Section I: Equipment and Environment

Part V, Chapter 14: Thumb on Map (Silk Scarf)

Well, you've got to start somewhere, and with navigation the somewhere is thumb on map. In order to appreciate how I learned my lessons, a little personal history is necessary.

As a kid, three things fascinated me: music (mostly Baroque and chamber), books, and airplanes. Unfortunately, they did not fascinate my parents, and so the classic struggle was born. The upshot was that I got an after-school job in a gas station, saved my money for a couple of years (although I was only fourteen I already had the capability to form long-range plans and put them into action), and near the end of my sixteenth year I ran away from home to San Diego where I rented a room and started flying lessons.

I was quickly tracked down, like any incompetent criminal, but not before I was just about ready to solo. My father, filled with trepidation, came down from Los Angeles to witness the great event. After I managed to drag the 65 hp "Airknocker" around the patch a few times and got my shirttail cut off, we struck a bargain. I would be permitted to remain in San Diego and get my private pilot's license if afterward I would return home and go back to school. My father was a good guy and doing his frustrated best to control his unruly son (small airplanes terrified him, as they do, to this day, everybody in my family), so I agreed and went on to get my license.

After I got my license, I returned to Los Angeles, but I did not forget about flying as my family for some reason had expected. When they found out that I had traded my car for an old PT-19 that I was fixing up and planning to fly, the you-know-what hit the fan.

I soon realized that flying wasn't going to work out, not with all the opposition I was getting; and I realized as well that the stress I was under was a definite hazard to safety. So, I struck another bargain: I promised to give up flying if the opposition to my studying music would cease. And so I took the low road, capitulated to superior force, and drowned my sorrows in Bach and Corelli.

Eventually I flew the coop, got married, and for a number of years toured Africa, the Middle East, and India as an itinerant cellist, making a very marginal but interesting living. Along the way, my wife gave birth to two children, one in Germany and the other in Ceylon.

Finally, after many strange adventures, and even stranger lands, we ended up in Alaska with a tent for a home, and I started looking around for some way to make a living. It was obvious that Alaska did not hold musicians in high esteem.

Well, the answer was not very difficult to find, not for a guy with my mindset. It was written, you might say, in the sky.

So, in my 29th year, I packed my family into an International Scout 4x4 I had managed to purchase and went looking for a Super Cub I could afford. In Red Bluff, California, I finally found what I wanted, an old ratty 125 hp Cub that I could have in trade for my car and $2,000 (life sometimes seems to work in cycles). The guy who owned it spent a couple of days checking me out in it -- I had not touched the controls of a small airplane for 12 years -- and it came to pass that on a cold January day I loaded my trusting family, kids and all, into the Super Cub (with survival gear piled all around them), and headed north.

Ah, youth... Looking back, I shudder contemplating what I did. On the trip back to Alaska, and for the first two years I owned that airplane, my rabbit's foot got so overworked that I wore it out. Today, there is hardly a hair left on it. But in the process I sure learned a lot.

* * *

Pilotage is primarily the art of navigating by landmarks. These landmarks can be roads, valleys, rivers, lakes, glaciers, mountains, anything that provides real-time data as to where you are. When using a chart, the usual method is to pick out the landmarks you will be using, along with compass headings and estimated time from one point to the next, and go for it. Pilotage got me safely to Alaska that first year, and to this day I use it when circumstances dictate. Let's take a look at the various landmarks and see how you will be using them in Northern Canada and Alaska.

The rest of it is just getting to know your basic area of operations well, as well as you know your cabin or airplane. (See Chapter 24 for an example of this type of navigation during difficult weather.)

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