Yesterday turned out very well. It was a warm fall day and we both slept in after the Thanksgiving feast. We did not manage to get out of the house until after lunch, but then we put the bicycles in the back of the airplane and flew to Orange. Actually I flew to Orange. This might only be my third time flying the Bearhawk, so we specifically went to Orange to practice landings on their long grass runways. Overall, the Bearhawk is still unfamiliar to me, so it was fairly easy to get overloaded and not keep on top of everything. The Cherokee is a lot more forgiving on energy management. With the Bearhawk, I had more issues keeping it at the right speed and on the right glide path. Tyson and I did kind of OK at flying together. There was one particularly so-so touch and go after which I had to fly out away from the pattern for a bit while we had a “discussion.” Overall, I would say the worst part was that the direct taxiway to the main office was closed for maintenance so I had to taxi a half mile out and back to get to the toilets.
Next we headed a couple towns farther west to Turner’s Falls for our bicycle trip. My landing there was a little bit worse. Tyson’s headset quit which made communication harder. And this time the runway was not directly aligned with the wind. I had noticed recently in the Cherokee that I was not correcting for cross winds nearly as well as I had been before it had gone into the shop for a month and a half. Combine that with the Bearhawk being unfamiliar, heavier, and a little less responsive, and I really did not correct for the cross wind at all. Tyson’s attempts at miming “crosswind” didn’t work either. But he saved the landing just fine.
By the time we landed, we only had an hour until sunset. We had picked out an 8.5 mile loop from Google maps. Given that it was not a flat rail trail, it was a little ambitious for the time, but we figured we would see how far we got before we needed to turn around. The first stretch was down hill into town. Then we briefly hopped on a bicycle trail (and passed the odorous water pollution control plant). Tyson suggested that we could just do an out and back on the rail trail and then head back up to the airport. I was not keen on heading back up the hills we had come down. The loop as planned showed a more gradual ascent if we kept going. The first part of the ascent was gradual. We quickly left town behind and were peddling through rural woods and farmland. That part of Massachusetts looks a lot more like Vermont than like eastern Massachusetts. I knew we were racing sunset, so I tried to push hard on the gradual terrain. I actually did much better than the last two rides and was feeling really good about it.
There was one particular steep hill on a small side road where I had to give up and walk the last bit. Not much farther along we discovered that planning a bicycle route using Google maps does not always work. We were about to enter Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area and the road ahead turned into a dirt track. There were several issues with this. For one, we were on road bikes with skinny tires. For another, it was not quite clear if bicycles were allowed. Hunting and fishing definitely were. On the other hand, if we backtracked, I would have to go back up that last hill again on some other road. Tyson’s GPS said it was not far to the next intersection, so we kept going forward.
We never did find a paved road until we exited the wildlife management area. The going was rough and we walked the bicycles at times when they sank in the sand. But the sunset was pretty and the woods quite nice. We found a few spots of ice in the ruts which seemed odd given how warm it had been. Once we were back on paved roads, it was not far back to the airport and all flat easy cruising.
The GPS said 9 miles, and according to Google maps, 200ft of elevation. I was tired, but had a pleasant endorphin buzz. And Tyson was easily able to fly us home in the dark.