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Day getaway by small plane to Sedona, Arizona

Today I had the opportunity to combine two of my passions: aviation and women. Not necessarily in that order.

I invited a woman I’ve been seeing for the past several weeks to fly to Sedona with me for the day. Sedona is 82 miles (132 km) north of Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix — roughly a 40-minute flight — and it’s a beautiful spot to fly into. It also happens to be a beautiful spot for a romantic day getaway. The coincidence was not lost on me.

We left Deer Valley around 8:45 this morning. The flight to Sedona was flawless. There was almost no wind at either airport, although there was a strong tailwind aloft. We arrived before we knew it. My passenger was all smiles and as cool as can be.

Sedona is considered among aviators to be one of the most scenic, most beautiful airports in the country. The airport sits on a mesa about 500 feet above the village. Because the ground drops off so steeply at both ends of the runway, it’s likened to an aircraft carrier, and it has been nicknamed U.S.S. Sedona. This was my third flight there, but unfortunately, as the pilot, I’m always focused on landing the plane when I arrive there. It’s not until I get out of the plane that I realize what a great view of the red rocks you get from the airport. One of these days, I’ll have to fly up there in the right seat.

We took a shuttle from the airport to the village. Sedona doesn’t really have taxis in the traditional sense. You can rent a car at the airport, but for a short stay, it makes more sense to hire a ride. There are some business cards in the airport telling pilots and passengers who to call to arrange a shuttle to town. I called a real character named Gator, who showed up about five minutes later in his maroon Lincoln with bull’s horns on the hood. He has lived in Sedona for years and is a real chatter, wanting to know all about us and how our flight from Phoenix was. His stated rate is $12 for the one-way trip, but he more or less refused to take more than $10 from us. We did convince him on the return trip to take another $5 as a tip, but even that only roughly put us back to the amount he was “officially” charging.

We asked Gator for a breakfast recommendation, and he dropped us off in front of Wildflower Bread Company. It’s a chain, so we could have just as easily gone to the one two miles from Deer Valley, but the view from the patio of the store in Sedona was great. As we walked out on the patio, I noticed that one of my co-workers happened to be there with his fiancée. I knew they were going to be in Sedona this weekend, but that we chose the same place for breakfast was still a funny coincidence. Or maybe not, since Sedona doesn’t have tons of breakfast choices. We chatted about our weekends a bit, but mostly we left ourselves to our respective companions.

After breakfast and a walk around the village for a while, we decided we had seen enough and headed back to the airport. Oddly, after getting in the plane, I felt a little nauseous. I think I was a little dehydrated. My passenger had the good sense to bring some water with her, which I had forgotten today, so I drank some and relaxed in the pilot’s seat for about five minutes. Once the bout had passed, I started the engine, taxied to the runway, and took off.

Unfortunately, the flight back to Phoenix was not nearly as pleasant as the flight to Sedona. We started experiencing turbulence shortly after takeoff, and it continued throughout the flight. I climbed to a higher altitude to try to avoid it, which helped for a while, but I had to descend again when we encountered some virga. The landing at Deer Valley turned out to be one of my most challenging in almost two years due to a rather stiff crosswind. It turned out to be a decent landing, but it was accompanied by a tremendous amount of sweat on my part. I also lost a lot of the items off my lap when I landed, including the after-landing checklist, which complicated things a little.

After we put the plane back in the hangar — and my companion did help push the plane, by the way — I stowed my belongings in my flight bag — headsets, charts, etc. She told me she would have stowed the equipment, but she suspected I might have a special way I like to do it. I told her I was impressed with how quickly she had recognized my compulsive behavior.

If my passenger doubted a moment of my piloting, she certainly didn’t show it. She said she’d fly with me again. I consider that a high compliment.