Saturday, September 20, 2008

Louisiana to Lassen

It was a little strange at the end of my last work hitch. We pilots had been sitting around for the day, our customers having been notified that we wouldn't be flying unless a life-or-death emergency came about. We weren't even required to show up at the flight line, but I got bored at the hotel room and went in anyway.

Before calling it a day, I went up to the advisory tower and took this shot of our helicopters sitting idle. The weather at the base was okay, but offshore, the wind was howling with the advance of Hurricane Ike, and seas were running more than twenty feet.

It was, er, interesting driving from Morgan City to New Orleans the next morning. Advance bands of rain and wind had moved ashore from Ike over the night, and I half expected to come upon a jackknifed big rig on Highway 90. I worried that my flight would be delayed, but the band of weather moved north before takeoff time, and the United flight got off the ground right on time.

I flew into Sacramento because it was much cheaper than flying into Redding. The drag about flying into Sacramento is the two-and-a-half hour drive to home from there. Once I got on Interstate 5 northbound, I called Rhonda on her cel phone to check up. She and Dylan were on the road to Lassen National Park for a campout sponsored by Dylan's school.

The plan was, once I'd arrived home, to change clothes, pack a bag, and head off to meet Rhonda and Dylan that night. Mind you, I'd been up since two in the morning California time. "Are you sure you shouldn't get a good night's sleep and join us tomorrow?" Rhonda asked. I told her that I was sure I could make it after stopping by the house for more clothes.

When I got home, though, I realized that I was exhausted. The nervous energy that had carried me through the hurricane evacuations and the commute home seemed to flow out of me once I walked through the door. I thought about driving on a mountain road at night, with too little sleep. I called Rhonda on her cel phone, but she had no coverage. Damn. I really didn't want Rhonda and Dylan to worry about me. I thought about dosing with a big-time hit of caffeine, and driving the hour-plus to Lassen anyway, but I decided that I'd rather Rhonda and Dylan worry about the possibility of me getting into an accident than learning the next morning that it had actually happened.

Just as I was ready for bed, Rhonda called. Sure enough, she had no cel phone coverage, so she'd driven to a campground store and used a pay phone. We chatted for a few minutes, and she mentioned a few extra camping items I could bring along. It was wonderful to hear her voice, and to know that she and Dylan could rest easy.

Usually, it takes me ten or fifteen minutes, at least, to fall asleep. That night, I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

I drove to Lassen the next day to reunite with my family at the campsite near Manzanita Lake.

Manzanita Lake and Mt. Lassen

I'd been away for three weeks, and Dylan hugged me around the neck so hard that I couldn't breathe. The little dude is sure getting strong. With a hug and a kiss from Rhonda next, I felt at home. Home is with my wife and son, whether it's at our own house, a motel room, or a campsite.

We camped next to Uncle E, his wife Sharyn, and their two daughters. Uncle E and and Sharyn are great folks to hang out with, and their kids are so doggone cute that it hurts to look at them.

Later on, Sharyn, Rhonda, and the kids went on a nature hike around Manzanita Lake. Uncle E and I considered going along, but we knew the kids wouldn't miss us much as long as they were together. Besides, we figured that the manly thing to do would be to hang around the campsites to protect them against dangerous predators. While the families were away, we felt the need to bolster our courage in the face of such a grave mission. Some Mexican beer seemed just the ticket. We maybe, just maybe, got a little too involved in conversation, as we discovered later that a Steller's Jay had made off with about half of a bag of peanuts in the shell. But hey, along with talking about music, politics, and religion, we solved about half of the world's problems. It should also be noted that our mission was by no means a complete failure: a golden-mantled ground squirrel tried to stare Uncle E down, but Uncle E steadfastly drove the potential offender away with his icy glare.

Don't mess with Uncle E when he's had a couple of Mexican beers. That said, Uncle E should use caution if he goes back to Lassen anytime soon. Word in the woods is that the golden-mantled ground squirrels have a bounty on him.

He'd better show up with an extra-large bag of peanuts.


Pam said...

I swear, Hal, your blog entries are sheer gold.

This one shone brightly!

Kelly said...

Beautiful scenery!! Glad you finally got to relax!

quid said...

How beautiful! And calming...just what the doctor ordered, Hal.


Anonymous said...

That photo of Manzanita Lake is simply quite stunning. Thanks for stopping by, and I really enjoyed reading you today. I will be back for sure.

Debby said...

Now this Manznita Lake looks like it is the place to relax. I'm glad you all had that break.

Mary Paddock said...

What a gorgeous place to camp!

Redlefty said...

Nice reunion!

Bob Barbanes said...

You know, I quite like Florida for many reasons. But even I have to admit that it is...well, flat. I sometimes miss hills...even those dinky things we called "mountains" in New York State. Lassen National Park looks beautiful. And if I ever do get that VW Camper bus of mine up and running it'll be on the destination list.

Great story, as usual.


bryan D said...

Greetings HAL,I enjoy this blog very much..Wow!! It seems Im the only male who posted a comment here!! Hope thats ok!! You do attract the women!! Im in scottsdale,AZ......and have a few questions about what you do and PHI.Wish I could have duplicated your carrer choice but money wise that would have been very difficult.I did obtain a "PRIVATE HELICOPTER" in 1992...still paying it off!!...and of course that was in a piston! Currently driving a tanker for BP-ARCO in PHOENIX,AZ last 17 years...I have many questions but will only ask this one for now,dont want to seem to be rambling here!! On the average,how many PHI pilots fly all types?? from light,medium and heavys?? is this common??? and has the "UNION" been beneficial to the pilots?? thanks for now have many more questions for you...will see you for now....bryand

Bob Barbanes said...

:::::Looking at Redlefty/Michael:::: What are we, chopped liver?

Hal Johnson said...

Hey Bryand: "It seems Im the only male who posted a comment here!! Hope thats ok!!"
Sorry Bryand, but it is definitely NOT okay. You'll soon be apprehended by my private security force, and you'll spend the rest of your days in a sort of Club Med with barbed wire. Hope you like rum.

"You do attract the women!!"
Bryand, that's because women simply find tall, slightly overweight guys with disappearing gray hair hard to resist.

Im in scottsdale,AZ......and have a few questions about what you do and PHI.Wish I could have duplicated your carrer choice but money wise that would have been very difficult."I did obtain a "PRIVATE HELICOPTER" in 1992...still paying it off!!...and of course that was in a piston!"

I guess I'm showing my old school ways here, but to my mind, learning in a piston makes a better helicopter pilot. Really, the most challenging thing about flying a turbine is not torching it during the start.

"On the average,how many PHI pilots fly all types?? from light,medium and heavys?? is this common???"

Most or all of the heavy guys, flying the S-92's, also are current in the medium S-76's. I'm not aware of any heavy captains that are also current in light ships. A fair number of Second in Command medium guys are current in light ships, but few medium captains are.

". . .has the "UNION" been beneficial to the pilots??"

Oh yeah. (Thanks Bob.)

Hal Johnson said...

Bryan, feel free to email me at if you have any more questions.

Bob said...

Count me in as one of your male blog readers too!

Sounds like a great reunion with the family and you are so right -- home is wherever they are. (The Mexican beer is an added bonus . . . ) Great post, Hal. Great photos too.

Uncle E said...

Those weren’t PEAnuts that ground squirrel was eyeing Hal, of that I’m certain!
The ornery, bitter, Canadian half of me wanted to pelt that dang rodent with a Teqate cap, but thank goodness the sensible American half talked me out of it. The ensuing swarm of his loyal brethren would have been sheer madness, no? They are Legion you know.
Boy did I have a great time with you guys. And talk about cute! I’m surprised you didn’t talk about Amanda falling into the lake (as she’s wont to do) and your chivalrous son offering my shivering little princess his shirt. What an absolute gentleman.
Your company wasn’t too bad either, buddy. We need to do more. Soon. Just got back from a corporate conference in Tennessee and I’ve a need for some more Mexican suds.

quid said...

Editorial comment Hal... women overlook that tall, pilot thing and go right for the big grey mustache.


Hal Johnson said...

Ha! Quid, I'll bet gray hair coloring will soon be flying off the shelves.

Annie said...

Beautiful. I'm horrified to admit that I've never been to Manzanita Lake. Never taken my kids to Lassen. It's the only direction we never go! I think it's time....thanks for the incentive!