John & Anne Wiley

2012/10/10

Cloud Nine

Back in mid-September we ventured to the mystical island of King Arthur’s recovery from Camlann. It emerged from among eight clouds as the legendary Cloud Nine of happiness. We wondered whether the air would be clear enough for our magic carpet to land.

0494 Cloud Nine

0494 Cloud Nine

Catalina Island’s “Airport in the Sky” is just to the left of the big flat cloud coming in from the right. It serves the quaint town of Avalon further in the misty distance. Adding to haze and clouds the winds were pretty strong, and I was seriously contemplating a return to SBA. This is the first time we’d flown very high and nearly direct from SBA to AVX. Uusually we’ve gone lower (3,500′) over LAX for the shorter water crossing from Palos Verdes. Being still at 9,000′ it would’ve been pretty easy to just turn around and head back. But we could see the airport, hear other planes using it, and after deciding to descend the air got clear enough to snap this schooner.

0495 Epic Voyager

0495 Epic Voyager

The classic ship struck quite the dauntless pose for us, as if off on some epic voyage from the land of legend. Still, when I lined up to join traffic for landing, clouds were ominously gnawing at the far end of the runway.

0632 Decision Approach

0632 Decision Approach

There was also a different wind direction at each end of the runway, and this airport is renowned for updrafts at the ends. Knowing that Tripp could easily land in 1/3 of the runway, and also easily climb above the low cloud at the other end in a go-around, I decided to give it a shot. I stayed a little high and fast over the threshold with full flaps and ready to climb instantly if needed. Once the expected downdraft dropped us into position I just cut the throttle and Tripp decisively settled onto the pavement in plenty of time to turn off at the first exit. I could’ve sworn I heard her whisper, “Piece of cake.” But we wondered if the next day’s weather would allow us to leave. This mythic island seems to have many guardians and gate keepers.

0503 Guardian

0503 Guardian

For example, getting onto the bus down to Avalon required getting past some confusing and indifferent gatekeepers. When planning the flight we took it as part of the induction into island mystery, that there is no way of getting accurate information about the bus before you’re standing there trying to catch it. Even then, the person in charge of the bus had no reliable information other than suggesting that we wait two hours even though a bus was there loading passengers as we spoke. Caught in our desire to meet friends waiting in Avalon, I took the initiative. After befriending a mechanic for the bus line, I asked him and was introduced to the driver who luckily found my respectful assertiveness charming. When we sat in empty seats at the front she even “adopted” us, pausing for this photo op with a dangerous island creature.

0521 King of the Road

0521 King of the Road

She playfully took on the role of tour guide saying these critters can go from standing still to city bus speed in a few steps, so it’s no surprise that some inattentive drivers and walkers have been seriously injured by them. Precipitous cliffs along the road can give you horrific visions of the likely outcome, should the bus driver have a lapse of any kind. But this road also provides some lovely vistas like this one as we rounded a bend descending into Avalon.

0524 Descanso Bay

0524 Descanso Bay

Presumably not named for the memorial meaning of the word Descanso, this settlement on the outskirts of Avalon provides the first welcome promise of arrival at our destination. It’s followed soon after by this proper panorama of Avalon itself.

0544 Avalon Charm

0544 Avalon Charm

After checking into our hotel, we went for a short stroll with our friends and then rode in their dinghy to a snorkeling spot and then out to sip wine on their rented sailboat.

0651 Eventide

0651 Eventide

By now we were thoroughly immersed in the healing charms of Avalon, as the gentle lapping and hushed village sounds prepared us for nourishing sleep and dreams of enchantment.

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