Independence Skies

One of the high lights of summer has been a fly-in trip far enough away to feel like you’re in a different part of America; away from the hurdy gurdy of the Bay Area. The 4th of July is probably one of the prettiest holidays for small towns in the western states. Bunting gussies up even the plainest houses, flowers burst out of hanging baskets and local folk revel in their Independence Day festivities.

This year we chose Sand Point, Idaho for our flying, fourth, fun. Its way up in the panhandle of ID, not far from the Canadian border. The state has a weird profile up there. One minute you’re passing from Washington into Idaho. Within a few minutes if you don’t turn it around you’ll be in Montana. I’m sure it had to do with getting a port into Canada. Even more important is a huge, glorious lake, ringed by multiple mountain ranges and national forests.

Pend Oreille, (Golden Lake to early French trappers), has been hosting summer living as its premier season. Wonderful old houses, docks and flotillas of boats pepper the shore line. Public beaches give everyone access to the water and bike trails radiate out of the hub of Sand Point like a wheel. The downtown is old brick, still looking good with small shops, pubs and eateries. Their parade was the classic… shiny fire trucks, lots of veterans honored, marching bands, politicians and lots of kids on floats. The fireworks were huge and we got to enjoy them right under the boom boom and screaming rockets as they soared overhead.

Five planes made the trip; Beth and Rich Behrens, Sarah and Gerry Fogarty, Julia Amaral and Mark Stratte, Pat and Joe Pittelkow and Don and I. We took up one whole wing of the ramp at Sand Point Airport. ( SZT). The airport is easy to find and land. It’s just up from the lake shore on the north edge of town. Car rentals are available right from the airport and courtesy bikes ready to roll.

For most of us it was a 4 plus hour flight. Early fog started to shred by 8:00am and we punched out into a calm and hazy sky. Joe and Pat got the early bird special…. They managed to get aloft before the dew point and temp point converged. A band of wx to the east provided a nice, cool canopy from the sun until we moved north into WA.

Eastern Oregon seems like a land that time forgot. There’s little society out here. When you need a book store or shoe store you turn on the internet. The land is a patchwork of dry, upwelling plateaus and deeply carved waterways. It’s exciting to come up on the big rivers of the northwest. The Snake and Colombia bring an immense supply of water to the thirsty agriculture of the eastern Cascades. The waterways were also the first path that allowed eastern explorers access to the manifest west.

We had rented a house for a week to really get into the spirit of the area. Play time began at sunrise and continued late into the evening. There was kayaking on the Pack River, mountain biking, hiking, golf, kicking back in comfy chairs on the terrace, water sports at the beach, water warm enough to swim in, (just a little chilly), and even a day on the Hiawatha Trail.

The Hiawatha Traill is part of the Rails to Trails system and is one of their crown jewels. It follows the Milwaukee Rail line that serviced Seattle to Chicago. The trail head starts deep in the mountains of the continental divide and winds its way downhill for 17 miles. There are 9 tunnels with the first one being 2 miles long. Inside the tunnels it’s really cool, foggy and you definitely need head lights. Numerous trestles over arching canyon walls and vast wild scenery make the pedal a great ride.

Along the trail are lots of stations with displays educating one about life and times of the railroad in the early 1900’s. Passengers dressed up for the journey with elegant dining cars, observations decks and champagne fun. We on the other hand, dusty, tired and saddle sore, tramped into a local pub in Wallace, ID for excellent food and remembering a swell day.

There’s just nothing more wonderful with friendship than to share these adventures. Hope to see you on the next 4th fun flight. Great friends, great fun, great flying.

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