Today is the day. Yesterday I had packed up everything I had left to pack, weighed it, and placed it by "The Goose" (the name I’ve given my plane), ready to be loaded. Total weigh in was 421lbs! This picture shows the remaining half about to be loaded in! I asked Scott from Glasair if he wouldn't mind following me down to Seattle to drop my rental car off. It was also an excuse to grab one more night out with my new friend... We went down and had a great dinner at Ivar's on the water, a famous Seattle landmark. The forecast was looking iffy for going through the Ellensburg pass as of last night, and this morning when I woke up - it didn't look much better; low clouds covering the whole area of Washington and getting down to 800 feet around Seattle area directly in between me and where I was headed. I figured I'd head to the airport anyway, and hope things would change. Since I had packed everything the night before, I left only that which I could easily carry knowing I'd be walking the 3 miles to the airport this morning. I must have looked like a bum with my white trash bag filled with a couple changes of essentials, and my computer bag slung over my shoulder. Ok Maybe I looked like a techno-bum. I got about 2/3rds the way there and Jim (the guy who knows EVERYTHING about airplanes) pulls over and offers me a ride. So much for my dramatic last-day entrance... It's a good thing I decided to go early as I managed to find a fuel leak during my pre-pre-flight check (the two "pre's" since I wasn't necessarily gonna be flying today but I thought I'd use the time to inspect everything once again). As it turned out I had a couple loose fittings on my Gascolater that required me to take the whole unit off, re-seal with seal-tach (stronger than seal-lube), retighten, and re-safety wire everything before replacing it back onto the plane. I remember the day I was assembling the thing and had recently been admonished for over-tightening the nuts on everything, which can be a bad thing. I guess my response to under-tighten these led to the undertightened leak. Nothing serious or life threatening, but something you should fix ASAP. It felt good to self diagnose a problem, get confirmation from a seasoned mechanic, Seth, and then fix it myself. Just the kind of thing I was looking to learn by doing this process. I also relished one last chance to do "Shop" stuff with the "Shop" guys and an opportunity to catch one last story from the Legendary Ted (the resident orator). These guys had really become family over the last month and I knew the clock was ticking. Just as I wrapped up my project I was asked to visit the inventory girls (self titled) in the other building. Thinking I had some unpaid bill left over I went expecting to settle up but was instead treated to a final goodbye where they presented me with an official mascot for my trip; a small ceramic goose with a blue bow. My mascot made the Goose complete. I'm telling you - these are some of the most beautiful human beings out there. Choking back tears of sentimentality, as well as a few born from nerves over my expedition, I quickly scooted back to the hanger to re-install my gasgolater. After debating routes, and options with Alan (my Fearless Instructor), and the Legendary Ted, I settled on a path that would allow me the option of turning around if need be and coming back. Always having an "out" is basic piloting for those who wish to age. This picture shows Ted with me wearing my in-flight-relief invention (Note: He had no idea I had put this on just before the picture was taken – which is probably why he’s still smiling in the photo…) I also decided to call Seattle's ATC (Air Traffic Control) on the way and ask for Flight Following as an extra set of eyes to keep an eye on me, a suggestion Allen made. It essentially means that ATC will follow me and let me know of any other air traffic, obstacles, etc... After making a few jokes to ease my own nerves I hopped in the Goose, Fired her up, and taxied down to the runway. I should mention at this point that the load I was carrying was upwards of 420 lbs. NOT including gas. To keep the Center of Gravity where it should be, I removed the control stick from the right seat so I could pile the heaviest bags where a passenger would normally sit. In most airplanes this size, carrying this kind of load is unheard of. In most airplanes that could theoretically carry this much - it's dangerous. This plane was actually designed to carry this weight and even more than what I had! It's worth n oting that I could have easily shipped most of this stuff home, but I wanted to flight test what the brochure had claimed. The flight characteristics do change though as you change the center of gravity, and it's critical to understand how. For example - I would need to keep my airspeed up higher than normal (by about 10mph) when landing to prevent a stall. On the flip side - it will be more stable in turbulent air due to its weight (the way big planes can handle turbulence that smaller planes cannot). All the planning I could do was done. This picture shows my office... At the end of runway 34 I did my final run-up of the engine, taxied into position after waving to a couple of folks in matching aerobatic planes, and pushed the throttle in popping off the runway in an impossibly short distance considering the load I was hauling. God I love this plane! I climbed up only about 1,500 feet since the clouds were so low and called Seattle's ATC to ask for Flight Following. After they gave me a discreet code to punch into my transponder (a device that tells them which blinking light on their screen is me) I headed on course, which seemed to get progressively lower with the clouds. At one point I found myself flying so low over the water that I could no longer get a clear radio signal from ATC. I was officially on my one at this point. Considering my options I saw a nice break in the clouds ahead where sunlight peered through so headed straight for it. This is not ideal flying conditions, and was making me a bit nervous, but by the same token - I had done all the requisite weather research and knew if I were able to safely navigate this small stretch the rest looked much better. I also knew that the weather would get much worse tomorrow and the following week looked awful. This was my window and I was going to go through it. At one point I heard ATC calling me but every time I answered, I would temporarily lose reception so I just turned the volume all the way down so I could concentrate on flying. A few minutes later and I would be a good distance away from any busy airspace anyway. My cloud hole, ended up being somewhat of a teaser, but afforded me the visibility and ceiling to climb another 500 feet to have a little more wiggle room should any other plane pop into my view. My next waypoint was the mouth of the Columbia River, which would guide me into the Columbia River Gorge - a canyon of 5,000 foot shear cliffs on either side of a white water river which was my gateway East and to clearer weather. The Columbia River Gorge is a world famous wind surfer’s paradise as it can always be counted on for high winds and waves – not a place you want to land a plane. I had one last scare as I bee lined for the gorge when I realized I was being shadowed by a large, black, twin-blade helicopter going about as fast as I was just off my right wing. My first thought was – Uh oh, I've somehow strayed over some National Security Area and was about to be shot down. A quick glance at my onboard GPS and I knew I was in public airspace, so I had to assume I was just being paranoid. Then, just as fast as it appeared, it was gone. Into the gorge I went. I won't say that the gorge is a point of no return for airplanes, but it’s a place you really hope you don't have to turn around. It's pretty tight on either side and I was still looking at cloud bottoms covering the top of the canyon. As much as I was reassured that this is standard condition in Washington and that the gorge itself rarely takes clouds inside - I was white knuckling it the whole time. To make me even more nervous, my terrain avoidance system was going berserk warning me that I was headed for a high rock wall "Pull Up! Pull Up! Pull Up!" Tell me something I didn't know. I was yelling "Shut up! Shut Up! Shut Up!" It was sensory pandemonium. Navigating this was similar to the scene in Star Wars where the Jedi's swoop down into the Death Star canyons taking quick turns to stay on course. I had about two more hair-raising turns left in me before wetting myself, but by the time my bladder started puckering I saw a light – literally - at the end of the tunnel. It was really cool how this line of clouds just stopped. This is the moment I knew I was out of it. The canyon walls faded down to canyon "hills" and the sky just simply cleared! I was too focused on flying to take a snap shot of the "Tunnel." All I could think about was climbing up out of this canyon and so the second I breached the cloud wall, in went the throttle and up I went to about 7,500 feet. In the art of flying, the higher you are, the safer you feel. Less objects to bump into, and more time to figure out what to do should you need it. I was hitting some turbulence now, but it paled in comparison to the claustrophobic sensation of flying through a tunnel. I was free!!!!! Immediately I reached for my bladder-release invention, strapped it on, and started relaxing for the first time in about 2 hours. I set the autopilot up to follow my first leg of the trip to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; gas stop #1, and made a mental reminder to call to let everyone know I had made it through the cascades just fine when I landed. Even though there were no clouds from this point on, it did get pretty hazy, so to make sure I didn't have to worry about getting ice on the wings (which you avoid by staying out of any visible moisture i.e. clouds and fog) I descended to a level that showed my thermometer to be above freezing. The rest of the trip was simply beautiful, and as I neared Coeur d'Alene, I started feeling the effects of an intense start to my trip and began entertaining the thought of packing it in for the night. After filling up at the gas pump, it hit me, yep - I was staying. Man I was tired. I headed over to an open Hanger and started chatting up a nice guy named Jim who offered to tow my plane to the front of their hanger to tie up for the night. He then introduced me to Larry, his boss, who tossed me the keys to a truly priceless Idaho Icon, and gave me directions to the “Triple Play” Holiday Inn down the road. This was exactly the kind of experience I had dreamed of. I had already met some really nice folks, and was now driving an old beat up dodge, through a quaint town filled with yards of grazing ram. Yes you heard right RAM. It's still a mystery why anyone would want to raise Ram (as I forgot to ask), but provide me a nice chuckle as I pictured Idahoan’s sitting around enjoying a Ram-Sandwich. Anyway, I ended up at the most hilarious Holiday Inn ever. It was more than a “Triple Play.” The advertisement actually says "Go Someplace Tropical...Like Northern Idaho" It was home to an giant indoor water park, huge arcade with laser tag, bowling alley, and that was just the parts I walked through. My room actually overlooked a bunch of colorful tubes careening in circles from the top of the building back in through holes in the wall. What a riot. I was starving so after weighing my options I decided to take the spud-truck around the corner to Sargent’s Steak House and try their special of the day - an 18 Oz prime rib smothered in a blue cheese cream sauce. Good thing I brought my cholesterol meds... Once again - this may be the adrenaline talking - but that was honestly one of the best steaks I've ever had. Now all I needed to do was fill up the spud -truck (the least I could do for their generosity) and get some z's. At the Gas station I experienced something I had never seen and pray I never see on my plane. When I pumped gas into the tank - it immediately poured out on the other side somewhere. I guess real trucks run on faith?! At a loss for a thank you gesture I bought a twelve pack of Budweiser (the universal Man-thanks) and placed it in the back bed for an old-school chill. There must have been 800 kids running around this hotel at all hours of the night but I slept like a log. Ah what a great way to start my Journey!!!!!