Enter my pilot friend. He had offered to take a group of Rotarians up to the conference on the Friday afternoon and since I asked nicely, and make him custom ribbon and treats for his plane he agreed to take me on the Saturday morning.
In case you are wondering how I come to know people with private planes and get flown around...I make nicenice with everyone and ask for what I want. Life is as simple as that! I asked my pilot friend and if he had said no, well then...I wouldn't have gone. But he is a nice man who is easily bribed so he agreed to meet me at his airport (yes, his airport) at 9am on Saturday.
Pilot friend needs a code name...Daddy Warbucks? The Red Baron? Any other suggestions?
Let's have a look at this plane. The bottom arrow is the 'step' and the top arrow is at the hand grip. I am 5'2" and had a moment when I wondered if I would need a boost or a box to stand on. Fortunately I was wearing pants with a little stretch so I managed to get up there with minimal embarrassment. The object is to put one foot on the step, grab the hand grip, then step up onto the wing near the door. I should point out this turned out to be a lot easier than getting down from the plane, in high heeled boots.
The plane has all the bells and whistles including auto pilot, traffic alerts, gps and heat (which I found is important as it's chilly up there in the big blue sky!).
The screen on the left shows the horizon, altitude and speed...the one on the right shows our route and the geography around us. Another amazing feature this plane has, which the pilot called 'The Wife Pleaser', is a parachute. I don't mean a parachute for the passengers...the plane has it's own parachute. My blood pressure dropped dramatically back to a normal level when he told me about this and showed me how to use it. One never knows when the pilot flying the plane might have a problem and be unable to land safely - pulling the chute and turning off the power to the plane will let it float down to the ground safely.
Ready to take off. Pilot friend has a hangar and runway across the road from his house. Another benefit of living in the country...there's lots of land! It's completely hidden from the road, easy to get to and has it's own parking lot.
The moment one realizes...no one is flying the plane! It was on autopilot so we got to chat and learn about the plane on the way to Collingwood.
The cars are so tiny! We were about 24,000 feet up which sounds like a lot but isn't really but the cars, houses and sheep still looked teensie!
Pilot friend asked me if I wanted to fly the plane and, since I'm not an idiot, I said YES! He told me what to do, took it off autopilot and I took over. I wasn't very daring as my goal for the day was staying alive (sing along with me!), so I focused on keeping the plane in the air, going straight and in the right direction. I did learn it's easier to fly by looking out the window than at the controls and screens. But then I've never been very good at video games!
We got to Collingwood, borrowed an airport car and went to the conference. Yes, I almost forgot we were doing this for the good of Rotary. When we got there they were between sessions and on a coffee break. Perfect timing! So we got cookies and warm bevvies and figured out which sessions to sit in on. But not before making our way through the crowd of very excited Rotarians and so many friends I haven't seen for a while (who were all suitably jellybean knowing I was flown there). My chocolate chunk cookie and I chose to go to the microfinance and microcredit session and I am so glad I did! I am sure we have all heard of Kiva (I have countless Kiva loans out there in the 3rd world) and this session explained the Rotary system of microfinance and how loan officers on the ground, in the trenches so to speak, help people save, get loans, learn about business and get out of the dire conditions we all have seen on tv but are fortunate enough to not have to endure. Yes, I know...run on sentence.
After that session we had lunch and got to see all kinds of awards being given out. Because this was a district conference for 55 clubs, getting an award is a bit of a big deal. Awards were given for literacy programs in schools designed by Rotarians, monies raised by Rotarians to help eradicate polio, awards for amount and length of service. I saw a man I thought looked familiar then realized he is Jack Layton's son, there to accept an award given to Jack who was also a Rotarian. Agree or disagree with his politics, he was a true Rotarian and devoted his life to 'the people'.
After lunch we saw a presentation by Jamie Fraser (not that Jamie Fraser) of Dignitas International and he spoke of his time in Africa working as a doctor. When he came back to Canada he was so affected by his experiences (some of them were very unpleasant and spiritually damaging) he knew he needed to continue the work, so, he has devoted his life to changing how the 1st world views AIDS in the 3rd world. He has been fighting to get governments to provide the same treatments as anyone in Canada would get. This is so important as the 3rd world will always be the 3rd world if something doesn't change. Eradicating AIDS in Africa means countries wouldn't be as dependent on the 1st world. Isn't that what we all want?
After the presentation there was a big walk in Collingwood to promote our efforts to eradicate polio worldwide. Pilot friend/Daddy Warbucks/Red Baron and I chose that time to leave as neither of us had planned on staying for the dinner and gala. When you know that many people in a crowd it takes a while to actually get out the door. I was happy I got to see our friends who do so much good work in Laos before they left - we wont see them again until April at the earliest!
Pilot friend is in agriculture and used to own grain elevators in Collingwood so he asked if I wanted to see how one works. We arrived just in time to see a truck of corn being weighed, tested then unloaded into the elevator. The machinery is huge and everything reeks of ethanol. We got to taste the corn, which is very dry and grainy when it's not cooked on the fire and slathered with butter and salt.
The farmer bringing the load of corn in saw my badge and said 'I see you are a Rotarian'. I said we both are (pointing to pilot friend) and he was asking what we were doing up there and told us he is a Rotarian in another district. We are everywhere. My one regret is I didn't ask the farmer more questions about how they harvest the corn and get it off the cob...so unlike me!
We got back to the Collingwood airport, gave back the loaner car, inspected the plane and got on our way back home. Lots of autopilot and chatting about pilot friend's family history in the area and maybe a teeeeeensie little bit of gossip about a mutual friend. We did a lap of our town and it was so neat to see town hall and the park from the air! My camera battery was dying so I didn't get any shots of town but let's hope there is another chance!
I managed to squeeze in one last shot before the battery died. We were about to land at pilot friend's airport when he told me other pilots this he is crazy to land between the trees like this. Charming. I suggested he not tell people that until after the flight is over! We landed safe and sound, disembarked and got the plane put away. The Suburban Prince and Little Prince arrived about a minute after we landed so they missed the plane coming in but did get to see it in the hanger and chat with pilot friend for a few minutes.
Not a bad way to spend a Saturday in October!
I got home and then had to put a load of laundry in an go get some groceries. It's a hard splat back to reality! That's the problem with being a spoiled princess - real life is a bit hard to stomach! To add to that, we got a call around 9pm that the town is in a state of emergency because our water station had two pumps break and we need to conserve water. As in....odd numbered houses get to shower on odd numbered days and we have to go get cases of water from the rescue and emergency volunteers set up in town. The good news is I have lined up for water in 3rd world country so doing this didn't seem so bad.
Have a fabulous day!