Reno, Nevada and Clear Lake, California: South-West America Section Meeting, September 2022

Reno Air Races: 15 & 16 September

Caroline and I arrived home from the French Section meeting in Melun at 5pm on Monday 12 September.  Less than 24 hours later, and we on our way to Heathrow Airport for an early Wednesday flight to Reno, Nevada, for the South-West section meeting at the Reno Air Races.  After 12 hours airborne, it was wonderful to be greeted by Tim Puliz at the airport and taken to Tim and Vicki’s home, our base for the next few days. South-West Section chair Penelope Cornwall had flown in the day before and was also there to greet us. 

Sadly, when we started driving to Reno, Stead, airport the following morning, the effects of the Mosquito forest fire, around 60 miles away became evident.  A thin hazy pall of smoke was hanging in the air, making it hard to see the hills and giving a monochrome tint to the surroundings.  The limited visibility also made racing conditions challenging.  But on the ground, the party was growing.  Mike Moran had already been there a day or two before we arrived, and Tim Pinkney had made it too.  Tim and Mike were both ex-services and it was so interesting to hear their stories as we made our way around the pits, saying hi to their friends and acquaintances and kicking tyres. 

We managed to see a couple of races, before the reducing visibility put a stop to it. Instead, we had deafening displays of muscle from the USAF, and several aerobatic displays, including from a fully aerobatic Beech Bonanza – with the commentator regularly reminding us that this was no ordinary plane, and that fellow Bonanza owners should not try this at home!

That evening we dined at Tim and Vicki’s favourite local restaurant, Bella Italia, joined by Tim O’Brien, one of the official photographers at the Reno Air Races (and a previous speaker on one of Penelope’s South-West Section Zoom meetings) and Dave Daniels who had flown up from New Mexico with us son.

By 7am the morning Tim and I were airborne from Tim’s home base at Carson City in his Twin Comanche to collect PWP George Chaffey and Carol from Buchanan Field, on the edge of San Francisco.  We took off straight into smoke generated IFR conditions, and punched out on top of it at around 8,000’.  It should have been a beautiful scenic flight over Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Mountains, but sadly only the highest peaks were visible above the solid blanket of smoke.  Conditions cleared by the time we reached the coast, and we were soon airborne for the return flight.  We filed IFR on the return back to Carson City and climbed to 13,000 to clear the Sierras.  Letting down into Carson City, the reported viz was 1 ¼ miles, but I learned that the AWOS systems are unable to tell the difference between liquid moisture (fog) particles and solid smoke particles – and as a result understate the visibility, which was closer to 3 miles by the time we flew the approach. 

We had a second day at the races, once again frustrated by the smoke, with only a few of the slower aircraft racing before the viz once again dropped below limits, but with more aerobatic displays to pass the time. 

Friday evening involved a superb barbecue party at Tim and Vicki’s home for IFFR members (Bob Tucknott and Mack had also joined by now) and other Rotary friends from nearby.  It was fun to meet new folks and hear new stories.

Team IFFR at the Friday night party chez Tim and Vicki Puliz

Fortunately, on the Saturday the wind had changed direction and the smoke cleared from the Reno area, making for an easier journey home for those who had flown in.  Tim took George and Carol, Caroline, Penelope and I for a trip out to see the old gold rush town of Virginia City and then on to the shores of Lake Tahoe and finally we got to see the beauty of the Tahoe area.  

Virginia City – still looking very much like a gold town
And clearly the Ritchie ancestors were pioneers of the west too!

Exploring California

Party over, on Sunday morning Caroline and I left Reno and headed south.  Over the next few days we went through Yosemite National Park, saw the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequioas, and then headed north East to Sonoma.  A day’s chauffeured wine-tasting tour (a great job done by Platypus Wine Tours) of Sonoma Valley saw us getting ready for the IFFR weekend to come.

Clear Lake, California: 22 – 25 September 2022

Arriving at the Skylark hotel in Lakeport, on the shores of Clear Lake, on Thursday lunchtime, there was only possible reaction “wow”. DG Jennifer Strong, our host for the weekend, had arranged for us all to have lake front rooms, only yards from the shore line.  I don’t think I have ever had such a beautiful view from a hotel room.  Facing East, it was a pleasure to get up before dawn on following mornings just to see the first red glows over the lake and surrounding mountains before the sun rose. 


Thursday evening we gathered for dinner on the patio at Red’s SkyRoom restaurant at Lampson Field, Jennifer’s home base, greeting all those who had flown in earlier in the day.  Going round the table we each shared how we had got into flying – and soon there was some amazing stories being shared. 

Dinner at Red’s Sky-room, overlooking Lampson Field

Lakeport is well north of Napa Valley, but still excellent wine-growing country and on Friday we were treated to a day of wine-tasting around Clear Lake.  First up was Shannon Ridge, and then on to Laujor Estate winery where we enjoyed lunch and wine looking out over the rolling hills.  Then it was just down the hill to Boatique, which, in addition to making splendid wine, houses a fascinating collection of seriously powerful looking speed-boats from the last 50 years.

Our final stop was at the beautiful estate of Bill and Patti Brunetti. Bill showed us their wine-making processes before taking us to their wine cave, built into the hillside, to taste their wines straight from the barrel.  Many thanks to Tim Puliz for being our designated driver for the day (and, indeed, for the entire weekend – true Service above Self).

In the evening, we headed into Kelseyville for the “Pear Festival Farm to Fork Dinner and Dance”.  The main street is closed and dinner served to 400 guests under the stars down the length of the street.

One of the two IFFR tables at the Kelseyville Farm to Fork Charity Dinner

Saturday started with a superb brunch in the gardens at the home of IFFR members Tom and Ruth Lincoln.

Well set for the day, we headed back into Kelseyville to enjoy the Pear Festival proper. A parade down the main street, stalls selling every type of pear-based produce and our favorite – the hotly contested Pear Pie Eating Festival!  And no, the fattest guy didn’t win!

Sadly, we arrived too late to enter the contest!
“Eat that Pie” – Kelseyville Pear Festival Pie Eating Contest

We ended the weekend at the Chili-Fest Hangar Party back at Lampson Field airport.  10 or more chilis to try, before we voted on the mildest, the hottest (congratulations Tom Lincoln) and the overall favorite (Tom, you were robbed)!  Another seriously fun evening, washed down with plenty more wine from the Brunetti caves. 

On Sunday morning it was time to head home.  But not before Jennifer Strong very kindly took Caroline and I for a sight-seeing flight over Clear Lake, over her home, and then out to the Pacific Coast, only 15 minutes flying time away.   Jennifer and all the folks in the Lakeport area were tremendously kind, generous and welcoming to us all through our stay in Northern California , and our flight with Jennifer and her partner David in her C182 was the icing on the cake for us at the end of a super weekend of IFFR fellowship.

As others headed home, Caroline and I drove down to the coast, then on to see the giant Redwood trees at Muir Woods, before arriving early evening at George and Carol Chaffeys.  We spent Monday exploring San Francisco, and then Tuesday visiting Alcatraz, before finally flying back home to England on Tuesday night.

This was our first visit to Nevada and California.  It exceeded our expectations in every way. I am sure we will be back for more IFFR fellowship there soon.

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