We leave Dragoon Mountain Ranch just after 7AM with three of my friends in the Tesla Model 3, heading to Phoenix airport. We make a couple of quick stops along the way, arriving right on time at 10:30AM. I find the Terminal 4 doors where I return the Tesla to its owner. At this point, we split up to find our flights, with one friend going to Sedona for time with family.
I’m incredibly early for my 5:30PM flight to Calgary, so end up waiting around in the ticketing area, since I can’t even check my bag until two hours before the flight. After finally checking my bag with WestJet, I have a late lunch downstairs and then go upstairs through security and into the gate area. My flight is delayed from 5:25PM to 5:40PM, but the boarding goes quickly. We takeoff at 5:47PM, and the flight duration aboard our Boeing 737-700 is 2:43 instead of 3:06, so WestJet is obviously trying to make up some time.
Time is tight to clear Canadian Customs & Immigration and find my next gate in Calgary, but full credit to the WestJet staff in the airport, since they have expedited the way for those of us with tight connections. Our Boeing 737-600 takes off at 11:15PM and the flight duration will be 1:14 to Victoria. Once we are airborne, the flight attendant dedicated to our dozen-seat Plus Economy section serves us drinks and snacks more-or-less continuously. I have a gin and tonic, and snarf down as many snacks as I can before we start our descent!
After arriving just after midnight, I take a taxi from Victoria airport to home – a very long and stressful day, but a wonderful trip overall!
Some of us visit the Pima Air & Space Museum today, and others go to downtown to see the Tucson Museum of Art. Since I’m a confirmed aircraft nut, I make my third visit to Pima with my buddies, finding some fascinating new aircraft and equipment to learn about. We meet back at the main building at 12:00 noon to take the tram tour around the grounds, and then it’s time for lunch in the cafeteria before carrying on with touring the hangers and field until we are picked up at 4PM to return to the ranch.
We then meet the rest of our group (and others) at Argenzianos restaurant in Vail (Yelp review), which is between Tucson and Benson. This dinner meeting was arranged by one of our fellow amateur astronomers from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada who happen to all be staying in the area, with the guest of honour being a fellow RASC member and famous comet hunter David Levy and his wife Wendee. The food and service is great, and the conversation is fascinating. Who knew there were so many RASC members in southern Arizona!
March 7, 2019 – Dragoon Mountain Ranch
I’m up early to see another beautiful sunrise over the Dragoon Mountains. We stay home today, but some go into Benson to shop. I observe a Northern Mockingbird on the birdbath at lunchtime, and manage to get a pretty good photo through my telephoto lens. This evening we celebrate one of our group’s birthday with steak and a birthday cake.
March 8, 2019 – Dragoon Mountain Ranch
I fly my drone over the observatory this morning, but otherwise I just sit around inside the house. Everyone else is doing the same thing since there is a wicked wind outside – gusting to 60 mph by this afternoon. We have a spicy ground beef casserole with cheese on top for dinner – very tasty! I dash outside for the superb sunset lighting the Dragoon Mountains east of us, and a rainbow appears just to put a cap on it.
The cloud cover and wind dissipates as forecast by 8PM, so the group go out for observing and night sky photography. One of the beautiful celestial targets tonight is the very faint and wispy Witch Head Nebula (see banner image above).
I drive some of the group across Dragoon Mountain Ranch to St. David, and then to Bisbee and Tombstone in my rented Tesla Model 3. We drive to Bisbee first and have a very nice lunch at the High Desert Market before splitting up to see the historic mining town. (Bisbee photo gallery) Once we meet up again, I drive to Tombstone, where we only spend about a half hour walking the infamous main street, since it is raining.
It is a wonderfully clear night back at the ranch. Tonight, I take images of the beautiful NGC 2174 – Monkey Head Nebula through the superb 20” Newtonian astrograph telescope. This combination reflection and emission nebula is located in the constellation Orion. Since the image acquisition is automated and I’m not feeling too well, I sit inside the house while the imaging runs in the observatory. I go out once in awhile to check on things and join my fellow astronomers to observe visually under the beautiful dark skies.
I wake up shortly after 5AM and decide to get up, since the skies are clear and still dark, and the Milky Way looks spectacular curving over the Dragoon Mountains in the east to the south, with Venus, Saturn and Jupiter in a broad alignment in the same region. I use my new Sony a7 III camera and the Sony Tessar 24-70mm zoom operating at 24mm for the first few photos, and then switch to my Canon 8-15mm fisheye zoom and Sigma MC-11 converter to gain some wider perspective of the Milky Way all the way from the south to the north. Focusing manually using the Sony a7 III is dead easy, since when I touch the focus ring on the lens, the camera displays a magnified image of the star I’m using for focus.
My photos of the Milky Way turn out well, however I’m in for another treat an hour later after I spot the old but very thin Crescent Moon hanging over the Dragoon Mountains. I get my Sony 70-300mm zoom and take several photos with my Sony a7 III on Aperture priority and a -3 EV setting that seems to work very well. I have used my travel tripod up to now, but can handhold the lens for the final few shots as the Sun rises.
Garry takes us on a hike into Council Rocks, so I take my Mavic Pro drone along. I fly the drone at the two rest stops we make, and capture some wonderful video and photos, despite me losing sight of the drone several times in the bright sunshine.
There are clouds building in the sky this afternoon as I prepare dinner for the group. I make a double batch of ground turkey pasta, made with egg noodles and Classico pasta sauce, and served with vegetables. As expected, there is no observing or photographing the night sky tonight due to cloud cover. I show the video and photos from my Mavic Pro drone taken earlier today on our hike into Council Rocks. Everyone is blown away by the high quality and smooth motion.
I get up around 7AM and make some coffee, and others soon join me. This is a day with nothing planned, so we can recover from our travel. After everyone is up and have breakfast, some of us walk around the ranch fence line. It is quite pleasant since the weather is cool, clear, and sunny. I fly my DJI Mavic Pro drone this morning, capturing some nice still photos, panoramas and video of my friend’s property.
Some of the group have afternoon naps, but I stay up familiarizing myself with my new Sony a7 III mirrorless camera, in order to get ready for imaging in the dark this evening. I also get my list of targets for the big imaging telescope ready, since the skies are clearing this evening. When it starts to get dark, we go out to the observatory to start an imaging run using a 20″ Newtonian astrograph telescope, and the visual observers setup with their own equipment and also use a 25″ Newtonian telescope.
The procedure for imaging in the observatory uses a script to conduct the imaging runs automatically. After troubleshooting this system for the next hour or so, we successfully get our imaging runs working, which run all night automatically until dawn while we sleep. My target for this evening is the Jellyfish Nebula – a galactic supernova remnant in the constellation Gemini. My observing report
My friend and I take a taxi to Victoria airport several hours before our 6:30AM flight leaves – WestJet flight from Victoria to Vancouver on a Bombardier Q400 regional jet. The pre-dawn light on the scenery out the window is nothing short of spectacular over Georgia Strait, so I take lots of photos of the islands before landing. (see banner image above)
After we arrive at Vancouver airport, we have two hours between flights, and it takes most of that time to walk kilometres to the US-bound gates (E-series), and to pre-clear US Customs & Immigration. I have to remove my drone and my notebook computer when clearing airport security at both Victoria and Vancouver. I still haven’t had a coffee by the time we board our flight to Phoenix!
We are number five for takeoff at 9:38am from Vancouver. The WestJet captain announces that we will be flying at 33,000’ with a 2:39 flight time on the Boeing 737-800. The flight is not full, and the legroom where I’m sitting in Economy is amazing! I have my usual hummus and crackers when food service is offered aboard the flight, and have some Coca Cola as well.
It is a spectacular sunny day as we climb out of Vancouver bound for Phoenix, so I take photos with both my iPhone XS and my Sony a7 III. I don’t bother with the in-flight Internet at $10.99 for 90 minutes, since the duration of the flight is only 2.5 hours. I read some workshop material on my iPad since there are no views today as we fly over the Grand Canyon enroute to Phoenix..
After landing, we retrieve our bags and since we pre-cleared US Customs and Immigration, we are free to be on our way. I make contact with the Turo rental guy for the Tesla Model 3 I’ve rented, and he meets us curb-side in the airport arrivals area. My friends and I manage to squeeze all our bags, gear and ourselves in to the Model 3, which is a bit smaller than the Model S I rented last year. Getting out of the Phoenix airport proves to be a bit of a challenge, even with the in-vehicle navigation, however eventually we are on I-10 heading south to Tucson and onward to Dragoon Ranch.
I decide to stop at the Florence Tesla Supercharger midway between Phoenix and Tucson, not because the vehicle needs a charge, but because I want to have a few minutes to have a look at the Model 3’s controls and find out how it charges, since this is my first time driving this vehicle. Since I haven’t had a coffee all day, it would also be nice to have a cappuccino or even a regular coffee, but the food places near the Supercharger don’t serve coffee! I pull out of there once the car has 50 miles of extra charge and drive about a half hour further down I-10 until I see an interchange with a McDonald’s sign. We pull into the parking area and have a proper rest stop, where I finally have my first cappuccino of the day! My friends and I also have some lunch and take advantage of the restrooms before we continue down I-10 through Tucson.
My last stop for about a half hour is at the Tucson Tesla Supercharger at Rita Road east of the city, since I want a decent level of charge by the time I get to our friend’s place on Dragoon Mountain Ranch, so we don’t have to rely on slow charging when we drive out of the ranch to see the sights. We also stop at the Safeway in Benson to stock up on food and beverages before completing the drive, arriving after sunset. Two more in our group arrived earlier today, so they have dinner ready for us. I’m very tired after the flying and driving, and starting the day at 4AM this morning, but I have a good sleep tonight.
I’m awake at 5:45AM, probably due to jet lag. I turn off my alarm, get cleaned up, and go downstairs for breakfast at 6:20AM. The coffee is acceptable, and I have some toast, yogurt, and a muffin before going back to my room to finish packing. I catch the 8AM airport shuttle, and arrive before WestJet has opened their baggage drop counter in Terminal 2. Once they take my checked bag and check my passport, I ask them to print my boarding passes, despite having already checked in using their app on my iPhone.
To my relief, I have TSA Pre printed on my boarding pass for the flight to Vancouver. I clear the TSA Pre-cleared security check in literally two minutes, and I’m in the gate area for my flight. I grab a cappuccino from a nearby coffee shop and find my gate. It is controlled chaos in this very congested area with 5 gates where there should probably be two.
My WestJet flight loads quickly and since I’m in Group 2, I board before most. The aircraft pushes away from the gate on-time at 12:05PM, and the captain announces the flight will take two hours and 20 minutes – a bit faster than the stated flight duration. As I did on the way down, I again buy the hummus and crackers snack at a cost of $4, and along with some Coca Cola, call that lunch. It’s a very scenic flight north to Vancouver – I see Pyramid Lake in Nevada (see banner image above), and the weather in Vancouver is perfectly clear, so the approach to the airport is quite scenic.
I clear Canadian Customs and Immigration at Vancouver airport in short order, clear security again, and find my last gate for this trip for my flight to Victoria. I calculate that I’ve traveled some 35,500 kms or 21,300 miles in the last 20 days!
I’m up at 5:15AM, put my bag out and have breakfast at 6AM downstairs in the hotel with the rest of my tour group. Since all the bags and people are aboard bus, we leave 15 minutes early for the Kuala Lumpur International airport. Our local guide Susan is a Type A personality, so everything is highly organized for us! We arrive on Level 1 where our driver Mohammed drops us off. We then take the elevator to Level 5 where Departures are located. We check-in, go through security and clear Malaysian immigration. We then take a train to the departure gates, find our gate and board our Airbus A330 – a four hour Dragon Air flight, which leaves on time at 10:30AM.
After disembarking our first flight in Hong Kong, we re-group at the end of the Jetway and Michele suggests a few of us more mobile members go ahead to start the transfer process, including a couple of security checks. It is a pretty long trek across this huge airport – taking about a half hour to find our gate and get ready for our much longer flight to LA. It is totally disorganized at the Cathay Pacific gate, with Business Class and priority boarding mixing with Premium Economy, but we eventually all board and are seated.
The Premium Economy upgrade is expensive and only applies for the return trip segment between LA and Hong Kong, but it includes a nicer dinner menu with more choices, complementary alcoholic drinks, a chair that is more comfortable, which reclines more, and has a recliner foot rest. We also get to board before regular economy and have our own cabin with exclusive washroom.
About an hour out of Hong Kong, we have drinks and dinner, and are then given a bottle of water and an overnight kit for the night. I plug in my notebook computer to the 110v outlet under my seat – another perk of Premium Economy. I’m satiated and relaxed as we head eastward over the Pacific aboard Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-300ER. I manage to sleep off and on for the first seven hours as we fly through darkness. The Milky Way and southern constellations are beautiful as I observe them out my south-facing window. At the seven hour mark, we have blue sky, but I can’t see the Sun rising because we are heading due east.
We land 12 hours after departure – two hours less than the flight in the opposite direction. As a Canadian, I qualify for the faster customs and immigration kiosks at LAX, however once through that hurdle, I still have to join a second line to see an agent before I’m free to collect my bag.
I say goodbye to Michele at the baggage carousel and walk over to the hotel shuttle pickup area to catch a shuttle to the Best Western Airpark hotel. The hotel is nothing special, but it is clean, quiet, and the best deal in the area. I immediately have a shower and go to bed for three hours. After waking, I go across the street to Roscoe’s Chicken Waffle restaurant, which is very busy. Just like the name says, they serve chicken and waffles…not a vegetable in sight except for some greens listed on the menu that nobody seems to order! The chicken is good, the waffle is OK, and I’m no longer hungry. Let’s just say it was an interesting cultural experience!
I return to the room and checkout things online before going back to bed. Flying eastward means I get to live today twice, gaining some 15 hours in the process while crossing the International Date Line. In reality, all it means is that I’m tired from the long flight and my body’s clock will be screwed up for a couple of days!
I wake up at home by 6AM. and I’m at Victoria airport by 8AM to check my bag through to LAX aboard WestJet. I calculate the elapsed time from leaving home to arriving at our Kuala Lumpur hotel will be about 33 hours! After we board the flight to Vancouver, there is a miscount of passengers. The flight attendant counts passengers in the aircraft several times, however we finally pull away and take the scenic southern route over Boundary Bay approaching Vancouver Airport from the south and the east.
After arriving in Vancouver, I have to walk a few kilometres – the full length of the airport to get to the USA-bound flights. After taking off my shoes, coat, belt and watch, I’m still hand-searched by the TSA staff before I can pre-clear US Customs and Immigration. The US customs agents ask if I have a bag, but their procedure obviously doesn’t include having bags with passengers anymore…at least the automated kiosks for entry to the USA in this area speeds up some of the pre-clearance entry process!
I have four hours to wait in Vancouver for my flight to LA, so once I find my gate, I have some lunch at Tim Hortons. My flight departs on time at 4:14pm, so now I can relax, since Michele and the tour company will be responsible for coordinating the rest of the flights until we return to LA.
I watch a movie on my iPhone using the in-flight networked entertainment offered by WestJet – Bucket List with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. It is a beautiful flight south as we pass by Mount Shasta and other snow-capped mountains in southern Oregon and northern California. The Sun is setting over the hills as we approach LAX.
The LA airport always seems to be out-of-control, where confusion reigns. I arrive in Terminal 2 and have to get to Tom Bradley International next door, but I can’t find any directional signs. I ask the staff at the baggage desk near where I retrieve my bag and they show me the right direction to walk. It isn’t far, but again, once I’m there, I can’t find any signs to indicate where the check-in counters are located. After asking for directions yet again, I find my way to the third floor of the terminal.
Thank goodness I have Premium Economy, so I can use the Business check-in at the Cathay Pacific counter. The clerk urges me to make my way to the departure gates as soon as possible, since he says security clearance will get crazy in a couple of hours. That may be, but when I go through security, it is almost at the level of being dehumanizing. The TSA staff are yelling at the passengers, there is no TSA Pre-clearance available, and everyone has to go through a full body scan. Combined with taking off shoes, belts, and coats, it is a dreadful experience. I’m glad to get through it and find my gate.
I grab a cappuccino and a chocolate chip cookie from Starbucks and sit down at the gate to unwind. By 9:30PM, I see some of my tour group arriving. I recognize some people from my previous trip to Arabia with InFocus Travel, and another clue is the yellow yarn tied to their carry-on bags – our tour leader Michele keeps track of her group this way. Those of us who upgraded to the Premium Economy get to board right after First Class and Marco Polo members. Loading goes smoothly, but our Cathay Pacific flight leaves a bit late at 12:45AM.
April 3 & 4, 2018 – Tuesday & Wednesday – Flying from Los Angeles to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Once our Boeing 777-300ER levels off after leaving Los Angeles, dinner is served. Those of us in Premium Economy are given a menu of four entrees and complementary wine. Our seats are pretty deluxe: they recline more than the regular economy seats, have a recliner-style foot rest, and there is both USB power and regular 120 volt power at each seat. There are only two seats instead of three beside the windows, where I am sitting. Once dinner is over, the cabin is darkened, we are given lots of pillows, blankets and an overnight kit. I manage to sleep a fair bit for the first 8 hours or so of the flight – a first for me! By my count, the Premium Economy cabin has 36 seats, with slightly over half of them occupied. We have our own bathroom, and since the bulkhead row ahead of me is empty, I move up there after takeoff so I have room to spread out, and I won’t disturb anyone when I get up to move around a bit during the long flight.
Since we are flying westward across the Pacific, we lose a day as we cross the International Date Line. A couple of hours before our arrival in Hong Kong, the crew serves breakfast. I’m pretty hungry by this time, since our last meal was dinner some 12 hours ago. They serve eggs Benedict with hash browns, spinach and a tomato. It’s pretty good, but what I really appreciate is the coffee, since I last had a cappuccino from Starbucks in the LA airport some 15-20 hours ago!
We arrive in Hong Kong a bit late – 6:58AM instead of 6:45AM. That may not seem like much, but our group’s connection is very tight, we have to go through an entry check point even though we are transiting to Malaysia, and the gate for our flight is on the other side of this huge airport. Our long walk takes us almost a half hour before we finally find the gate, and a few minutes later they start loading. But wait, they have a surprise for us. We are loaded into a bus and taken even further out on the airport aprons to a waiting Airbus A330, where we have to shlep our carry-on bags up a steep flight of stairs and to the back of the aircraft, where we are all seated. Welcome to Dragon Air, a regional airline owned and operated by Cathay Pacific.
I guess by this point in this endurance contest, we could all be forgiven for being a bit ragged and cranky! I help some of the more senior members of our tour group lift their bags into the overhead bins as we all settle into our seats. After we are airborne on our four hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, breakfast is served. I’m not in the mood for more eggs, but they have a seafood noodle dish which hits the spot.
Our aircraft arrives on time at Kuala Lumpur’s huge airport. We quickly clear Malaysian Customs and Immigration, find our local tour guide Susan and our bus driver Mohammed, who drives us along Malaysia’s beautiful, modern expressways to Kuala Lumpur and our hotel for two nights – the Hotel Majestic.
It takes awhile to sort out our rooms, and everyone has to pay the 20 Ringgit room tax in cash at the desk. Malaysia charges this room tax per night at each hotel we stay in for the whole trip. The hotel has an old, classic colonial section and a new tower. We are staying in the tower. I quickly unpack, have a shower and then have a two hour sleep before our group meets downstairs in the hotel for a sumptuous buffet dinner. After that, it’s back to bed for me, since we have a full day tomorrow touring Kuala Lumpur.
I take my time this morning in the hotel, going for breakfast around 8AM and then taking a walk around the neighbourhood, knowing that I’ll be sitting in airports and airline seats for most of the afternoon and evening. I check out of the hotel just before noon and drive over to the airport’s short term parking lot. I contact the Tesla’s owners to let them know I’m ready to return the car to them. They tell me to just leave the car where it is and they will remotely lock it and pick it up later. The trip display in the vehicle shows that I drove 666.5 miles, used 189 kWh of electricity, and averaged 284 Wh/mi energy consumption. So if I was paying for the electricity to power the car, it would have cost me about $20!
I check in with Delta airlines and see that my boarding pass shows the departure time for my flight from Tucson to Seattle is delayed to 6:25PM (was 3:55PM). Before going to the gate, and knowing how much of an actual delay I’m dealing with, I decide to have a meal at Noble Hops, a bar/restaurant by the Delta ticket area. They serve very nice craft beer on tap, and I have a delicious Shepard’s Pie with my Dragoon IPA – the bill comes to US$37 (CAD$50)! That said, I know the airline won’t be serving meals, so I will at least have one good meal under my belt to keep me going on what is looking to be an endurance contest.
I proceed through airport security and find my gate, and see that the estimated departure time has slipped yet again to 8:00PM. At this point, the gate staff rebook me to the last flight out of Seattle for Victoria at 11:17PM, arriving in Victoria at midnight. Our aircraft is still stuck in Seattle due to bad weather, and will have to be de-iced for a second time before they depart, which means it will be 9:10PM before it will depart Tucson back to Seattle. That means I’ll miss my connecting flight to Victoria and I will have to overnight in Seattle. I hate airlines!
The gate staff are doing their best by offering free snacks and beverages. They hand me three meal coupons worth $15 each for breakfast, lunch and dinner in either Tucson or Seattle airport. I go down a couple of gates and find a bar that serves food and order a grilled chicken sandwich, using one of the coupons. Several of the passengers on my flight are at the bar drinking. After all this, the aircraft finally pulls away from the gate at 9:15pm. It will be a 3 hour and 11 minute flight according to the onboard announcement. This is an Embaerer aircraft, which means it’s small: one isle with two seats on either side, small overhead compartments, and the seats are quite cramped.
Once we are clear of Tucson, we fly through some very rough air while the cabin crew try to serve beverages – it never fails! The captain takes the aircraft to a lower flight level, which smooths things out considerably. I watch a movie using my iPad and Wi-if through the Gogo inflight network for free: “Pirates of the Caribbean- Dead Men Don’t Tell” – the first movie I’ve watched all the way through for probably a decade!
Orion constellation and the Crescent Moon are visible off the wing to the west during the last hour of the flight. Once we land in Seatac, the fun begins. My big bag is checked through to Victoria, so it doesn’t appear on the carousel. I go to the nearby Delta Baggage office. Thank goodness a woman is still there despite it being after midnight. She advises me to go upstairs right away in order to arrange for an overnight hotel with the Delta agents before they go home. There are no agents to help me upstairs, so I return to the baggage office, and I try calling the Delta Customer Assistance number, but nobody answers – so much for customer service!
The baggage clerk indicates this is not something she normally does, but she makes a call and has someone walk her through issuing me a hotel coupon for the Red Lion Inn in nearby Renton. By that time, her co-worker in the back has located my bag and puts it on the nearby carousel for me to pick up as I go to the hotel shuttle area. I manage to squeeze into the last seat in the shuttle that is about to leave with my fellow wayward Delta passengers, taking us on a 20-minute drive from the airport. The night clerk at the hotel slowly checks all of us in. The hotel is no great shakes, but it is clean, and after turning the heat up and having a quick shower, the bed feels good!
Feb 24, 2018 Saturday – Seattle to Victoria
I’m booked on a 1:05PM flight to Victoria, so I can sleep in before going downstairs for breakfast. There is a buffet, but I prefer to have a vegetarian omelette along with the rather mediocre coffee. I check my Starbucks app, but there isn’t one close by and I don’t see any other coffee shops in the mall the hotel is located in, so no cappuccino for me this morning! I take the 9:30AM shuttle back to Seatac airport, since the hotel isn’t running any more shuttles after that until the afternoon.
I have to clear security without the TSA Pre-clearance I usually have on my boarding pass, however I have lots of time, and the procedure isn’t too stressful. The flight leaves on time and I’m back in Victoria airport an hour later. My bag appears on the carousel, I clear Canadian customs and immigration in under a minute and take a shuttle back to town. They drop me off a few blocks from home, so I walk home and I’m greeted at the door by the dogs. I make myself a cappuccino before unpacking. My daily routine resumes tomorrow!