what I want to be. So, I reached out to my CFI for his help. He agreed to fly with me and help me diagnose these  problems, in a couple weeks.

Exhaustion and Inspiration

The following weekend, last weekend, was the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race. Several months before I agreed to crew for a friend of my brother-in-law who was running this race, his first 100 mile race ever. I would crew with his wife, who I had never met before. This promised to be an exhausting weekend for all. The runners run 100.2 miles in 30 hours or less, non-stop. From Squaw Valley USA through the sierras and then down to Auburn, CA. Across high peaks, through deep canyons, forests and exposed meadows.Around 18,000 feet of elevation gain and 23,000 feet of elevation loss. Imagine running up into the flight levels! That's what these people do. To top it off, the temperatures were forecast to exceed 102 degrees Saturday and Sunday.

I'll be honest, I was not looking forward to this event. This was falling firmly into the "this seemed like a great idea a couple months ago" category. But, I said I would do it, and I always wanted to be involved in this event, so heat or no, I would go. To make the trip a bit more palatable I arranged to meet Anne, my co-crew and the runner, Chris's wife, at the Auburn airport. I would fly myself there, with my husband with me so he could fly the plane back. He would pick me up Sunday after the event. I flew well enough but my husband pointed out I didn't descent much on base approaching Auburn. I let him know that I did that on purpose because I was low on base. That told me perhaps he doesn't know as much as I thought he did.

Anne met me at Auburn Muni and she turned out to be a very cool person to spend a day and a half with on no sleep. We got along well. She and Chris had everything planned and organized and kept me well fed and watered with whatever snacks I had requested earlier. I handled the mountain driving and night driving and took pictures whenever I could of both of them at the aid stations and the finish. If you'd like to see some pictures of the event check out my album on Facebook.

Chris was amazing. This was his first 100 mile race and a high altitude one at that. With 100+ degree heat. He was from Texas. He had trained in the heat and humidity of Texas but there was no high altitude training for him. The odds were stacked against him in my mind. However, this guy had something going for him ... grace. He ran that 100 mile race with the grace and aplomb of the most gentlemenly gentleman. He hurt, he had good parts and bad parts of the run. It was hotter than Hades in the canyons. At one point he mentioned casually he was having a foot problem. We didn't have the batteries he needed for his headlamp at one point... at a point that other people would blow up for something small, he was unflappable.

After the river crossing at around 2:30 AM in the morning, about 80 miles into the run we helped him take off his soaking shoes. Anne and I were worried, would he be able to get up after sitting down? He sat down and gingerly took off his shoes and socks. His feet weren't looking great, but they were looking better than he expected. We put blister powder in his socks, baby powder on his feet to try to dry them and helped him get ready to go again. He got up and started running with his pacer. I felt tears burning behind my eyes, would I be able to do that after 80 miles of running? I remembered how tore apart I've felt after 26 miles and here this man just ran 80 miles through some of the roughest terrain and highest heat you'd ever find and he sat down, took his shoes off his worn out feet, put new ones on and kept going. All with barely a grimace of pain.

We saw him again at mile 90, just after sunrise. His pacer was yelling his bib # from a mile away it seemed, "Here comes #71!" Everybody at the aid station cheered. Chris and his pacer came around the corner and he was still running! I could hardly believe it. Many of the other runners making their way through the aid station were not running at all. Chris was. He trotted into the aid station, got his traditional mountain dew, recharged his water bottles and, with a kiss for his wife, headed out again.

Anne made her prediction again that Chris would finish under 28 hours. She had said that a couple times over the night but after seeing him at mile 90, I was beginning to think it actually could happen. I dropped her off at the last aid station where the crew was allowed to run with their runner for the last mile. I headed off to the finish line so I could capture pictures of the finish. Sure enough, just under 28 hours, just before 9AM Sunday morning, I could see Anne's distinctive jersey as she ran around the corner with her husband. They entered the Placer High School track and I yelled that they could finish together. They ran the last 1/8 mile together and I sprinted to capture pictures of them finishing. Chris finished a minute under 28 hours. He looked no worse than someone would after running a 10 mile run on a hot day.

Tears burned my eyes again, they do right now too as I write this. There's something so powerful about being a part of a triumph of the human spirit like the Western States 100 or even "just" a marathon. I am amazed and inspired by Chris. As we sat with him after the race with his feet in a pool of ice water, Chris asked us to check on the status of other runners that he had met during the run and friends that were also running. You could tell he was in some pain, but once again, he was so cool, so full of grace, I was in awe.

I was in awe but I wanted to go home. It was hot and I had been up since 4AM the previous day with only a 45 minute nap to recharge me. I felt a strong urge to go and leave Chris and Anne to their celebration together without them having to worry about getting a stranger-become-friend to an airport. So when the opportunity presented itself Anne took me back to Auburn Muni to meet my husband who flew back to get me in an Arrow.

Talking About Flying

I had a great breakfast while I waited for his arrival and chatted with the other people at the Wings Grill & Espresso Bar watching the planes take off and land at the airport. My stomach was churning from lack of sleep, or heat or too much food so I made sure to have an airsick bag nearby, just in case. Fortunately, we had a smooth and uneventful flight home. I snatched a cat nap on the way jerking awake and sitting up just before every frequency change from ATC. I guess I was still unconsciously monitoring our flight as we went. When we came in for the landing Jeff landed the plane right on the numbers. I was so tired and discouraged from my previous week's flying I felt like he was just rubbing it in that he was a better pilot than me. My stomach churned some more and I tried to push that thought aside for the exhaustion that it was. I shouldn't be comparing myself with others.

We went into the club to check in the plane and there was a young man there who was interested in learning more about the club. I volunteered to introduce him to the club's planes as Jeff loaded the car with my stuff from the trip. Talking with someone who is enthusiastic about flying always lifts my spirits, even when exhausted, and I enjoyed the chat. I'm hoping he decides to join our little flight club. We went home and I fell asleep on the couch quickly. Eventually Jeff woke me up, made me eat dinner and then go up to bed. The following day was back to work again.

I have some more flying coming up Thursday and Friday and next week I'll work with my CFI. I'm also determined to restart my running and start building a base again. It felt good to run last weekend, even if it was only to go back and forth to the car for stuff for Anne and Chris. I'm hoping the combination of running and flying with help heal my spirit. Right now I still feel raw, but I know, in time, I'll feel better and more like myself.

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