Thursday, June 4, 2009
To New Hampshire and Beyond!
I turned on the TV yesterday morning at my friend Peter's apartment in Boston. The Today Show was on and Matt was on location in front of some historic building. As I started waking up a little more I realized that Matt was in Boston and broadcasting from Faneuil Hall which was on the way to the train station- my destination for that morning.
I hopped on the T and headed downtown. As soon as I got off the train at Government Square, there were TV trucks everywhere. The Clark Rockefeller trial was going on, and all the crews were out to cover it. Then I spotted the NBC News truck, and pretty soon I saw Matt Lauer glancing over some notes as a crowd of cell phone photographers looked on.
He was finishing up his part of the show, and as I walked by he was leaving the set. I waved and he looked at me a little confused. "What are you doing here?" He asked. I explained I was on the trip, heading North. He introduced me to Jim Bell, executive producer of Today, and Matt reminded Jim of my segment last week. We chatted for a minute before he headed back to New York and I headed for the train station. I boarded the Downeaster Amtrak a little after 9AM and headed into New Hampshire.
After about an hour and a half we pulled up in Exeter, New Hampshire. I had been talking and emailing with Mike from the nearby Hampton Airfield for a few days. He owns an old biplane from the 1930s and offered to fly me to Manchester. We were planning on flying the next morning, but the biplane can't fly in heavy winds, so we had to keep the plans tentative. I called Mike from the train, and he said the current weather was great, but it looked like rain was on the way and that we should try to take off ASAP. I had also been in touch with Josh from Wheel Power, a bicycle shop in Exeter, a few weeks earlier so I walked there from the train station.
We were originally talking about biking the whole way to Manchester, but that was before the biplane ride entered the picture. I told him I had to get to Hampton Airfield as soon as I could, so he generously lent me a mountain bike and gave me directions for the eight mile ride. About half an hour later I reached my destination.
I met up with Dick, my pilot, at the Airfield Cafe. He was sitting down to lunch with the other airfield staff and some local plane enthusiasts. He didn't seem to be in a rush- the weather was still looking good- and he encouraged me to join the table for a snack before we left. They told me about the history of the plane- it was originally used for barnstorming (aka stunt flying) before it somehow fell into the hands of a crop duster in the Midwest. The Hampton Airfield bought it a few years ago and recently restored it to its barnstorming glory.
It looked like something out of a movie with the cloth wings and all the wires and poles holding them in place. The seats were open to the outside, and they warned me that it would be loud and windy so I suited up with an Amelia Earhart-style pilot's cap and goggles before I climbed aboard.
Dick and I got comfortable in our seats and he turned the engine on for ten minutes to warm up the oil before take off. We taxied to one end of the grassy runway, turned around as the propeller amped up, and pretty soon we were airborne. Looking at the classic plane on the ground, it was hard to imagine that this contraption could actually fly, but pretty soon we were soaring over trees and buildings. It was louder and windier than I expected, and without windows it really gives you a different flying experience. I was much more sensitive to the changing wind currents and various air pockets that provided the occasional weightless "stomach dropping" moments.
After about forty minutes we landed at Manchester International Airport and pulled into the Wiggins Airways terminal between some FedEx planes and some Army helicopters. Everyone on the tarmac seemed to gravitate over to get a closer look at our unique aircraft. Dick mentioned that it's one of only five of its kind still flying. There were only around 150 of them manufactured to begin with.
I had planned on staying in Exeter that night and had already arranged for a place to sleep there, so I wasn't sure what I was going to do now that I was in Manchester. I put out a tweet and called a few people, but nothing seemed to be coming together. The nice folks at Wiggins Airways had a contact at a nearby hotel though, and were able to get me an employees rate for the night. This was my second night paying for accommodations on this trip, but at least I wasn't paying much. And there was free WiFi.
Today I'm walking to Segway headquarters for a tour and then a twenty-five mile Segway "glide" to Concord, NH. I'll be in Concord tonight, and then tomorrow I'll have to find my way to Claremont, NH about fifty miles away. I'm looking into a few options, though I'm far from having a concrete plan. I could bike the fifty miles, but I hear it's hilly. Feel free to write in with any ideas...