Day 7 – Santa Fe to Fruita, Colorado

I’ve made it to the furthest west point of my journey, and will be spending the next week or so with Jerry and Barbara Friedman here in Fruita, Colorado.

Today’s weather was nearly perfect for the last leg of my outbound trip. Santa Fe had clear, cloudless skies and nearly no wind when I arrived before eight this morning.
KSAF_3969

I dropped off the rental car, preflighted 493, and started the engine. Got the ATIS information, set the radios, gave it some throttle.  The airplane refused to move. Shut down the engine and checked the tail – no, I’d untied the rope back there – checked the tires – chocks sitting next to the left wheel where I’d kicked them, no chocks on the right wheel – parking brake not set. Restarted the engine, gave it some throttle – still no motion. Shut down the engine. Got out and looked at the airplane. Dope slap. Kick chocks out from nose wheel (note to self – airplanes have three wheels, got to check all of them). Restarted engine and after the usual stuff (runup, etc.) taxied out to Runway 33 for takeoff.

The direct route northward from Santa Fe is blocked by higher terrain, so I headed west to clear the ridge before turning northwestward. CABZO intersection provided a convenient waypoint. The countryside is basically desert, with ridges and dry riverbeds to add a bit of interest.
SantaFe-westbound_3994

After a while we passed south of the ridgeline, and turned northwest toward Rattlesnake VOR (RSK). The ridge continued higher and parallel to our course to the east. The local communications companies were taking full advantage of the heights…
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Between CABZO and RSK the desert is pretty flat, but occasionally mesas poke up above the desert floor.
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From Rattlesnake VOR the direct course would have been to the Cortez VOR (CEZ), but that would have taken us directly over the Mesa Verde National Park. I decided to divert east a bit to the MANCA intersection (near Mancos, CO) to avoid the park. The FAA requests pilots to stay at least 2,000 AGL over national parks and the like, but it’s probably better to avoid them entirely if it’s not too much out of the way.  Even from the edges of Mesa Verde you can see why the Anasazi found the canyons such a good place to build their secluded and defensible cliff dwellings.
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The next waypoint was Dove Creek VOR (DVC), and from there you can see the mountains you’ll have to climb over and/or go around on the way to Mack Mesa (C07), our destination.

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I started to climb to 10,200 feet and headed northeastward toward Gateway (9CO3). That altitude would get me over the high plateau (though still well below the peaks). It also kept me in contact with Denver Center – unlike my last trip, this time my higher altitude (I was at 9,700 feet most of the way from RSK) and more easterly path (last time I went westerly through Canyonlands) meant that I had advisories nearly the whole way. It was only after I approached Gateway that I finally dropped off the radar, and by then I was only 40 miles out from Mack.

Gateway sits in a valley surrounded by very steep cliffs, which are really spectacular from the air.
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Once I was over the valley, I could follow it northwest for 20 miles to the Colorado River, and then I just needed to follow the river to Mack. So, here it is – the River of the Day – the mighty Colorado on the Utah border.
ColoradoRiver_4086

From this point, Mack is 25 miles northeast. Fifteen minutes later, I was landing on Runway 25 at Mack, and Jerry was waiting outside his new hangar. The 172 was pushed into the hangar – it fit, barely, with about a foot’s clearance from each wingtip – and my flying was over for the next week.
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The trip out went very well, and I’m looking forward to heading back next Monday or thereabouts. Watch this space for the news as Jerry and I head back…

Update: I added up the various legs of the trip, and the journey out took about 27 hours for 2500 miles. For reference, the great circle route from Ithaca to Fruita is about 1500 miles, so I added about 1,000 miles by choosing the southern route through Dallas (and, of course, going from Denver to Fruita by way of Santa Fe).

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Day 6: Denver to Santa Fe

Today’s flying went according to plan, believe it or not.

It was around 10AM when I took off, a bit later than I’d like, but not because of weather, for a change.  The weather in Denver was clear and sunny, and I was in the air soon after starting up. The route I chose to Santa Fe went almost due south across the plains, keeping the Rockies on my right.

Assuming you weren’t interested in the fixer-upper I found in North Texas a few days ago, how about this for the perfect development for a pilot? It’s either Kelly Air Park or Black Forest Air Park in Elbert, CO (Google Earth had both names on it). Pull your airplane from the garage at your house, and you’re on the taxiway…
FlyIn_3941

I did plan the flight to stay east of the Colorado Springs area, as the chart asks pilots to stay well east of the Air Force Academy because of the intensive flight training. There were a couple of well-placed intersections (REEFF and ZENER) which led the path around the class C. That’s the Springs and the Rockies off 493’s right wing:
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I feel almost obligated to show a river along the way, to keep up the River of the Day theme, so here it is – at Avondale, CO, at least there’s water in the Arkansas River:
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As I went further south, the mountains began to rise in front of us.
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Finally, as we neared the New Mexico line, the ground began to rise steeply over the plains, as US Route 160 runs along the base of the hills.
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I’d been cruising at 8,500 feet, about 2,500-3,000 above ground level (AGL), but it was time to climb. Eventually I wound up at 9,800 feet to clear the highest hills. The wind picked up as the day got warmer, and the roller-coaster ride started again. At some points we bounced up to 10,200 feet and I had to reduce power to keep from running over redline on the tachometer, and at other times it was all we could do to hold altitude at 80MPH. I’m getting used to it, but tomorrow I plan to get out as early as I can to avoid the whole thing (I hope).

We were just over the New Mexico border when I saw this on the horizon – disc shaped… just hovering there… (insert creepy music here)…
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Just kidding. It’s a lenticular cloud. You don’t see them very often here, but they’re formed at high altitude by stationary mountain waves.

After about two and a half hours we reached Las Vegas, and it was time to turn west to hook around the south end of the mountains and head up to Santa Fe. This is the Las Vegas Airport – easy to see why what happens there stays there, as there really isn’t anything around…
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Actually, that’s a different Las Vegas – the one in New Mexico (KLVS). No casinos, just lots of desert.

As we headed west, I got a traffic report which was a first for me – “Cessna 493, traffic at 12 o’clock, two miles, a Boeing B-17”. We were bouncing around too much to take a really good picture, but it was really neat to see the huge  bomber pass about 500′ above and 1/4 mile away.
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By the time we arrived at Santa Fe (KSAF) the winds had picked up again – when we landed on Runway 20 they were 230 at 17 gusting 24 – but that was close enough to the runway heading that I wasn’t particularly concerned. I just added a few miles per hour to the approach and used less flaps than normal, and it was a pretty good landing if I do say so myself. A short taxi later, 493 was tied down at the FBO and I was heading into Santa Fe for the day. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture at the time, so I’ll just show where I landed for the night instead:
LasPalomas_3968

Tomorrow, early (I hope), it’s off to Mack Mesa (C07).

Day 5 – Dallas to Denver

Today kept up the theme for this trip – last minute rerouting due to weather, followed by sitting around the airport waiting for the clouds to lift.

The weather maps today showed rain and thunderstorms through northern Texas and eastern Oklahoma, right along my original route (of course). It didn’t look too bad further west, though, so I moved my planned mid-trip stop from Guymon OK (KGUY) to Pampa TX (KPPA), then more or less straight northwest to La Junta CO (KLHX). At that point I’d go north to Hugo VOR (HGO) to rejoin my original route to Centennial Airport (KAPA).

It took until about 9:30AM for Dallas Executive to turn off the beacon and declare the day VFR. I watched the beacon wind down to a stop and ran to 493 to get in the air. Thanks to David St.George’s suggestion, I ditched the routing around the various Dallas airports’ class D areas, and just asked Approach if I could head straight west to the Millsap (MQP) VOR. They said it was fine, and so I did. This took me right past four or five airports, all along the southern edge of tabletop-flat Dallas. This is Ft.Worth NAS/Carswell (KNFW):
KNFW-Carswell_3699

As I neared MQP the clouds broke up, and I climbed up to 4,500 feet. Ft. Worth Center asked me to relay to Mineral Wells Unicom, to see if an aircraft on an IFR flight plan had landed there – a first for me. It was just taxiing past the FBO as I called, so mission accomplished.

At MQP I turned northwest onto course. The weather held for quite a while, but as I passed Hollis TX (O35) the deck started to descend as the ground rose. Finally, but reluctantly, I found a break in the deck and climbed up to 6,500 feet, VFR on top. Normally I don’t like to do that – the photography’s not very good, and I’m always worried that I’ll get stuck up there. Still, the forecast was for clear skies in Colorado, if nothing else, and I had a good four hours gas in the wings, so I decided to risk it. Sure enough, just as I went over KPPA the clouds broke (*whew*). Even better, I picked up a big tailwind – 136 knots is nothing to sneeze at – so I decided to let Pampa go and schedule a fuel stop at La Junta instead.

The clearing weather revealed a flat, parched landscape, with widely scattered houses and barns. If you’re looking for a nice fixer-upper, secluded, no nosy neighbors – this is the place for you.
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Since I’ve started a “river of the day” theme, the rivers in North Texas… basically aren’t…
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I crossed over my waypoint at  Boise City OK (17K), and dialed La Junta (KLHX) into the Garmin 430 for the next leg. Nothing. The updated database turned out not to go past Oklahoma. Oops. I had a few blank moments – it’s not like I can’t navigate without the 430, but you get used to things… Then I looked down at the iPad on its yoke mount… little airplane right on top of nice blue line across aero chart… Oh. Right. Onward to La Junta!

If you ever wondered where your hamburger comes from, by the way, I’d bet some of it comes from here. That’s a lot of cows in one feedlot…
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I tuned in the La Junta ASOS (automatic weather station) about thirty miles out. Wind 180 degrees at 8, gusting 12. No sweat. The runway choice was 12 or 26, not bad either way. About ten miles out, 200 at 11 gusting 21. Not so good, but handlable, and by the time I was lining up to enter a downwind  ASOS was reporting 230 degrees at 17 gusting 24. Higher, but more aligned with the runway, so OK. I flew the pattern, entered final, and BOY did I need a crab angle to keep lined up with the runway. I must really be rusty to be that thrown off by a 30 degree crosswind. The landing was… well… bad. Not “any landing you can walk away from” bad, but enough to really rattle me. I turned on the ASOS as I turned onto the taxiway – “wind 180 degrees at 23 gusting 32”. Gulp.

The guy at the FBO was very friendly, and we talked about life in La Junta. As he put it, “the winds around here never know what they’re doing from minute to minute.” No kidding. He also said it was probably time to expect an afternoon thunderstorm.  Thanks – time to go… Sure enough, that looks like an anvil building in the distance.
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The temperature by this time was 34C (93 degrees F), and the ASOS was reporting 180 degrees, 21 gusting 29, and 7700 foot density altitude. I am glad I only filled one wing when I got fuel, because that takeoff was… interesting.  Poor old 46493 just didn’t want to climb, even though I leaned out before takeoff as much as I could. With the airport and the surrounding countryside as flat as a billiard table, at least I could drift off center and climb slowly without worrying about obstacles, but it was an eye-opener.  There was just no climb at all at Vy, and not a lot at about halfway between Vy and Vx – the best performance was around 80mph airspeed, and I watched the oil temperature climb almost as fast as we did. We struggled up to altitude, finally, and I was able to get the nose down and build up some speed to get cooling.

Then, all of a sudden, the VSI pegged upward – we were climbing at 1500 feet per minute. I pushed the nose over, and we sped up to 120mph. Then we hit the matching downdraft, and had to slow to 80mph just to maintain altitude. And over, and over, all the rest of the trip, which fortunately was only 110 miles, or I’d have roller-coaster sickness or something.

Finally, the Rocky Mountains appeared in the distance, and Denver Center cleared me to contact Centennial Tower.
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Not long afterward we landed on Runway 28 at Centennial (“wind 270 at 11 gusting 17” – piece of cake!), and the day was over.
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My next flight will be on Monday morning, to Santa Fe – watch this space!

Day 4 – Vicksburg to Dallas, Texas

So what happened to the nice weather? At sunset yesterday it was beautiful, and I’d planned to leave Vicksburg around 7AM. It was not to happen.

When I woke up the sky was clear and it looked good in Vicksburg – but at Tallulah-Vicksburg Regional Airport, which is actually in Louisiana ten miles west of Vicksburg, it was 1/4 mile in fog, with 300 foot ceiling. Not good. Worse, when I checked the weather along my route to Dallas, every airport was reporting IFR with low ceilings. Even when the weather at TVR started to lift, it was still IFR enroute.
KTVR_3644

I sat around the airport for three hours, until at 10:00AM I started to see MVFR and VFR reports south of my intended flight path. Replan again, to change waypoints to a more southerly route over Natchitoches Louisiana (KIER) and Nacogdoches, Texas (KOCH) – not only clearer, but a theme in names… From KOCH to Cedar Creek VOR (CQY) and finally Dallas Executive (KRBD). With the sun breaking through, finally, I took off from Vicksburg and climbed to 1,500 feet. The clouds were broken, with blue sky showing through, but that altitude kept us under the bases and comfortably above the earth (other than the 2,064′ tall tower I passed – they sure seem to like them tall down here!).
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Keeping to the “river valleys” theme I seem to have started, here in Louisiana, they’re hardly valleys at all, as the rivers meander across the wet countryside.
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My decision to go south proved the right one, as the controllers continued to report 200-400 foot ceilings at the airports I’d originally planned to pass by. I wasn’t all that much further south – 15 to 20 miles, maybe – but it was enough.

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As we went further west the overcast became a bit thicker, although somewhat higher. Unfortunately, it also became increasingly hazy. Visibility varied up and down – never IFR, but definitely not very pleasant flying (or good for photography). I crossed the border into Texas and lost radar coverage for a while, until Ft. Worth Approach picked me up about 60 miles from KRBD, which was reporting 3,500 scattered and 6 miles in haze. Half an hour later I was on the ground. The FBO, Ambassador Jet, had my rental car waiting on the ramp, and couldn’t have been more welcoming or efficient.

I was at the Boy Scout National HQ in twenty minutes, and after I met my contact there in person (I’ve worked with her for a number of years on several revisions of the Radio Merit Badge pamphlet), I got a personal guided tour of the National Scouting Museum and a grab bag of goodies to boot.

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I had dinner with a ham radio friend I’d worked with at the 1981-2005 National Scout Jamborees, and it was a Good Day after all. Tomorrow, off to Denver… I hope. Pray for good weather…

Day 3 – Vicksburg, Mississippi

We had a really severe storm blow through Vicksburg around midnight last night, high winds, rain and lightning. I went out to the airport this morning and, thankfully, 493 seems to have weathered the storm just fine, other than a little water blown in (note to self – close the air vents when parking).  While I was there, I got a personal guided tour of the air museum – it’s a personally owned collection of airplanes ranging from a P51 (which was off flying, unfortunately) to a Husky on floats, along with rooms of memorabilia from local WWII pilots.
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The guy who took me around loaned me a bucket of water and some windshield polish at the end of my tour, and I soaked off the million bugs who had committed suicide on 493’s windshield yesterday.

Then I went over to Vicksburg National Battlefield, took a ranger walk around the Railroad Redoubt and drove the tour route. The only surviving river gunboat, the Cairo, is there, preserved under a huge tent. It sunk by hitting a mine in 1862, and was raised in 1963.
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The day ended with a perfect sunset over the Mississippi River Bridge – now to bed, for an early start to Dallas tomorrow morning.
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Day 2 – Gatlinburg to Vicksburg

Yes, that’s right. I’m in Vicksburg, Mississippi. So much for advanced planning.

When I got up this morning, the map showed heavy rain and thunderstorms across Tennessee and Arkansas, right where I’d planned to fly today. Back to the old drawing board, or rather back to the iPad and Garmin Pilot.  Looking at the various prognosis maps on the ADDS site it looked like the storms were due to a cold front stretching southwest to northeast right across the region, and it was moving eastward. By heading southwest parallel to the front, I could get as far west as I’d planned to go, but down through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi instead of Tennessee and Arkansas. I’d considered going as far as Shreveport, LA, but it looked like the weather was going to get there before I would, so Vicksburg, Mississippi, seemed more reasonable.

The weather in Gatlinburg was actually very nice this morning, the rain being more toward the middle of the state. It was hazy, but the Smoky Mountains were beautiful as I left Gatlinburg and headed southwest.
Smokies_3311

The river valleys were much less steep and forbidding than the ones in West Virginia. As I skirted the northern edge of the mountains, though, a layer of scattered clouds started to accumulate below me.
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I stayed above the clouds, and climbed up to about 4,500 feet, where the air was much cooler and smoother. Unfortunately, it was also windier – in the wrong direction. Reluctantly, I dropped back down to 2,500 feet, where it was hot, hazy, and a little bumpy – but I picked up 15 knots of ground speed. A worthwhile tradeoff.

And so we went onward into Georgia – where the red clay makes the dirt roads stand out oddly against the green.
GA_3329

As we passed on into Alabama the cloud deck became thicker and lower, and I dropped down to 2,000 feet to stay under the crud. There were a few times where I wondered if I should consider setting down at one of my waypoint airports, but it was never quite ugly enough, so I pressed onward, to be rewarded by higher ceilings and better visibility as we entered Mississippi. The Columbus MOA was “hot”, but the controller had no problem handling an extra Cessna amongst the jets practicing approaches to the Air Force training base. Of course, they were on UHF, so I couldn’t hear them, but the controller was simulcasting and I could follow the action on the normal civilian VHF frequency. At one point the controller warned me about a tower about six miles off – as well he might. It isn’t often you see a tower 1,800 feet tall, reaching up above my 2,500 altitude by a fair bit.
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About an hour later we reached the western border of Mississippi. The lowlands along the many tributaries of the Mississippi River are all flooded, despite all the levees everywhere. It looked bad to me, but I guess it’s just an annual occurrence to the folks along the Big Muddy.
flooding_3348

Finally, four and a half hours after leaving Gatlinburg, we were in sight of the Mississippi herself – stretching as far as the eye could see in both directions, with towboats moving heavy loads of barges both ways. Right across the river was Tallulah-Vicksburg Regional Airport (KVTR).
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I followed a cropduster on short final, and we were on the ground.
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The line guy at the FBO was really great. He gave me a run-down on the airport (they have a museum specializing in WWII warbirds I’m certainly going to visit tomorrow), fueled up 493, recommended a hotel, and was willing to hand me the keys to their courtesy car for the day. I decided to rent a car, since I’m going to be staying two nights to wait for the weather to pass through, but I really appreciate the offer. That’s the kind of FBO you hope for.

Tomorrow, I’m going to be relaxing and visiting the Civil War battlefield and the air museum, among other things. If the weather cooperates, I’ll be back in the air Thursday morning early.

Day 1 – Ithaca to Gatlinburg, Tennessee

I’m writing this in beautiful downtown Sevierville, Tennessee, home of Dolly Parton, just a few miles from the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Aiport, the end of today’s travel.

Today’s trip didn’t go entirely according to plan – it seems like no plan for a long-distance trip ever goes just as I expected. To start with, my 8:00AM departure became 10:00AM, because of low ceilings (they were below my house, and I decided it didn’t make any sense to even go to the airport until I could see down my own road). When I checked the weather early in the morning it was MVFR in Ithaca and Elmira, and a mix of MVFR and IFR most of the way to Morgantown, where I’d planned to stop for lunch. The culprit was an occluded front running from south of Buffalo southeast down to the coast. So, instead of going south through Elmira and central PA, I went west to Dannsville (DSV) and Jamestown (JHC), then turned south to Clarion (CIP) and finally Morgantown (KMGW).

When I finally got off, the sky was clear, with a widely scattered deck around 2500 feet.
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Turning south at Jamestown put our path quite far west – at one point I was under the Pittsburgh Class B, and the evidence of the area’s industrial past was everywhere.
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About three hours ten minutes into the flight, I was on final for KMGW – Morgantown, West Virginia.
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Morgantown is a very friendly airport, with the FBO right in the terminal, along with, of all things, a Middle Eastern restaurant. While 493 was being topped off, and I was enjoying a Gyros pita, I checked the weather – to find a line of strong thunderstorms along my route, stretching from south of Morgantown through Virginia and the Carolinas. It was moving fairly quickly, though, so I replanned the flight to go westerly to Charlestown VOR, then south, figuring that the storms would have passed through by the time I got there.

And so they had, but they’d left behind a lot of clouds in what one can only call a flock – not a deck, really, but a layer of small, puffy clouds, running from about 2000 to 4000 feet.
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The flock got thicker and thinner, but basically for the next three hours I was doing the cloud slalom, over, under and around clouds as I passed deeper into West Virginia. This is really rugged country, with deep gorges and rivers in every valley.
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Every so often, though, you’d see them dismantling the mountains. The shovels seemed perfectly ordinary – until you realized that the tiny specks next to them are trucks.
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Finally, I crossed the Tennessee border and the sun began to shine. You can tell you’re crossing the border – there’s a huge mountain line to keep the states apart…
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About three-quarters of an hour later we were at Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge (KGKT), and tied down, six hours and fifteen minutes total flying for the day.
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We’ll see what happens tomorrow – I’d planned Fayetteville, Arkasas, as the next stop and then on to Dallas, but I think I’m going to have to insert a day in there somewhere. The weather’s supposed to be OK here, but Fayetteville and Dallas are questionable. I’ll probably go as far as I can, and stop overnight somewhere to wait out the weather. Watch this space…