Pilot Journal
Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Cowboy Christmas

Rodeo in the American West

Champion calf roper K.C. Jones is backing his horse, a brown-and-white paint named Mornin’ Spot, into the right rear corner of what they call the box, next to the chute. He’s focused like a red-tailed hawk dive-bombing a field mouse." />

A quick call to weather confirmed my own starry-sky observation, and I was glad there were no big Midwest boomers like the ones that flanked us for about half of the 4.8 hours we clocked on our way to Torrington, Wyo., the other day, where we began this adventure with a practice day at the ranch of K.C.’s friend, cattle rancher Larry Hume. The Avidyne integrated flight displays on our decked-out, GTS-trim SR22s sported XM Weather, which has changed the way I fly, and it sure came in handy that afternoon. Besides painting a near-real-time graphical picture of what’s going on in the atmosphere, it showed the METAR observations, TAF forecasts and winds aloft along my flight-planned route. Some of our flights throughout the week pushed five hours, and it was nice to have the current conditions at my planned destination (and en route, too) always available. On long flights like that, I’m usually asking ex-New York Mayor Ed Koch’s trademark question, “How’m I doin’?” a lot, and not just about weather.

I’m three hours out. How’m I doin’?

Time to change tanks. How’m I doin’?

I’m almost there. Already? How’m I doin’?

Because I wasn’t too keen on flying over new-to-me mountains at night, for the flight to Prescott, I filed IFR and flew down the front range, hanging a right near Albuquerque, N.M. In just under five hours, we alighted in the southwest heat at PRC with 21 gallons still in the tanks. In the Cirrus, I always like to land with at least 18 gallons on board, and the aircraft’s fuel totalizing system is one accurate son of a buck. How’m I doin’? Pretty good.

It was at Prescott that we got our first taste of real “desertlike” density altitude (DA) conditions. Outside temps were well into the 90s, and with a 5,000-foot-plus field elevation at PRC, the density altitudes figured in the 9,000-foot range, which we confirmed with a glance at the DA readout on the Avidyne MFD’s engine page. Because takeoff runs in such conditions were longer commensurate to the higher altitudes and elevated summer temperatures, rather than hold the brakes, go full power and lean according to the max power fuel-flow table placarded on the Cirrus panel, I’d multitask during my takeoff run and squeeze back the mixture control while referencing the digital fuel-flow value on the PFD. That worked well and saved the prop from possible damage from debris it might stir up and ingest.

Dodging some straggling lightning from a passing storm, our flight of two slipped into Heber City, Utah. After K.C.’s ride at the Oakley Independence Day Rodeo that evening (8.7, not bad), we hooked up with his friend, Scott Morgan May, at the Flying J Ranch for dinner and a place to hang our 10-gallon hats. By the way, how much usable gas does the SR22 have? Eight hats. Scott was astonished that I’d never dined on elk, so he fried some up in a cast-iron skillet, and some veal too. Not wanting to seem persnickety, though I don’t eat veal, I cowboyed up and dug in. After a few bites, Scott told me that I was eating roadkill. “You see…” he told me, “my friend hit this calf, which had wandered out onto the road, with his car.” I kept chewing, smiling my best, “Who cares?”–smile. “Butchered it myself,” he cracked, showing lots of teeth. I still don’t know to this day if he was telling the truth, but if that veal really was roadkill, it was the best roadkill I’ve ever had.


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