When I wrote last week’s blog post I had no idea how relevant it would soon be.
On July 30th, at approximately 12:00 PM and 1,000 feet in the air, my trike’s engine coughed. “Oooh Doug...” I said, sucking air in through my teeth. “What?” “I think we’re going to have an engine out. I’m going to land in that field there.” I pointed to it. I flipped the electric fuel pump (our backup), and eased off the throttle. Looking down, the volt meter had dropped from 11.5 to 7 and I knew we were going down.
The engine died quickly and I brought my full attention to landing in the field below, sucking the bar in to increase our airspeed. Doug’s “trainer voice” never for one minute faltered. “That’s it, that’s it, now remember we’re downwind… good, good… now keep your eye out for fences...any fences, anything sticking up out of the ground...”
“As long as we stay clear of those trees we’ll be just fine…”
“Good, now round out… round out…” we touched the ground and began jostling and jumping over bumps, reminding me of riding a jet ski. I applied the brakes gradually and we came to a complete stop, the acrid smell of burnt oil and fuel in the air but uninjured and the trike without structural damage.
Suddenly n the middle of a giant field, I collapsed into hysterical laughter, my head against the control frame. I told Doug that we should get out of the trike immediately (in case, you know, something ignited). He put a hand on my shoulder and told me to take a deep breath.
A man was waving to us by a fence to our right. His name was Trevor, and he turned out to be the caretaker of the adjacent property. He’d seen us flying overhead and was shocked when, five minutes later, he saw us stationary in the middle of the field. He was kind enough to give me a ride to the airport where I retrieved the car and wing bag. “Are they going to fly away?” asked his 3 year old daughter, Megan. No, Megan. No.
The adventure quickly went from “thank god I’m alive,” to “my god this is a pain in the ass.” Six 100+ degree hours later, Doug and I had the trike back in the hangar, where Tom (another trike pilot) met us and helped me return the U Haul I’d rented. I could not have taken care of everything as quickly as I did without the help of these two men and I feel incredibly grateful to call them my friends.
I never envisioned myself recreating this part of Cal’s adventure even once. This was a frequent event for Cal, landing and sometimes crashing in farmer’s fields where the reactions ranged from hysteria (mobs of fans sprinting towards the Vin Fiz) to apathy (farmers looking up from their rakes, shaking their heads, and going back to what they were doing).
I sent Stephen the cover photo above (he’s salmon fishing in Alaska with his father), and his reply was priceless as what had transpired slowly dawned on him (right).
I feel that my inner Cal has surfaced. Never once during the whole ordeal did I panic, and I knew as soon as I saw the field that we were going to be alright. I have Doug’s uncompromising training to thank for that. On landing, two thoughts came in quick succession. First: “will you still do this trip, even after this?” Second: “of course I will.” I have never been so confident in my flying ability.
This event has implications for our trip going forward (a delay the most obvious). Right now I’m just thankful to be alive. My father told me that yesterday he had been mowing the lawn and the thought “is David okay right now?” popped into his head out of the blue (I’m sure that thought is frequent when you’re a parent). He said another voice had responded “he’ll be okay.” Yes I will be.
Someone get me back up in the air again, and soon. Until then: I endure, I conquer.