2013 April 13, Saturday
Longview, Texas to Lone Pine, California
An email came out of the blue from rescuers we hadn’t helped before: Could we fly some rescued dogs from east Texas to northern California? We asked our usual questions -- how many dogs, what breeds, genders, ages, conditions, why are they being transported, are they going to rescues, fosters, or adopters at the other end, etc. It was all quite legitimate, and of course we wanted to help. The number of dogs kept changing between 6 and 13 over the next few weeks, and so did everyone’s schedules and the weather across the southwestern US. By April 3, we called for a “Must Go,” and weather and logistics finally came together Apr 11. We chose a small airport in Gladewater, TX as the most convenient for everyone, and we arrived there the evening before to be ready for an early morning departure. One of the fosters brought three of the dogs for us to meet and also brought us a much-appreciated dinner, and we settled in on a couch for the night.
But when do things in rescue work ever go exactly as planned? The first surprise the next morning was that we were going to have fewer dogs than we had expected -- only six, including our own canine mascot Jerry (Jeremiah - his story is here). So all of the dogs would have plenty of room to stretch out, and we decided to use no carriers since all of the dogs got along just fine together. But nature had less happy surprises in store for us. Overnight, winds across the southwestern US had picked up to near gale force along our entire route. The headwinds didn’t concern us -- those just meant slower progress, so we would have to plan an extra fuel stop and not waste a minute of time. No, what would make this day’s flight one of our most grueling ever was the turbulence for almost eight straight hours. The winds were even worse at higher altitudes, so we flew as low as terrain would permit, always in radio contact with Air Traffic Control but frequently too low for their radar to see us. I had to keep a constant tight grip on the control yoke, trying to anticipate and compensate for the near-constant mountain-wave action that carried us up and down between 8,000’ and 10,000’ as we fought our way westward.
Some of the dogs sat up and looked at me with concern after the first few bumps, but soon they all lay back down. Dogs are amazing animals; they read us and the situation quickly, and they accept what they cannot change. They must have concluded that I couldn’t turn off the rough ride and we were all just going to have to tough this out together. Little Sandy decided to crawl back into the baggage compartment and snuggle up in my jacket. Violet, the daughter of Aja, crawled under my seat and pushed her nose up against my leg. Macey, an especially sweet, sound, adult female, sat right next to my right elbow and stared at me -- I swear she was trying to reassure me! Our youngest pup Sarah, a big ball of fur with gigantic paws to grow into, thought the whole adventure was great fun. Flying along in the airplane and being buffeted about by the winds left Sarah with nothing but giant smiles and yawns.
Our own dog Jerry is an experienced canine aviator, complete with his own ear protectors. But he was not enjoying this turbulence either; he lay down in the back with his head buried in the blankets, next to Aja and Sandy. We call Jerry “the navigator” because he loves to look around and protests when we take a different route from the usual, whether in the car or the plane. He is uncanny this way. When we passed into California west of Las Vegas on our way toward the eastern Sierra Nevada, Jerry came forward and sat behind the front co-pilot’s seat, where he could see out the window and look forward. He never left that position until we landed at Lone Pine, and he looked at me with a big smile on his face! I’m guessing that he noticed the sun was getting low in the sky and the mountains up ahead were very tall, so he probably concluded that we would be landing soon.
From New Mexico westward to beyond Las Vegas, we listened to airliners complaining to Air Traffic Control (ATC) about their rough rides and asking if there were smooth rides at any other altitudes. Just as we were flying past the north end of Flagstaff, AZ, we heard a United Airlines pilot inform ATC that they had experienced wind shear and moderate turbulence between 8,000’ and 10,000’ on take-off. It was good to have an excuse to laugh while I was holding the yoke tightly and doing my best to keep us level, so I said aloud to my attentive canine passengers, “We’ll second that!”
We had originally intended to fly the dogs to Bishop, CA -- a short hop from their actual destination, which was Reno, NV. But winds were so strong that air traffic over Las Vegas required us to divert southward, which slowed our progress still more. So we sent a quick text to the rescuers and asked if they could drive another 50 miles south to Lone Pine, CA, which we were sure we could make before 7pm. The rescuers arrived there about 15 minutes after we did, just as the dogs and I finished a wonderful walk on terra firma and some long drinks of cool water. They were happy to get into the large closed trailer filled with soft sweet-smelling straw and settle down for a nice smooth drive up Highway 395 under the gorgeous silhouettes of the Sierra Nevada.
Jerry and I refueled the plane and made it home to southern California by 8:30 pm! On this final leg, the winds were still strong but this time they were at our back, so we soared southward. And, to our surprise, after flying all day over dry land and mountains, including Death Valley, we found the Los Angeles basin hidden under a thick layer of clouds! We flew an instrument approach into our home airport and were deliriously happy to bring dear old Bessie back into her barn. Our friend and trusted mechanic Larry was there to greet us and give us a ride, and we found an email on our phone saying that the dogs had arrived and were wonderful. Another great day on the rescue trail!