Sunday, February 08, 2009

Over The Fence

I remember when I was a teenager (hey - it wasn't that long ago), and I started being interested in the opposite sex.  My grandmother, in her old world wisdom, would say that I was at the age when a young man starts "looking over the fence".  In other words, looking for something more interesting than what I had in my own backyard.

I've always remembered the expression, and I find that it can often be applied to more than simply attraction to all things female.  As a motorcycle touring enthusiast, one of the things that keeps me searching for that elusive perfect curve is the insatiable need to look over the fence.  I'm always trying to discover new places, people, and experiences.

Last week, that need lead me to the Challenger Canada Annual Rendez-Vous at the Fairmont Chateau Montebello resort in (you guessed it) Montebello, Québec, Canada.  For the uninitiated, the Challenger in this case is not a neo-retro muscle car by Chrysler, but an ultralight aircraft by Quad City Ultralights of Moline, Illinois.  

I've been on assignment in Ottawa for the past three months now, and since I'm away from home and family, my weekends have been rather boring.  I've always been interested in aviation, and more specifically ultralights, as they offer an entry into recreational aviation at a price cheaper than most family sedans.  You can't say that about a Cessna.  Since Montebello is just an hour's drive from Ottawa, I figured "why not"?

First thing of note: the Chateau Montebello is simply amazing.  It's one of those old, grandiose railway hotels that you can find all along the tracks in Canada.  What makes this place so interesting is the architecture.  It is a huge red cedar log cabin!  The lobby's main focal point is the central quarry stone fireplace.  Beautiful!  Built in 1930 as a private club, it's elite membership once included the likes of Lester B. Pearson, as well as Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco.  Very swaggy!  In more recent times, it hosted a G7 summit with Reagan, Trudeau, Thatcher and Mitterand.  Man, what a wild time that must've been... Not.  For motorcyclists like me suffering from a bad case of cabin fever, they rent snowmobiles - which is just what the doctor ordered.

Anyhow, the Canadian Challenger Club have been holding their yearly winter retreat there for a number of years.  I was lucky enough to be there on Saturday morning when most of the members started flying-in.  Now, before I go any further, maybe we should dismiss some myths about ultralight aircraft?  These aren't simply lawnchairs bolted to a hanglider with a chainsaw engine and propeller.  Forget that.  These are fully-enclosed, dual-stick, heated airplanes with more head, leg and elbow room than a Cessna 180!  Equipped with skis, they can land on just about any flat, snow covered field.  And, as I witnessed, they don't need much room to land or take-off either.

So I attended a few sessions with the flyboys during the day.  Great bunch of guys, very similar to hanging out with a bunch of motorcycle enthusiasts.  Of course, while the two-wheeled variety will talk about sprocket combinations and tire choice, these guys talk about propellers and... uhm... tire choice!  Seems Tundra Tires are a big deal to those who like to fly out in the back country (imagine ATV tires on a plane - you get the idea).

At the end of the day, I drove back to my appartment in my rental (Pontiac G5 - ugh) with a new appreciation for these little planes and what they have to offer.  We motorcyclists are often quite proud of our adventurer image, out on the open road, wind in our hair, bugs in our teeth... Of course, most of it's marketing.  So you think you can go anywhere there's a road, eh?  Imagine if you weren't limited by roads... Now you know the attraction to flying.  These guys really see over the fence.


irondad said...

I've always wanted to try flying a helicopter. Financially, that will probably never happen. Thanks to your post, maybe there's a great substitute!

Lucky said...

You should check it out. Most Challenger dealers offer "demo flights" where they'll take you up for about an half-hour and show you what the plane is capable of.

There are two ultralights that interest me, the Challenger and secondly the Quicksilver GT-500. Both are similar, tandem seating, rear pusher prop. They're also both cable of using floats or skis for water/snow landings - useful in my area given the climate and geography.

It's definitely something worth looking into.