Porterville CA to Willows CA: Pacific Ocean at Last!

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May 17th 2008
Published: May 21st 2008
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Porterville CA to Willows CA

Porterville: a hot, dry departure. The airshow people were doing their thing, and we had to fit our departure in between their graceful formation takeoff practice runs. We were finally on our last leg towards our first view of the Pacific Ocean. We took off around noon. In the early afternoon, we sighted the blue of the Pacific as Monterey Bay heaved into view. Near the posh city of Monterey, we then turned northbound to parallel the coast.

As noted in omnibus entry, ATC gave us fabulous assistance and clearances that gave us great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and our entire traverse of this spectacular coastal area. While we were circling the famous bridge, the equally famous Pacific fog bank crept up on the bridge to cover the span, all but one of its towers, and, well, most of the Pacific Coast. Lovely to look at...and, well, less than great VFR flying. We continued to our planned gas stop at Healdsburg, across the infamous San Andreas Fault, evident by the inlet near Point Reyes.

Footnote: this was yet one more place where the self-serve fuel system wouldn't take Bob's credit card...AND we ended up chasing the receipt halfway across the apron, leading to yet another in a series of "How many pilots does it take to refuel an aircraft?" jokes.

During that gas stop, a pilot conference ensued, during which the now-heavy coastal fog layer was cussed and discussed. A weather check forced a quick unplanned change of itinerary. Today's original plan had been a coastal flight to Eureka CA or Crescent City for the night. However, as both these places reported as fogged in, the coast had been rendered completely inaccessible to us, so we quickly sketched out an inland route. Ruth pulled up her earlier notes to find Willows, which had easily adjacent hotels that didn't require rental cars.

This was a fun flight -- a hundred miles at the most -- and so short we were tempted to blow off flight plans, flight following, as we could very nearly see our point of arrival from our point of departure. This was all over wine country, the scenery by this point being considerably greener than in our desert days. Arriving into the area, the travelers noted the strange look to the ground, resembling the flooding they'd seen in Arkansas and Oklahoma. As they got closer, they realized that they were seeing not an environmental crisis but a healthy agricultural season: reflections and ripples of water in exceptionally flat fields that were cultivated using flood irrigation, an unusual sight. "I was wondering if they were growing rice, and was surprised to find out that was exactly what they were doing!"

Once in Willows, the choice of accommodation proved propitious, as the proprietor's family was just as gracious as had been the innkeepers in Covington. Geoff's only disappointment was to discover that we had not escaped the oppressive heat. We walked two blocks to a highly-recommended Mexican restaurant that served beer, cold beer, and lots of it. In fact, for such a small town, it had an awful lot of nice restaurants, including Nancy's Cafe at the airport, which was always packed. The only reason we didn't eat there was because our top priority was to get to the hotel and then wanted walking-distance food. Too bad we weren't staying too long.


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