“We know you want to blow up that deer in your garden. But it’s not deer hunting season.” Announced a southern accented radio commercial. I burst out laughing with images of Bambi exploding to pieces. We had just landed in North Georgia Mountains and the commercial and car rental experience reflected our country location. We’d reserved an Enterprise car rental, but it was not delivered. Instead the lovely airport manager decided to rent his car to us for $300 for the week. It would do with 160,000 miles, dirty floors, and a CD combo cassette player.
Spring was in full bloom. Mountain-laurel blossoming pink flowers, lush green trees, bear tracks, geese meandering, and a red-tailed fox wandering around our house. The fox looked like my dog, and for a moment I wondered if she was outside. It was the same size with a cute button nose just sniffing grass in our yard. It probably smelled our pet, since the sniff ratio is much higher in animals than humans. A trait I admired. I was often in awe over my dog’s ability to smell something miles away, including unfamiliar wildlife and her favorite food, bacon. While hiking she’d regularly become fixated on a patch of grass. “It can’t smell that good,” I’d tease her.
On Saturday night we visited our favorite biker bar hangout, Mondays. Walking in alone, I felt like an alien, all eyes on me while my husband parked. Seats cleared, whispers flowed, girls gossiped. Yes, I was an out-of-towner, but really. I confidently waved down the bartender. “A white wine spritzer and Bud Lite please.”
She wore a number, not name on her badge. Number 197, and I called her such. “Hey number 197 can I get…” throughout the night. She carded me, laughed with me and we hugged at the end of the night. I got a job offer starting at 4 p.m. the following day. “You can make a ton of money here,” she said as I departed, declining her offer.
I recognized some of the same people from my last visit six months prior. The tattooed girl who started a brawl last time, a bearded guy on her arm with his tongue down her throat. Two girls flitting eyes toward me while whispering.
The following day, I noticed one of the eyeing gossipmongers working at a tourist shop. “Hey you were at Monday’s.” I said. Followed by a smile and a cheerful, “Happy Mother’s day.”
“Yes I was there with my daughter.” The one with the ponytail.” She was cordial, her rosy face and shy smile reflecting embarrassment. “Happy Mother’s day to you honey. God bless.”
I got to hike and enjoy the town during our one week stay, but it was also a working vacation. Editing my novel, cleaning up our rental home for the season, and we bought a 1977 Cessna 150 to put in a flight school for profit. I would fly it back solo since hubby was flying the faster six-seater. Yikes. I had to learn the plane. Nothing happens fast in the Northern Georgia mountains, especially commuting. I only had about 45 minutes to familiarize myself with the two-seater. I felt overwhelmed and anxious about the long journey in an unfamiliar plane, named the Rita Rae from a past owner.
To my relief, a pilot friend offered his help getting the Cessna back to south Florida.
“You can’t fly that distance in a 150 alone. It takes all day, and you’ve never flown a 150.”
Whew. I agreed. I didn’t have the time to properly get to know the plane for a solo cross-country flight
Although I was up at the crack of dawn, we departed at 10:00 due to airport distance and pre-flight preparations.
- Ipad with flight-aware for navigation and first destination loaded. Check.
- Full tanks at 24 gallons. Check.
- Test fuel for water contamination and drain a half cup of water in tank. Check
- Oil at six quarts.Check.
- Exterior normal and tires inflated. Check.
- Radios frequencies and backup VOR frequencies written down. Check
- Backup batteries, water and anything else I could throw in my purse. Check.
- A healthy amount of adrenaline pumping through my heart. Check.
I rotated at 45 knots, staying in ground effect building to a 60 knot climb speed. Rita Rae seemed sturdy and powerful despite her size and simplicity. My heart calmed as I settled at cruise altitude of 3,500, getting comfortable in the left seat with one hand on the yoke correcting for heading and altitude as needed. Two and a half hours later we were in Alma, GA where my husband was waiting with our Piper Lance and a packed lunch. The sandwiches he ordered was incorrect. Not a problem for the guys, but I’m a vegetarian.
“It’s going to be a long day,” I sighed. I was fine with peanut butter filled crackers.
After take-off for our next leg we realized we lost communication. We could hear Air Traffic Control and other pilots, but they couldn’t hear us. My co-pilot really came in handy at this moment. I focused on flying the plane not allowing too much distraction, while he assessed the situation, switching around all kinds of wires and frequencies.
“We need to find the nearest airport,” He said.
I put the lost comm code 7600 into the transponder “Let’s try to make Jacksonville.” I said while looking at our location on the GPS. “JAX is only 80 miles. There’s nothing out here, just small airports with no service.”
“I think I saw a handheld mic back here.” He fussed around behind his seat finally pulling out a small oblong mic, appearing ancient and tobacco stained. He plugged it in and called Atlanta Center.”
“Loud and clear 704CX.” It was music to my ears. Although we both remained calm during the 40 minutes since takeoff, not communicating with ATC for traffic advisories and flight following around active military restricted areas was a bit of a risk.
We had a brief fuel and bathroom stop along the space coast around 6:30. We were both tired and mentally drained, but we pushed on to our destination, Fort Lauderdale. The sun set as bright lights shined from below. My eyes adjusted to the light change in the cockpit. I had an emergency back up light on my lap for our final landing in Rita Rae. It was 9:30 I was starving, exhausted, and desperately in need of a glass of wine.