No Room at the Inn
Excerpt from Winging It! With Dr. Paul: Forty Tales Your Flight Instructor Never Told You (copyright © 1989 by H. Paul Shuch)
I really shouldn't blame George; it wasn't his fault. I mean, he's a fair enough friend, an esteemed colleague, and not half bad as a co-pilot, what with all his years in Alaska flying floats and skis. But after these last two weeks, I'd had just about enough of him.
Here we were on the next-to-the-last leg of one of those marathon business trips, having covered twenty states and seven thousand miles in the faithful Sierra, which was by now quite as weary as we. Half a month of vectoring around buildups, waiting out thunderstorms and tobogganing through turbulence had taken its toll on men and machine, and we longed for the simple smog of home. Prime candidates for get-home-itis, you say? Perhaps, but it was layover-itis which nearly proved our undoing.
We had managed to eat up most of the great Southwestern desert in one uncharacteristically productive day, and figured we'd treat ourselves to a well deserved rest before winging on home the following morning. Our course was taking us near the Grand Canyon and, although our schedule allowed us precious little time for sightseeing, it seemed like an ideal RONdezvous. The Canyon is, after all, a prime tourist stop, so it seemed to reason motel rooms would abound. The Airport Guide even listed three establishments within hiking distance of the field.
I should have realized what we were up against when ATC stuffed us on the top of the holding stack, and told us we were number twelve for the approach. Our home base is SJC -- a busy port in any storm, but nothing like the summer skies over the Canyon on this particular Saturday afternoon. Everybody and his brother, it seemed, was flying into GCN at once.
Fortunately, those summer skies were CAVU, and after three circuits of the race-track, George figured out a prescription for getting us safely on the ground. He simply pressed the button on his yoke and muttered "cancel IFR".
It was my leg, so I figured the landing was my responsibility, even though I was by now just a tad fatigued. Hot and high, I tried to plant it on the numbers, and of course first floated, then porpoised halfway down the runway, all the while wondering when George was going to rip the yoke out of my hands. Ever the diplomat, he merely drawled, "My, it's gusty today". In truth we were both just plain tired, not fit to fly another mile.
While my partner worked out ransom details with the FBO for 36 gallons of green gas, I sought out a telephone to secure lodgings for the night. A dozen dimes later, I reluctantly concluded that none were to be found, at any price. The Grand Canyon, it seemed, was enjoying its peak tourist season. And since OPEC had staged no recent oil embargoes, the winging and motoring throngs had devoured every bed, bunk and hammock for fifty miles around.
"You should have make your reservations about two weeks in advance," the line boy offered while splashing 100-octane on the wing. We remained stoically silent, realizing that we could better predict vacuum pump failure two weeks in advance, than when our travels would take us to GCN.
Now resigned to pressing on, I began studying the charts for a nearby field with likely lodgings. As my eyelids grew heavier, I began to visualize the headlines for the Sunday paper:
We decided to examine alternatives. The FBO had no pilot's lounge in which to crash. The terminal building was strangely devoid of couches on which to stretch out. No chairs either, for that matter. I suspected a conspiracy between the airport management and the innkeepers. This was confirmed as I dragged a couple of sleeping bags out of the plane. All over the airport property, along adjacent roads and in nearby fields, I encountered "no camping" signs. And sleeping in the plane was out of the question. It was stuffed to gross (and maybe a little beyond) with sharp-edged, hard and lumpy electronics equipment - our precious cargo, and the whole reason for our two-week jaunt.
We spoke the words which have no doubt led countless other aviators to their doom. "Do you feel well enough to press on?" "Do we have any choice?"
Back to the charts. Kingman, Arizona looked like our best bet. Less than an hour away, in the general direction of home, under forecast clear skies, and boasting a couple of motels with courtesy cars. A phone call got us reservations, and confirmation that we'd be met at the airport. But by now it was well past dinnertime. "Flying tired is one thing," my partner opined, "but flying famished is completely out of the question. Let's eat first."
Somewhere beyond the overcast, there resides a benevolent spirit who watches over hapless aviators. Most of the tourist motels at the Canyon have fairly good restaurants, and one agreed to pick us up at the airport. As we arrived, the sign above the office door read "Vacancy"!
I decided to run, do not walk, to the front desk, fill out the registration card first, and ask questions after. "Why did you tell me you were full, an hour ago?" I inquired of the proprietor.
"We were, then," she replied. "Six o'clock is our cancellation deadline. We had a no-show."
A moldy motel mattress never felt so fine! Rested and refreshed, George and I flew home on Sunday. On the way, we reviewed the lessons of the previous evening. I think they're worth sharing with G. A. pilots everywhere:
If you can drive, you can fly!
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This page last updated 1 June 2010
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