Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear (Episode #21) Bach’s Invitational Cross Country Adventure – Part One

On July 11th, 1971, Richard Bach sent us a letter which said, in part:

 “Though I know you can’t make it, I’ll invite you anyway to the Invitational Cross-Country Adventure, leaving from Sussex Airport, New Jersey the morning of August 2nd. The plan is for a small flight of airplanes to go to the EAA thing (Oshkosh), each with a pilot and a Hippy-type kid who has never flown before, for a story about how their thought (and ours) is affected by the event. (Maybe Michelle could dress as a hippy boy {lots of luck!}.)”

We were to land in fields (in fields!), sleep under the wing, hop the occasional ride – in short, live the life of a Barnstormer for a week to 10 days – travelling with “The Master Barnstormer” himself.

Richard ended his letter with the remark, “… if you did much more of this crazy stuff, your work would start to get in the way of your flying.”

Truer words were never written.

The short notice left us very little time to prepare – less than two weeks after the letter arrived. But I desperately wanted to go, despite one big problem…

HIPPIES.

I hated Hippies. Loathed them. Especially as I worked at a Film Studio on Yorkville Avenue, right in the centre of Canada’s “Hippie Culture” (think Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco).

I had to step over the unwashed, long-haired freaks – the air filled with their stinking Marijuana smoke – every time I left our Editing suite. And I can still remember, standing hands-on-hips, shaking my head in disgust, and thinking, “Why don’t those bums cut their hair and get a job?”

I was very right-wing.

So the idea of travelling halfway across America with two of these “low lifes” almost made me pass on the trip.

But on the other hand … Come On, Glenn … the chance to fly with Bach??? To live like a Barnstormer? Think what you’ll learn.

(I had no idea how right I was {and how wrong…}.)

So, we wrote back to Richard the same day and said, “We’re coming.”

While we scrambled to get time off from work (I was a Film Editor for CTV National News. Michelle ran her own Dance Studio), Richard wrote back with a letter which began – in big capital letters – “OK, NOW YOU’RE IN FOR IT!”

A separate letter with notes & announcements to everyone taking part contained a distilled version of “The Barnstormers Code,” which we would come to know so well.

The part that stands out now is:

“… Anyone not using good judgement, not fully in control of his airplane at all times, or guilty of frightening somebody on the ground will be banished or shot.”

I was sure that last line was a joke. Well, pretty sure…

And so it came to pass that on the morning of Saturday, July 31st, 1971, Widge and I squeezed into our jam-packed little Luscombe and took off towards our first destination on The Invitational Cross-Country Adventure.

We had no idea we were also leaving our old lives behind … forever!

Our first job was to cross the International Border from Canada into The United States. And although this was long before 9/11, we were still very worried about this first, crucial step … because our little, old Luscombe was NORDO (No Radio).

We wanted to fly to one of the small grass fields surrounding Buffalo and report to Customs there, but when we called to try and arrange that, a friendly FSS agent told us, “No need. Just fly into Niagara Falls International and clear there.”

Wh… WHA … WHAAAAAAT?

I explained again that we had NO RADIO, but the FSS man said that wasn’t a problem. “Just fly to the dead side of the pattern (‘Murican for “circuit”), waggle your wings, and watch for lights.”

As I will point out frequently in this narrative … these were very different times.

But as FSS assured us they did this all the time, that’s what we ended up doing.

I can still clearly remember crossing the Niagara River (which is really a “strait”), looking down briefly at “The Falls,” then turning all my attention to the airport ahead. And it was a shocking sight because the place was huge! I mean, the main runway was over 9,000’ long!

We crossed to the inactive side of the circuit – er … “pattern,” and waggled our wings. Almost immediately, we received a series of flashing green lights from the Tower. “Cleared to approach Airport,” Michelle read from the guide.

Sheesh. I knew that (… I think).

We crossed over the giant airport, entered the circ- pattern, and were soon on final approach.

A solid green light cleared us to land.

“This is so cool,” said the voice in my head.

We landed about 5 feet up (my first experience with the sense that you’re lower than you really are when landing on a wide runway) and came down with a solid thunk – but I managed to keep the Lusc straight, decelerated, then taxied sedately to the next exit.

“Flashing red lights,” said Michelle. “The Tower is giving you flashing red lights.”

Damn! I knew that meant “Do not land” while airborne, but what did it mean on the ground?

Michelle was way ahead of me. “Immediately taxi clear of the runway in use,” she read.

I pushed in the throttle, expedited my departure from the active runway, and was rewarded with an incredibly close view of a jet fighter – drogue chute streaming behind – as it flashed by us in its landing roll.

Turns out the National Guard was using this airport as a Training Base in those Vietnam-era days.

Close … very close.

We expected to be yelled at – if not arrested – for our NORDO landing, but the folks at Niagara International couldn’t have been nicer. No mention was made of our “close call,” Customs cleared us with a few brief questions and we were soon re-fuelled and on our way (after one final green – cleared for takeoff – light).

It was a turbulent day to fly, so we broke our trip to New Jersey down into one hour hops; Canandaigua, N.Y., first, then on to Blue Swan Airport, near Sayre, Pennsylvania.

As we approached Blue Swan, I was suddenly aware that all this turbulence had turned both of us very quiet and – as it turned out – quite pale. So as soon as we got the Luscombe stopped, both of us – very carefully – climbed out of the little airplane, lay down, and immediately went to sleep.

We stumbled awake about two hours later – relieved to discover neither one of us had thrown up – brushed the grass from our clothes, then made our way to the Flight Shack. The poor F.B.O. just about had a heart attack when we suddenly appeared – seemingly out of nowhere. He’d heard us land, but as nothing had happened after that, he assumed we’d just done a “touch and go” then gone on our way.

After a “meal” from one of those awful small-airport-vending-machines, we fuelled up and headed back into the sky, where we were relieved to discover the air was much smoother now it was later in the day. After one more fuel stop at Sky Haven Airport, near Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, we headed off to our final destination at Sussex, New Jersey.

We arrived late in the day, so were very relieved to discover there was a Restaurant right next to the airport. We, had a nice meal, set up our tent, put on our “jammies” and were about to go to sleep when we suddenly realized we were the only people on the field.

So we decided to go for a midnight walk … right down the main runway.

What we didn’t know was that some of the local teens used this runway as their personal, after-hours, drag-strip.

I don’t know who was more surprised.

Widge and me, seeing two cars hurtling towards us.

Or the teens, seeing a couple in their pyjamas casually strolling down the centreline.

Either way – the teens jammed on the brakes, turned tail and left us to sleep in glorious silence.

That ended the following morning when I heard a pair of voices heading towards our tent.

I peered through the flaps, looked out and saw … two, long-haired Hippies approaching.

I lay back on my sleeping bag and said, “Oh, no…”

“What?” asked The Widge.

“Here come the freaks,” I answered … already regretting my decision to take part in Bach’s Invitational Cross-Country Adventure.

I know that’s what I thought. I remember it clearly. Yet from way up here in the 21st century all I can think is – how completely different our lives would have been if we hadn’t met the remarkable “Hippie” duo of Joseph Giovenco & Christopher Kask.

***

Watch for Episode #22 of Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear,

“Bach’s Invitational Cross-Country Adventure – Part Two.”

On Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Abridged excerpt from Glenn Norman’s book,

 “Living On Stolen Time”

Due for release in the fall of 2010.

One Comment

  1. AHH the memories.

Leave a Reply