We made a few laps around the outside of the speedway during our week in Daytona. B I G place (the track that is).

We rolled into Daytona Beach on Friday, and had plans to get together with my brother Greg and his family Sat noon through Sunday evening. Greg is nearing the end of his degree at Embry Riddle University and has his plate full- so we are going to try and respect the time he needs this close to the end of the semester (and his degree)- but we’re so excited to see his family that we can’t wait until Saturday and they ‘happen’ to invite us to go swimming with them Friday night at the Y. Saturday we have scheduled a special event for Greg and I, both in possession of the gift of flight (not personal flight, but certificates for discovery flights), which is funny because we’ve both flown in small airplanes before. In fact, Greg has formal education in Air Traffic Control and as a Private Pilot. We’re both pretty excited to get in the air, and we were able to plan it to go at the same time, so we’ll have something to talk about on the way home…

This is the ideal view from the front of the bus. Parked at the best beach so far- Daytona Beach. Powdery white sand, gentle slope into the surf, clear warm water, sting rays under foot (!). Ask Ethan and Trevor about that discovery.

We end up dragging everyone along and taking the bus an hour from Daytona to the airport in Apopka. That worked out OK as the kids had a chance to play and the adults were able to chit chat. Greg chose the modern LSA Piper Sport and I get to fly in a 1947 Piper Cub, which is the same type of plane we’ve seen pulling banners along the coast and an all around airborne workhorse for many years. My pilot describes it as a ‘pilots airplane’- because you can see the control cables, and feel the reaction of the ailerons and rudder in your hands and under your feet…. There are only 4 gauges on the dashboard, and the fuel indicator is a vertical wire that is bobbing up and down on top of the float that’s in the fuel tank which is built into the cowl directly in front of me, as I occupy the front seat. There are no radios, there is no electric starter- it’s a classic airplane; it does about 60mph with a 65HP motor as I recall. Adam is my pilot, and decides against closing the side window and door, leaving them open for ventilation, or visibility, or dramatic effect- or all three.

Patiently, Greg is awaiting his instructor to get in and start the engine at Apopka airport with First Landings flight school.

What a thrill! This aircraft has such classic styling, running on 2 main tires and a tiny little wheel in the back under the rudder- a ‘taildragger’- it takes an additional rating to fly one of these- kind of like a motorcycle rating on your drivers license.

We set the throttle and very quickly have enough speed to begin our ascent, but wobble a little bit and then circle around for another look at the airport from about 50’ off the ground before we meander towards Lake Apopka where a couple of dozen alligators are lingering along the shores, and now licking their chops since we were so close they could probably smell us! The Piper Cub uses a stick to control the flight surfaces- turning, lifting, descending. At some point early on in the flight, Adam said “OK, you’ve got it”. Ha. I asked for a little more information- since I had not flown a stick other than about 10 minutes on Flight Simulator - on the computer at Greg’s house. Surely he didn’t want me handling his valuable airplane yet. He did. In fact, once I stopped trying so hard to keep it level front to back and side to side, and started looking for alligators again while flying- it became much easier. I could get used to this! Adam described a light sport pilot rating, which consists of 20 hours of flying (versus 40 for private pilot rating) and restricts the LSP to nice weather & daytime flights. Sounds like a good deal to me… Our 30 minute flight was about 60 minutes too short, but just perfect considering that our families were waiting on the ground for our safe return.

The flight school (First Landings) provided a DVD of the flight including the audio from our headsets. Nice touch, including my screams and brilliant questions. Thanks for that thoughtful and exciting birthday gift Greg, Kristin and Sam!

We would watch the planes load, then take off and we would try to watch where they went to, but always lost them in the sun and clouds. Then, suddenly the sky would be full of parachutes and their colorful people dangling below the canopies, and landing everywhere, all at once!

We moseyed back to their home by way of Deland Florida, the home of Skydive Deland- and caught about 50 people loading up for a jump. We watched over the next 90 minutes as plane after plane after plane took the brightly colored jumpers above the clouds and issued them into the wind for their few minutes of exhilaration, and mostly perfect landings. We watched some folks called ‘swoopers’ hurtle toward the earth at 60-90 degree angles and huge speed only to flare out and gently touch down just a few feet from what could be the end of their flying career if they time it even a little bit wrong. No sky diving for us today.

We wrapped up the day with a few games, and catching up with our Florida cousins, which was so long overdue. Their son Sam is a big 3 year old, jam packed with energy to do everything, stuffed with fearlessness and sprinkled with sweet loving moments. We treasured the simple time to just play and chat. Trevor is interested in flying, and Greg was encouraging to him about the variety of opportunities available depending on which way he wants to go.

You could dig until you recovered 6 eggs to call your own. Just 100 steps from the ocean water.

We are accustomed to Easter egg hunts at home in winter coats with gloves and sometimes snow to wade through with several hundred other kids… This year it would be sand getting in the eggs when they opened them after attending an Easter Egg dig on Daytona Beach. After digging eggs, we stayed at the beach for a few hours and soaked up what might be the last warm beach we’ll be a part of for the remainder of the trip (!).

Despite being a big city of about 70,000, we thought Daytona Beach had a nice feel to it, and attributed it to the nice people we ran into, the lack of rampant commercialism… and before you laugh (if you’ve been to Daytona), it was over the top commercial, but seemed to be behind the times a bit: the businesses along the coastal highway (A1A) looked like they got hit with the freeze ray in 1988. Lots of ‘classic’ signs and styles that I like, but many of the businesses were apparently struggling. On the upside for buyers, a fireman at Daytona Beach station 1 mentioned he had purchased a 3 BR home with pool, about 200 yds from the beach for $110k a few years ago- and the prices were currently about where they were when they bought their home.

Kelly and I pulled the drivers seat to be reupholstered, and the girls moved in on this new space to play.

Tasia entertained us and Mike worked hard on recovering the seats while we had the bus at their place all day.

During our DB stay, we had the front bus seats re-upholstered and therefore had the chance to visit with a couple of those nice local folks I’ve mentioned: Tasia and Mike. They run the upholstery shop (Auto-Tops) that handles a wide range of projects, and did our work quickly with a nice finish. They shared local tips, enthusiastically encouraged us on our decision to undertake the trip, and even let us stay at their shop overnight. Good news! We had arrived at our spot for the night. Other than the train that sounded like it was coming through the bus when it passed, we had an uneventful night- although I was compelled to check for graffiti in the morning. Killing some time waiting for the recommended window tinter to call, we issued new haircuts to Simon and Henry (with the clippers). Never heard from that window guy, so we headed back to the RV park we’d been at and wrapped up our time in Daytona. Next stop: the oldest city in America.

A quick buzz at the side of the bus left Henry and Simon with their comfy summer cuts.