This past weekend was spent in Great Falls, Montana, where I attended the Montana Aviation Conference. The real reason I went was because our President for Servant Wings needed to attend the conference, and offered for me to fly him over and back in our 206. I gladly accepted, needing the flight time. We flew over both the Cascade Range and the Rockies. This shot is a little west of the Continental Divide (around the Idaho/Montana border) at 9,500 feet. We ended up climbing even higher to 11,500 feet because it was very turbulent over the Rockies. Along the way, we got to stop in Spokane and visit Moody. We didn't have a lot of time to stick around, but I got to chat with a lot of my old instructors and a few of the students who are interested in joining Servant Wings after they graduate. It only took us four hours to make the trip all the way out to Great Falls. It would have taken over 11 hours to drive from Vancouver. The weather was pretty decent over the entire route, making it a fairly easy and uneventful trip. We were also breaking land speed records in the 206. While we were flying over the rockies, we hit greater than 200 knots (almost 240 mph) on our groundspeed. If you look in the lower right corner of the GPS screen, it says 202. That was our groundspeed for more than half an hour, which means that we had more than a 70 knot tailwind. No wonder we got there so fast!
While attending the conference, I helped Perry man the MAF booth, and went to a couple seminars on accident prevention and Continental engines (our 206 has a Continental engine). On Saturday I wasn't feeling too well, and ended up taking a nap in the afternoon to try and kick whatever I had. But, on Sunday morning I woke up with some chills, a fever, and a lot of congestion. Despite all that, I really missed my wife, so I decided that we could leave that morning instead of Monday. Big mistake. Just out of Great Falls we hit a wall of snow in the mountains with very low visibility and high clouds. After attempting to fly some of the valleys and having to turn back several times, we finally decided to try and get on top of the clouds where it was sunny and clear. Reaching 12,500 feet we finally got over most of the clouds and were able to get on our way back home. 12,500 feet is the highest altitude I could fly at without using supplemental oxygen. The airplanes I fly (unlike the airlines) aren't pressurized, so the higher I go, the less oxygen my lungs can extract out of the air, creating a potentially hazardous situation if I go too high without oxygen. And even at that high altitude we still had to go around some of the clouds. And you can imagine being that high, how cold it can be (-30 to be exact), and with a very small heater and chills with a fever, it wasn't very comfortable. But that's only the beginning. We stopped in Lewiston, Idaho, for a stretch and a potty break, and on the descent my ears started to clog up. I reduced my rate of descent to be very minimal, but it didn't really help much, and by the time we landed, both my ears were so clogged up that I couldn't even hear out of them. And it was quite painful. I thought they would open up again when we climbed out of Lewiston on our way to Vancouver, but they never did. And in fact, it just made things worse. By the time I got home, I found out that I had a 103.2 temperature. So Joy took me to the doctors where we waited for over 2 hours to be seen and I found out that I not only had a fever but a pretty bad ear infection too. So what did I learn on this trip? Don't fly when you're sick. My ears are still clogged up today, and it is really painful every time they pop. I'm on a pretty hefty dose of amoxicillin, so hopefully that will kick this thing once and for all. The good thing is that I have 387.6 flight hours now so I only need about 12 more to make my goal.