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Authors: Christopher David Petersen

Hidden Courage (Atlantis)

BOOK: Hidden Courage (Atlantis)
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Hidden Courage

 

By Christopher David Petersen

 

Copyright 2011 Christopher David Petersen

 

 

 

The Flight:

 

 

“You sure you have everything?” Jack heard his dad say.

 

“I think so,” Jack replied.

 

This was it: the trip of a lifetime. Most people only dreamed of adventures this exciting. Jack sat in the back, shivering. It was cold in the backseat and the car hadn’t warmed up yet. This time of the year in
New England
could see temperatures in the twenties and thirties. Even with his fleece jacket on, he still felt chilled.

 

The backseat was jam-packed with gear, as well as the trunk. His mother had her camera in hand and was snapping photos from the front seat as they made their way to the airport. Jack felt a little self-conscious, but knew this would be that last time they would be seeing him for a while. He ignored his embarrassment and focused on the monumental task before him.

 

Jack had his checklist out and was going over it slowly. Everything was in bags and pouches so he couldn’t physically account for the items on the list. He closed his eyes and visualized each item as he had packed it away in the days before this morning.

 

‘Ropes, cams, ice gear, mountaineering boots,’ he thought to himself as he moved down the list. ‘Shorts, deodorant, toothpaste, guidebooks,’ he continued as his dad drove carefully, ensuring a safe ride to the airport.

 

“Tired, Jack?” his mom asked.

 

Jack’s eye’s snapped open as soon as he heard his name. He made a mental note of where he left off and replied, “No, I’m just checking my list; making sure I didn’t forget anything.”

 

His mom nodded her head in understanding and turned her head front. Jack closed his eyes again, only to be startled by a bright flash. He quickly opened his eyes as his mother prepared to snap another photo. This time he smiled for the camera, figuring if he gave her one good photo, she’d slow down a bit.

 

Thirty minutes and a dozen photos later, Jack could see a low flying plane above the car. It was making its approach to the runway. He watched it as it descended lower and lower, now way out in front of the vehicle.

 

As he watched, the plane looked like it was going to crash into an elevated bank at the end of the road, but then disappeared just beyond it.

 

Jack’s stomach was in knots. He was both excited and nervous, and it reminded him of the feeling he had when he stood before the base of
El Capitan
, in
Yosemite
, just before he was to climb it. Things on this order of magnitude always made him feel this way.

 

“Is that it?” his mom asked, referring to the airport beyond the bank.

 

“If it’s not, that guy’s going to be awfully disappointed,” Jack replied jokingly.

 

They made their way around the perimeter of the airport, turning in at a sign that read, ‘
Robertson
Airport
,
Plainville CT
’. This was it. Jack looked across the airport apron and located a tiny white floatplane. He tapped his dad on the shoulder and pointed to it. His dad acknowledged and drove slowly in that direction.

 

His mom's head was busy darting from one plane to another as they drove past. She hadn’t ever been to this airport before, let alone a small airport in a very long time, so the quantity and variety of planes, at first, overwhelmed her senses. Jack could hear her from the front seat cry out in excitement, “Ooh, look at that one,” with nearly every plane they passed.

 

As they pulled up to the floatplane, Jack looked on in pride. It was a real beauty: a Zenair, STOL CH 701 kit airplane. This was Jack's plane. He had researched all the varieties of experimental kit planes on the market and chose this one for its all metal design, ruggedness, performance and cost. The 701 was a marvel to behold when Jack was pushing it to the limits of its performance. It could lift off in just under sixty feet and land in a short driveway if need be. It was small, measuring twenty feet long and twenty-seven feet wide, wing tip to wing tip, but it could carry a tremendous load, something that appealed to him during his investigation.

 

In addition, Jack had elected to add amphibious floats instead of the standard tricycle style landing gear, a move that cost him in weight and performance but opened up a greater world to him in destinations. Painted a simple white with a few blue stripes down the center for contrast, it had an efficient, no-nonsense look about it.

 

Jack stepped out from the car in front of his plane. Standing next to the engine cowl, he lightly rubbed the fuselage as if he were petting his favorite dog or cat. His mom caught the momentary affection toward the plane and snapped more photos.

 

Quietly, to himself, Jack said, “Okay, this is it. Don’t let me down.”

 

His father was bringing the luggage to the right side of the plane and piling it up just below the door, as Jack was in the middle of ‘pre-flighting’. Walking around and inspecting the control surfaces, he looked up at the sky.

 

“Nice and clear,” he said to his dad.

 

“Hope is stays that way en route,” his dad replied. “You sure you want to do this?” he added, half protesting.

 

“I’ve been giving it some careful consideration and decided to call the whole thing off,” Jack retorted with a smirk.

 

“Uh huh,” his dad replied, not impressed with his son’s joke.

 

“Dad, Mom; I know you’re nervous, but everything will be alright. I’m not stupid. I don’t take any unnecessary risks,” Jack said, trying to ease his parents’ concerns.

 

“I’d say this whole trip is unnecessary. You could just go to the beach or something, but
PERU
?” his dad said, with a little edge to his voice.

 

“I need this. This IS necessary, for me,” Jack responded, then added, “We’ve been through all of this before. You know I’m careful. You know I’m smart enough to make the right decisions in a crisis. You just have to trust me.”

 

Both parents nodded their heads in resignation. There was nothing more they could do or say. Jack had made up his mind and there was no turning him. All they could do now was to support him and not infuse negativity into the situation that would only serve to distract him from his needed focus. Jack had a mission.

 

More than two years before, Jack had scanned through his climbing magazine, enjoying snapshots of wild and adventurous mountains from around the world. Some photos were exposés of featured climbs and others were simply part of advertisements.

 

Casually flipping through, Jack spotted an ad that caught his eye; not for the intrinsic value of the item being peddled, but for the mountain shown in the background. It was a majestic looking mountain: snowcapped and rugged. In Jack’s mind, it represented the epitome of the classic monolith that drew climbers from all over the world; mountains like Everest and the
Matterhorn
. Mesmerized by its beauty, he quickly felt drawn to it, as if it were calling him.

 

In the days that followed, Jack's interest in the mountain produced research that revealed it was unclimbed and unknown. From that moment on, Jack was obsessed. He didn't just want to climb it. He needed to climb it.

 

On initial planning, he found that his biggest hurdle was its remote location. Buried deep in the heart of the
Andes
, the trek in would take weeks through rugged terrain, a factor he surmised was the real reason that it had never been climbed before.

 

Just when Jack thought the logistics to be insurmountable, he found a solution. Inspired by a TV program chronicling the lives of Alaskan bush pilots, Jack decided to put his own piloting skills to the ultimate test. He decided he would build his own bush plane, fly to
Peru
and land at the base of the mountain. That plan was bold and dangerous and Jack liked it.

 

Two years later, Jack’s dream had become reality.

 

Having secured his gear into the plane, there was nothing left for him to do. He hugged his parents, then got into the tiny cockpit.

 

 

 

DAY
1

 

“Clear,” he called out through the pilot's window.

 

His parents stiffened as they waited for the engine to roar to life. Moments later, Jack turned the key and the prop started to windmill. In an instant, all that could be heard was drowned out by the deafening roar of the engine. He immediately focused on his instruments as they came to life and stabilized in the ‘green’.

 

Jack looked over at his mom. She had her fingers in her ears. He could see streams of tears running down her face. His dad had his arm around her, trying to console her sadness. Jack felt awful at that moment, but knew there was nothing he could do except make the best of it. He put on an enormous, toothy smile for his mom. Instantly, she smiled back and Jack could see that, in some small way, he had eased her pain. He gave them a vigorous wave and mouthed the words, “I love you.”

 

As he taxied to the end of the runway, he looked back. His parents hadn’t moved from their original positions. Standing stoically, they watched as the tiny floatplane rolled onto the runway and came to a stop. Moments later, they heard the loud roar of the engine and knew Jack was under way.

 

With his heart pounding in anticipation, Jack pushed the throttle full forward and held it. As the tiny plane picked up speed, he adjusted the rudder pedals to maintain the centerline of the runway.

 

Ten feet, twenty feet, thirty feet …

 

Jack watched as the airspeed came alive and registered twenty-five knots. He looked down at the oil indicator to make sure it was indicating the proper pressure. Any negative reading and he would immediately abort the take off.

 

Forty feet, fifty feet …

 

Jack pulled back on the stick. As if on a spring, the tiny plane popped off the runway. He momentarily lowered the nose of the plane to build some speed. Seconds later, the airspeed indicator registered fifty knots and Jack pulled back on the stick, entering a gradual climb.

 

He adjusted the trim setting to hold his climb, then looked back over his shoulder. He could see his parents. They looked like ants, waving as he flew away. Jack moved the control stick left and right, rocking the wings in an attempt to say goodbye. Even at his altitude, he could see his parent’s shoulders haunch as they resigned themselves to his leaving. With his father’s arm still hugging his mother, he watched as they turned and walked sadly back to their car.

 

“Don't worry, guys. I'll be okay,” Jack said to them out loud, as a sympathetic gesture.

 

Refocusing on his flying, Jack monitored his gauges. His airspeed looked good, as well as the engine instruments. His rate of climb was an impressive 1,500 feet per minute. He checked his
GPS
navigation system to ensure he was on course, then refocused back out in front of him as he searched for his first landmark to fly to. Checking his flight sectional, the map showed a course that flew to the left of a radio tower.

 

Jack had flown this area many times before and really didn’t need to use the map, or the
GPS
for that matter, but felt that this trip would require the utmost precision and professionalism and the time to start these would not be at a time of crisis. He decided in the planning stages that right from the beginning of the flight, he would ‘fly by the numbers’, not giving in to sloth and over-confidence: two killers in aviation.

 

Watching the towers pass to his left, he made a mental note of his ground speed and altitude. Within a few minutes, Jack was leveling off at his cruising altitude of 8,000 feet. He was on course and gaining speed in his cruise configuration. He trimmed up the plane for level flight and relaxed a bit as his speed increased. Once he reached eighty-five knots, he adjusted the power setting to maintain that speed. He was done with the ‘departure’ aspect of this route and had now entered the ‘en route’ part of the flight.

 

This was the easy part as far as Jack was concerned. He would now be checking his sectional for the next checkpoint and cross-checking it with the
GPS
receivers. Looking out over the nose of the plane, he would simply sit back and wait for the landmarks to appear. Every ten minutes or so, a new landmark would become visible and he would simply note this on the map, then look for the next landmark in series.

BOOK: Hidden Courage (Atlantis)
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