Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Camping in East Texas, and other things that amuse me

I've had a complaint! I've been told off for not posting in ages, so here I am, back again :-)

(If, of course, there's anyone left reading and you haven't all given up in disgust!)

Been busy lately, hence the lack of posts. It's full-on airshow season here so my weeks have been spent going to flying events, sorting through pictures, work, going to flying events.... In the UK, flying season runs from about April to October with the peak airshow months being July/August. Texas summers are too hot - audiences don't want to stand about in the heat all day and the warm air makes for very bumpy flying, so flying season is best in the Spring and Autumn and you end up with a split season.

So, we've had fly-ins almost every weekend for the last month or so, and the odd airshow mixed in. I managed to wangle airside access at New Braunfels which was fantastic, they put me right under the main display axis of the show line, just off crowd centre, so I was able to get some very close shots at interesting angles. Some pilots took advantage of this and aimed right for me too! This particular show is facing into the sun - last year's shots were all silhouettes - but not this year! Pictures are here.

The following weekend saw us travelling to East Texas, further than we have been before, about 4.5 hours drive to Reklaw, which is a tiny town in the middle of the Piney Woods. There is quite literally nothing around except trees for miles and miles. We actually drove about 2 hours from Waco to Reklaw and passed only three towns on the way, with nothing else but fields. This truly is a big country.

Anyway, we arrived at Flying M Ranch which is a privately owned ranch just outside Reklaw itself. This is owned by two aviators, who just happen to have carved themselves a runway in their patch of forest. It's a canyon of trees about 3500 feet long. Looks impressive from high above. Every year for about the last 20 years, they have invited aviators to join them for a weekend camping and flying.

This year, somewhere in the region of 500-600 aircraft showed up for the weekend. It was fabulous!

There was constant aero noise and action from dawn to dusk. Even by the time we arrived, about 14:00 on Friday, there were already two hundred aircraft present. On Saturday, you just couldn't move for aircraft. Clouds of them would appear in the approach, with another one touching down every few seconds. Heathrow, Silverstone; pah! As you might imagine, I have one or two pictures floating about on my site ;-)

I managed to talk a nice man with an Aviat Husky into taking me up for a ride about 1pm on Saturday, the busiest time, so I could get some aerial shots of the site. Those are on pages 2 and 3 of the Reklaw pictures. It looked great from the air, there were winged dots covering the entire place, up and down the runway, everywhere.

The weather was utterly perfect which helped. Azure-blue clear skies, very calm winds. Camping was a little chilly the first night but we were fine, wrapped up warm in our tent and sleeping bags. It was great to camp again, the last time we used this tent was at Stoke Golding in July 2006. We got up on Saturday morning quite toasty, actually, and got in line for breakfast at about 07:30. (The catering was quite excellent; plenty of good food and swift-moving queues) There we are in our shorts and T-shirts as it was a very pleasant morning. A little dewy and fresh but generally lovely. It dawned on me that every single other person in the place was dressed in jeans, coats, hats, gloves, balaclavas, scarfs, earmuffs and combinations thereof.... Shortly afterwards a chap came over and said, "This is Texas! You're meant to be cold!!" which caused much mirth! We had a few other people say similar things after that - but it wasn't cold, honest....!

The first evening was kind of quiet as everyone seemed to have vanished and gone to bed. We hung around with our stash of beer but ended up going to bed ourselves as there didn't seem to be much happening. A lot of people camped but a lot of others were staying in local hotels/motels so had gone from the site.

Ah yes, the Beer Situation. We figured, on the journey up there, that if we took beer with us it would just get warm in the car so we'd get some en route so it would stay cold. Logical, eh? Only one snag. Most of East Texas is pretty dry. And our East Texas shooting buddy, Larry, didn't warn us!

We didn't see a single beer shop from Waco onwards. We stopped at garages which sold all kinds of things but no beer. Not a drop. Or wine, whiskey or anything else. On arrival at the ranch we were still beerless, and we noticed everyone else had brought cases of their own. (Aircraft can only carry so much weight. Every campsite in the place seemed to have minimal camping gear and copious amounts of beer....!) So we had to ask a local, and were told that the nearest beer shop was 15 miles further along the road.

15 miles later, we found what looked like an oasis in the desert. We went in and were directed into the giant cooler in the back, which is basically a room full of beer. There was ample amounts of Bud, Miller, Bud Light, Coors, Miller Lite, Coors light.... just as we began to despair of finding anything good to drink (asking, "Do you have any Dogfish Head 60?", of the store owners drew the blankest look I have ever seen) we found a dust-covered box in the corner of Samuel Adams IPA, and another lonely box next to it, filled with Shiner Bock. We brushed the cobwebs off this lot and cleared them out!

Retreating back to our aviation haven, we put the beer in a giant coolbag with a load of ice and were set for the weekend. Woo-hoo! Moral: When visiting East Texas, bring your own beer!

Anyway, the weekend continued in the same excellent manner. There was a larger dinner on Saturday night. Alan won a hat in the raffle and we also won a silent auction (bought some 1950's aircraft prints). We chatted with some microlight pilots around the communal campfire and sank a few of those hard-won beers. Next morning we were away sharp as we had things to do, but we'll definitely be going back next year. What a gem of a place!

Now, some of you may have heard of a small chain of shops here in the US called Wal-Mart.

I had to go in there yesterday for some stuff Alan was after. This place really is a source of amusement, and a camera phone comes in handy. Feast your eyes on the following!:

A board game that I don't think you'll be seeing in WH Smith any time soon:

For those sticky aircraft that just won't come off your windscreen:

(it's an acetone-based paint stripper, actually)

Hunting/shooting/fishing shops sell a lot of things to attract animals. Scents, noise makers and pheromones are all common. This one is doe urine estrus. Ickiness aside, you gotta love the name!

(We are still inside Wal-Mart by the way. They sell ammo alongside the milk in here)

I didn't see too many vacuous buxom blonde ladies hanging around this sweet/cake stand but you never know...

And finally, proof that we are still within reach of civilization when we visit the grocery store, HEB:

Yay for Heinz Tomato Soup and Jaffa Cakes!

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