There is a break in the weather and I managed to change my oil and get the new starter put on in time for a 2pm departure. After thoroughly inspecting EVERYTHING north of my dashboard (Its called Firewall-forward Inspection), I started up the Goose and taxied to the end of runway 21 for an Eastbound Departure (which meant a left turn after taking off) I happened to be parked at the end of the runway and had to taxi close to a mile to get to the starting point. I did my usually pre-flight check and run-up and then just as the Tower cleared me for take off I saw my electric display gauges going absolutely berserk, although the plane was running just fine. There are backup instruments that I could very well have used to fly to where I was going, but I'm too cautious for that so I announced an aborted take off and taxied the mile back to the parking spot and got on the horn with the display manufacturers. While I was making my calls I was also inspecting all the electrical connections and during this process, discovered that the base of my instruments were scalding hot. It dawned on me that the oil change (requiring me to run the engine for about 5 minutes, on top of the long taxi in 95 degree heat probably pushed the crystal display beyond it's happy point. After troubleshooting with the designer of the equipment, it was determined that the likely 130 or so degree interior temps might have been the culprit and that as long as it seemed fine now - that it would be safe to fly - again knowing I had a spare set of instruments if need be. So it is with this that I now fired the Goose up a second time and taxied (this time with my door open to let in some cooling air) back to runway 21. From here on everything was entirely uneventful with the exception that I was now leaving almost 2 hours later than I hoped. I would not be able to reach Amarillo, TX until after dark (around 8:30pm), but at least I was on my way again. It turns out that Arizona has some of the sexiest topography I’ve ever seen – especially from a few thousand feet. I could have taken a picture like this with my eyes closed. At about 3 1/2 hours into my flight, I started debating the pros and cons of flying all the way to Amarillo tonight (about another hour from where I was currently) or, taking advantage of a setting sun to plop down easily on an unfamiliar airport. There are many pros to a night landing actually. For starters – the airports are much easier to find. With small airports there’s a handing technique for turning on the lights – you simple tune into their radio frequency (the same one you’d talk to other planes on) and click your Microphone button 7 times consecutively. You can also dim the lights by clicking the button 5 or 3 times in a row depending on the dimness you prefer. It’s pretty wild to fly over a dark area, click the mic, and have a set of runway lights pop up out of no-where below you. Another advantage to night landings (especially in the desert where I was) is that the mid-day sun is no longer creating thermals and gusty winds – so it’s almost always perfect landing conditions. The disadvantages all stem from not being able to see things like obstacles, animals on the runway, and the airport itself if you are not where you think you were. Flying at night also reduces your emergency landing options for the same reasons. Anyway, I decided to land with the sunset and have a look around Tucumcari, NM.
Small airports at night are really cool. They often leave a door open for people like me, and usually have a couch for a nap, but otherwise it’s empty. There are many folks who just opt for a couch on a journey instead of finding a nearby hotel – and I was tempted. I was also tempted to camp on the airfield (permitted here) but since I only had a sleeping bag and no tent – decided I would avoid the scorpions and spiders tonight. Off to the best western I went!
Tonight was a riot (or maybe things just seem funnier when you’ve been inside your own head for 12 days straight). I decided to grab some chow at the Best Western restaurant only 20 minutes before closing. By the way, you’re probably wondering how I got there from the airport. There was a sign posted by the airport phone advertising rooms for pilots with pick up service. At most small airports, the also leave the keys top a car for pilots (called a courtesy car) that’s available for use and requires only common courtesy – like leaving more gas than you used, and not hogging it for long periods of time. I decided to leave the car for someone else. I was picked up by a nice guy in a beater Jeep Cherokee with Christian music BLARING on the radio. He introduced himself as Sergio in a thick Mexican accent, and proceeded to tell me his very dramatic life story on the 20-minute ride into town. Turns out he’s a musician – so we had something in common to talk about other than tragedy. Could’ve been a rouse for a hefty tip (if so it worked) but it was a very surreal drive none-the-less. Once I got checked in and seated for some food – Mexican food of course – I sat and watched a bearded man in his mid 50’s wearing sweatpants, a way-to-tight t-shirt, and sucking heavily on what must’ve been a 40+ ounce soda, hit on every female in sight. The fascinating part was the varying techniques the ladies used to deflect his ovations; all of them polite and all of them effective. After ease dropping for a few minutes, I guessed that he was a truck driver on a regular route through Tucumcari and stayed here frequently. He knew a few other guys passing through the lobby by name as well. I was bound for sleep and my new routine of watching the weather channel to check my route for tomorrow – which turned out to be rainy earlier in the day but clearing (I hoped) by the time I hit Nashville. Probably a good call that I stopped when I did, as it seemed I would have been waiting in Amarillo, TX for the weather to move east anyway…