In 2015, I returned to Asia for the first time since 2011, a year after my first international consulting trip for my business. This time I’d skip west across the pond to celebrate my honeymoon in Hong Kong and Vietnam. Throughout the year, I also found myself in Canada, Spain, and Italy…among a few other locales closer to home. But like most of my non-passport related New Year’s Days, I started the year in the cockpit.
January 2015: San Francisco Bay Area
Just about a week earlier, I completed and passed my checkride for my complex aircraft rating and I couldn’t wait to get in the Mooney cockpit solo. As a teenager, I was drawn to this particular aircraft because it was one of my Dad’s favorites. So it was fitting that his son, the private pilot that he trained, would some day take the keys to one of his dream aircraft. While I never had the chance to take my dad up in the Mooney, being able to fly on New Year’s Day for my own personal black pilot annual celebration was pretty special.
January 2015: Hong Kong
Less than a week later, my new wife and I headed out to Asia for a three-week trip to celebrate our belated honeymoon. First stop – Hong Kong – a place I’d traveled to twice previously and thought it would be a great destination to show her around. Hong Kong is a great first stop for western travelers to Asia and as my wife said just a couple hours after walking around, “This feels just like San Francisco.” Great – we traveled half way around the world for 14 hours for you to say that?! Thankfully, she’s not that hard to impress, otherwise that honeymoon would have very foretelling about our future life together. 🙂
January 2015: Vietnam (HCMC, Danang, Hue, and Hoi An)
After a quick three days in Hong Kong we escaped to the craziness of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). For years I dreamt about exploring this vibrant and historic city, and it just so happens that my wife was born there.
Noise, pollution, “noise pollution”, great food, humidity, cafes, and life energy are the keywords that come to mind when I think of HCMC. For me, it’s a great place to visit but only in short bursts. And while I enjoyed our time in imperial city of Hue and the absolutely gorgeous, picturesque ancient city of Hoi An, Danang was my favorite spot to hang in Vietnam. It has the right amount of city, beach, and nature that I find so comforting.
Before heading back home, we stopped in Hong Kong for 9 hours and maximized the time by grabbing drinks at the Ozone – the world’s highest bar – just in time for sunset. Ironically, we spent more money in 9 hours in Hong Kong than we did in our last week in Vietnam. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful end to our three weeks in Asia.
February 2015: Central California
Back in the states and back in the cockpit. One of my favorite flights to take is down the 101 Valley from the Bay Area to San Luis Obispo. From the moment I began my Mooney training back in December 2014, this was the first cross country flight on my Mooney bucket list. So, while my wife was working on Valentine’s Day (and we don’t celebrate it anyway), I took the chance to hop down and buy some of my favorite wine. I didn’t know if I’d make it back that day, given that I couldn’t get the plane to start on my return flight. Yet, after calling a mechanic and trying all different types of starts (hot, cold, flooded), the engine turned over and I was up and out!
March 2015: Palm Springs & Phoenix, Arizona
While I had dreamed and planned to fly the Mooney from Palo Alto to Phoenix, I still wasn’t comfortable taking it too far. Every time I jumped in the cockpit something strange (not unsafe) but simply strange would happen. So instead, I opted for my tried and true Piper Archer. Yet, just a few days before our departure, I received a call that the aircraft I reserved was in for maintenance. Rather than fiddle around with a different aircraft, I decided to drive instead.
Surprisingly, the drive to Arizona with an overnight stop in Palm Springs wasn’t bad at all. At the very least, it was more relaxing than flying and allowed me to truly enjoy my mini-college reunion with my peeps from Arizona State.
April 2015: San Francisco Bay Area (Last Mooney Flight)
Little did I know that in April, I would take my last flight in the Mooney. Though my wife had heard all the random weird things about the Mooney, she was finally eager to take it for a spin.
So on Tax Day, we took to the skies for a brief lunchtime SF Bay Area tour, but even this flight was not without something strange. Though it wasn’t due to the plane but rather some crazy winds/updrafts, a narrow window of altitude between the rising Oakland Foothills and Class B airspace, a passing aircraft that I couldn’t see (though ATC safely separated us), and a Mooney that doesn’t like to slow down.
Let’s just say that I did not enter Class B airspace but did have to manage an aircraft fully throttled back that was actually increasing in airspeed, while turning to avoid an aircraft, all with the low speed (manifold pressure) horn beeping. Yet, my wife, was a trooper. She figured that, “well, he seems pretty calm, so everything must be ok.” Amazing all that goes on in your head even when you’re pretty calm about it. After all that craziness, I just had to treat us to pizza and beer at our favorite place – Oak & Rye in Los Gatos, CA.
Not surprising, just two week after that fairly eventful flight, I was in the cockpit to get in an hour to maintain my currency in my beloved Piper Archers.
Video of My Last Mooney Landing – Palo Alto (PAO) (3 min)
May 2015: Puerto Rico
Well if it’s May, it must mean we traveling somewhere to enjoy my wife’s birthday. This time, it was a week in Puerto Rico. For years, I’d wanted to visit the little island commonwealth but could never work it into the schedule.
There’s such a contrast of equality in PR and it’s evident as soon as you get away from the tourist parts of the island. We always make it a point to go off the beaten path when we travel and so, not only did we enjoy time on the beach and the many, many cafes in Old Town, we also ventured out to Arecibo and Ponce to see what life was really like for the locals.
It’s so heartbreaking how poor much of the island is and frustrating to understand how much of it is the result of exploitation by its imperial overlord. Yet and still, we were happy to contribute to the economy for a brief period and enjoy the simple pleasures of digital nomad life – like waking up everyday one block from the beach and spending evenings reading on the beach.
June 2015: San Francisco Bay Area
So for our annual Two Musketeers adventure, I flew my dad up to Santa Rosa for lunch during his (now annual) summer visit to California. Yet, this flight was unlike any other. After our uneventful leg up for lunch, we flew back and received clearance to fly over San Francisco (even though it was buried in low-level fog).
Along our flight over the blanketed city, we were asked to turn west towards the ocean and stay at 3,500 ft. All was fine and well, until I received a clearance from ATC to “resume my own navigation” – meaning I could turn back south to head to Palo Alto. Yet, when I looked out my pilot’s side window, I noticed a Cathay Pacific 777 departing out of SFO that seemed to be heading toward us like a missile. Now, imagine you’re putt-putting along at 150 mph and a giant several hundred thousand pound aircraft is climbing up at you at twice your speed.
Without making this post all about the next 60 secs or so of that flight, I’ll say that I tried to get my dad to take a photo of the aircraft passing behind us because it seemed very close. So close that the Cathay pilot radioed to ATC that his traffic avoidance system alarmed and, as a result, he would need to file a report with his airline. So you can imagine my heart racing a bit, wondering if I was the one who caused the issue.
But alas, it wasn’t me and we weren’t as close as it seemed. I called ATC a few days later to ask them about that occurrence and I was quite surprised and proud that they looked it up and gave me all the details. We were “600/1.1” – meaning 600 ft apart vertically and 1.1 miles apart horizontally. Both within the limits but only 100 ft and 0.1 miles outside of the limits. Whew!!
August 2015: Madrid & Palencia, Spain
Unlike 2014, I took a much needed break from travels for much of the summer in 2015. It gave me ample time to get ahead on client projects prior to my August and September travel period, which would find me in 4 countries and 9 different cities over the two-month period.
The period started with a visit to Madrid and Palencia to attend a friend’s wedding. This was by far one of the oddest life experiences, given that about 35-40 of the people at the wedding were folks from back in the Bay Area. So countless times throughout the weekend (at the pre-wedding pool party in Palencia, at the wedding reception, and on our Sunday night tapas crawl in Madrid), we all kept feeling like we were hanging in back in Palo Alto.
August 2015: Italy (Torino, Bologna, Genoa, and Milano)
I couldn’t travel all the way to Europe and not make an effort to spend a week immersed in Italian. So I visited one of the cities that was always on my short list – Torino. My 8 days in Torino were soooooo relaxing, as my time there coincided with Ferragosto – the annual period when seemingly half the northerners in Italy head to beach. For me, Torino is a special city – it’s grand, majestic, and off the beaten path for most travelers. The food was amazing, although I had one of my most (seemingly) racist encounters at a restaurant where I also had one of my best meals. (Later, I’ll write a blog post about the feeling of being black in Europe).
During my time in Torino, I took some day trips to visit Genoa and Bologna, and spent my last night feverishly exploring Milan. It only took about 2.5 hours to see most of the sites and so for me, it was the first and probably last time I’ll visit the “New York of Italy” called Milan.
Genoa & Bologna
September 2015: Chicago, Quebec City, and Houston
Earlier in the year, my mom called and said that she wanted to take a trip with me like we used to do when I was younger. It had been nearly 20 years since we both got on a plane (at the same time) to take a trip together. We’d taken many trips up and down California but nothing outside of our home states. So I jumped at the chance to work in a special trip with her to Houston to visit family and friends during my already scheduled trips to Chicago (my annual trip home) and Quebec City (our 1st wedding anniversary trip).
December 2015: Northern and Central California
When we returned to California in the early fall, we welcomed a new member to our extended family, Boba – a beautiful, warm, and sweet Labrador – Australian Shepherd. We made the most of having her in our life (if only for a short period) – taking her on random day trips and weekend getaways. We took our final trip of the year where we ended 2014 – San Luis Obispo, CA. But before that, I had the awesome pleasure of sharing my last flight of the year with another newbie to general aviation – my wife’s cousin.
Yet after four years of being a location independent/digital nomad with a home base in the San Francisco Bay Area, 2016 would be the year that I’d put my life in the Bay on hold and truly become nomadic.