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New Book: Fifty Classic Destinations for Pilots

December, 2014

Cover (Large)I’ve published a new book (released November, 2014) Fifty Classic Destinations for Pilots.  Epic Adventures, Romance and Outdoor Fun in the Western USA. The book has received great reviews (thank goodness) and is available at  As a West Coast Flying Adventure blog reader you can use coupon code “blog20″ to get 20% off on the price of the book.

– Thanks – Ney

Flying in a Snowy Cocoon

January, 2015

I was flying VFR at 16,500 feet not far above the clouds on my way home from Phoenix. Unfortunately as I approached Death Valley and the mountains surrounding that area the clouds got higher, so I had choice of ducking through a hole and flying under, or getting on an IFR flight plan and using an oxygen mask (I was wearing a cannula) to go higher. Flying in the clouds wasn’t an option as I was planning on crossing the Sierra mountains, a known ice making machine.

The METARs (automated airport weather) for Bishop and Mammoth showed a high ceiling so I went under just as the sun was setting. ATC soon said I was out of radar coverage and dropped me (wouldn’t follow me or talk to me) as I leveled out at 12,500 feet, just 500 feet under a cloud ceiling.

Soon it was dark and I noticed the strobe was picking up some snow. I realized at that point that forward visibility was zero although I could barely pick out the occasional car or house if looking straight down. I was legally VFR, but absolutely 100% on instruments. I would have been scared to death had I been a VFR only pilot. As it was I was only moderately anxious.

The snow became thicker and soon I was enveloped in it. I wasn’t in the clouds and the wings and windshield remained clear of ice. My plan should I enter a cloud, a distinct possibility, would be to descend and if required land at one of the small airports along the way. There are high ridges and mountains around so sneaking around down low in low visibility wasn’t a good idea.

However I was safe in my own little cocoon at 12,500 feet. The wing tip strobes were now brightly lighting up snow and I left them on because I liked the effect. I put WingX synthetic vision up on the iPad (using an iLevil device for attitude) so I had a backup to the attitude instrument in the panel. I also had a VFR chart up on the iPad, and at the same time I had a terrain map up on the Garmin 496 which would alert me to being below terrain.

I turned on my landing lights but like car highbeams in snow, the effect was too transfixing to leave on. I think you could hypnotize yourself staring at that – until perhaps a rock came into view.

The air was smooth, the instruments steady and the red terrain warning from the 14,000 peaks of the Sierra Nevada got closer and closer. I overflew Bishop and turned right towards my favorite airport Lee Vining. It was surprising, however, how darn close to high terrain that airport is as I avoided it to the right and away from the mountains.

Still in snow but south of the highest peaks I finally turned left to cross the Sierras and head towards my home field in Placerville, my GPS telling me to start my descent but my mind telling me not to dare. If I looked straight down I could barely see some eerily flashes of white and dark as snow and mountains flew past.

Soon the snow eased up, the lights of Sacramento valley came into view and I could see my way into a visual descent path. There was even another plane in the pattern which reminded me I was not alone and isolated any longer.

The best part? It was Friday night and I was able to make my weekly romantic rendezvous with Betsy for dinner in Placerville.

Wing tip strobe. I took about 10 photos and finally caught it flashing.

Wing tip strobe. I took about 10 photos and finally caught it flashing.

Maybe seems redundant to have three GPSs.  On this night - nice.

Maybe seems redundant to have three GPSs. On this night – nice.

Snow beam.  Now turn it off.

Snow beam. Now turn it off.

High Sierra Flight with Alpine of the Americas and Peter Croft

December, 2014
Sierra Overflight

Sierra Overflight

It is not often that one flight could so easily accomplish two completely different goals but this one did, and it was a lot of fun putting it together.

The main goal was a volunteer flight with the Alpine of the Americas project flown via LightHawk.  In other words, LightHawk arranged the flight for the AAP project (Photographer Jonathan Byers) and enlisted me as the pilot.  The goal would be to attempt to recreate photos taken on overflights of the high Sierra in the 60s and 70s from small planes to compare the glaciation.  My T210 would be a great platform for this, with plenty of power  to get us up to 16 to 17,000 feet required and a high wing allowing good downward visibility.

I also knew that legendary climber Peter Croft was working on a new version of his classic guidebook, “The Good, The Great and The Awesome“.  The Sierra overflight might allow him a unique perspective on some good photos for the guidebook and he readily accepted the offer to go along.

Early morning is critical for both good photography light and calm air and both Jonathan and Peter were good to go in the morning.  I flew the night before to Lee Vining to camp so I wouldn’t have to fly over the Sierras at night in order to meet at dawn the next day.

Right away climbing out of Lee Vining at around 9,000 feet we looked right across at the classic climb Third Pillar of Mt. Dana  and I was seriously stoked, but then had a start when Peter said innocently from the back seat, “by the way, do you know how to focus this thing?” He had borrowed a camera for the flight and luckily Jonathan was able to get it straightened out.

We then proceeded to set up a shot of Mt. Conness from the air, with Jonathan examining an old photo and guiding me for both altitude and heading.  Mt. Conness also has numerous classic climbs on it (I would go on to climb the North Ridge the very next day) so Peter was busy getting some good shots.

A popular climbing route is to do a “link-up” of two routes – in this case the north ridge of North Peak, then over to the North Ridge of Mt. Conness and I was able to get a good shot of both routes in one photo.  I’ll just have to see what makes it into Peter’s new book in 2015.

We then preceded to fly over the high Sierra, getting shots of glaciers and climbing routes from Mt. Conness all the way down to Mt. Whitney.  A spectacular flight all the way around.

Jonathan, Peter and I. (Photo by Jonathan)

Jonathan, Peter and I. (Photo by Jonathan)

Conness glaciation comparison.  By Jonathan.

Conness glaciation comparison. By Jonathan.

Lyell comparison.  By Jonathan.

Lyell comparison. By Jonathan.




Scuba Diving at Catalina Island

December, 2014

First, I apologize things have slowed down on the adventures because the book has taken my energy.  Now that it is finished and out I can get caught up a bit.

I have to admit this was somewhat of a forced adventure.  I had already written most of the book and deciding on what destinations are included for the “Fifty Classics” became tougher than I thought.  I finally decided I needed less of the canyonlands area and more near southern California where there are so many pilots.

Catalina, it seemed, should be on the list but I hadn’t been there.  At first it seemed like an easy solution.  Go there. My friend and fellow 210 pilot Mark Rudolph and his wife Julie gladly accepted an invitation to go there, but schedules got in the way.

Meanwhile I needed to get preview copies of the book out to Magazine editors so I ended up just leaving out Catalina.  When we finally did the adventure – which was great – I went home, finished that chapter and literally wrapped up the book in two days with time for printing before the November 1st publishing date.

Luckily we all did have a good time. I didn’t drag everyone there for nothing.  It’s a great place to fly to and the diving (being sheltered from the battering waves of the Pacific) is great.

Electric Bike Tour of Avalon

Electric Bike Tour of Avalon

Avalon Dive Park

Avalon Dive Park

Mark in Dive Park

Mark in Dive Park

Next time I want to go here.

Emerald Cove: Next time I want to go here.

Final to "Airport in the Sky"

Final to “Airport in the Sky”

New Book: Fifty Destinations for Pilots – Epic Adventures and Romance

November, 2014

Hey faithful readers,

I wrote a book! Fifty Classic Destinations for Pilots: Epic Adventures, Romance and Outdoor Fun in the Western USA

It is available at

Cover (Large)

So what is in the book?

It is more of a coffee table book than a guidebook. It is large format, 8.5 x 11” in full color with lots of photos. Yes, many photos are already in the blog but there are many new ones.

Many of the adventures are in the blog too, but it was much harder than expected to take the blog content and make a book out it. As a result I think you’ll find it is quite different than the blog in many ways. For one I had four rounds of editing so my spelling is much better and commas are now in the right place.

So far I’ve had great reviews from those that have seen preview copies.  Flying Magazine said, “we don’t do books” but when they saw it they put it in their December gift guide issue and were calling it, “The Ultimate Adventure Guide”.  Unfortunately they cut the 6 page gift guide to 4 pages and my book got cut.  So that was disappointing but I am working on articles with some magazines so I hope to get some publicity from that.

Again, thank you.

Journey to Self-published, “Fifty Classic Destinations for Pilots”

November, 2014

Over the years I had several people say I should write a book about many of the adventures you’ve read about in my blog.  I’ve always thought that the pilot community is pretty small and the adventure community is pretty small and my target would be the intersection of those two groups.  I would sell about 17 books.  However I did get some comments in the blog that pilots were interested in the adventures and Betsy and I have done some “normal” stuff like romantic getaways and trips with friends.

So early this year I decided to write a book, “West Coast Flying Adventures” later retitled to “100 Classic Destinations..” later retitled to “Fifty Classic Destinations…” I decided to have it ready by Christmas if I could which I knew meant a lot of work.

Month 1-4, The main content

I first created the fifty list and decided I really needed more destinations near southern California where so many pilots live, so I took out a few and put in Big Bear, San Diego and Santa Catalina on the list even though I hadn’t done flying adventures there (yet).

I spent evenings writing the text (using some stuff from the blog) but not using any photography at all.  When I finished the first draft I hired a professional editor from and she (an English teacher) corrected a lot of errors. I was an engineering major in college that had to take “bonehead” English courses so I definitely need a little help.

Month 4-5, Design and Layout

It didn’t take long to figure out that books like this are laid out with Adobe InDesign.  Two years ago I bought a nice big desktop computer with lots of RAM, graphics co-processor and two HD monitors in order to make videos and it turns out to be a perfect setup to design and lay out a book.   I have Adobe Create Suite with InDesign so I started InDesign right up and clicked on “New book”.  I couldn’t even get one character to show up on the screen so I bought two books on InDesign (It turns out “New document” will create something – “New book” merely allows you to combine documents into a book).

So I learned InDesign by reading about it at night then the following evening trying out what I had learned.  I went through a few different layouts for the book and finally decided upon the one you see in the book.  I had trouble later with the CMYK colors, transparencies and registration errors but that is far more than you want to know (and more than I wanted to know).

I laid out a rough draft of the book and selected, arranged and sized all the photos although the book was still missing many side stories and some adventures.

Month 5-7, Send out preview copies

I sent my rough layout to Mark Rudolph, a friend and pilot, to edit the book as it relates to pilots and also to my father-in-law Michael who used to edit books.  My informal and simple style (i.e. bad English) drove Michael a little nuts and about halfway through the book he gave up on trying to remove or move commas.  I learned from him what I was doing wrong and was able to edit the book a little more myself.  Betsy also went through the book and did a bunch of editing.

I knew magazines needed a long lead time so I sent my rough draft out to the main aviation magazines, and there I learned how hard this was going to be. EAA Sport Magazine replied and Mac McClellan said they “don’t do books” and , “It continues to astonish me the rate at which aviation titles are published”.  Sorry Mac for bothering you and thank you for the words of encouragement. But he did reply.

Flying Magazine also said they don’t do books.  But when the editor saw the book she told me, “this is exactly what the industry needs, real adventures and real places to go”.  She loved the book and interviewed me on the phone. Soon she said they had selected it for inclusion in the December gift guide and they needed a book ASAP for photography.  I didn’t have one and had to ask someone I had sent the book to to FedX it to Flying Magazine.  Awkward.  Flying was going to call it “The Ultimate Adventure Guide”.  Awesome! Then a month later they told me they had to cut the gift guide from 6 pages to 4 and they cut me out.  Bummer!  Still, I was thrilled the Flying editor liked the book – maybe I had something.

The word is still out on AOPA Magazine.  The editor said, “well, it is certainly more robust than other guides”.  I guess that is something.  I also had written an article for them on the Fry Canyon adventure and they asked for me to cut it down to 1,000 words.  That seemed like a good sign and I quickly edited the article and got it back to them.  Then they stopped returning my emails. So a bit of a black hole there at AOPA.

Plane and Pilot magazine never replied to me.  I emailed and asked for an address of an editor to send it to.  Nothing.  I sent the book anyway and then asked for acknowledgement of receipt. Nothing. Another email.  Nothing.  Maybe they went out of business and I missed that.

I also sent it out to aviation bloggers.  Karlene Petite and Ron Rapp loved the book and were absolutely terrific in offering their support.  There is a general aviation podcast called AirplaneGeeks and I thought, hey, I think I would make an interesting guest on the podcast.  However Max Flight of AirplaneGeeks refused to accept a copy of the book to look at.  Actually refused to even look at it which for a general aviation site was a little bewildering.

Finally I sent it out to a few people so I could get some advance reviews.  Hopefully they didn’t just give me good reviews because they knew me, because so far everyone who has seen the book has really liked it.

Month 8-9, Finish the book

While I was sending out preview copies I was still trying to finish the book.  I was able to get to Big Bear during a business trip to San Diego and we went scuba diving at Catalina so I was able to fill those holes in the book. I had technical difficulties with Amazon’s Createspace print on demand service as they stopped accepting my files, saying the book had become too large and complex (it was a 375MB file that expanded to 750MB).  Whoops – they never tell you there is a limit so I had no idea that could even happen.  For two weeks I optimized photos, flattened layers, and generally wandered around all the InDesign export options but Createspace would reject my files every time (and of course you can’t talk to anyone).  Did I have to start removing content?  I was starting to panic because a book called “Fifty Destinations” with only 47 destinations just wouldn’t work.  Then I hit on the combinations of options for compressing the photos and the file.  They accepted the file and I was back on track.  Whew!

I went back to and hired a proofreader (another English teacher) who did a great job in tying up loose ends in the copy.   Stuff like using UT in one instance and Utah in another. She got rid of a few more commas too. About a thousand of those things must have been deleted in all the editing everyone did.

Month 10

First week in November – launch date.  Kind of.  I didn’t get the traction with the magazines like I wanted.  So it will take some time but I have two magazine articles and I think at least one of them will eventually get published.  In the meantime I know I’ll get some visibility with the Cessna Pilots Association, Backcountry Pilots Association, some blogs and some other smaller markets.

So we’ll see how it goes!

Oh, the book is available at

Markleeville Fall Colors

October, 2014

There are two river hikes from Alpine County airport in Markleeville – a hard hike to the hot springs along the river and a much shorter one.  I’ve done the hot springs hike and it is a very tough cross country five mile hike.  But I had never done the more straightforward hike down to the river.

It is far easier than I thought.  I had heard there was a “fishermen’s trail” to the river which I equated to something like a game trail but there is a nice trail with a parking area and sign-in log for fishermen who use the trail.  To get to the trail, head south out off the pilot’s campground and down a four-wheel drive road to the parking area.  There I met some fishermen getting ready for the hike in and they asked if I came in the red jeep, the only other vehicle in the area.  I said no, I came in a tan Cessna and they thought that was hilarious, which was nice because I wasn’t even trying to be funny.  They asked if I could do a beer drop for them later in the day.  The trail starts at the parking area and ends at a campsite with fire pit at the river.  It can’t be more than a mile and a half total, maybe less.

The fall colors were nice, a few fishermen were out and a group of friendly pilots where camping at the airport.  A nice day out.

East Fork Carson River

East Fork Carson River

A leaf

A leaf

Red goes to the river, yellow to the hot springs (bring a GPS, its a long way)

Red goes to the river (easy), yellow to the hot springs (bring a GPS, its a long way)



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