|Triked, Tricked, Trolloped
by David Shaw ©
was split into 5 parts. Jump to any of the segments from here:
There are some lovely beaches down in the south west corner of Western Australia. Long stretches of pristine sand dividing the Indian Ocean from the dense forests of tall karri trees. Hundreds of kilometres of unpolluted and mostly unpopulated coastline stretched like a silver ribbon between rockbound headlands. Very nice - except when your idiot of an husband has bogged down the family four wheel drive on one of those deserted beaches. Believe me, there's no better way of exploring the strengths of a relationship than sharing a shovel on a scorching hot December day, especially when all your joint efforts to dig large holes in fine sand are proving futile. Which was one of the reasons why our marital relationship was sinking even faster than the Suzuki. Not that any of it my fault.
I hadn't wanted to drive way out of town and down some bush track to go rock fishing. As far as I'm concerned fishing is an old man's occupation. Jeff isn't even thirty yet, nor am I, so I thought we could have found something more interesting to do on a Saturday morning. Still, fishing was what he wanted to do and the only alternative if he stayed indoors was having him watch cricket on the TV - and compared to watching cricket, throwing a fishing line into the sea is an epic adventure full of drama and excitement.
So here we were, bogged down before we'd even got to the fishing spot and with no way of getting somebody to come and help us out. The nearest sealed road was five kilometres away, five kilometres of bare dirt trail bulldozed through the trees. No other signs of life on the beach, not even a boat in sight anywhere and Jeff snarling at me all the time just because I happened to be driving the bloody vehicle when it sank down to the axles. He was the one who was telling me where he wanted to go! The most annoying thing of all was my job - I'm a nurse and I was rostered on for the evening shift in the local hospital. A fine fool I was going to look if I couldn't even phone in and let them know I wouldn't be able to make it.
Then something entirely unexpected happened. I was walking back from the treeline with an armful of old branches to push under the Suzi's back wheels when I heard an engine. At first I thought it was a car and then I saw a small aircraft skimming along the shoreline so low it was well below the tops of the karri trees. It was the strangest looking thing I'd ever seen - not like a normal plane with a wing on each side. Instead there was just one wing that looked something like the sail of a yacht, with red and white patterns on it. Hanging underneath the wing was the rest of the plane, what there was of it.
Have you ever been to a fairground and had a ride in one of those little plastic pods that hang down from the edge of a big wheel? If you can imagine something like that, only smaller, with the pilot sitting in it and a windscreen down around his knees, you've got the idea. The only other difference was a nose wheel at the front and two more wheels at the back with pointy hoods over them. Yes, and the engine of course. The plane was flying so low that I could easily see it mounted behind the pilot, with the propeller right at the back of the pod, pushing the strange little contraption along. I suppose it was traveling about as fast as a car would on a normal road and as it came level the pilot waved to us with one hand. The other one was resting on a bar - like a trapeze bar, I guess - which was the bottom piece of a triangle which came to a point underneath the wing. There were two more metal bars that I could also see, from the front and back of the pod and also joined together underneath the wing. They obviously carried the weight of the pod and somehow the pilot was steering himself around with the bar he was holding.
Anyway, whatever he was doing and however he was doing it, he seemed to be having a much more enjoyable morning than we were. As soon as the plane was past us the engine revved up and the plane climbed away at a steep angle until my eyes were watering from the strong sunlight as I tried to watch it. The show seemed to be over, although when I got back to the Suzuki Jeff was still scanning the sky with his hands cupped around his eyes.
"That must be what they call a microlight, or an ultralight. Strange looking thing, like an overgrown hang glider. That's the way they steer hang gliders, with a bar attached to the wing, they push and pull against it to move the weight of the aircraft underneath in relation to the centre of gravity."
In case I haven't mentioned it yet, Jeff is a teacher, a high school teacher. . . oh, you guessed, did you? If there were any teachers on the Titanic they probably drowned whilst giving each other lectures on the way icebergs are formed. Anyway, since he was only wearing thongs, I dropped the tangle of branches on top of his bare feet as a means of self expression. He expressed himself back to me and the plane was forgotten about as we bickered at each other. Until we heard it again.
I was a little surprised to see it coming back again from the same direction as before and even lower and slower. It looked to me as if it belonged in a Star Wars' movie, with its strange shape and the way it was hanging in the wind like a mechanical hawk. I thought it must be a hell of a way to fly, in a seat with nothing around it but empty air. Then the engine noise dropped off and I quickly changed my mind about even thinking about wanting to try it - the wing had dipped lower and it seemed the ultralight was going to crash. The wheels wavered around unsteadily a metre or so above the hard packed sand left by the ebbing tide, like a drunk trying to get his arse back onto a bar stool. Then the ultralight settled down onto the sand with the sudden deftness of a seagull dropping onto a morsel of food. Little gusts of water sprayed out from underneath the wheels as the pod's weight fell onto them. The wet sand seemed to slow their rotation down very quickly, the plane wallowing to a walking speed about fifty metres away from us and the pilot revving the engine to keep his wheels turning until he was level with the Suzi. Then the high pitched yammering of the engine stopped and the propeller blades jerked to a halt. The pilot carefully tilted the wing over, keeping control of it with the steering bar he was holding until the wingtip nearest to us was resting on the sand.
Jeff and I were watching all this with surprise and interest. We kept on watching as a tall and slender man in tight fitting blue flying overalls unstrapped himself and climbed out of the pod. In fact it was only his figure - or his lack of it - which showed him to be a man because his head was completely covered with a wrap around motor bike helmet that had a tinted glass vision panel in the front of it. By God, I thought, I was right, not only does the plane look like something out of Star Wars but the pilot dresses like Darth Vader.
Before he even touched the helmet the pilot took something out of the pod that looked like a giant corkscrew, walked along the wing to the down-tipped end and drove the corkscrew into the sand before tying a lanyard at the top of the corkscrew to the wing tip. The intention was clearly to prevent the wing being blown around. At close range my first impression of it being like a yacht's sail also seemed right. The whole thing was just a collection of aluminum battens wrapped around with coloured fabric. It seemed incredible anybody would trust their life to such a flimsy support. Still, it wasn't my worry, though as the pilot finally removed his helmet I watched with interest to see what sort of a madman he was. A pity there was no chance of him being Harrison Ford.
It was another surprise to see that he was pretty old. In his forties for sure, though very well preserved, with a lot of dark hair turning grey at the temples, a sharp angled face with a wide smile that showed off excellent teeth and crisp blue eyes with crinkles of smile lines around them. Behind the good looks there was confidence as well, self confidence and self assurance. If I'd seen this guy in hospital whites I'd have tagged him straight away not only as a doctor but as a highly skilled consultant. Success smells on some men like aftershave, an enticing aroma which never fades away. And as we were looking at him he was looking at us: at Jeff, briefly, then at me, for a longer time.
"Hi, I'm Brett Reynolds." A nice voice, sharp but well controlled.
Jeff introduced us: "Jeff Pearson, and this is my wife Sandra. You've caught us at an awkward moment. We've got bogged down and can't seem to get out of it."
"Yeah, I could see you were in strife. I can't give you a tow but I thought you might want some messages passed on. I couldn't see any antennas on your wagon and I guess you'd be well out of cell phone coverage in this neck of the woods."
"That's right. We tried to use the mobile but it was a waste of time."
The pilot was still looking at both of us but I knew that most of his attention was on me. Not that I could really blame him for that because I wasn't wearing anything underneath my sweat soaked tee-shirt and my shorts were cut about as short as they could be. In fact I felt quite flattered that I could get a guy like that taking a lot of second looks.
"Is there anybody around here who could help you out?" Brett asked.
"Eddie Turner would come out," I said.
"Yeah, Eddie would be great." Jeff turned to the pilot to explain. "Eddie Turner is a mate of mine, he's got a Land Rover with a winch on it. He'd come and pull us out if we could let him know where we are. He lives quite a way down the road though, in Kilkenny Ponds. Must be about fifty or sixty k's from here."
Brett smiled widely, showing off his teeth even more: "It's rather less. It's forty seven point two kilometres from here. Or at least it is to the Kilkenny airstrip as the crow flies. I suppose it must be another five or six k's into the town itself. I've got it nailed down on the GPS because I flew out from there this morning. My car's still there."
"Oh." Jeff smiled a little himself, clearly as relieved as I was at the prospect of being saved a lot of walking and a lot of trouble. "Maybe you could phone through to Eddie when you get back?"
"No problem. It's a lovely day for a flight and I doesn't matter to me which direction I fly in. I can go back to Kilkenny Ponds now and call in from the strip. With the wind blowing the direction it is I should be there in about half an hour. What's your mate's phone number?"
Jeff told him and Brett wrote it down on the back of his hand.
"Could you do us another favor and phone the local hospital as well? Let them know that Sandra won't be able to come in for her shift tonight."
Brett nodded and seemed concerned: "You're a nurse, Sandra?"
"Can't have the hospital short of nurses - you never know when there might be an emergency. Why don't I give you a lift back to Kilkenny Ponds in the trike and then drive you into town?"
I didn't quite realize what he meant by a trike until he nodded towards the ultralight and my stomach flipped over like a tossed pancake: "Me! Go up in that thing!"
The obvious fear in my voice made him shake his head in rueful amusement. "Sandra, it's not like bungy jumping off Sydney Harbour Bridge - it's fun, and safe. I'm a licensed and insured pilot and my passengers are all insured as well. I've got a spare helmet and a spare set of overalls on board, though you'll hardly need them in this hot weather. Believe me, you'd be safer on board a trike than you would be on a 747." His eyes crinkled up in another sudden smile. "And I should know, I fly 747's for QANTAS for a living."
It was an exciting idea and an attractive one in many ways, provided I didn't find
myself gripped in total panic once we were off the ground. Rather stunned, I walked over
the ultralight and had a second look at it. True, there were two seats in it, one behind
the other, but that was about all you could say there was in the way of accommodation. It
was only at the front of the pod that the top of the plastic windscreen came up to about
waist level. On either side of the front seat the bodywork was hardly ankle high, and
barely much more than that around the back seat. I imagined myself looking straight down
from one of them, straight down into a drop of hundreds of metres, and my intestines
wriggled around like a nest of angry snakes.
This story was split into 5 parts. Jump to any of the segments from here:
|Another top quality story by David Shaw.|
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