Chicago to Badlands

‘The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be? – it is the same the angels breathe.’ – Mark Twain

I wake up a few minutes before I want to get out of bed. This is pretty typical. I occasionally set an alarm if I need to be up at an extremely unusual hour, but even then usually wake up before the alarm goes off. Not sure how that happened. It certainly wasn’t how I lived my life in my younger days. Days like this it’s particularly easy. It’s dark and threatening to storm, but at some point today we get to launch our trip to Badlands, Glacier and Grand Teton national parks.

The winds are picking up as I do the flight planning. The weather radar is showing a thick band of angry red and purple in the direction of flight. It’s moving fast toward us and should pass in the next couple hours. Beyond are clear skies for at least a few hours of flying. We’ll jump in that window and make the progress we can. That’s a lesson learned from our big trip last year. We sat at home for a day and a half waiting for enough clear air to fly our entire flight plan. Once we gave up on that and decided to simply make whatever progress was possible we got halfway down south and then snuck around the edge of the front the following morning.

Putting together the plan and looking at alternatives I notice the aluminum siding pounding the house like Clubber Lang on a bender, the trees are bent halfway over and then I hear a crash from the side of the house. Poking my head out the backdoor reveals one of our trees on the neighbors garage.

As expected the storm, while quite powerful, passes through quickly and we talk with our neighbor about how to get the garage repaired. Once that’s settled we’re off to the airport to head down the magenta line.

This will be Beth’s first IFR flight and she isn’t excited about it. She has never been a big fan of flying, but has gotten ten times better during the course of the past few years. Still, flying through clouds is a new thing for her.

Everything gets loaded into the plane and we get our clearance to launch. Climbing quickly in the relatively cool air pushing the storm front our plane passes through a thin layer of clouds and we find ourselves in between layers in some smooth as glass air at 5,000 feet. The view is unlimited as we gaze across a sweeping vista of undulating clouds below and a patchy set of puffy clouds above.

Looking west it’s becoming clear we won’t be able to make it to Rapid City, so we consider other options. One that jumps out at us is Sioux Falls, SD. We’ve never been there, but the airport looks to be full service accommodations for standard rate fees. They help us out with a hotel, shuttle and restaurant suggestions. All of which turn out great.

We get up and find that the storm is still coming through. We should be able to go in an hour or two and kill some time in the lobby of Clubhouse Inn. This fairly new hotel is nicely appointed and a lot less expensive than we are used to paying in bigger cities. There are a boatload of Amish (or other plain people) staying there, including a well behaved bunch of adorable children chattering away in what sounded like German.

Finally, the radar tells us what we can see out the window, things are clearing. We dash to the airport and get there before things get busy. We’re the only plane on the line trying to get out when we arrive. The linemen get us setup and we launch for Rapid City.

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