We were nearly exhausted.
We started early in the morning and had flown commercially to L.A. to pick up the new helicopter. Paperwork done, the machine was buried in the hangar and it took a while to move other machines out of the way to free it. During my preflight I checked the oil level, then could not get the dipstick to screw back into its housing. I asked the factory liaison to come out and give it a try. He also could not get it back in its proper place. This meant the dipstick and its housing both had to be replaced, requiring the services of a mechanic. Of course this maintenance had to be noted in the maintenance log. The whole process took over an hour and it was near close-of-business when we finally had all the I's dotted and T's crossed. I stuffed my bag beneath the seat next to the ground handling wheels and extra oil the factory provided, then helped the new owner put his stuff beneath his seat.
I organized the charts I would use and laid them at my feet, then, since we'd be flying after dark on this leg, checked to insure my flashlight emitted a strong beam.
We started the machine and set out on our journey much later than we hoped.
On a brand new helicopter the thousands of new parts are just getting to know one another. I've had lots of little things go wrong on the trip East with these machines (and a couple pretty BIG things), and have learned it's not good practice to fly after dark until all these parts have become friends. We landed at the desert airport in Blythe, California an hour after the sun had disappeared and the new owner and I agreed it would be foolish to continue to Phoenix... we were no longer mentally sharp enough to handle possible emergencies that might arise. Darkness made continuing a VERY foolish prospect. It was time for a good meal and a cold beer or two.
There's a feeling of satisfaction getting that first leg of the trip behind you. We both grabbed our luggage from beneath the seat, hid both new $1,000 Bose Active Noise-Canceling headsets there, collected the charts we would need for planning tomorrow's venture, locked the helicopter and patted it on its nose, and walked to the now closed terminal to use the outside phone there and call for a motel courtesy car.
"Hi ! We're at the airport and need a ride and a room."
"Sorry... we have no vacancies."
"Okay, thank you." ...Find the number for the next motel.
"Hi. We need a room."
"Sorry, we're full."
"Oh? What's going on in town?"
"This is the weekend of the gemstone convention. I think all the rooms within 50 miles are full."
Uh-oh. I hadn't given any thought whatsoever to the possibility we might not be able to get a room. We were already in "beer mode" mentally, and the idea of having to walk back to the helicopter, repack our stuff and reorganize the flight gear and continue toward Phoenix gave us both a sinking feeling. We were just about to dejectedly start back to the machine when we heard the chirping of tires on the runway... a Beechcraft King Air landing. It taxied up near our helicopter and as it turned to park I noticed, emblazoned on its tail... the star of life.
A glimmer of hope!
The door opened and out popped a flight nurse in a flight suit much like the one I wear when I fly EMS. To her I said, "We need help!"
"Are you strays?" she asked with a smile.
"Yes, I guess we could be called that."
I first established that we were kindred spirits by talking about my full-time job, then told her about our predicament. She said, "I think we can take care of ya."
She pulled out her cell phone and I heard her say, "There's a couple guys here that need a good meal and a place to stay. Is your camper still available?"
As she listens to the reply she nods to us.
In a few minutes we are all loaded into a van and headed into town, a 10 minute drive from the airport. We pull into the "Western Sizzlin'" parking lot and I get to meet Floyd, the owner.
Floyd has recently lost his brother to illness.
His brother was a retired Army Major and a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam.
Floyd is good people. He wouldn't allow us to pay for our meal.
We slept that night under a chilly, star-filled desert sky in an old camping trailer with no plumbing or electricity.
It was just about the best night's sleep I've ever had.