Sunday, July 18, 2004

Thank God for kind, trusting people

Well, I'm in a pickle now. I'm on the ground at a flying field and I don't have enough gas in my ultralight to get back home. Shame on me. What an idiot you are! Well, My daughter lives in nearby Columbus, Georgia. I could have her bring me some gas, but I'd still need oil and I wouldn't be able to explain to her what type. I could wait to see if someone showed up, but that might never happen. I decide to walk to the owner's house just a quarter mile up the road and explain my situation and see if he would help out. I knock and knock on the door, ring the doorbell many times, but there is no answer. The nearest gas station is about a mile and a half away and I could just picture me walking that far with 5 gallons of gas. I call my wife on the cell phone and explain my situation and I tell her I'm going to fly to the most recent field that I flew over and asess my fuel situation at that time and land if necessary. In case there wasn't anybody there to help me, I might need her to drive to me with some gas. I was thinking to myself that it would be difficult for me to explain to her where I was if I didn't know myself, but I didn't mention that to her. I mostly wanted her to know that I might be late and why. I didn't want her to worry that I had gone down someplace and injured myself.

Well, the winds are kicking up as I prepare to start my engine. To make things worse, it appears that the winds are in a westerly direction and I'll be flying into the wind. This will lessen my range due to a headwind. Things just weren't working well for me this day. I start the engine and taxi out and take off with no surprises. I set my course for the last private field (named Finkley on the chart) that I flew over, carefully watching my fuel as I fly. When I approach the strip, it was perfectly obvious that I wasn't going to make it home on the fuel I had left. I circle the airstrip and notice that the entire estate, airstrip and all, is completely fenced in. The house has a huge gate on the driveway with some nice brickwork and an electronic remote access panel to open the gate. There is a large, commercial type hangar that is all closed up. The place is beautifully landscaped. I'm thinking that this guy is going to be pissed when I land on his field. What other choice do I have? I land and taxi as close to the hangar as I dare before shutting off the engine.

As soon as I unstrap and get out, I see this large dog barrelling toward me barking, and he wasn't wagging his tail. He's about 25 yards from me and I don't know what to do, except just stand there and not act frightened...yeah, right! I figured if I stood still, the dog would stop and just bark. When he was about 5 yards away, I could see it wasn't going to stop. In the split second before the dog jumped on my shoulders and knocked me to the ground, I could see it was a black lab. As I was on the ground, the dog was licking my face! Good that he wasn't biting it, bad because it was gross!

I yelled at the dog to get down, and he did, but he was happy to see me. I pet him a bit before I started walking to the house. I half expected somebody to meet me halfway with a shotgun, but nobody appeared. I get to the door and knock on it. An older lady appears with a concerned expression on her face that somewhat diminishes when I tell her my situation. She told me her husband was in the shower and that he would know more about what type of fuel and oil they had on the premesis. Very tentatively, she asked me if I would like to wait inside. Knowing that she felt uncomfortable doing it, but couldn't let her southern hospitality be derailed, I declined her invitation and asked in my most humble manner if it would be OK if I waited outside on the picnic table. She said that would be fine.

I sat down on the table that was covered with 8 or so large-potted, red geraniums. Moments after sitting, a hummingbird flew withing 2 feet of my face and hovered for about two seconds, looking directly at me before flying off again. It was amazing!

As I was waiting, I noticed that there were two trucks under the attached carport. One was a brand new GMC Yukon Denali, the other was about a 2000 model Chevy Suburban, both immaculent. I waited on the picnic table quite nervously for at least twenty minutes. When the man finally came out, he was 60ish, tall and thin and well dressed with a perfectly combed head of silver hair. He introduced himself as Jimmy Finkley and I introduced myself and explained my situation. He asked me how much gas I needed. I said 5 gallons would be perfect, but I could probably make it home with two.

He started walking towards a wooden storage shed about 50 feet away, but stopped at the Suburban and started it before continuing on. I followed him, wondered what was up with the starting of the truck. I figured he was going to drive me to a gas station. We arrived at the storage shed and he opened the door. There were about 3 chainsaws, 4 weed eaters and a leaf blower, all of which had two-cycle engines. Jimmy said that his lawn crew (that explains the condition of the grounds) usually keeps pre-mixed gas in here, but all we could find were a couple of empty 5 gallon gas cans. Jimmy grabbed one and we walked back towards the running truck.

Before we got there, he stopped and said that he and his wife were about to leave, but he pointed to the the Suburban and said, "You can take that old truck there and go and get whatever you need at the gas station. If we aren't here when you get back, just leave the keys in the truck and put the gas can back in the shed." I couldn't believe what I was hearing! Nobody has ever extended that kind of courtesy to me before. I asked him if he was sure that would be OK, and he assured me it would be fine. I thanked him numerous times and asked for directions to the gas station, then I took off in the Suburban.

I filled the gas can at the station and decided that it would only be right if I would fill up the gas tank of Jimmy's Suburban. It was only half full. As I pumped the gas into the truck, I was at about $9 on the pump after my can was full. I stuck it in the Suburban and pumped and pumped and pumped. Past 20, 30, 35 dollars, and I was thinking my gosh, how much does this tank hold! I stopped at $40 and the truck still wasn't full. I figured that a $30 charge for the unscheduled stop would be enough, then I paid and drove back to Jimmy's house. I was only gone about 20 minutes. When I arrived, Jimmy and his wife were still there. Jimmy escorted me to my airplane and watched me mix the gas and fill up my plane. He was very interested. He said he had a Beachcraft Bonanza in the hanger (a very expensive general aviation airplane) but he was getting old and might not be able to pass his physical anymore. He said a friend of his owned a strip about 6 miles away (the one I flew over first on my way to Phenix City) and had been trying to convince him to buy an ultralight for about 3 years. He said something like my Quicksilver would be ideal for the type of flying he would care to do now.

As I filled my tank, he instructed me to wait to take off. He was going to get his video camera and tape me. He returned and when I tried to start my engine, I flooded it. What else can you expect when you have an audience? I finally got it started after twenty pulls or so on the rope. I strapped in, taxied to the end of the strip and took off, with Jimmy shooting the whole thing. When I got to about 300 feet above the ground, he was still taping. I decided to circle around for him to get a little more footage before heading back toward my hanger. The rest of the flight was uneventful, except that the wind was growing a bit stronger and tossing me around even more than in the morning. When I got back, I put the airplane up and checked the GPS. I had traveled 82 miles total over about two and one quarter hours time. What an adventure. It wasn't long after this that I drained my fuel tank and put back in two and a half gallons of gas, which was exactly one half of a tank. I then marked that level and now I carefully watch my fuel level and compare it with my ground speed on the GPS so that I won't be stranded without fuel. Live and learn!


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