Barn Raising

As I mentioned a few days ago I’ve been helping get my father in law’s house wheelchair ready so he can can come home from the rehab facility. When she who must be obeyed asked if I’d like to up to Northern Michigan, the upper peninsula to be exact (Yes, that makes my wife a yooper) to help on this project I assumed it would be a two or three day trip. Four at the outside. One week later I’m still here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, much.  Building things with your hands can be fun and rewarding. It’s pretty satisfying finishing a job, stepping back and saying “I did that” It’s also been fun working with my wife’s family (also a bunch of Finnish Yoopers). It’s been sort of like a Amish barn raising where the men do all the work and the women make the food and clean up the construction mess after. Except that instead of cooking and cleaning they went shopping for cute things to put in the new bathroom and found lots of other projects for us men to do that had nothing to do with the original mission.

The other big difference between the Yoopers and the Amish is that at he end of the day instead of having dinner  and bible study by candlelight, us men, us manly men, head to the sauna for beers and smart talk. The Yoopers are serious about their saunas. I learned that when Cathy invited me up to the Great White North to meet her parents for the first time. It was a normal kind of “meet the parents” weekend. It started out with a pre-dawn country breakfast followed by a long walk deep into the woods with Cathy’s father, brother, and uncle, all of them carrying guns. Hmmm. OK, to be fair, I was armed too because we were deer hunting but it’s still unnerving to have the father of the girl you’re sleeping with walking behind you with a loaded rifle. Accidents happen, you know? But no one died that day, including deer, and afterwards I was invited to join the guys for an evening sauna. I grabbed my swim suit and walked into the dressing room where the guys were undressing. It was then that I noticed that I was the only one who’d brought anything to wear in the sauna. Great. But immediately felt better when one of the naked men handed me two beers for to help with the bonding. Yep, guns, beer, and sweaty naked guys, a perfect way to get to know your future father in law.

You Are Here

Ok then, so poor Chuck is still lost at sea after, what is it? 6 weeks? I really should finish this up and rescue the guy. Maybe next month. Anyway, so Charlie figured out some way to mount the PLB on the outside of the raft giving it a clear view of the sky but until the Love Boat shows up to give him a ride he has no way of knowing if it’s working. What’s next? Why, grab your hand held aviation radio and call someone who cares of course. I won’t go into the whole operating a small electronic device encased in two or three Ziploc bags while wearing oven mitts, (survival suit) thing again. So let’s assume that he got it turned on and had the foresight to have it pre-tuned to 121.5, the emergency channel that every pilot is supposed to monitor while flying over the ocean known as guard.

“MAYDAY MAYDAY! Anyone on guard, this is November 6384 Alpha MAYDAY MAYDAY!”

“84 Alpha this is United 123 on guard, can I be of assistance?”

It worked! Your heart leaps with joy at the sound of another human voice. It’s been a lonely and scary ten minutes in the raft but now that you’ve made contact with someone from the outside world you know your chances of getting out of this mess have increased dramatically.

“Thank God, United! This is November 6384 Alpha, I lost my engine and was forced to ditch.” (At this point is it really appropriate to identify yourself by your plane’s N number? I mean the plane itself is sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic. You’re really the captain of a boat at this point.

“Roger 84 Alpha. What’s your position?”

“I’m reclining in the center of the raft.”


Sorry. Even in a life or death situation Chuck’s a smart ass.

But he’s not a complete idiot. He knows that Captain wonderful of United 123 can’t help him much unless he can tell him where he is.

Here’s where we get to the meat of the issue because you don’t want to give your position as “about 200 miles west of Greenland, give or take” The ocean is a big place and if I’m sitting in a raft freezing my ass off I want SAR (Search And Rescue) to know PRECISELY where I am. I know, I know, what about the PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)? Isn’t that supposed to give SAR a continuous GPS location? Yes it should but I’m a belt and suspenders kind of guy (not literally, that would be weird) and the whole point of bringing a hand help radio is so you can tell people where you are. And you can’t tell people where you are, UNLESS YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE!

The first you should do when you know for sure that you’re going swimming is to get out an accurate position report and then make that your ditching point. Because it’s more important to let everyone know EXACTLY where you are going down then to glide as far as you can, unless you’re almost within range of land based helicopter rescue or trying to reach a ship you passed happen to be close to. Next, you need to write that position down so you can have it with you in the raft. I’d probably write it down on a piece of paper, put it in the same Ziploc bag that’s protecting the radio, and stick it in my DO NOT LOSE! bag. You could also use a pen and write it down on the palm of your hand but I don’t think it would last very long in a wet survival suit.

So there you go, problem solved. Ditch your plane, get into the raft, pull out your radio and tell everyone you can get reach where you are. Easy peasy. But what if you can’t get anyone to answer your Mayday call until hours, or days later? How far have you drifted? Did you ditch precisely at the point you wrote down or were you miles off? Remember it gets busy in the cockpit when you’re getting ready to ditch and you might have your hand full just controlling the aircraft while getting into the survival suit. That’s why I always have a small hand held GPS with me. That way I can not only tell SAR exactly where I am but how fast and in what direction I’m drifting. It would also come in handy if I go down on land and I need to know where the nearest liquor store is.

So Charles is sitting pretty. He’s safe in the raft  Warm in his survival suit. His Personal Locator Beacon is broadcasting his position, and he’s given his position to a passing airliner. Nothing left to do but wait for the calvary. Of course it helps if he’s still alive when they get there.


Career Change?

Sorry for not giving you all new riveting survival post but I’ve been helping two of my brother in laws and a nephew remodel my father in laws house in order to make it wheel chair accessible. Cathy’s father has had some health issues and is currently in a rehab facility (NOT A NURSING HOME!) and in order to bring him home we need to completely remodel a bedroom, bathroom and install an electric chair for getting him up a small set of stairs. The bathroom has been the biggest challenge. we had to tear down and move a wall, move both the sink and toilet, re-wire the entire room and install new flooring. New flooring through out the entire house actually. I’ve always been kind of handy (kind of) but this is the biggest project I’ve ever taken on. It’s involved plumbing (moving the toilet wasn’t fun) electrical work, drywalling, and all kinds of stuff. It’s a good thing that my three “helpers” are actually good at this sort of thing, I mostly just stand around waiting for someone to tell me what to do. But it’s still satisfying working with your hands and creating something real. It’s also made me realize something about careers and life choices. I was born to be a pilot.

Pressure To Go

This story about the Challenger disaster can be applied to the go, no go decision making process pilots face every time they fly. When your aircraft is in good shape and it’s a bluebird day, no clouds, no weather, and there’s no place in particular you need to go, there’s no pressure. Fly or don’t, who cares? There are no consequences either way. But the decision gets more difficult when not going has serious ramifications, missing a family event, being late for work, costing the client or your employer lots of money, or being stuck for days in some crappy airport while your wife questions your career in aviation. I know, I know, you should never let outside forces influence your safety of flight decision. Well, welcome to the real world, especially when flying small planes over big oceans. If you wait for perfect conditions you’ll never go. Sorry, but it’s the nature of the beast.

30 Years After Explosion, Challenger Engineer Still Blames Himself

Back To Survival Mode, The PLB

Sorry for interrupting my long and boring dissertation on survival with an even longer one about my vacation but it’s over and done with now so let’s get back to business shall we?

When we last left Charles (our poor unlucky pilot) he was happily bobbing along in the North Atlantic without a care in the world. He didn’t lose his DO NOT LOSE! bag containing his PLB (personal locator beacon) Sat. phone and hand held aviation radio. Time for ET to call home.

First things first, turn on the PLB to let the everyone i.e. search and rescue forces, (SAR) know where you are and that you would like a ride, please and thank you. The PLB I carry is the ResQlink by Artex.


     It’s a simple device to use. Just extend the antenna, push the power button and it’s on. The PLB transmits a powerful 406 MHz distress signal that will be picked up by satellites anywhere in the world, even the poles. It also transmits on 121.5 that SAR can use to home in on you. One of the great features of a PLB is that imbedded in the distress signal is your current GPS location. Kind of handy when you’re bobbing around in the middle of the ocean. The damn thing even has a strobe light on it to help SAR find you at night. Pretty cool. But nothing’s perfect. The PLB does have a few drawbacks when you’re in a life raft. Number one is turning it on because the power button is tiny. There is no way you’re going activate the unit wearing any kind of gloves let alone the thick neoprene ones integrated in a survival suit. That means you have to take a glove off, if your suit has removable gloves, or pull an entire arm out if it doesn’t. I have thought about cutting a slit in the wrist of the suit to allow me to get my hand out without taking my entire arm out but that would compromise the integrity of the suit. Haven’t decided on that one yet. While I was writing this  I had a thought (yes that happens every once in a while) “Could I possibly turn the unit on with my teeth?” After a little experimenting the I concluded that the answer is, maybe. Better than no, I guess. But that’s not the biggest problem when it comes to using a PLB in a life raft. The manual says that in order for the unit to work the antenna needs to be held vertically and needs a clear view of the sky. Not under trees, not shielded by your body, not underwater, and not inside your clothes. And there’s the problem because to survive in a raft in the North Atlantic you need be in one with a cover and the cover is going to block the signal. Bummer.

So class, today’s problem to you need to overcome is how to give the PLB’s antenna a clear view of the sky while sitting in a raft with a cover. Oh I forgot to mention not only does the antenna need to have a clear view but the GPS does too. (See the little square marked “GPS Give clear view if the sky”? That thing. So just sticking the beacon antenna out of the raft won’t work.

1.  Leave the cover down or the door open. Sure, that would work but remember you’re out as sea and waiting for a boat to come and get you. This is going to take a really long time and if you leave the cover down or the door open you will freeze to death before help arrives, that is if you don’t get washed overboard first. It’s an ocean not a lake. So that’s not gonna work.

2.  Just open the door enough to stick you hand out. That way you can hold the PLB in your hand clear of the cover and not let too much cold air and water inside the raft. This would be better than option 1. but it would still require you to have an open hole in the raft cover and if you’re in rough seas it might let a lot of cold water inside. I also think you’re hand and arm would get pretty damn cold after 8, 10, 24 hours outside. If it’s wintertime you’d probably lose the hand to frostbite andI like my hand thank you very much.

3.  Attach a line to the PLB and attach it to the outside of the raft. Now we’re talking! Because once you get it tied to the raft you can zip up and stay dry and warm inside. Snug as a bug. You can wrap up in any space blankets or cheap rain ponchos to keep warm, I have both in my survival kit, have both hands free to operate the Sat. phone or radio, hang onto the sides of the raft if things get rough, play patty cake with yourself to pass the time, anything. Another benefit to having the PLB tied to the outside of the raft is that the strobe light on it would always be exposed possibly helping SAR locate you if you happen to be asleep or unconscious when they arrive. Unfortunately every plan has it’s drawbacks. The first problem would be attaching a line to the PLB itself. Mine has two thin plastic loops on the top and bottom that have a Velcro strap threaded through them. these would make good attachment points but they seem a little flimsy and when plastic gets cold it gets brittle. Hate the have them break off in heavy seas and lose the unit. Cause that would be bad. Unfortunately those loops are the only thing you could use. The rest of the unit is round and smooth. The next problem would be actually tying the PLB to the side of the raft. Where are you going to tie it to? Who knows? You can’t practice on land because the raft is packed in its container and there’s no way of knowing what tie down or ropes you could use until you’re actually in the drink. Oh, and good luck tying knots with your hands inside the survival suit gloves. Will you have to strip to the waist and lean out the open door to try and get that job done? Might get just a bit cold and damp doing that. And remember if you do a shitty job you stand a pretty good chance of losing the unit when the first big wave slams into the side of the raft. Again, bad.

4.  Tie a line onto the PLB, stick the unit outside through the door, zip the door back up and hold the PLB tight against door by pulling on the line or tying it to something inside the raft. The more I think about it, this method seems like the best one so far. You could have the line already attached before you even leave home, probably a good idea no matter what method you choose, then once you get inside the raft just pull the unit out, turn it on, or turn it on just before ditching, then just poke it through the door and voila! If you start to get pounded by really heavy seas you can easily bring it back inside for safety or to check the line. It would also be easy to bring it back inside in case rescue is taking a long time and you want to turn the unit off in order to save the battery.

I can’t think of any other way of giving the unit a clear view of the sky right now. Any of you have any other ideas?

Finish Line

Well that was a long one! (That’s what she said) We finally dragged our sorry numb rear ends back to Wisconsin and man are my arms tired! Bruddddmp! OK, that doesn’t work when you drive but you get the idea.  Final tally: 15 days,  11 States,  7 National parks,  8 beers (estimated)  3 books on tape, (Fire Starter, Deloris Claiborne and Cujo, we were on a Stephen King bender),   4914 miles driven,  87 hours on the road. It was an amazing trip made better by the fact that we had no real destination or time table, just a vague goal of camping in Death Valley and skiing in Utah (both accomplished) I’d always wanted to just hit he road, drive as long as I wanted each day with no pressure to push it, take detours based on recommendations from the locals, and just enjoy the freedom of the road.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 9.15.36 AM

And now for the event you’ve all been waiting for THE PARKIES! Yes, I know you haven’t been waiting for this at all but I have so there you go. The PARKIES is the once in a lifetime, fake awards I made up to honor the best National Park Cathy and I visited on our road trip, it was a long drive through Nebraska and I was bored. So, without further ado and in no particular order the nominees are:

  Arches National Park  

IMG_9847Canyonlands National ParkDSC_0089

Bryce Canyon IMG_9942

Capital Reef cap


Las Vegas (Not a National Park, but it should be, or maybe a zoo)IMG_9973

Death Valley

IMG_9976Grand Canyon


And the winner is…………………………….ZION NATIONAL PARK!!!!!!!!!!


Tank you all for all for attending. It’s been a great event despite the protesters protesting the fact that no national parks east of the Mississippi were nominated. The #flatparksmatter movement has vowed to boycott next year’s awards show as well unless the nomination process is more diverse. I wouldn’t hold my breath.



Are we There yet?

Back in radio contact with the latest trip report. After leaving Sin City Team Road trip headed west into the Valley Of Death. (Into the Valley Of Death rode the three hundred?) Playing the role of boring tourists from wisconsin we first hit the Devil’s golf course, Bad Water, Devil’s corn Field, and Stove Pipe Wells. These minor distractions were minorly? distracting but were not, much to Cathy’s dismay, interesting enough to keep me from taking our, not at all 4×4, Ford Edge 12 miles up a rough dirt road into Marble Canyon to do what I’ve been trying to do for the last 10 years. Winter camp overnight in Death Valley.

Why has it taken me ten years to accomplish this seemingly minor goal you might ask? Because every year since the kids were too old to go to Disney World on Spring Break I’ve been trying to find someplace else warm to take the family. Someplace that you can drive to. Why someplace that you can drive to? Because it would be cheap. And I’m a Dad. Hence cheap. But, as you can imagine, trying to sell the wonderful wonders of camping in the beautiful barren wonderfully wonderful desert wasteland, excitingly called Death Valley, was a tough sell to two teenagers, and a not really into camping wife. (kind of got lost there) So I was forced part with many of my hard earned shekels (I’m Irish and that’s almost like being Scottish) and take the family to warn tropical islands until they had the good sense to move out and leave poor Cathy alone with me and my crazy ideas of what’s fun.

I drove our poor city dwelling not Jeep as far into the rough rocky canyon as I dared, and as far as Cathy would let me, (the high clearance of my Suburban would have definitely come in handy) found a suitable site for which to make camp and set up my trusty Kelty tent on a big flat rock. After that I cooked us up two, surprisingly good tasting, dehydrated meals opened a good box of red wine and enjoyed the total silence you can only find in the high desert. Finally made it!!




The next morning we got up, brewed some coffee, climbed small mountain, had some oatmeal then packed up camp. Cathy was surprised that she hadn’t frozen in the night, fallen down a abandoned mine shaft, or been eaten by bears but she wasn’t taking any chances. While we were packing up the car I heard a roaring sound that is unmistakeable. FIGHTERS! Looking up I was treated to the sight of three F-16s hauling the mail and dragging thick contrails behind them. This was the start of a fantastic day of jet watching. It was pretty amazing but it did make appreciating the sights of Death Valley difficult because every time Cathy was pointing out some natural wonder to me I was staring at the sky watching two F-15s claw at each other or a giant fur ball being painted in the sky as the fighters looped and dove over the desert.


I did manage to drive the 28 mile Titus? Canyon road that took us through some pretty rough roads, past two ghost towns, abandoned mines, and finally a tight squeeze before spitting us out.


After that it was time to beat feet and head east for home, you can’t stay on vacation forever after all. Plus we had about 30 some hours of driving to look forward to. I hope we brought enough books on tape.

Vegas Baby!

I’d love to give you all a complete report of our wild, crazy, decadent, out of control, party till you puke, up all night, mad cap, wild, (Oops, I said wild already) zany, call the cop, hock your wedding, night in Las Vegas but you know the whole what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas thing. It’s a state law I think. I will tell you that I was up over 375 at one point and instead of listening to my wife, who told me to cash out at that point, continued to bet and lost the whole shooting patch plus the 120 I started with. OK, I was playing the nickle slots at the time but losing $6.00 still hurt. Guess I’ll have to drink cheap beer for the rest of the trip…….Or not. Next stop, Death Valley.


Loop Hole

I’ve checked with my lawyers and they say that because I’m not a signatory the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply to me. So TALK! Or ze torture vill continue!








Boring Slideshow From The Road

I could describe our two days at Moab Utah but I’ll let pictures tell a few thousand words.








The Geneva convention prohibits me from showing you any more.

Locations of Site Visitors