Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear (Episode #22) “Bach’s Invitational Cross Country Adventure – Part Two”

As the two Hippies drew nearer, I took in a deep breath, pasted on a false smile, opened the tent flaps and welcomed them.

Despite their long hair, Joey Giovenco and Chris Kask seemed to be decent enough types and I was relieved they weren’t surrounded by the aura of marijuana smoke, which permeated the clothes of most of the Hippies I’d met in Toronto.

Lou Levner, the third pilot in our group, arrived soon after, followed by Bach a few minutes later. As all six members of The Invitational Cross Country Adventure were now in place, we expected to take off right away … but Richard didn’t like the look of the weather, so we all went for breakfast at the Airport Restaurant.

This would be the first of many conversations our group would have over the next nine days and I can remember sensing – very quickly – how different we all were.

If you’ve read anything by Richard Bach, you have a pretty good idea of who he is. (And if you haven’t, you can read his “Aviation or Flying. Take Your Pick” right here on Why Fly.)

Bach is passionately in love with flying and tries to make every flight as close to perfection as he is able. As for the rest of his persona, I think I’d sum him up best as “A seeker of truth, no matter what the cost.”

If you want to find out about my partner, Michelle Goodeve, you can get a very good sense of who she is by her writings – and images – here on Why Fly. But one thing I will add is that Michelle has always been ahead of her time. And although she was only nineteen when we went on this great adventure, when I look back I can see she was way ahead of me when it came to seeing things as they should be; when it came to seeing the truth.

Chris Kask was the quieter of the two “Hippies.” He tended to listen carefully to everything that was said, to both sides of any discussion, before making his thoughts known. But when he finally did speak, the statements he made were unnerving. Because – right from the start – I had the disconcerting feeling that Chris Kask’s words made more sense than my own.

The same could be said of Joseph Giovenco, though Joey was by far the more boisterous of the pair. The curly-haired Hippie was far more likely to simply blurt out a response, without consideration for the effects his words might have on others. But he didn’t seem to care. Joey told it the way he saw it, and if his audience didn’t like what he said – well, that was their problem.

Both of our Hippies spoke with a distinct “Long Island accent,” but Joey G’s was/is the more obvious of the pair. And he had/has a wonderful flow-of-consciousness thought process, inevitably punctuated by a self-effacing, and highly-infectious, laugh.

Lou Levner was our third pilot; the proud owner of a 1946 Taylorcraft, which he obviously adored. But I always felt bad for him because – while the rest of us were going through a process which would transform all our lives – Lou was basically there for the flying.

As for me … well, I suppose the truth was – I was there for reasons I sensed, but didn’t yet understand.

I had a good job with a promising future … but it didn’t feel right.

I had no doubt that I’d found the love of my life but, all too often, I could tell my actions were making Michelle sad. Our relationship might be working for me, but it was more than a little scary to realize it wasn’t working for Michelle.

In truth … I was terrified I’d lose her.

As for what I was supposed to do with my life – I knew flying would play a large part in it, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to get a Commercial License.

Why? Because I was afraid that once I did, the only thing I would do was fly.

And somewhere, deep down, I had this sense that I was supposed to do more (whatever the hell that meant).

Even more disturbing was the realization that I was still, very much, “The eldest son of Mr. & Mrs. Norman.” As a British, immigrant kid, I’d led an extremely sheltered childhood, and that had extended well into my teens. So who was I, really? What did I believe?

It was extremely disturbing to discover the honest answer was, “I have no idea.”

But it was somewhat comforting to realize – that was the reason I had to come on this trip.

I must have started my self-questioning very quickly because – by the time we’d finished our breakfast talk – I was already beginning to look at our Hippies in a very different light. And as my log book shows, when I decided to do a quick “weather-check-circuit,” my passenger was none other than Hippie, Chris Kask.

So, before we even left on The Invitational Cross-Country-Adventure, I was already beginning to change.

The “weather-check” news wasn’t good. We were fighting a stalled, low pressure system sitting right on top of us, so we barely had a thousand feet of ceiling and less than a few miles of visibility.

Bach made us wait for most of the day until he was finally satisfied we had good enough weather to take off … and he spent most of that time teaching us how to fly formation.

Now I’d already gone through the surprise of realizing how close Bach flew when we shot the stills for his Bellanca Champ article back in Canada. But nothing prepared me for the shock of seeing his door-open-Cub pull up tight alongside us on the first leg of our trip … because it wasn’t Bach, but Hippie Joe who was doing the flying. And this was Joey G’s first lesson!

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the mischievous grin on Bach’s face as he waited to see my reaction (which was to smile back weakly, then look straight ahead).

We didn’t get very far.

A mere 15 minutes later, the dark clouds returned and the ceiling began to drop. As I was “leader” on this leg, I decided it was too dangerous to go on. So I glanced over at Bach, shook my head and he quickly nodded his agreement.

I kinda knew where we were, but Richard obviously had our exact position, because he peeled away and down towards the lovely grass runway at Newton, New Jersey, directly below us (which led me to the sneaky suspicion that Bach had planned this whole first leg as some kind of test).

Bach’s clip-wing Cub landed first, followed by Lou Levner’s Taylorcraft. I then lined up the Luscombe, came in, touched down and pushed hard on the brakes.

I heard a loud TWANG followed by a sudden swerve to the left. And it’s only because I had the presence of mind to release the other brake that I avoided a very nasty groundloop.

As I turned off the switches and quietly coasted to a stop, I turned to Michelle and said, “Oh no. I think we just lost our right brake!”

If I was right, that left me with only one conclusion: we were out of The Invitational Cross Country Adventure after just one 18-minute flight.

And it is an understatement to say that the idea of the others going on without us left me totally heart-broken.

However, when I told Bach what had happened, he looked at me as if I was a two-year-old then said, “Well, yes, you could stay behind, or … we could just fix it.”

Before I’d even had a chance for that thought to sink in, Joey G. had opened Bach’s tool box and was hard at work removing the floorboards in our Luscombe.

I was utterly speechless. This Hippie was working on my airplane? Did he even have the slightest idea of what he was doing?

“Joey’s a pretty good mechanic,” said Chris Kask (who was apparently also a mind-reader).

While Joey tore our poor little airplane apart, Richard told me to climb into the front seat of his Cub. He had friends at a nearby airport and they might have some brake cable we could use.

Bach had the little Cub airborne in a couple of hundred feet. He climbed straight towards a ridge in front of us, crossed it, then chopped the power and began gliding down towards a little airport which suddenly appeared out of the mist.

My mind was racing. Even if these friends of Bach’s were inclined to help us, what were the chances they would have the exact brake part for a 1940 Luscombe 8C.

(I was so young and inexperienced it never crossed my mind that you could make a new part.)

The good folks at Andover Airport were surprised and delighted to see Richard (I kept on forgetting “he’s famous”), but unfortunately they didn’t have the cable we needed.

So as we hopped back over the Ridge, I thanked Richard for trying but said it was becoming obvious they’d have to go on without us.

Richard’s response was to laugh.

I had no idea why, nor the slightest indication that Bach had already figured out how he was going to get our Lusc back into the air.

Even if it took him all night!

***

Watch for Episode #23 of Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear,

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

On Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Abridged excerpt from Glenn Norman’s book,

“Living On Stolen Time”

Due for release in the fall of 2010.

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