“What a Ride”

Tali sat back down. Ben closed the cabin door. When he pushed the handle down to the lock position, the windows immediately fogged over. He tried the door, it wouldn’t open. Willy made a dash for the cockpit and hopped in the left seat. Ben was right behind him and he jumped into the right-side pilot seat. Jold, Tali and Kate crowded forward just behind them to see what was happening. Bandit jumped up on one of the seats and barked.

The master switch moved to on; the needles on the gauges came to life. They heard the starters cranking and felt the shaking of the engines starting, first the left, then the right. The old Shirley Ann was not airtight, so exhaust fumes seeped into the cabin when she wasn’t moving. The fog on the windows was more like a thick layer of ice now, nothing outside could be seen. The controls were moving without help. The throttle levers inched forward a little, the engines revved up and the Shirley Ann was rolling. That allowed the  stinky fumes to be replaced with fresh air from the vents. The flap lever moved to 15 degrees down. Next to the 15 degree mark it read, “takeoff position”. Willy gently placed his hand on the controls to feel what the plane was doing. Then, without warning, the throttles pushed full forward against the stops and the engines roared. The Shirley Ann accelerated. Willy read out the airspeed from the gauge. “30 mph, 40 mph, 50, 60.” The wheel came back into Willy’s lap. “Are you pulling on that?” asked Ben. “Nope.” Willy continued calling out the speed, “70, 80, but before he reached 90, the shaking and bouncing stopped, they were off the ground and in smooth air. The gear lever moved to the up position followed by a whine as the electric motors retracted the landing gear. The flaps were next, retracting back into the wings. A minute later, the throttles backed down from takeoff to cruise power. They were purring along; the airspeed indicated 165 miles per hour.

“Still can’t see a thing,” said Willy. “Me neither,” said Ben.

“Check your watch Ben,” said Willy. “Mine says 1:30.”

“Mine’s at 1:35, what does yours say, Kate?” asked Ben.

“I’ve got 1:30,” said Kate.

Tali, Jold and Kate had been hunched over and squished together since before takeoff. You see, between the cockpit and the cabin is a wall with a small doorway in the center between the pilot seats. That tiny door didn’t leave a lot of room for observation and the cabin wasn’t high enough for any one of them to stand up straight. It wasn’t long before they moved to a seat in the cabin. Bandit was already curled up on the tiny sofa.

Tali reached for the picture she had brought along. Holding it with both hands she studied it, then turned it over. A handwritten note was scribbled on the back. Fall, 1951, early snow.

“The pictures, that’s it, they’re the secret to the Shirley Ann,” said Tali. She handed the picture to Kate.

“How cool is that?” asked Kate. “It’s just so weird.”

“Alaska, here we come,” said Jold. “Did everyone bring warm clothes?”

“How long ya think it will take us to get to Alaska?” Jold yelled, so Willy and Ben could hear up front. But before anyone could answer, the throttles came back to idle and the Shirley Ann began descending. The three in the cabin jumped up and rushed forward.

Willy looked at the altimeter, and then tapped it with the tip of his finger. He had seen pilots do that in the movies when a gauge wasn’t working.  “If I was reading it right, we were cruising at 12,000 feet before the Shirley Ann started down. The airport in Buena Vista sits at 7,950 feet, so we must have climbed about 4,000 feet. We’re on our way back down now.”

Then, without warning, the Shirley Ann dropped violently, as if a big hand was forcing the plane down. Tali and Kate both screamed. Ben and Willy grabbed the sides of their captain chairs. A desperate white-knuckle grip was the only thing keeping them from being tossed around the cockpit. Jold, Tali and Kate hit the ceiling with their heads, then dropped to the floor.  Two seconds later Shirley Ann  shot up, like a rocket powered elevator, pinning them to the floor for a moment.

“Everyone, strap in,” yelled Ben.

The other three crawled along the floor, grabbing hold of anything they could to keep from being tossed around. They made their way through the cabin to seats that had belts. Tali and Kate ended up next to each other, struggling to latch their belts then pulling them as tight as they possibly could. With one hand they held onto the armrest of the seat and held hands with the other. Jold fought to buckle up facing the girls. Then, like something out of a movie, Jold grabbed Bandit midair as he came flying through the cabin.

The Shirley Ann creaked and whined as she was tossed by the fierce winds. They couldn’t tell if they were right side up or upside down. How could she possible hold together? “Are we gonna crash?” someone asked.

Then, as quickly as the violent wind had begun it stopped. It  would take a little longer for the heart rates and hyperventilating to slow. All five released their death grips as the color returned to their cheeks.

“Is everyone okay?” asked Ben.

“Yeah, we’re all right back here,” replied Kate.

“Never been a roller coaster like that before,” said Jold.

Tali was the first to notice; “the fog on the windows is clearing, I think I can see mountains.”

“Yeah, I can see out front too,” said Ben.

They were flying below mountain peaks through a narrow canyon. The engines on the Shirley Ann throttled up once again. She banked left, then right and back to the left as she snaked her way through the canyon. This went on for several minutes before they heard the engines slow. The landing gear lever and flap levers went down. A loud thump let them know the gear had locked into place. They were flying along a river with trees on both sides. The Shirley Ann continued to slow; lower and lower she sank, now only a foot or two above the rushing water with pine trees towering above them on each side. Willy and Ben were thinking water landing.

A rock wall was looming straight ahead. The wingtip nearly touched the water as the Shirley Ann made an aggressive aerobatic 60-degree banking left turn to avoid it and follow the river. When she completed the turn, Ben and Willy could see a long gravel bar just ahead on the left. An area next to the river that had been leveled by years of rushing water. In the spring when the water was high, it completely covered the gravel bar. It could only be used for landing in the fall. The Shirley Ann lined up and leveled her wings, the engines slowed to idle just as the wheels touched down. She bounced along the rugged surface, the sound of gravel and rocks beating the underbelly as they rolled to a stop. The flap lever moved back to the up position, the throttles to cutoff. The electrical power switched to off, the gauges shut down; except for the altimeter and temperature, which required no power. All was quiet. The altimeter read 8,600 feet, and the outside air temp – 34 degrees.

Ben took a deep breath, “I guess we’re here.”

“But where is here?” asked Willy.

Ben and Will got up and moved to the cabin where the rest of the gang was seated. They all unhooked their belts. Tali pick up the picture from the floor, the glass hadn’t broken. She handed it to Ben. “This is where we are,” she said.

“Awesome!”

Jold stepped to the cabin door at the rear, it opened easily.  Alaska greeted him in her own unique way; a powerful blast of bone chilling artic air. “Gonna need our coats.”

Bandit was first to jump out, but he didn’t run away this time. “So, what do we do now?” asked Kate.

“Bundle up, then let’s do some exploring,” said Willy. “I’ll turn on my GPS and see where we are.”

It wasn’t until they got out that they realized the right landing gear tire was in an inch or two of water rippling over the gravel. The right wing was extended far over the rushing river. The left tire was on dry rocky ground. However, the left wing only had about twenty or thirty feet of clearance between the tip and the trees. It looked like just enough room for the Shirley Ann to swing around without hitting the trees and take off in the opposite direction. That was no accident.

Willy walked in a big circle, then from one end of the sand bar to the other, all while looking down as his GPS. “Sorry guys, no signal. Maybe the mountains are blocking it.”

“Yeah, or maybe we went back in time to 1951, that’s the date on the back of the picture. No GPS back then,” said Tali.

“How is going back in time even possible?” asked Jold.

“How is it possible for the Shirley Ann to fly at all?” said Kate. “This is super crazy.”

“Hey guys,” said Ben. “It’s starting to snow; we better build a fire. I’ll get my hatchet; we can build a firepit and chop up some of this driftwood.”

Kate and Tali gathered river rock to build the fire pit while the guys collected the driest driftwood they could find. Ben chopped it up and ten minutes later they had a roaring blaze. They reached toward the fire with outstretched arms to warm their hands. When the front side was warm, they turned around to warm their backs.

“This feels so good,” said Tali as she pulled up her hood.

“I’m hungry, anyone bring marshmallows?” asked Jold.

“You were in charge of food, Jold, if you didn’t bring them, we don’t have any,” replied Kate.

The fire was toasty warm, but the snow fall was getting heavier. It wasn’t long before they were forced to retreat to the Shirley Ann. From inside the cabin they watched as the sun dropped below the mountain peaks and the heavy wet snow smothered the flames. The temperature plummeted; the outside air temp gauge in the cockpit now read 11 degrees. No fire, no stars, no light. The Shirley Ann became their refuge.

Kate passed out the sleeping bags they had stored in the cargo compartment. Jold handed a Baby Ruth to everyone.

“Jold, I told you to get health bars,” said Kate.

“They are health bars, they have peanuts and ya know that chocolate is made from cocoa beans; so it’s kind of a vegetable,” answered Jold.

Kate rolled her eyes and sighed in frustration. “Fine!”

They peeled off their coats and shoes, climbed in their bags and zipped them up to their neck. They hopped to their seats where they would spend the night.

“Hey, you know these seats lay back,” said Jold. “Just grab the handle on the outside and pull. Not such a bad place to sleep.”

Ben was the first to ask the obvious question. “You guys think the Shirley Ann’s going to take us back tomorrow?”

“If the snow gets too deep, I don’t think she can take off. We’re probably stuck until the snow melts,” answered Willy.

“The Shirley Ann didn’t bring us here just to turn around and go home. She brought us here for a purpose, I’m sure of that,” said Tali.

“Tali’s right,” said Kate. “There’s a reason we’re here.”

“Everyone… be quiet,” whispered Jold. “Did you hear that?”

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