The airstrip, seem from above, is little more than a momentary slash through the brooding forest between Green Mountain and Wildcat Lake; blink and you’ll miss it.I refrain from blinking, announce turning downtown on the seldom-used CTAF, and configure the well-worn rental Piper Cherokee for landing. I’ve landed at this strip exactly once ;by backcountry standards it’s not a terribly challenging field, but it’s not your usual paved public airport either. I can’t see the runway as I turn base, but I can see my neighbor’s hangar and the crease in the trees that denotes the runway threshold.
Turning an offset final, 2,400 feet of beautifully manicured grass reveals itself through a slot between some truly monstrous Douglas firs, and my wife, Dawn, ex-claims at the glittering apparition of Mount Rainier floating above the far end. I slip the little Cherokee down through the slot, straightening out above the grass and touching down softly. A windsock denoting a10-knot tailwind whisks by, but no matter; this strip is one-way-in, one-way-out, and the grade slows us quickly. “Welcome home,” I say, as I turn around and taxi to a wooded plot near the windsock. Dawn squeezes my arm,tears in her eyes. It’s been a long road here, and Dawn’s first landing at Leisureland Airpark (WA96) marks a fitting end to this leg of our journey.
Our 2021 odyssey began last spring, when we made a one-month cruise of the Bahamas aboard Windbird, a fond farewell to the sea-gypsy life we’ve led these last five years. In May, we embarked on our final passage north to Myrtle Beach, moved everything off the boat and into a cargo trailer and headed west. Our first stop was northern Alabama, where our friends Brad and Amber Phillips and Sylvia and Hugh Grandstaff resided at the time. Among other adventures, we crewed for a hot-air balloon pilot on several weekends, and Dawn got to ride on a festival flight with dozens of other balloons—a bucket-list item for her. One month later, we decamped to Minnesota and the Dakotas, where we reconnected with family and collected the scattered remnants of our pre-boat life.
It was a busy summer. Besides commuting to a very full flying schedule out of New York City, I was spending a lot of time in South Carolina working on Windbird and assisting in her sale, and also trying to jumpstart development of our lot in Washington state. In one six-week period, I spent only three full days in South Dakota. I ended up thoroughly exhausted and in an unusually dark mood—something that more than one reader picked upon in my September 2021 column.
In early August, we started our final westward migration, and a few days later, we coasted down the west-ern slope of the Cascades on a sparkling clear summer day. An old college friend, Dan Adams (now a Boeing 767captain at my airline), generously invited us to stay in his beautiful Tudor home in Tacoma’s Old Town—even though Dawn kicked him out the last time we roomed together, in Minnesota when we were young new-hire pilots for Compass Airlines. Dan may have had ulterior motives, for just before we arrived, he purchased a classic Hans Christian 34 sailboat, S/V Delphinus. Hans Christians are beautiful boats but they have acres of teak brightwork, which in Delphinus’ case hadn’t been touched in a decade. Luckily for Dan, his new roommates (us) had significant recent varnishing experience. I didn’t mind—the project made for a nice transition from boat life. Dawn and I had an admittedly half-baked scheme to clear some of our land, put in a septic system, and buy a tiny house to live in for the next couple of years. It turned out the permitting for that was not so simple, the contractor we were working with flaked out and disappeared, and heavy rain started early in October this year and quickly washed away our plans. It turned out to be a good thing. After two months of living tenuously at Dan’s house and feeling like we were treading in quicksand, we made the decision to get a small apartment in Bremerton and live there for at least a year while working on our land and building our hangar. Moving in and furnishing the bare space, we felt like newlyweds; we really were starting from scratch.
What followed was an explosion in productivity and creativity. I was transferred to my airline’s Seattle base, and suddenly, instead of commuting across the country, I was taking the ferry across Puget Sound to work. With extra time on my hands, I began picking up overtime and socking extra money into the construction fund. Dawn and I started eating better and working out together, and we got ourselves seriously organized for the tasks ahead. Our research and planning kicked into high gear, and we began spending a lot of time at the airstrip, working on our land whenever the weather allowed. I bought a Sony a6400 and built a video rig, filmed everything and learned editing in Final Cut Pro to create a mini series about building our aviation homestead. The first episode will be online by the time you read this. Separately, I launched the V1 Rotate web series for new and aspiring professional pilots on FLYING’s digital channel, with text and video pieces posted on the first and third Fridays of every month.
Best of all, I got back into general aviation, taking to the skies every time the gloom lifted and the snow-draped Olympic Mountains glittered brilliantly across Hood Canal. After getting checked out in the Cherokee, I got tailwheel current and cleared to rent a beautifully restored Citabria, and then one of our future neighbors started lending me his Super Cub. I began loading barnstormers.com three times a day—but, seriously, can we talk about these ridiculous prices? Dawn and I started meeting local pilots, and we joined the local EAA chapter.
Our land is taking shape before our very own eyes, by the sweat of our brow and the work of our hands, and we are falling in love with the rhythms of life at our little airstrip in the woods. Our dog, Piper, loves it too; he barks and wags his tail crazily every time we turn onto the road up there. We still have a long way to go before we build our hangar and house, and create the aviation homestead of our dreams; but at long last, we are exactly where we want to be, building the new flying life together that we chose during our years adventuring across the seas.