Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Weekend Report, by Guest Writer, David Fielding

I asked David to write the post about the weekend, since:

1) He's a better writer than I am;
2) I can't even begin to recall some of the historical or technical details;
3) a guest writer is a nice break from me!

Photo album in Flickr: Pennsylvania, Oct 1-4

Having visited most of the exotic and interesting places in the world, Gail consented to pay me a visit in my area - Scranton, Pennsylvania, oft cited as "One of America's Cities". I, surprised and delighted, set out to show her a good time - only slightly daunted by the task.

historic steam trains
Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.
Saturday was overcast and damp, so we visited Steamtown, a collection of working steam trains and a working trainyard. In an odd coincidence, almost all of the trains that were running that day were in Canadian livery! Gail got some good photos and video of the huge machines, hissing and chuffing along the tracks.

anthracite coal
Originally uploaded by gailontheweb.
We then made our way across the valley to the Lackawanna Coal Mine tour – an old shaft kept active to show the working conditions in an early-20th century deep mine. We arrived just after the last tour of the day went down, but luckily they rushed us into the car and sent us down to catch it. The heavy steel minecart is like a very low, open traincar; it is lowered down the quarter-mile slope underground by a cable hoist. There, 250 feet below the surface, a retired miner led our tour through the cool, damp rock tunnels cut there to remove the coal. Static exhibits and the stories of the miner told of the incredible toil of past generations; dirty, dangerous work by men and boys, under an oppressive social system.

Who says I can't show a girl a good time, hm?

We tried to finish the day with a short ride in my small plane, a 4-seat 1954 Piper. But fading daylight and a low overcast kept us circling close to the airport. I landed after about five minutes, and we hoped for better weather the next day.

Sunday, we got what we wished for; dead-solid perfect flying weather, blue skies and hardly a breath of wind. I'm sure Gail will post some of the photos; we flew a meandering course around my 'neighborhood', an area about 20 miles (30 kilometers) across, and I pointed out my personal landmarks. After a touch-and-go landing at the big airport, we climbed out over downtown Scranton and I turned south toward the Pocono mountains, just starting to reach their peak autumn colors.

I landed at my frequent haunt, the small Mount Pocono Municipal airport. I had one more surprise for Gail – a helicopter ride. She had told me that that was on her "someday" list. While we waited for the heli to be prepped for flight, we got a ride into town with one of my CAP pilot buddies for a quick lunch.

My friend Mark, the owner of the flight school, took us for an amazing low-level barnstorming ride, while pointing out the qualities of the helicopter for my benefit. (He also sells the darn things!) We watched through the bubble windows as he banked and twisted up a canyon, pointing out bear caves and an eagle's nest; then we descended to a near-landing on the banks of a small reservoir. I've flown in helis before, but Mark really amazed me with the hummingbird nature of his machine - hovering with ease to almost any spot he chose.

Afterwards, we got back in my plane and took off again. Gail was enjoying the ride, so I headed further south to the Delaware Water Gap, the natural rock cut which unfortunately affords access to Pennsylvania from New Jersey. (Kidding, Jersey folks... we love those tourist dollars.) I circled over the Jersey side and cut the power, descended and flew through the cut; then banked to the right, up the Delaware river, chasing our shadow. (Not as low as Mark - I can't hover to a landing!) Then back north across Lake Wallenpaupack, the largest body of water nearby; a scalloped lake about 15 km long. Sailboats and speedboats dotted the lake, also enjoying the late-season day.

Back home, having made a full day of my typical flying circus, I cooked up some of my famous moisture-free chicken and uncorked some wine. Gail downloaded the day's haul of photos, and showed me around her melange of personal electronics.

Monday we relaxed - it was her vacation, after all - and we spent the day getting to know each other. Her personal landscape is as remarkable as any that we flew over, and she is even lovelier than her self-portraits. I've been exchanging with Gail in our various online channels for about six months, and been fascinated; our first meeting IRL was absolutely wonderful. I plan on escaping to the northwest to collect my due, and let her show me Vancouver through her eyes. Pictures to follow.

Thank you, Gail, for sharing your webspace, and my airspace. Until next time... ;^)