The plan was simple: I was going to hop into the trusty Cessna 152, point it to the north, and fly for just shy of 1,000 miles into the wintery wonderland known as Maryland. That was what I said I was going to do anyway.
What I actually did was drive less than two miles to the Amtrak station, get on board the Silver Meteor and ride in 19th Century splendor right into downtown Washington D.C.
I’ll be honest and admit that I truly enjoy train travel. Sure, it’s expensive to travel any distance in comfortable accommodations that are mounted on steel wheels. It’s not a particularly quick way to get from here to there, and it could certainly be said that delays are more common than not. At least that’s been my experience.
Yet I love traveling by train. It’s peaceful, almost carefree for me in my cozy little passenger compartment. I meet some fascinating people in the dining car, and I get the chance to catch up on my much neglected napping.
As I read those paragraphs, I see nothing derogative or disparaging about aviation in it. I’ll bet you don’t either. But believe it or not, some do.
As I boarded the train I posted a photo to my Facebook page of the big diesel beast pulling into the station. My comment was simply, “My ride is here.”
I thought that was kind of cute. Maybe even clever or creative. Certainly nothing that anyone could take offense to. Oh boy, was I wrong.
One fellow piped up suggesting that I should spend more time promoting train travel and its merits.
Another suggested it was odd and possibly hypocritical of me to be traveling by any means other than by air, given my profession as an advocate for general aviation.
Me? I was just amazed anyone could read much into something as simple as a picture of a train pulling into a station and four small, single syllable words: “My ride is here.” Who would have thought that would be a controversial statement?
Why didn’t I fly? That’s easy. The weather was vicious. A couple cold fronts were sweeping down from the northwest, pulling piles of rain, snow, and ice along with them. The temperatures dropped radically too, bottoming out in the negative single digits at my destination.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the dubious distinction of spending several hours in a light single engine aircraft when the temperatures go negative, but I’ve never found it to be an enjoyable experience.
Similarly, I note the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for the C-152 says nothing about the anti-ice or de-ice systems fitted into the airframe. I can only assume that this omission indicates there is no anti-ice or de-ice equipment available on a stock C-152. I’ve certainly never seen any signs of heated leading edges, or inflatable boots. Not once.
So I ask you, if the decision to fly is a no-go due to weather, is there really anything wrong with deciding to travel by other means? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it’s the responsible course of action — so much so that I ended up on a train.
Now admittedly, I could have flown commercial. Or I could have gone by bus. I might have driven my own car, or even a rental car. I suppose I could have checked at Port Canaveral or Miami to see if there were any ships headed north that would dock in the vicinity of the nation’s capital. Or I could just take the train. Which I did. And I enjoyed it.
Okay, so I’ve gone a long way to make a simple point: It was an enjoyable trip for me. I hope you got some pleasure out of it too.
In the end, the long and the short of it is this: No matter how much we may love general aviation, and no matter how devoted we are to growing the pilot population, and regardless of how bombastically we might promote general aviation as an endeavor to be cherished — that does not, by any means, suggest we should be slavish devotees to the idea of traveling by air or not at all.
To take that stance would render us little more than fanatics and, in this case, fanatics who were advocating flying into dangerous weather just to remain true to an industry that isn’t asking us to commit to an exclusive relationship.
Now for the kicker: While at dinner on the train I sat a table with a young man who works in the kitchen on the trains, a young woman from Pakistan who is completing her studies and certification tests to become a dentist, and a student from Kenya who had tried to become a pilot in her home country, but failed to complete her training. Imagine that!
It took a long-distance train ride for me to encounter a frustrated flight student, which gave me the opportunity to advocate on behalf of general aviation, while riding the rails and enjoying a very lovely dinner at the same time. I gave her my business card. If she calls, she calls. If she writes, she writes. I’d be happy to help her get back on track and accomplish her goal of becoming a pilot.
And to think, if I’d traveled by any other means, I never would have met her. Life is weird like that. Thank goodness.