We absolutely crushed this trip. It was late October and we were sitting in a small cabin in East Tennessee. Ian was on call for work and I had come to visit and do some motorcycle riding through the amazing autumn foliage of the Appalachian Mountains. We had done an incredible amount of planning for a sailing trip to the BVI, but our schedules hadn’t lined up with the availability of a boat. Before heading out on a morning motorcycle ride we stopped in a coffee shop and I got a phone call from the sailboat charter company. A boat was available, but the notice was extremely short. The saleswoman knew we probably wouldn’t want to book it, but she decided to check anyway. Within five minutes we had pulled the trigger on a week long sail in the BVI. The next day we flew home, grabbed our gear, and took off for the warm turquoise waters of Tortola.
I made this post about Dominica back in 2011 on my aviation blog. Given my recent visit to the island, I thought my former perspective worth sharing. Here is a re-creation the post:
Position: Approaching Dominica from the west, descending through 15,000 feet MSL.
The Captain and I, along with 2 Flight Attendants and 36 passengers in the back have just started our descent into the small island of Dominica, which is in the Lesser Antilles, smashed between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. If Tortola is the high-class sailing island where Richard Branson hangars his jet, Dominica is the rainforest-covered island where reptiles thought to have been extinct for hundreds of millions of years can still be spotted. Tortola is Jimmy Buffett, Dominica is the Jurassic Park theme song.
This is also my first time in Dominica, and as we descend further and the island comes into better view, I can’t help but wonder what 36 people are doing flying to this prehistoric-looking place. My current theory is that they are all geologists, botanists, biologists, some kind of “ist” coming to study the lush landscape. There are usually even fewer passengers occupying our 64 seat aircraft, but yesterday the flights were all canceled due to weather, so today we are making a special rescue run to accommodate the “ists.” Airlines don’t usually cancel flights for weather unless it’s pretty extreme, but in Dominica the clouds have to be above the mountaintops to land.
The approach goes something like this: descend towards the northeast side of the island, aim for the highest mountain until a small valley presents itself right in the middle of the island. Hook a right into the valley as the passengers become increasingly concerned they are about to fly into a mountain. Follow the valley southbound and look for the Brachiosaurus head poking through the tree canopy. Passing him it’s flaps 30, landing gear down and swing left to line up with the runway on final. Dodge the occasional Pterodactyl gliding past and touch down on the runway 9 numbers. Be quick on the reverse thrust to avoid an unscheduled swimming excursion and it’s a wrap. Video tutorial attached.
Every so often when I am traveling, I become overwhelmed by the uniqueness of an area with a strong sense of place. Back in the summer of 2011 I started my first airline job and was based in Puerto Rico. We would carry passengers from San Juan to other islands in the West Indies. The island that quickly became my favorite destination was a small Windward Island called Dominica. As Caribbean Islands go, it felt unique to me – untamed and relatively untainted by tourism. It has the nickname “The Nature Island” because the majority of it is still covered in mountainous rainforest. I relished the legs that we flew to Dominica, at the time mostly for its challenging and scenic approach to landing (see separate post with video). Only once, on a rare set of days off was I was able to spend a little time exploring the island and doing some hiking; but it has since been high on my list of places to revisit.
On this trip, I went to Dominica to meet my friend Shiv, who was doing some business at the medical school located on the island. It was planned as a short stay of only two days, but Shiv and I have a motto when we travel together – Make it happen! We try to avoid giving excuses for why we can’t do something and instead find unique ways to make great things happen. This trip, that involved Shiv making a last minute flight change so we pack in both SCUBA diving and an all day hike to a boiling lake.
For me the highlight of the trip was the hike to Boiling Lake. The lake, which is actually a flooded fumarole (an opening in the Earth’s crust that emits steam and gas, in this case heating the overlying water) is the second largest of its kind in the world. The only way to reach the lake is an 8.1 mile hike, potentially as spectacular as the lake itself. We took the advice of the locals and hired a guide, as the trail is not well defined and it would be very easy to get lost. Starting at 1,690 feet of elevation in the Titou Gorge, the path undulates and winds through a rainforest with huge tropical trees before descending to a river where we stopped to eat some breakfast.
After the river the trail climbs steeply up a ridge that peaks at 3,168 feet. At the top we were standing right at the cloud bases, being hit by the unobstructed force of the trade winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean. The temperature was cool – about 18C, and felt refreshing combined with the breeze. It’s fascinating to me that this mountainous island creates its own weather. The northeast trade winds get pushed up the steep terrain where the moist air is cooled to its dewpoint, forming clouds and often rainshowers that feed the lush vegetation on the leeward side of the island. Looking off in the distance we could see steam rising up from the trees surrounding the boiling lake.
The trail continued along the ridge before descending into what is called the Valley of Desolation. Almost all of the vegetation quickly disappears and is replaced by rock and loose gravel covering small streams of hot water and sulfuric gas.
Past the valley another climb through a forested area leads to the lake. The sight of the lake was like nothing I had ever seen. The water was a pale blue and was vigorously boiling from the center of the lake. Great amounts of steam were rising up from the water and being blown towards us by the wind. The effect was a bit ominous and I joked that it seemed a perfect location for a ritualistic sacrifice! We found a large boulder to perch on and ate our lunches while we watched the water boil.
On the hike back we stopped for a few moments and relaxed in a heated pool. Aside from the lush scenery, one of my favorite parts was the feeling of solitude. During the whole nine hour hike, we only passed two other people on the trail.
Click on the photo gallery above to see other parts of our stay in Dominica.
A few photos I took last weekend while visiting New York City
On August 15, 2011 I (along with Ian) took my first airline job. Almost immediately I felt as though I had been thrust into an unfamiliar world. I already knew how to fly a plane – I had been a licenced pilot for eight years. But the entirety of the “airline world” with its complex and sometimes daunting operations was a complete mystery to me. I remember walking through the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in my uniform after completing my first ever training cycle and feeling utterly overwhelmed by the details. The airlines do an excellent job preparing their new-hires to safely operate an airliner. But there is almost no information exchanged in preparation for how to survive in your new “airline life.” In December of 2011 I was based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, still feeling very new and struggling to adapt and learn the intricacies of my job. I was learning that one large piece of being an airline pilot was waiting around – sometimes in airports or airplanes, other times in crashpads or temporary housing. In my down time I decided to create a blog to document my life as a new First Officer. I wanted to give other new airline pilots some insight into how it felt to be a severely junior pilot at a regional airline. Throughout the years as I gained more experience I often wrote about how both my perspective on and my situation in the airlines changed, and in turn how my lifestyle adapted.
Recently I started a new job at what is now my third airline. I am no longer the industry newbie that I was back in 2011. In the creation of this website, I decided it was time to leave The First, First Officer blog behind. Below is the final post from that blog, which is incidentally a narrative of my last flight at my second airline. If you’d like to check out any of my other writings from 2011 – 2016, here is a link to The First, First Officer.
The crew and I have just arrived at the gate from our overnight in Montreal. Today is a special day, one I’ve been looking forward to for a few months – my last flight with JungleJet Airlines!
We arrived to Montreal late last night, after 0100. I wanted to make the most of my last trip so I slept fast and was up at 0700 to go explore. It’s feeling like spring in Montreal, and even the morning temperature was a mild 8 degrees Celsius. I walked uptown to a park that overlooks the city before getting on the metro to meet a friend for breakfast. As we chatted at the restaurant I felt the same feeling I’ve been experiencing the last few weeks: apprehension. I’m excited to be moving on and furthering my career, but my fondness for JungleJet has engendered a bit of sadness to be leaving. It’s the first job I truly enjoyed showing up to work for – leaving feels bittersweet.
At the gate in Montreal the agent advises us that Newark is in a ground stop and our expected departure time isn’t for another 3 hours. I think to myself that it’s kind of a fitting end to being based in Newark! We board the plane and radio the tower to verify the delay. There’s a line of weather just west of New York and it’s blocking arrivals and departures at all 3 of the major NY airports. The controller says an update will come out on the hour. Normally I would be irritated and anxious to get going so I can make my commute, but today I am content to wait a bit longer.
1800. Air traffic control issues the update that the ground stop is cancelled. Clearance gives us a wheels up time at 1830, so we board quickly and and start towards the runway. Things change fast in the NY airspace system and sometimes luck is on your side.
1830. Positive rate, gear up. We lift off from runway 24L with a light load of 32 people. The sun has just set on our right, but with altitude the sky brightens and turns a deep orange color as the light is filtered through the shade of stratus clouds. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever tire of these picturesque scenes I am treated to so often.
1845. In cruise the captain and I enjoy easy conversation – something I have truly taken pleasure in throughout my time at JungleJet. Meeting interesting people, both in the cockpit and on overnights, has been an unforeseen benefit of this job. The flight deck becomes host to many interesting conversations – sometimes hilariously funny, sometimes deeply personal, and pretty much everything in between.
1910. I call for the In Range checklist as we descend through 18,000 feet. We reset the altimeters to the local setting and I give an arrival briefing for runway 22L at Newark. The storms have all moved east now and the field is reporting calm winds and VFR conditions. The airspace is relatively quiet and the controller clears us direct to Teterboro airport for the visual approach. The lights of New York City are easy to spot arriving from any direction. I move my gaze a bit closer, finding both the Teterboro and Newark airports before disconnecting the autopilot to hand fly the approach. A few minutes later the controller asks us to slow to 180 knots and I call for Flaps 9 as I bank right to line up with the runway.
1920. The mains touch down on 22L and I click the thrust levers back to deploy the reversers. Leaving the runway I run the after landing flow, thinking how natural these movements have become. After so many hours a plane starts to feel like an extension of your own body. All the levers and buttons are right where you expect them to be.
1935. After the engine shutdown checklist is run I take one more look around the cockpit before gathering my bag, saying goodbye to the crew, and leaving the JungleJet for the last time. I then unceremoniously scramble over to terminal C and catch the last flight back home. Making it home takes precedence, even over nostalgia.
I created this blog (The First, First Officer) in 2011 when I was hired at my first airline job. There were a number of aviation blogs I followed at the time, but none of them were written from the perspective of a beginner in the industry. The bottom of the seniority list as a new-hire First Officer is a scary place to be, and I thought it of value to document the experiences I was having seen through this beginners lens. I know I’m not always the most diligent at updating this blog, but I do hope at least to some extent it has served as a source of both entertainment and information, for any interested reader, but especially for the new First Officer on the very bottom of the seniority list wondering what they’re in for. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I’ve been in the airline industry for almost 5 years. I can still clearly remember my first days in San Juan flying the ATR – new experiences pouring in at an overwhelming rate. For me, it’s time now to once again be that FO at the very bottom – learning a new aircraft, a new pilot contract, and new routes and destinations. It’s both daunting and exciting, but like most of life, it is best experienced when savored for its uniqueness.
If you want to watch tv don't come to my house. Mine broke. This is a throwback from 2010 when Ian and I were roommates. We were in college and working as low paid corporate pilots. During dinner one evening we were talking about the things we valued in life. We highly valued both productivity and great experiences. Looking across the room at our TV, we realized that it had never provided us with either of those things, yet it cost $100 per month to keep around. A decision was quickly made - it had to go.
A few selections from a particularly nice night for a paraglide at the beach.
Good food is like a beautiful girl. They both look best when they have the least on.
Seriously, think about it! When was the last time you were just waking up and looked at your significant other as they sleepily looked at you and smiled as the morning sun washed the bed, and thought to yourself, “dude, I totally wish she had on more clothes right now.” You’ve never done it. Not one freaking time. And there is a perfectly logical explanation for that! She is perfect right now, totally natural, and it is in that natural state that real, perfectly flawed beauty is found. The same holds true for fresh, real ingredients.
Before we dive into the meal, let me tell you how I came upon the main ingredient, the Permit. I was lucky enough to snag a solo boat trip late in the afternoon and decided to run to a secret spot. Per usual, I always have my speargun on
the boat just in case I see something in the ocean grocery that I want to take home. On this occasion, I came upon this massive school of fish, grabbed my float line, jumped in the water, and speared some dinner.
Maybe I’ll write more about that in the nautical pursuits section, but for now, lets hit the food.
Fresh Permit. You’ll never get it in the grocery, but it is a real treat. Super firm, very flaky and a smooth, almost buttery taste. Because I happened to have a number of different ingredients, I rocked it out three different ways.
Main course was grilled up, nice and easy (so that it was almost medium rare when I took it off), then a simple balsamic sauce (equal parts balsamic and olive oil in bender, salt and pepper and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard…blend it till smoooooooth), hit it with some fresh tomatoes, and feta cheese. The creamy Feta with the tang of the balsamic combine with the sweetness of the tomato to be the perfect flavor when you take a bite of the firm grilled seared fish. In my opinion, this flavor combo wouldn’t work if the fish wasn’t grilled with some marks on it. It’s just this huge hit of simple, but familiar flavors all coming together at the perfect time.
Just for fun: Permit Ceviche. I did the usual lemon/lime mixture, but I wanted to crank it up a notch and added some coconut water as well as oil, just a little bit of cayenne pepper and sugar. Then a few avocado chunks to offset how firm the fish is and provide some creamy goodness. the busted coconut seemed like the best place for it. And last but not least, the Permit sashimi. Honestly, not my fav. It is way too firm for me. This stuff is definitely better cooked.
Overall, this was a fantastic meal, especially because it was so simple. It just goes to show, that even when you’re tired from being in the boat all day, you can still whip up a killer meal.
The incredible, edible (and delicious) Lion fish
So you’ve probably heard about the invasion. You know, the invasion of florida waters by non-native and invasive lion fish? Well if you haven’t, they’re a fish, they’re here and they are bad news for our reefs. Luckily for us, they also happen to be one the tastiest morsels our ocean has to offer!
The ocean was total glass, the sky was clear, the water was a deep sapphire blue, and warm as bath water. If you can imagine driving a 22ft boat on a huge bowl of liquid sapphire, a never ending horizon and some Led Zeppelin playing over the stereo as I steered a course to my reef, then you would be imagining the day I was having. Seriously epic stuff.
The mission today was to dive (of course) but also to help ease the burden on our local ecosystems by harvesting some lion fish for dinner. This mission was expertly accomplished and a number of the invasive, but tasty fish were put on ice.
Once home, I already knew what I was going to do…
The lion fish meat is extremely tender (not mushy) but tender, and has a wonderful and delicate flavor that I hate to alter it too much. Tonight was going to be ceviche night. To me, there isn’t much better than a tangy, sweet, natural bite of fresh fish ceviche style. For the uninitiated, this just means that the fish is allowed to marinate in some acidic lemon and lime juice and seasonings for a while. It actually gets, “cooked,” while in there.
So, more lime than lemon juice, salt, pepper, some sugar, tomato, and green onions were added as well as the lion fish. After 15 mins in the fridge, it was ready. I dusted just a tiny bit of smoked Hungarian paprika and it was truly one of the best meals of my life.
Oh yeah, I also cooked up some mangrove snapper. Bread flower, no batter, just into a pan of butter an olive oil (would have been way better with coconut oil) sear it up, take it off while still medium rare and it was perfect.
I hope you enjoyed the post. If you made it through the whole thing, way to go! Be sure to check out my other posts! If you have a food idea or suggestion, please send it to us!