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Monday, July 4, 2011

A 4th Of July To Remember

When I first decided to write a weekly digest, fears ran through me wondering if I could write some thing new every week. The answer is yes and no. The no part, is that my adventures are part of my history so I may have told or written parts of it at other times. The yes part is, there are still years of adventures to share and more to come that I have yet to live through..
Today being the 4th of July I searched for the most memorable 4th of July adventure I had. Living in the San Francisco bay area we found ourselves torn on where we would go to watch the fireworks. The weather and the fog would dictate our choice. One wonderful thing about living in a great metropolitan area that is surrounded by hills (mountains in most places) and unpopulated open spaces in the way of regional and state parks is that on a clear evening you can see most of the cities of the bay from overlooks in the hills above Berkeley and Oakland. Our favorite point is just above the Berkeley Science building on Grizzly Peak Boulevard. The Boulevard runs on the ridge at an average altitude of 1,500 feet above the bay. Grizzly peak itself is at 1,770 feet of elevation sitting on the peak is a 200 ft antenna. Since there is very limited parking on the road, people park at the science buildings lot then hike up about a mile to the choice viewing spot know as the wall, right bellow the peak and the antenna. This also happens to be the choice spot where the local cafe racers gather each day to see the sun drop behind the golden gate.

On the 4th , sunset is at 8:35, Fire works shows generally begin at 9:00 when the sky is almost dark. This evening, the customary fog was being held out in the ocean by a warm breeze blowing out from the Sacramento Delta. It was warmer than usual on the bay and the breeze was giving a clear view past the golden gate. I was looking towards the Golden Gate Bridge 10 miles away, as the last rays of the sun dropped off the horizon, just then I saw a spec go under the bridge. I though it was small aircraft but could not be sure. No one in their right mind would fly under the Golden Gate, your privilege to fly could be suspended until icebergs fill the bay.

The bulk of the crowd had settled in by 8:45, bellow the sounds of fire crackers, bottle rockets and whistlers were finding their way up to our perch. My eyes are always scanning, searching for movement, it has become a normal part of my awareness. I once again saw some movement on the bay that captured my attention. In the low light I thought I saw an aircraft go past Alcatraz at wave top level heading south towards the Bay Bridge near the San Francisco side. I was now transfixed on following the shadowy character that was purposely flying dangerously low to stay below air traffic and the military radar. His small slow speed might look at marine radar as a fast moving speed boat as he went under the bay bridge. I lost him behind the spans and I suspected that he made a left turn heading east and hiding his radar signature by the reflections that the metal of the bridge provide to marine radar.

It was now 5 minutes to 9, the fire works promoters seem to always set off a couple of flash bangs to notify to the crowd that the show will shortly begin, they also do it to get a reading on wind. Each of the 7 major shows that were within sight signaled that they were ready. My mind was trying to calculate where the phantom plane went. I did not see it turn to go south through the bay so I assumed that he was heading east hugging the Bay Bridge as he had to cross right in front of the the still active Alameda Naval Air Station just 3 miles south of the bridge. Sure enough I caught a glimpse of his shadow as he had to gain some altitude when he reached land and had to clear the ports giant container cranes and a couple of 10 story buildings. This pilot really knew the terrain as I doubt that even if he had radar he would not dare turn it on for fear of being blown out of the sky by an F16. I was able to follow his progress as his profile would sometimes be visible by the shadows outlined from the street lights of Clairemont Avenue.

At this point it was quite dark, it was one of those nights when the moon was only showing a slight sliver. Karyn was the only other person aware of the mysterious flier. She is every bit as perceptive and maybe more. I have always assumed, and right fully so that she sees and is aware of everything more so than most people. Our children were not to thrilled on having two parents with this ability. As the plane got to the intersection of Clairemont and Ashby. I asked Karyn if we had enough insurance in the event that he crashed into our shop. From this point it is all tight twisty canyons and I was certain that we would shortly see the fireball caused by his crash. The fire works are now going in earnest. Looking down at fireworks from a distance is a totally different way to see these shows. The bangs are not as loud and are out of sync with the display. Since we could see clearly 3 separate shows it was like people at a tennis match, Oakland to the left San Francisco straight ahead and Richmond to the right. Our heads were turning to follow the action and the oohs and aahs.

I gave up following the planes progress and got into the wonderful vista in front of us and snuggled with the most wonderful woman in the world. Just then a flash bang from behind and above us was startling. But it was not as nearly as startling at seeing a Cesna 150 rising 35 feet in front of you out of the canyon clawing at gravity as the plane rose straight up. I hoped he wold have his accident on the other side of the peak.. He flew straight up to a stall, nosed over and came swooping down close enough we could feel the prop and wing blast as he descended back down into the blackness of the woods in the canyon below. He banked to the left and repeated his performance at another gathering of people about 200 feet south of us. He continued doing his flying ballet to the fireworks in the distance and the cheers of the crowds for 15 minutes. He departed as he came in.

Ignorance is bliss, the crowd was loving the up close and personal Aerobatic display. In hindsight I was able to appreciate it, at the time the worst scene scenario was unfolding in my mind and I was powerless in being able to do anything about it. All ended well, thousands of people had a show and a 4th of July to remember forever, Karyn and I got another great adventure and story to tell. No one knew who the crazy but extremely talented pilot was, I had a very short list of who I thought it could have been

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