Mexico With The Flying Samaritans

Last year a friend I met through my favorite forum for Bonanza owners told me about The Flying Samaritans. They are a humanitarian group that organizes doctors, dentists, and pilots one weekend each month to fly to Mexico and run a volunteer clinic. Todd is a dentist, and in addition to piloting his Bonanza down to Mexico and pulling lots of teeth, he organizes the dental half of the clinic. I'd been wanting to do some charitable flying, so I decided to join Todd on his next trip down.

That trip was last September, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to try to go two to three times per year. Unfortunately I wasn't able to return to Mexico for a while, but I made my second trip this past weekend.

Todd's friend, Charlie, met me at the airport Friday morning. Charlie is an endodontist. We took off early in the morning from Palo Alto. Todd took off from Reid-Hillview airport in San Jose around the same time. He had his mom and another dentist in his plane. We met for breakfast in Santa Monica, where we also picked up my second passenger: a UCLA student named Justin who has been flying with the Sams every other month for over 7 years. Justin was one of my passengers last September as well.

After clearing customs in Tijuana, we continued on to our destination: a small town about 180 miles south of the border called San Quintín. I snapped a couple shots of UCSD as we passed overhead.

We landed at a little dirt strip called Rancho Magaña, because the dirt strip on the farm next to the clinic is currently closed for repairs. They are actually in the process of paving it!

That crop duster was the only plane in sight when I arrived

We get to stay at a lovely hotel right on this expansive empty beach. The beach is called Sand Dollar Beach, and for good reason -- it's littered with sand dollars! The food at the hotel is delicious. Going in to town for street tacos is even tastier. The tacos are possibly my main motivation for going on these trips.

Saturday morning we headed to the clinic early to get everything set up. Todd kept us all in line.

El Jefe

One of my main jobs was to set up all the syringes with needles and anesthetic so that they'd be ready to go when the dentists needed them. I got faster at it by the end of the day. I also sterilized several batches of instruments in the autoclave throughout the day. Toward the end of the day I even assisted Charlie in doing a root canal!

It's tough to watch as four or more teeth are pulled from patients' mouths. I can only imagine the pain those teeth have been causing them, though. The little kids are the hardest to witness, especially now that I can picture Max in that chair! This little guy was especially scared of the needle.

After a successful clinic on Saturday we returned to Rancho Magaña on Sunday morning to head home.

The three Flying Sams airplanes at Rancho Magaña: mine, Todd's and Joel's

I really love the combination of aviation, service, and camaraderie on these trips. The people who volunteer their time and talents, many of whom go down every month, are wonderful. It's a pleasure to spend a couple days and share a few tacos with them. I hope to return soon!

Electronic Entertainment Expo

Back when I worked in the video games industry during college, I attended E3 a few times. The spectacle of the show always impressed me. At that time, I followed the industry closely and I was always excited to play with the latest and greatest toys.

Last year I found out that a couple of my coworkers go down to the show for one day each year. I thought it would be fun to go back, and I'm always looking for an excuse to fly N4WR, so I offered to fly them down this year.

The extent to which I've become completely out of touch with the games industry became embarrassingly apparent at the very first booth we visited. Sega had a bunch of stations set up where attendees could try out their games. I walked up to a "Sonic the Hedgehog" station, grabbed the controller, and said, "This is cool; what's this?" To which one of my coworkers replied, "That's the Wii U. It's been out for like two years." Oh well.

It was still cool to check out all the extravagant booths, the massive displays, and the crazy costumes.

My favorite display was "World of Tanks". They had a full-size tank suspended in the air with a large array of digital cameras in front of it.

This allowed people to pose and be photographed simultaneously from many angles. They then compiled the photos into videos. Some of the results were pretty cool.

The only booth that I was really looking forward to going into the show was Oculus VR. I'd played with one of their dev units once before, but I wanted to try out their newer hardware and see what kinds of games they had in the works.

I was able to play two of their games: a kind of first person shooter that allowed you to pause time and look around to dodge bullets, and an outer space dogfighting game. Neither game was very fun, and the display resolution left much to be desired, but I definitely see the potential of the technology. I really want to try it with a good flight simulator. The ability to look around is a game changer. I think other forms of entertainment besides video games will adopt it as well.

Overall, my excitement on the show floor was definitely diminished from my days working in the industry. That said, I still had a great time. And it was a great flight down and back in N4WR!

Hammock Arbor

For several years now, I've been wanting to build an arbor in the back corner of our yard and hang a hammock on it. This past week I finally decided to tackle the project.

Last Saturday I dug two of the biggest post holes I've ever dug: a little over three feet deep and a foot in diameter.

I decided to use concrete form tubes for these posts, for no particular reason. I've never used them before. Seemed like a good idea at the time!

My friend, Chris, came over on Monday and helped me mix the concrete and set the posts. The next day I backfilled the holes with a couple extra bags of concrete.

I copied the style of the other arbor in our yard, except I used larger lumber for this one. The hammock requires about a fifteen foot span and it will provide a pretty hefty side load.

I traced the design from the other arbor and used the paper template to draw on the new boards. All I had to work with was a little jig saw that wouldn't go all the way through these big timbers, so I had to trace the pattern carefully on both sides and make my cuts from both sides as well. It was a little tedious but it turned out fine in the end.

My dad came over last night to help with the hard part: hefting the big 18 foot 4x6s onto the top of the posts and securing them with massive decking screws. Luckily David Z was also there to help out. It was a three man job.

The last step was attaching the 2x2s to the top of the beams. Karen Z brought over their tall step ladder, which proved crucial. With the help of my dad and Micah H, we got it done this morning.

I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out and I couldn't wait to take it for a test spin!

I always wanted to have nice soft tall grass growing under the hammock, so when we put in our lawn a couple years ago I planted the extra sod in this corner. I'm going to have to coax it to spread under the hammock a little more, but I think it will provide a nice floor.

Sunday afternoon naps should be even better from here on out!

California Aircraft Expo

The California Aircraft Expo came to San Carlos Airport this weekend. We went to check out (shop for?) the new 2014 airplanes.

Cessna was there with the Caravan and the Corvalis. Cirrus had their SR22T. Lancair was showing the Evolution. The Piper Meridian was on display. And my personal favorite, the Pilatus PC-12NG.

I noted that four out of the six airplanes on display were single engine turbines. That definitely feels like the future!

Also noticeably absent was Beechcraft. Apparently they have a 3,000 foot runway minimum. Lame!

Vancouver And The San Juan Islands

Sophia's sister, Adeline, ran the Vancouver Marathon this past weekend (yes, just six months after giving birth to little Henry!), so the whole family decided to go up there and support her.

Our plan was to fly to Bellingham, WA, stopping in Florence, OR, for lunch. We couldn't fly across the border, because Max and Luke don't have passports yet. Luckily Bellingham is just 20 miles from the border, and the kids could cross the border by car with just a copy of their birth certificates.

Unfortunately, Max's bladder had other ideas. Right as we leveled off at 10,000 feet, he announced that he needed to use the bathroom. So, we canceled IFR and descended into McClellan Airfield. I waited in the plane with Luke while Sophia helped Max.

Thank you, McClellan Jet Services, for accommodating our pit stop

After that we resumed our journey to Florence, passing right over Lake Shasta and very close to Mt. Shasta.

How could I be mad at such a cute little copilot?

Before too long, Max's bladder struck again and we found ourselves on the ground in Medford, OR. After that delay, we decided to forgo lunch in Florence and head straight to Bellingham. Command Aviation took great care of us there and we quickly loaded our gear from the plane into our rental car and hit the road. Before long we made it to Vancouver, where we checked into a hotel room with a lovely view of Stanley Park and English Bay.

The next morning I picked up David and Karen at Vancouver Airport and we all went for a scenic walk through Stanley Park.

Max dubbed these statues "The Silly People"

Later that evening, Matt, Adeline, and Henry arrived. We all rode the gondola up to the top of Grouse Mountain. The view was spectacular!

On Friday we drove to Whistler. We made a couple of stops along the way.

Our first stop was at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. I remember going to this park as a kid, but it has changed dramatically since then. It's no longer just a bridge. There are lots of other exhibits and things to explore.

The famous suspension bridge

They now have a system of treehouses connected by bridges, just like the Ewoks!

For our next stop, we hiked out to the Point Atkinson Lighthouse. It was a great place from which to view the city and a fun hike, despite our getting lightly rained on.

In Whistler, we had fun playing in the Olympic Park. Matt did some mountain biking as well.

On the drive back to Vancouver Saturday morning, we stopped at Brandywine Falls and Shannon Falls.

Brandywine Falls

Sunday was the day of the big race. Adeline finished the marathon like a champ, despite cold and rainy weather the entire time! I was impressed. We walked to two places along the route to cheer her on.

Go Adeline!

On Monday, everyone headed home. We decided to spend a few days relaxing in the San Juan Islands instead! The flight from Bellingham out to Friday Harbor was gorgeous and only took about 20 minutes in N4WR. A ferry was leaving port just as I made my base-to-final turn over the town.

The tower is closed but we saw a few commercial flights

Instead of getting a taxi to our condo, we just loaded all of our bags onto the stroller and walked into town. It was a little less than a mile.

After dropping our bags off at the condo and getting some recommendations (and a loaf of fresh baked bread) from our AirBnB hostess, we walked down to the port for dinner. It was a beautiful evening.

On Tuesday we went whale watching. Unfortunately we didn't see any whales, but we did see seals (one eating an octopus, even), porpoises, and bald eagles. We had a great time. Since we didn't see whales they gave us vouchers to come back for free. We'll definitely put those to good use! We already want to go back.

Max found a perfect viewport

As we were entering Friday Harbor, we got to watch this Kenmore Air Beaver on floats take off. So awesome!

We spent our last full day exploring Orcas Island. We flew over there in N4WR and walked around Eastsound all day.

The rocky beach was perfect for Max, whose favorite pastime is "throwing rocks into water"

I used my GoPro on the way to Orcas Island and back, and I made a video of the flights. It's a little long, so I won't be offended if you don't watch the whole thing. Especially since that means you won't see my horribly off-center landing at Friday Harbor Airport.

Our flight home on Thursday was into heavy precipitation and instrument conditions for almost the entire flight. We also battled incredibly strong headwinds most of the way. It took us over 5 hours total, with a lunch stop in Corvalis, OR. To further complicate matters, President Obama was in town so there was a POTUS VIP TFR (how's that for alphabet soup?) that almost included Palo Alto Airport. We couldn't even fly the usual GPS approach into runway 31 without busting the TFR. Luckily the clouds permitted us to get radar vectors in our descent beneath the layer and we flew a visual approach into runway 13.

Not my most scenic flight. This is all we saw for over 3 hours.

On the bright side, Max's bladder cooperated this time. Good thing, too, since diverting in that weather would not have been as easy as it was on the way up.

We had a fantastic trip and we can't wait to go back!

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