2014/07/15

Transpacific Then and Now

Regular readers (if there are such) may recall that last year we visited Misawa up in Aomori Prefecture and saw the place where Clyde Pangborn and his partner Herdon took off for Washington State (Sabishiro Beach) in their plane Miss Veedol to become the first to cross the Pacific from Japan to the USA non stop in October of 1931.

The plane flew past Seattle, which was socked in with weather, and landed in Wenatchee, Washington, where the airport now bears the name "Pangborn Memorial".   

Fast forward to 1992 and Pandabonium was working on his instrument flying rating.  The first big glitch came when, after flying all the way from Maui to California, and driving 80 miles (through a lighting storm!) to Ontario airport to take the written test, said test was cancelled due to illness of the guy presenting it!   Subsequently, an instructor came to Hawaii with a simulator to teach me instrument flying.  Then my own airplane had a failure of a crucial instrument and I was unable to finish.

So, my instructor graciously offered to put me up at his house which happened to be near Pangborn Memorial Airport.   I flew to Seattle, took the written test the next day (passed of course!) and then my instructor Paul drove me out to Wenatchee.  There, we flew around in REAL instrument weather conditions (unlike anything I might experience in Hawaii) and scheduled me for a final check ride.

As luck would have it, the FAA check ride pilot (I am not making this up) came down with appendicitis(!) and so once again I was denied my instrument rating, in spite of flying to California to take the test, paying an instructor to fly to Hawaii, and flying to Seattle and going to Wenatchee!  Ouch.

So imagine the irony when the younger of my two daughters who moved to Seattle last year decided to get married in Washington State.  And beyond that, she and her now husband chose a resort in the mountains outside of Leavenworth, Washington to be the site of their wedding.

My flight from Japan - the first in nearly ten years- was on a Boeing 787.  My daughter is an engineer for Boeing.   The wedding was in a town - Leavenworth - which I passed when my instructor drove me to Wenatchee in 1992.   And Wenatchee is the nearest airport for Leavenworth, which Pangborn and Herdon flew over in the final hour of their flight from Japan!   Coincidences?   Maybe.

In any case, I had the most amazing week in a very long while.

For the first time in nearly a decade, I had boarded a plane that took me outside of Japan. What you may ask could pry this old transplanted opihi (Hawaiian limpet) off his Japanese rock?

Hawaiian opihi, looking like a miniature Mt. Fuji,  clinging to a rock.
The trigger as I said was the wedding of my second daughter and the chance to see her, meet her groom and his extended family, and see my own extended family - most especially my two precious granddaughters.

The trip began ominously. I was given the wrong gate number at Narita. Bad weather slowed the traffic and my flight information got buried behind the many delayed flights, such that (even though I asked for help and verification) my only warning of a problem came with a final boarding announcement to a gate two football fields away from where I had been directed - cue Pink Floyd's "On the Run".

I just made it to the gate by the 6 pm deadline. The door was closed after me, I settled into my seat, and waited. Twenty minutes later one of the guys up in the pointy end of the plane came over the PA to let us know that due to a THUNDER STORM sitting right on top of Narita Airport, our clearance was delayed. Perhaps we could get under way in ten minutes or so. Uh huh. Similar announcements followed every so often as outside lightning flashed, thunder rumbled and rivers of water cascaded over the aircraft; and inside, cabin attendants smiled, poured orange juice, apple juice, and passed out rice crackers. A few passengers got edgy wanting to know why we couldn't just take off.  I was thinking, "trust me, you are really a whole lot better off right here on the ground than flying through this storm.  You REALLY don't want to be up there."

At 8 pm we pushed back from the gate and got in line behind many other delayed flights. After 45 minutes of taxiing in cue we took to the air. It was 8:45 PM. Poor cabin crew. How do they do it? I lost track of time, but something like eight hours thirty minutes later, we landed at Seattle-Tacoma. The flight was smooth. The aircraft experience itself was awesome, for I was aboard one of ANA's new Boeing 787 Dreamliner (many parts of which were made in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries).

Ain't she purdy?
Spacious cabin with ceilings lighted to match the time of day; extra large windows made possible by composite fuselage construction with touch control electronic shades; and a cabin altitude of about 5,000 feet instead of the usual 8,000 feet with more filtered air circulation. You get much more oxygen and cleaner air which means you feel less fatigued upon arrival.  All the while, she burns 20% less fuel than other aircraft of her size.

Yes, the plane has had its teething problems, but the final product is outstanding and ANA's low density seating arrangement offers plenty of shoulder and leg room even in economy class.  (Also, the washlet toilet feature in the lav is not lost on those of us living in Japan who have become spoiled by such things.)

The unexpectedly long trip meant that I made it to my hotel with just enough time to get ready for a gathering at my daughter's house.  The yard is backed by a woodland and a curious deer came into the yard, soon escorted back to the woods by my daughter's dog Hoku.


Hoku (Hawaiian for star), was actually in the wedding and stayed in one of the resort's pet friendly cabins!

Two days later I rode with my other daughter, son-in-law and my two granddaughters through snow topped Stevens Pass along the Skykomish, Tye, and Wenatchee Rivers to the town of Leavenworth and up the valley along Icicle Creek to Sleeping Lady Resort where the wedding was to be held.  

The Sleeping Lady rests on the mountain ridge facing the sky.

An organic garden provides food for the resort's restaurant along with selected locally sourced food.  I wanted to roll up my sleeves and plant something.
The wedding and reception took place out of doors, overlooking Icicle Creek.
I went for an early hike the following morning and found two osprey soaring around their eyrie in the canyon.  A little shopping in town with my granddaughters and it was back to Seattle to pack for the return trip.

In a bid to save the town, Leavenworth reinvented itself as a Bavarian style village in the 1960s.  Apparently successful, it is now a major "TT" - (tourist trap) with wall to wall shops, restaurants, beer garten, outdoor band stand, nutcracker museum, and plenty of parking for America's oversized motor vehicles.  ;)
It took a lot to pry me off my Japanese rock, but I was richly rewarded with the family reunion, wedding, meeting new friends and family not to mention the natural beauty of Washington State.

By the way, for a host of reasons, in spite of all the training and passing the written exam,  I never get my instrument flying rating!

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