The Southwest – Northern California

The Southwest – Northern California

The next morning we’d been joined by some other campers; an American RV the size of a coach. It didn’t take long before Hannah was inside having tea, so I dragged myself out of bed and went along to join in. It turned out that they were Pipistrel dealers, and here to support the microlight, the pilot of which turned up soon afterwards accompanied by a film crew from the History Channel and several scientific experts; they were here to film an episode of MonsterQuest, looking for Big Foot! Bill the producer was there, with two cameramen. Carolyn and Vance were the Pipistrel dealers, and Rodger the pilot. Fernando, one of the FBI’s top man-trackers (and also self-proclaimed founder of the SAS…) was there to track the creature, as was Jaime; a military nurse who had had a Big Foot encounter and now had made it his life’s mission to track the creature. Completing the party were John, a pack-goat-trainer, and Jeff, a professor of human locomotion from Iowa University.

The microlight was there to be fitted with an infra-red camera, and look for Big Foot from the air. The crew were happy to find another aircraft there, and we became a part of the crew for a few days, volunteering to fly a cameraman for some air-to-air filming of the microlight, and also obtain some aerial shots of the Sierra Mountains. The first day there was spent filming ground-based footage, and finally the microlight took to the air for some testing of the camera, and some ground-based noise measurements. We didn’t get a chance to fly that day, but it was great fun to spend the day with the crew and participants, finding out all about their experience of Big Foot tracking and research. Some participants were more convinced that others…

That evening we joined the team for dinner at the local service station; which sounds terrible, but in fact has an award winning diner attached to it. We were given a room at the hotel with the rest of the crew, and breakfasted together the next morning before returning to the airport.

Today was our day, and we took off with Scott the cameraman for some filming. The air to air shots were done first, although it was difficult to keep station with the speed difference in the aircraft and the bumpy air. We headed off for the scenic shots over the Sierras, and then returned Scott to the ground and waited for a while as some interviews were done (including our being interviewed by Jaime for his YouTube channel).

Interviews completed, we took off to head West over the Sierras. Just as we were on the takeoff run, a squall blew in and pushed us off down the hill towards the lake. Despite the 7000ft elevation, the powerful and lightly loaded C182 merely shrugged this off and powered on up, although the watchers on the ground reported some consternation when we took off and promptly shot downwards along the slope, rather than heading up! In my wisdom, I realised that if the wind was causing major downdraughts here, the opposite would be happening on the other side of the lake, and within minutes we had climbed in this lift to 14,500ft. We formed up with Rodger in his Pipistrel, and headed West, but soon had to leave him behind; the ride was simply too uncomfortable wallowing along at slow speed.

Crossing the Sierras west-bound

The snow-capped Sierras were beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed the crossing, descending after an hour or so to land at Columbia airport. The well equipped camping site has its own parking area alongside the airports secondary, grass runway. We set up our tent and made our way along the trail into town, an easy 15 minute walk. The main attraction of Columbia is that it’s a recreation of an old-west mining town, fully working with horse-drawn coach tours and all the old style stores open for business. We ate a traditional old west dinner of hot dogs in a “saloon”, which had a dog standing at the bar, before returning to the campsite.

The plan had been to head to bed but it had started raining, and I became worried about the potential for the aircraft tires to sink into the soft ground now that a light rain had started, so taxied it over to the main ramp before we turned in. This was the first time I’d been in control of an aircraft at night, even if it wasn’t much of a trip!

The next day we showered in the excellent campground facilities, and spent a while in the FBO lounge checking emails and weather reports. It too a while for the cloud and rain to clear up and once it did we headed off towards Georgetown, a short flight to the north and local airport of the motor-glider pilot Rodger. He has his own airstrip on his land, but after a few friends of his crashed their aircraft trying to get into it he stopped people visiting. When we saw it, we were not surprised! We skirted cloud all the way up the hill range to Georgetown; I landed on the second attempt, having been far too high on the first! The airfield had a great campsite on the field again, but we called Rodger and took him up on his previous offer to put us up for the night. He soon arrived and drove us back to his place, pausing only to collect a delicious pizza for dinner.

Rodger’s house was incredible; he had bought some hilltop land and cleared it himself, then built all the building by himself with the assistance of friends and family. He had done a great job and now lived in a large and beautiful hilltop lodge. We ate dinner together with his wife Loie, and they gave us some great advice about our next day’s flying before we turned in in their very comfortable guest room.

When we awoke Rodger was already out elsewhere on his land preparing some of his trails for contractors to come in and lay drainage. Loie treated us to a pancake breakfast before taking us on a tour of the grounds. We saw the lake which Rodger had dug himself, partly to provide fill to level his runway. Despite the filling, it was not exactly the most level of runways, going up one side of a hill, down the other, and up again over the next. It was also approximately 8 feet wide!

To one side was a large hangar, originally built to house his home-built blimp which turned out never to be constructed. It now housed his motor-glider, looking a little small in the cavernous interior, and also a tennis court! A tour of the house concluded, including visiting the rotating turret room on top! For lunch we visited Loie’s mother, before continuing to the airport and meeting her son who worked there building camera mounts for helicopters.

North through California to Ruth

After being dropped back at the airport, we headed off towards Willows airfield where the restaurant had come highly recommended! It lived up to expectations and delivered us a great meal before we continued to Ruth, which had a great approach along a valley before landing at the deserted country strip. The field was deserted, and we set up our tent behind the aircraft before taking a walk along the river. There was nothing in the immediate area apart from forest, and an old ranch which was now owned by a church for religious retreats.

We returned to the airfield in time to see one of the two resident aircraft, a Cessna 182, coming in to land. It was flown by a retired couple who lived nearby, and used the aircraft, among other things, for their weekly shopping. They kept one car at Ruth, and another over at the municipal airport in Redding for transport when they were over there. The husband turned out to be the airport manager, and gave us his blessing to camp there for the night, so we set up the tent and cooked dinner before turning in.

Click here to read the next part of the story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *