As of today, I have 161 hours in the JungleBus. While I'm a long ways from "experienced" in the airplane, I've moved beyond the beginner stage where you have to think about everything you do to the level of familiarity where at least routine procedures become second nature. It's a comforting feeling for a pilot: an airplane that once seemed foreign, clumsy, even intimidating becomes as familiar as one's own home. Just as you can find your way to the bathroom or refrigerator in pitch black darkness, or know exactly where your floor will creak, a pilot develops instinctive motor memory for a machine he's been flying for a while. I'm at the point where merely thinking "altitude" sends my hand stretching for the altitude selector, while the mention of speed guides it to the speed selector knob two inches to the left. Now, any familiar airplane can become unfamiliar again in a hurry by doing something you've never seen it do or being put in a situation it wasn't designed for. But at least having a firm grasp on normal operations better equips you to recognize and deal with those abnormal situations.
After six weeks of nothing but Saskatoon hi-speeds, the MSP-YXE-MSP route was getting a little too familiar to me! Thankfully, I was able to trade away the last two weeks of February for a four day trip plus a few Vancouver turn daytrips. That four day trip was interesting. It was mostly east coast flying out of Detroit, so I went to a lot of airports I've never been to before (DTW, CLT, PIT, BNA, ORF, OKC). It's nice to see we do have a system outside of Minnesota & Saskatchewan! The airports are pretty easy to get used to (standard signage and good airport diagram charts go a long way) but all the unfamiliar VOR names had me referencing enroute charts rather frequently. I also got a refresher lesson in U.S. geography since I haven't spent much time on the east coast. Winter weather with widespread cloud cover cut down on scenery watching, but I did enjoy a nice low-level tour of Chesapeake Bay on the way into Norfolk, VA the other day. It was my first time to Virginia. Norfolk seemed much nicer than its gritty reputation, from the air at least.
We're settling into our apartment pretty well now. Aggressive craigslisting has furnished our apartment with some cool stuff on the cheap. I joke to Dawn that our place could be the craigslist equivalent of an IKEA showroom. I'm getting familiar with the watering holes and coffee shops within walking distance, and have a pretty good system for getting myself to and from work via public transit. I'm pretty sure we're going to sell my Blazer and get by on one car. I may get a motorcycle come summer. Although I complain constantly about the Minnesota weather, and I do miss the Pacific Northwest, in a certain way it's been exciting to go about building a new life for ourselves in Minneapolis.
At the moment, Dawn and I are back at our townhouse in Vancouver, WA. For the last two days we've packed up the remainder of our belongings and loaded them onto a U-Haul truck; tomorrow we'll be driving to Minnesota. Yes, the townhouse finally sold. Last week on Wednesday we got a full price offer with no contingencies. In today's real estate environment, we consider ourselves very f0rtunate to be selling our house for quite a bit more than we bought it for in 2005. The house passed inspection and the buyer's financing appears to be on track so we decided to take advantage of a 5 day gap in my schedule to move everything back to Minneapolis. Our place is utterly empty right now; it already feels like someone else's house. I have a lot of good memories in this place so it's hard to leave, but I remind myself that very little of that life remains here, so lingering is useless.
A few readers seem to have misinterpreted a comment I made in a previous post about my impending captainhood. No, I'm still a First Officer. However, an award for 24 new captains is coming out in a few days, and as I'm 15 from the top of the FO list I assume I'll be on it. Unless something changes, it's looking like I'll be a Captain at NewCo sometime in March.