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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Angels Landing

Remember how a few weeks ago I did a post about Eastern Uganda where I showed some shots of some of the scenery over that way?  And I had a picture of a mountain top and said that some day I'm going to find a way to climb up there?  Well, that got me thinking about the Angels Landing trail that my two oldest boys and I climbed last year in Zion National Park in the U.S.

And since I'm actually not flying right now, as I wade through the process of trying to get a commercial pilot's license here, I figured I'd take a break from the East Africa stuff, and do another post or two on the U.S. National Park stuff that I never finished up earlier this year.  If you didn't get a chance to check out those posts, just go over to the column on the right and scroll back to October, 2013 and work your way forward.  Or go directly to the first post here, and then start working forward.

Anyway, as I already said, this one is about the Angels landing trail, which is in Zion National Park.  The photo above is a picture from the valley, looking up toward the rock fin, on the left side, that we were about to ascend.  Below is a picture of one section of the trail, where there are a series of very sharp switchbacks one right after the other.  This is probably one of the most scenic and craziest public "hiking" trails in the U.S.  I can't believe they actually let people use it still, as there's been quite a number of people that have fallen to their death on the trail.  They even have a prominent sign posting those figures part way up.   But the trail is absolutely amazing!  They carved it straight out of the solid rock back in 1926, and as you work your way up it's hard not to gape with your mouth open at the beauty of your surroundings...and the craziness of those people who decided to carve a trail to the top!

The first two thirds of the trail is a lot of fun, and pretty amazing, but frankly, it's rather benign--meaning, you'd have to not be paying attention to fall off and die (unlike the upper portion).  I mean, it's paved or cemented (with natural colors that blend into the surroundings) and wide enough to comfortably have several people walk side-by-side, or pass each other, even if it does drop off hundreds of feet sharply on one side or the other.   But then you eventually get to the point where you have to make the decision to either start out on the fin itself (below), or sit down and enjoy the "safe" view.  This is where many, or most, of the people stop and simply enjoy the view.  Even from here you can see up and down the canyon in both directions and the views are astounding!  And from here on out, things get a lot more hairy!  The trail winds it's way up to the very tippy top of that fin (below).  It might not look like much in this picture, but trust me, there are many places where one wrong foot, or one little stumble would result in certain death.  That's part of what makes it so exciting--it's an unparalleled view, that's available only to those who make the effort.   By the way, if you look closely in the picture below, you can see little people walking along the section of the fin where it dips.  That gives you a sense of the scale.

In many places the trail is barely three feet wide, and drops absolutely vertically on either or both sides--up to about 1,500' on one side and about 800' on the other.  In some places they have a chain anchored to the wall to hang on to, but it's not like a safety chain that will catch you.  It's always on the wrong side for that.  It's up to YOU to hang on to IT!  If you slip, or let go, that's all she wrote!  There were some places where you had to transverse a short lateral slope that was quite steep, and ended in a cliff, with gritty sand on the smooth rock.  Frankly, those parts were a lot more unnerving for me that the stretches like the one in the picture below, where at least your footing was sure if you kept your wits about you.

Frankly, the pictures here just don't capture it really well.  Despite what you or my wife might think, I was in fact keeping a close eye on my two boys, making sure that they were being safe and deliberate in each and every step.  So the scariest places where it would have made best photos--well I didn't get photos of that b/c I was helping them navigate.  There are a number of places where it's too tight to pass, so it becomes single file in those places.  Fortunately we had risen early and were among the first to ascend that morning, so there wasn't much pressure from behind, and no one coming back down yet as we worked our way up.  It was just a lot of fun!

At the top, the views are unbelievable!  The sky was so deep and blue and clear, and the sun was rising and painting the rocks a golden yellow in all directions.  Amazing!  It was hard to take it all in.  I love being on the top of mountains, and wish I had more chances to climb.  Some day I'd like to climb the Rwenzori Mountains along the border of Uganda and Congo.  They are the highest mountain chain in Africa, and have snow and glaciers year-around, and some crazy fauna and epic vistas (if the clouds part, which doesn't happen often).  But you're not allowed to climb them without a guide and that costs money that we don't have right now.  So that will have to wait till who knows when.

Anyway, my boys wanted to peer off the edge, but it's literally 1,500 feet straight down.  So I thought it best that they not stand directly on the edge.  Besides, if I didn't fall to my death on my own, my wife might have killed me if she'd have seen a picture of that.  So we deleted those pictures and... ha!  Just kidding.  So what we did was we laid down and just looked over the edge so we could see straight down 1,500 feet and stay perfectly safe in the process.  See, I am responsible!  It was fun to watch the little tour buses way down below, and the people down there looking up.

Here's a view looking one way down the canyon...

And here's a view looking the other way.

Well, after an hour or so on top we started making our way back down.  Sometimes going down can be worse than going up, but again my boys did great!  I don't know how many people commented on the way down about my son, Hudson, who was 9 years old at the time.  I think he made a lot of people feel bad--him with his big grin on his face, tackling the trail confidently but carefully, and many of them content to look from a distance at those last 500 meters of the fin.  Trust me, it wasn't for the faint of heart, or those afraid of heights.  It would not be a good place to have your knees start knocking together, or to freeze up, especially when there's so many people trying to go both directions, and several places where it's only single-file.  But Britton an Hudson were both rock stars.

It was a great experience for us to share together, and one that I'm sure we'll never forget!  Maybe someday my boys will be back with their own children, and tell them about how they first hiked this trail with Grandpa Dave way back in 2013.  Sheesh!  Now I feel old just thinking about it!!

On the way down we stopped to enjoy a picnic lunch along this bend in the trail.  Not a bad spot to eat lunch eh?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Forney Flyer - August 2014

Here's our latest Forney Flyer news letter hot off the press.  If you typically get our prayer letters via e-mail, you should have already received this a few days ago.  If you're on our hardcopy mailing list instead, then it should arrive in the mail sometime in the next week or so.

If you'd like to view a pdf copy of this letter, go here.  To see a few of our previous Forney Flyer letters, or if you're interested in joining our ministry team, please go to our MAF staff webpage here.

You'll notice in the blue section of the front page, that I mentioned the issue with my Ugandan pilot's license.  My temporary license has indeed now expired, which means I'm grounded indefinitely.  The process to get a permanent conversion pilot license here is proving to be a bit frustrating and lengthy.  It will likely be quite some time before I'm able to work through the process and begin flying again.  I appreciate your prayers that things could fall into place as efficiently as possible.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Kids Love Planes!

Kids love planes!  I think that's pretty universal, don't you?  Anywhere in the world, if you introduce an airplane to a group of kids, they go bonkers.  Especially in places where it's not an everyday occurrence. (Below, a picture in Moyo, right by the border of S. Sudan.)

There's just something cool about a vehicle which can defy the laws of gravity.  So, in order to satisfy that curiosity, loads of school kids often come to our hangar in Kajjansi for a field trip to see the airplanes.  It always amazes me how absolutely excited they are to get to see and touch a few parked airplanes.  Parked.  As in, not moving.  Not flying.  Engine not running.  Just sitting there quietly.  Yet the kids are going crazy with excitement.  But make no mistake, they're always well-behaved, being corralled and managed by a handful of equally energetic and enthusiastic teachers.  

If I happen to taxi in from a flight while they're all there, they stand respectfully in lines at a safe distance up on the hill, overlooking the parking area, waving enthusiastically.  You'd think I had just flown some sort of heroic, death-defying mission in WWII, by the way they respond when I wave back.  Who knows, maybe some of that enthusiasm will translate into a few of these kids someday becoming pilots with MAF?  The truth is, though, in many places like this, the dream of becoming a pilot is WAY beyond reach for all but the very upper class--as the expenses of training would be so beyond there reach as to be totally impossible.  But MAF is working on plans towards making more national training a reality in years to come. 

Last week I went up to Arua, near S. Sudan, and had to spend the day waiting there while another MAF plane from S. Sudan came down and picked up my passengers.  Then in the late afternoon that plane brought me some passengers to take back to Kampala.  (Due to a little "issue" Ugandan-based flight operators are currently unable to fly internationally, so we have to exchange passengers with the MAF plane from Juba.)  After helping my passengers through the immigration process in the morning, I walked back out to my plane and noticed several school bus loads of kids standing a respectable distance from my plane...staring. Mesmerized.  The aircraft was closed and locked, but they were clearly in awe.

Figuring I had plenty of time on my hands, and seeing their excitement, I offered to open it up and let them each take a turn in the pilots seat.  You would have thought I had handed them each a million bucks!  Even the teachers.  They were so excited!  It was actually all very orderly, as the adults herded them into lines, and they each took a quick turn posing for a photo that the teacher took on her cell phone, before getting down and letting the next kid in line hop up in the pilot's seat.  Meanwhile, a group of kids who had already taken their turn seemed to be equally in awe of the pilot.  Trust me, there's nothing special about this pilot, and I tried to convince them of that.  But it didn't work.  They wanted pictures with me too.  So the line went from the pilot's seat to the wheel, where they gathered around me in groups for a photo.  Check out the little guy in the lower right.  I love his expression!

And then there was this little guy, below.  He was SO excited, right up to the point that he got hoisted up to the flight deck.  Then he froze.  He wouldn't sit on the seat.  I'm not sure what he was feeling...maybe all the attention from the other kids and teachers was too much for him?  In any case, once he got down he was smiling again.

So after doing all of this for an hour or so, and after receiving many heart-felt "thanks" from both teachers and children alike, all was quiet again.  As I was locking up the plane a second time, a new person walked up to me and said, "Sir, we have six more school buses coming shortly.  We will do this again yes?"  Ummm...

I was just up there in Arua again on Thursday.  But there were no school tours this time!  The weather was crazy!  It was like the Mountain of Doom, from The Lord of the Rings.  Lighting and Thunder in all directions.  The clouds were just boiling and moving everywhere.  (Panorama below was taken on the iPhone).  I figured I would be spending the night there for sure.  But amazingly, even though it was absolutely pouring about a mile from the strip in an arc of 180 degrees, it never actually rained on the strip itself.  And when it came time to leave in late afternoon, the winds and clouds held back far enough to allow me a safe departure.  During the hour and a half flight back to Kajjansi, I had to negotiate several large walls of weather, but with the sweet, G1000 panel and weather radar, it was no problem.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Flying With Hudson

Last Monday was my son, Hudson's, 10th birthday.  It so happened that I was flying that day, and there was room on all the flights for an extra person.  So Hudson got to be my co-pilot for a day--on his birthday!  Yeah, it's not hard to spot him in the picture--but he wore his bright red shirt and bright red MAF hat just in case. :-)

He was so excited!  Not only is it fun to spend a day with dad at "work", but for Hudson in particular, he loves the flying.  Of my five kids, two of the boys are especially interested in airplanes.  The rest could take it or leave it.   Hudson loves the technical stuff and is gifted in those areas, and for as long as I can remember he's always said that he wants to be a missionary pilot one day.  Who knows, that may change.  There's still a lot of time before he has to make those kind of choices.  But I think he'd be a great pilot!  Here's a "selfie" of us.

Anyway, it was his first chance to get out of the city where we live, and to see some of the Ugandan countryside and the people in some of the more remote places.  He thought it was pretty cool that boys his age were carrying tall sticks and in charge of watching over herds of cattle.

Later that night we had a little party for him.  Happy Birthday Hudson!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eastern Uganda

Here's a few shots from Eastern Uganda, close to the border with Kenya.  The people in this area are cattle herders.  In fact, at the strip below, there's usually hundreds of cattle wandering around (and on) the airstrip just before we land.  The boys and men quickly get the cattle off of the strip before the plane is on final approach.  Then, as we drop or load passengers the cattle tend to wander back out onto the strip again until just before we're ready to take off.  I thought it was funny that the first and only photo I've taken from this strip has a goat in it, rather than a cow.  Oh well.  

I wish I could speak the local languages.  The people are so smiley and friendly, but don't understand much English in these parts.  But I always feel super welcome here! 

I love the big, vast skies up in the northeastern parts of Uganda.  They remind me of the skies in the American West and Southwest, where you just feel so tiny and insignificant.  There tends to be a lot of haze and dust and poor visibility around Kampala, where we live, so it's nice to see the blue skies and epic clouds stretching from horizon to horizon out in these parts.  Can you spot the plane in the picture below?  It's there, on the runway, just to the left of the mountain in the distance.

Here it is up close.  Looks a lot different than the Kalimantan, Indonesia scenes I was used to for the past eight years!  No steamy jungles and dogs and chickens running around--and the strips aren't in the center of the villages.

Here's a beautiful mountain peak that rises from the valley plateau.  It's 10,000' or so tall, whereas most of the valley around is about 4,000' above sea level.  I don't know what it is about peaks like this, or big rocks, but when I see something like this I desperately want to be standing on the top.  One day I'm going to find a way to get to the base of this mountain and climb up there and fly a kite from the top.  Or even better, get a hang glider and jump off the top!  There's actually a little village located just over the edge of that grassy slope, not far from the top.  It's really picturesque looking.  It always amazes me where you find people living.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Our Little Pack Rat (And other animals)

So last week our little "pack rat" had an actual pack rat in her closet.  It's no secret in our family that Hannah loves to collect things--anything and everything.  If we're throwing it out, it's a priceless treasure for Hannah, and she wants to collect it and keep it.  We often joke that she's our little pack rat.  

Well, it wasn't a joke last week when Hannah informed me that she heard "rat noises" coming from her closet.  I looked it over briefly and thought there was no way a rat could get in through the doors--they fit too tightly.  So I told her not to worry about it.  The next night she said she heard it again.  And the next.  So finally, armed with a flip flop (I might have gotten something more substantial had I actually expected to find something) I began pulling all of Hannah's priceless treasures out of her closet one at a time.  The pile in the center of the room grew ever larger...but still no rat. Finally I pulled out the last drawer at the bottom of her dresser and guess what popped out?  Yep, a real, live rat--a pack rat!  A few well placed blows with a flip flop dispatched it, but Hannah was absolutely horrified that a pack rat was living among her treasures.  And despite the extreme irony of it, and the jokes from her siblings (and daddy) she insisted that it was NOT because she was a pack rat. :-)  But we all had a good laugh over it.  Here's a shot of the newly deceased.

Speaking of being horrified, a few days later I came down in the morning to make some coffee.   It was about 5:00am and still dark outside and Joy had just walked into the kitchen a few seconds before me and claimed she'd seen a rat scurry across the kitchen counter.  I looked around and thought, there's no where for a rat to hide here...they wouldn't be dumb enough to come out into the open like this.  But I pulled the toaster out just to put Joy at ease and guess what popped out?  Yep, another rat, though a tiny one.  The only thing available were the flip flops that I was wearing which chocked up kill number two!  Who needs a rat trap when you're wearing an old pair of cheap flip flops?  

Now, in order to balance out the disgusting-ness of rat pictures, here's a shot of one of the pretty little birds that frequents the flower bush just beside our porch in the early evening.  Some day I want to walk around and take pictures of all the birds and butterflies and flowers in our yard (or garden as the Brits call it), but I just don't seem to have time for that yet.

Since we're on the theme of animals, check out these ape hangers!  OK, so it doesn't really fit into the animal theme exactly, but I still wanted to show you.  For those that aren't into motorcycles, "ape hangers" are a term used to describe the modified motorcycles where they make the handlebars super tall, so that the rider has to put his hands way up in the air like an ape while riding.  This guy could just barely reach them with his fingertips.  And the best part--he was riding while talking on his cell phone, although when I took the picture he had briefly stopped at an intersection.

Two weeks ago I had to fly in to pick some people up from the very exclusive Chobe Resort on the Nile.  They had done some short-term mission work and then took a few days here to unwind.  I took a picture just to show you how gorgeous it is.  The staff invited me to bring my family back and stay there some time.  I looked at the prices and ummm, yeah, we'll never be staying there.  "Sorry kids, no college for you--we went to the resort for a few days instead."  But it was nice to get to see it anyway.

And while I was waiting for the passengers I did get to walk around a bit and managed to see a few African animals other than the cows, goats and birds that is basically all we get to see around the city.  I didn't have my "good" camera with me, so I couldn't get really close-up shots, but at least I can prove that I've now seen a hippo and some warthogs.  I also saw some buffaloes but didn't get a picture of them.

Sometime we're hoping to do some camping (more in our price range) and then I'll hopefully get some shots of some of the other African wildlife.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Under the Hot Sun of East Africa

Although we live really close to the equator, the temperatures aren't too bad here in Kampala.  In fact, because of the higher elevations here (close to 4,000') the weather is usually rather pleasant. But that's often not the case in the villages where we fly.

As you get further north, especially when you get up into Northern Uganda and South Sudan, it gets really hot! And the sun is oh so bright!