Ultralight Trip 4-13-2002
Through the fog; to Matagorda

Follow the story in this left-side frame, and click on the links to see the pictures on the right. (A special thanks to my brother for his photos of me)

Saturday morning... my brother, Jim, and I leave the house early in order to have plenty of time to get down to Matagorda and back before the thermals get too rough.

Arriving at the field, we see little else besides fog. But looking straight up, I can see blue sky and white clouds, so I figure the fog is thin. I've been up, flying around, with thin layers of fog below (5/19/2001), so I assumed it would be the same.

Boy, was I wrong!

I was first for take off, with Jim following immediately behind.

Immediately after I broke through the fog, it became very apparent this was not like before. The layer of fog covered everything; only the ground directly below me was visible. As I began to circle the field, I realized that any moment my brother would pop up out of the fog... maybe I'd get a great shot! Well, it's hard to make him out, but that little dot in the center-left side of the photo is him, just after he popped out of the fog. You can see the tops of the power-line towers. It was an awesome sight.

I slowed down a bit so Jim could catch up and then radio'd him that I was sure the fog would thin out as we went. We followed our GPSes and our knowledge of the area (by looking straight down at landmarks). Here you can see a shot of Jim with a radio tower sticking up out of the fog. It was so dramatic, seeing Jim's plane against the fog, I couldn't resist taking some more pictures (and here).

But, the fog was getting thicker, not the other way around, and in front of me seemed to be a wall of fog. There was no doubt in my mind: it was time to turn back. We faithfully followed our GPS and landmarks and easily found the field again, then landed.

While on the ground, I took advantage of the time by taking a picture of my plane, Jim's plane, and the two planes together. You can easily see it's still foggy.

Finally, about an hour later, the fog starts to lift, and so we take off again. The fog is now off the ground and in the more familiar form of clouds. But they are low to the ground (this is a shot of the home field). We easily climb above them and, at 2500 feet, I get a dramatic shot or two of Jim among the clouds. Jim was able to get two pictures of me, here and here.

30 minutes or so later, we are approaching the coast. This is a canal, lined with houses, that stretches out to the Gulf. And just to my left is a winding bayou, also lined with houses.

We finally reach the coast and I take a picture through my windshield of the beach as it stretches out in front of me. Off on my left, not more than 100 yards off-shore is a shrimper, trolling for those tiny, tasty crustaceans.

Although most of the beach was empty, we would occasionally fly over small groups of houses, and then again find ourselves over deserted beaches. Here is a dramatic photo of Jim breezing over the sand at about 20 feet.

Before long, we reach (what we had previously agreed upon to be) our halfway point. Rather than trying to find a stretch of flat beach to land on -- to do our refueling -- we come upon a deserted airstrip. It's too tempting to pass up, so we land.

Not 5 minutes after we land, a couple of guys in a pickup truck come over and ask us to leave. We assured them we had no plans to stay, that we were just having to refuel. "Oh, well, if you have an emergency, then it's okay!" one of them assures us. It's funny how deserted the beach can look, yet there are people all around.

The guys in the pickup leave, we refuel -- taking our time since we also wanted to stretch our legs a bit -- and finally take off again. I got halfway back to the home field before I realized that I forgot to take a picture of the abandoned airstrip from the air! Oh well!

Shortly after we start to head back, I start to have radio problems. I look around for a place to land and decide to try the beach. I tell Jim to hold back and watch, and I make a really rough, bouncing landing. I need to work on picking out flatter sections of beach, because this one was anything but flat. The undulations really gave me a roller coaster ride... well, actually worse, since there were several hard bumps. The plane seemed to be okay, but I knew Jim shouldn't try to land, so I take off again.

Not far down the beach we spot a dirt road that looks rarely used. It's flat and straight, so I line up and land. Jim is right behind me. Turns out to be a good spot and both our landings were great. We always seem to draw a crowd, and we get a visitor within a few minutes of shutting off the engines. He was a guy from Michigan, with a beach house nearby, and an ex-Bonanza pilot, and wanted to get a closer look. He chatted, and Jim and I wolfed down some cookies, candy bars and water. I checked my antenna to see if that was the problem with my radio, but it's okay. I finally decide the battery on the radio is getting low, and causing the problem. I answer his questions about my plane, and then we finally say adios to the chatty fellow, and take off.

On the way back I take several more shots of Jim.... here's one. While crossing the mouth of the San Bernard River, I get this picture of a kayaker. It's stating the obvious, but look how muddy! Yech.

We flew about 150 miles that day, but it took us a lot longer than we thought it would since we had the fog-detour in the early morning.

-- Robert

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