Chicago For The Summer

We decided to come back to Chicago for the summer. We want to spend time with family and friends and the big air show in Oshkosh is at the end of July, so we have decided to spend about six weeks in town.

Beth left on Monday via United and I need to go from San Miguel to Houston to pick up La Naranja Danzante and fly it to Chicago.

It’s another clear and sunny morning in San Miguel. The courtyard filled with light and the summer flowers have been coming out the past few weeks making the whole thing into an impressionist palette of gold, red, purple and white. The hummingbirds are flitting around and Julio has come in the morning instead of the afternoon to do his gardening.

As is our custom, I’ve not really packed yet. Reyna got the last batch of laundry done yesterday, so I just have to throw clothes in a suitcase. The bigger hassle these days is that while we’re really good travelers from the standpoint of most people, my camera bag keeps getting bigger. Already big and heavy, thanks to my affection for good lenses, my kit bag has gotten larger over the past couple years due to the inclusion of video gear and audio recorders. Instead of having one bag I now have a primary bag and a second bag with gopros, attachments and various gizmos for doing panning time lapse videos.

Julio knocks on my office door and lets me know that the van is here just as I’m putting the eleventh pound of optics into a ten pound bag and I head out the door.

The driver tells me that we have to pick up one more person, so we head over to Callej√≥n del Chorro to pick up the passenger. No one is there. A call to headquarters reveals that we were meant to go to Calle del Chorro. Now we’re a few minutes behind schedule, but still have plenty of room in the schedule.

We pick up a woman who is on the same flight as me and pass the hour chatting as we go. She’s in her 50′s or 60′s and came to San Miguel when she was a kid. She lived here for a decade or so and has lived several other places since. Coincidentally, our drivers family used to own the house Beth and I are renting. We talk about the neighborhood, history and their experiences growing up back in the day.

One of their “favorite” memories was a rite of passage they call “walking the pipe”. There is an old textile mill in town call Fabrica la Aurora that used to be powered by hydraulic pressure from the dam up at the top of the hill. The kids used to bully each other into tightrope walking the pipe from the dam down to the mill. I’ve been there and this looks like a terrifying proposition, as our traveling companion confirms.

In discussing our travel plans we end up talking about airplanes and the airport in San Miguel. Decades ago she used to have horses and they would ride them out to the airport and run the horses as it was the only large flat ground around to do such things.

We arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare so I indulge in my current favorite breakfast, chilaquiles. Think “breakfast nachos”. It’s tortilla chips with red or green sauce, cheese, eggs and chicken. I’ll miss this in the states.

We board the micro-jet and blast off into the skies. Well, “blast off” might be overstating it. It’s really funny how La Naranja Danzante has changed our perspective on flying. Flying a little Cessna makes jets feel like they take forever to take off. Now flying the Maule makes Cessnas feel like they take forever. In the Maule I can give it a bit of gas and in a couple hundred feet we’re flying. Today we take four thousand feet before we’re airborne. The flight is bumpy pretty much the entire time. And hazy. Not much to look at out the window so I let the white noise of the jet engine put me to sleep.

I arrive in Houston still wearing the same clothes I’ve been wearing for months, jeans and a t-shirt. However, now that I’m closer to sea level and in air that has humidity, I’m instantly soaked in perspiration.

One trick I’ve learned in the past year is that it’s often cheaper to rent a car than to take a taxi. Here in Houston I simply need to get from the international airport to the general aviation airport, but in a cab that would cost about $60. I can rent a car for $36 and make stops along the way if I need to do some shopping. Today I only stop to get a sandwich. It’s going to be a long flight so I need some food in my belly.

Arriving at David W. Hook’s airport I see my plane sitting in the hanger ready to go and find David Beaver, the guy who did my annual inspection, waiting for me. He walks me through what he did for the annual and I write him a large check (in no small part due to upgrades I made, the annual was pretty typical).

David’s hanger is fabulous. Everything is in its place and the entire shop is sparkling clean. He has a large machine room in the back that’s air conditioned and his house is built into the hanger. In short, he’s got a great setup.

After settling up I point La Naranja Danzante northeast and try to beat the sun. I’m going to try and make it to Gaston’s tonight. It’s a fishing resort in northern Arkansas that my FIL has mentioned. They have a grass strip right on the property. Just land, walk across the road and you’re at your cabin.

The stream is a cold one fed by a dam just a short way up river. Each evening as the air cools a think layer of fog forms over the river. The main lodge has some lights so you can sit in the dining room and watch the fog roll by even on a moonless night.

The decore is straight out of the 1950′s. I mean that literally, it was built in the 1950′s and still looks identical to how I bet it looked then. This is not an insult. It is extremely well kept up and clean. I will definitely come back and kind of wish I could spend more time here now. For the moment I enjoy a couple beers in the lodge and make my flight plan for tomorrow. It’s only about three hours to home, so even though the weather doesn’t look great I should be able to get there.

The next morning I get up and see that the forecast is considerably worse. It’s bright and sunny here in Arkansas, but we’re at the southern edge of sketchy weather that covers Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. The worse part is that it’s moving very slowly. There are some gaps in the weather and I could probably brute force my way though, but instead I decide to enjoy the day at Gaston’s. I don’t have many aimless days and enjoy sitting under the wing reading for a while, wandering over to the aviary and walking up and down the river. During the day things aren’t foggy, but the river valley is still fifteen degrees cooler than just a little bit up the hill at the cabin.

The weather keeping me in town is threatening to come south and hit us, so I go out to tie down the plane. While there I again run into a guy who came by to say high while I was reading under the wing. He’s got a fast little plane that his friend lent him and we’re both tying down for safety. His plane is so small that it doesn’t really fit the tie-downs and he’s left his stakes at home. I happen to have a set of fly-ties in my plane and lend them to him. With everything tied down and ready, I head back to the cabin and take a nap.

At dusk I head back down to the lodge to get some dinner. I’m about to get a table when I change my mind and decide to eat in the bar so I can watch the Blackhawks play for the Stanley Cup. After a little bit a guy, Tom, comes in a sits next to me. We get to talking and he shares that he’s also trying to get to Chicago. I hadn’t planned to be here today, but got stuck due to weather. He has a dog and saw billboards for Gaston’s stating that they are pet friendly so he decided to stop instead of staying “in yet another Motel 6″. Neither of us had planned to be here, but both of us ended up here by coincidence.

We talk about neighborhoods and shared history. He asks where I’m coming from. I give him my standard “I live in central Mexico and am going back to Chicago for the summer” version of the story. He asks me where I live. I say “San Miguel de Allende, it’s about four hours north of Mexico City”. Before I get to the end of the sentence he has put his fork down and is staring at me. “Well, you’re going to think I’m full of shit, but that’s where I live also and I’m driving to Chicago from there right now.”

Small world. Neither of us planned to be here tonight, but both are commuting from a small town in central Mexico to Chicago.

We talk for a while longer and we decide to do a quick flight in the morning.


The next morning the weather is still around, but has weakened considerably. I’m definitely going home. Since I had a nap yesterday I’m up and ready to go at 6:30. I go to the lodge and have a tasty plate of eggs and hash browns. The buffet at Gaston’s is mediocre. Order fresh.

I pack up the plane and add a load of fuel. Just as I’m getting done with that, Tom walks up with a big smile on his face. He’s ready to go.

The strip at Gastons is a one-way. You take off and land over the same terrain. Both take you out over the river and you follow the river bend along a big bluff. Particularly in the morning and evening the angle of the sun creates some vivid colors and dramatic shadows. Continuing around you find yourself at the dam and the end of the large lake that it has created.

Tom and I fly around the lake for a while and then circle back to Gaston’s. The landing is a textbook example and I trick him into believing that I can fly and airplane.

Tom gets out and I immediately start to head for home. I’m flying with a Stratus ADS-B receiver and quickly get a radar image to backup the information I received during the flight briefing. There’s a storm to the north and I really need to avoid, so I head northwest toward Springfield Missouri. The western edge of the weather is right over the airport, so I request a transition through their airspace. This is approved and soon I’m north of the airport and into a buildup of scud clouds. These close up under me and I’m trapped between two cloud layers. I request an IFR clearance and climb through the clouds into clear blue skies.

Three hours later and it’s home, sweet home.

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