A brief synopsis:
Hidden Courage was formerly titled: Destination B: An Adventure in the Andes
There are 3 books in the Atlantis series: Hidden Courage, Tomb of Atlantis and Curse of Atlantis. Please see recommended order of reading below.
Hidden Courage: is the prequel in the Atlantis series (not essential)
Tomb of Atlantis: is book 2
Curse of Atlantis: is book 3 (sequel)
A short novel with adventure and suspense…
Inspiration comes in many forms and for Jack, a single photo in a magazine becomes his life’s greatest inspiration. The photo is of an unknown mountain in the Andes Mountain range of South America. Striking, dangerous and beautiful, Jack is drawn to it. He makes up his mind that he must climb it.
The story follows Jack’s adventure, as he flies his own plane from New England to South America. Battling cold and exhaustion, Jack struggles though one crisis after another as he attempts to climb the rugged and dangerous mountain… Alone.
Available at Amazon or Smashwords for only 99 cents:
Sample Chapter 1:
“You sure you have everything?” Jack heard his dad say.
“I think so,” Jack replied.
This was it, the trip of a lifetime. Most people only dream of adventures this exciting. Jack sat in the back shivering. It was cold in the back seat and the car hadn’t been warmed up yet. This time of the year in New England can see temperatures in the 20’s and 30’s. Even with his fleece jacket on he still felt chilled.
The back seat was jam packed with gear, as well as the trunk. His mother had her camera in hand and was snapping photos from the front seat as they made their way to the airport. Jack felt a little self-conscious, but knew this would be that last time they would be seeing him for a while. He ignored his embarrassment and focused on the monumental task before him.
Jack had his checklist out and was going over it slowly. Everything was in bags and pouches so he couldn’t physically account for the items on the list. He closed his eyes and visualized each item as he had packed it away in the days before this morning.
‘Ropes, cams, ice gear, mountaineering boots’ he thought to himself as he moved down the list. ‘Shorts, deodorant, toothpaste, guidebooks’ he continued as his dad drove carefully, insuring a safe ride to the airport.
“Tired, Jack?” his mom asked.
Jack’s eye’s snapped open as soon as he heard his name. He made a mental note to where he left off and replied, “No, I’m just checking my list, making sure I didn’t forget anything.”
His mom nodded her head in understanding and turned her head front. Jack closed his eyes again, only to be startled by a bright flash. He quickly opened his eyes as his mother was getting ready to snap another photo. This time he smiled for the camera, figuring if he gave her one good photo, she’d slow down a bit.
Thirty minutes and a dozen photos later, Jack could see a low flying plane above the car. It was making its approach to the runway. He watched it as it descended lower and lower, now way out in front of the car.
As he watched, the plane looked like it was going to crash into an elevated bank at the end of the road, but then disappeared just beyond it.
Jack’s stomach was in knots. He was both excited and nervous and it reminded him of the feeling he had when he stood before the base of El Capitan, in Yosemite, just before he was to climb it. Things on this order of magnitude always made him feel this way.
“Is that it?” his mom asked, referring to the airport beyond the bank.
“If it’s not, that guy’s going to be awfully disappointed,” Jack replied, jokingly.
They made their way around the perimeter of the airport, turning in at a sign that read, “Robertson Airport, Plainville CT”. This was it. Jack looked across the airport apron and located a tiny white floatplane. He tapped his dad on the shoulder and point to it. His dad acknowledged and drove slowly in that direction.
His mom’s head was busy darting from one plane to another as they drove past. She hadn’t ever been to this airport before, let alone a small airport in a very long time, so the quantity and variety of planes, at first, overwhelmed her senses. Jack could hear her from the front seat cry out in excitement, “ooh, look at that one”, with nearly every plane they past.
As they pulled up to the floatplane, Jack looked on in pride. It was a real beauty: a Zenair, STOL CH 701 kit airplane. This was Jack’s plane. He had researched all the varieties of experimental kit planes on the market and chose this one for its all-metal design, ruggedness, performance and cost. The 701 was a marvel to behold when Jack was pushing it to the limits of its performance. It could lift off in just under 60 feet and land in a short driveway if need be. It was small, measuring 20 feet long and 27 feet wide, wing tip to wing tip, but it could carry a tremendous load, something that appealed to him during his investigation.
In addition, Jack had elected to add amphibious floats instead of the standard tricycle style landing gear, a move that cost him in weight and performance but opened up a greater world to him, in destinations. Painted a simple white with a few blue stripes down the center for contrast, it had an efficient, no-nonsense look about it.
Jack stepped out from the car in front of his plane. Standing next to the engine cowl, he lightly rubbed the fuselage as if he were petting his favorite dog or cat. His mom caught the momentary affection toward the plane and snapped more photos
Quietly, to himself, Jack said, “OK, this is it. Don’t let me down.
His father was bringing the luggage to the right side of the plane and piling it up just below the door, as Jack was in the middle of “preflighting”. Walking around and inspecting the control surfaces, he looked above at the sky.
“Nice and clear,” he said to his dad.
“Hope is stays that way enroute,” his dad replied. “You sure you want to do this?” he added, half protesting.
“I’ve been giving it some careful consideration and decided to call the whole thing off,” Jack retorted with a smirk.
“Uh-huh,” his dad replied, not impressed with his son’s joke.
“Dad, Mom. I know you’re nervous, but everything will be all right. I’m not stupid. I don’t take any unnecessary risks,” Jack said, trying to ease his parents concerns.
“I’d say this whole trip is unnecessary. You could just go to the beach or something, but PERU?” his dad said with a little edge to his voice.
“I need this. This IS necessary, for me,” Jack responded, then added, “We’ve been through all of this before. You know I’m careful. You know I’m smart enough to make the right decisions in a crisis. You just have to trust me.”
Both parents nodded their heads in resignation. There was nothing more they could do or say. Jack had made up his mind and there was no turning him. All they could do now was to support him and not infuse negativity into the situation that would only serve to distract him from his needed focus. Jack had a mission…
More than two years before, Jack had scanned through his climbing magazine, enjoying snapshots of wild and adventurous mountains from around the world. Some photos were exposés of featured climbs and others were simply part of advertisements.
Casually flipping through, Jack spotted an ad that caught his eye, not for the intrinsic value of the item being peddled, but for the mountain shown in the background. It was a majestic looking mountain: snow-capped and rugged. In Jacks mind, it represented the epitome of the classic monolith that drew climbers from all over the world, mountains such as Everest and the Matterhorn. Mesmerized by its beauty, he quickly felt drawn to it, as if it were calling him.
In the days that followed, Jack’s interest in the mountain produced research that revealed it was unclimbed and unknown. From that moment on, Jack was obsessed. He didn’t just want to climb it. He needed to climb it.
On initial planning, he found that his biggest hurdle was its remote location. Buried deep in the heart of the Andes Mountains, the trek in would take weeks through rugged terrain, a factor he surmised was the real reason that it had never been climbed before.
Just when Jack thought the logistics to be insurmountable, he found a solution. Inspired by a TV program chronicling the life of Alaskan bush pilot’s, Jack decided to put his own piloting skills to the ultimate test. He decided he would build his own bush plane, fly to Peru and land at the base of the mountain. That plan was bold and dangerous and Jack liked it.
Two years later, Jacks dream had become reality.
Having secured his gear into the plane, there was nothing left for him to do. He hugged his parents, then got into the tiny cockpit.
“Clear,” he called out through the pilot’s window…
His parents stiffened as they waited for the engine to roar to life. Moments later, Jack turned the key and the prop started to windmill. In an instant, all that could be heard was drowned out by the deafening roar of the engine. He immediately focused on his instruments as they came to life and stabilized in the “green”.
Jack looked over at his mom. She had her fingers in her ears. He could see streams of tears running down her face. His dad had his arm around her, trying to console her sadness. Jack felt awful at that moment, but knew there was nothing he could do except make the best of it. He put on an enormous, toothy smile for his mom. Instantly, she smiled back and Jack could see that in some small way, he had eased her pain. He gave them a vigorous wave and mouthed the words, “I love you”.
As he taxied to the end of the runway, he looked back and could see that his parents hadn’t moved from their original position. Standing stoically, they watched as the tiny floatplane rolled onto the runway and came to a stop. Moments later, they heard the loud roar of the engine and knew Jack was under way.
With his heart pounding in anticipation, Jack pushed the throttle full forward and held it. As the tiny plane picked up speed, he adjusted the rudder pedals to maintain the centerline of the runway.
10 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet.
Jack watched as the airspeed came alive and registered 25 knots. He looked down at the oil indicator to make sure it was indicating the proper pressure. Any negative reading and he would immediately abort the take off.
40 feet, 50 feet.
Jack pulled back on the stick. As if on a spring, the tiny plane popped off the runway. He momentarily lowered the nose of the plane to build some speed. Seconds later, the airspeed indicator registered 50 knots and Jack pulled back on the stick, entering a gradual climb.
He adjusted the trim setting to hold his climb, then looked back over his shoulder. He could see his parents. They looked like ants, waving as he flew away. Jack moved the control stick left and right, rocking the wings in an attempt to say goodbye. Even at his altitude, he could see his parent’s shoulders haunch as they resigned themselves to his leaving. With his father’s arm still hugging his mother, he watched as they turned and walked sadly back to their car.
“Don’t worry guys. I’ll be OK,” Jack said to them out loud, as a sympathetic gesture.
Refocusing on his flying, Jack monitored his gauges. His airspeed looked good, as well as the engine instruments. His rate of climb was an impressive 1,500 feet per minute. He checked his GPS navigation system to insure he was on course, then refocused back out in front of him as he searched for his first land mark to fly to. Checking his flight sectional, the map showed a course that flew to the left of a radio tower.
Jack had flown this area many times before and really didn’t need to use the map or the GPS for that matter, but felt that this trip would require the utmost precision and professionalism and the time to start these would not be at a time of crisis. He decided in the planning stages that right from the beginning of the flight, he would “fly by the numbers”, not giving in to sloth and over-confidence, two killers in aviation.
Watching the towers pass to his left, he made a mental note of his ground speed and altitude. Within a few minutes, Jack was leveling off at his cruising altitude of 8,000 feet. He was on course and gaining speed in his cruise configuration. He trimmed up the plane for level flight and relaxed a bit as his speed increased. Once he reached 85 knots, he adjusted the power setting to maintain that speed. He was done with the “departure” aspect of this route and had now entered the “en-route” part of the flight.
This was the easy part as far as Jack was concerned. He would now be checking his sectional for the next checkpoint and cross checking it with the GPS receivers. Looking out over the nose of the plane, he would simply sit back and wait for the landmarks to appear. Every ten minute or so, a new landmark would become visible and he would simply notate this on the map, then look for the next landmark in series.
During the planning stages of the trip, Jack obtained all the maps he required to fly the various routes. He then figured that he had on average, about three hours of gas for flying time, and one hour of gas in reserves. This allowed him to make each leg of the flight, airport to airport, about 250 miles long. In some cases he calculated that he might have to stretch the leg of a flight into the reserves, but for the most part, he maintained the 250 mile rule.
As he made his way along his course of flight, he maintained radio contact with the controlling agencies for the region his was flying in. “Center”, as Air Traffic Control is normally referred to, track all aircraft in their area, maintaining separation by altitude and airspeed and then passing them off to the next controlling agency as the aircraft transition through one airspace to the next in series.
Jack had made contact with “Center” early in his flight so in addition to his own abilities to stay on course, he had the added assurance of ATC reporting periodic updates of his position. Aside from an occasional alerting from Center of an aircraft in his vicinity of flight, the leg he was flying was very routine and uneventful.
Before the day of electronic navigational aids, flying was done by visually checking and cross checking landmarks on the map and comparing them with the landscape below, while timing the distances between the landmarks. It was laborious, stressful and prone to error. This type of navigation was called Pilotage and Dead Reckoning. With the advent of Loran and then eventually GPS, the need for Pilotage and Dead Reckoning became obsolete, ultimately being replaced by the extremely accurate and reliable GPS, where a pilot’s position is located by satellite.
Jack had 2 GPS receivers in his floatplane, all but eliminating any difficult navigation. He simply pushed a button and got an exact reading of where he was on the map and how much further he had to his destination. He would cross check it with the other GPS receiver to insure reliability, then sit back and monitor the engine instruments.
Jack’s first day of flying would be pretty much routine, but once he crossed over the Appalachians and into the plains, this would be uncharted territory for him. He had never seen this part of the country before and the excitement of brand new scenery would keep him entertained for weeks.
Jack noted some of the landmarks as he flew southwest: Long stretches of forests with spots shaved bare containing little towns and cities; Crossing rivers with large factories on their banks; Small lakes and an occasional golf course. He could just make out the skylines of large cities with their tall buildings poking up above the horizon line. All of these landmarks were familiar types of terrain he had become accustomed to while flying in New England.
Several hours and three airports later, Jack found himself in Knoxville, Tennessee for the evening. This was his planned last stop for the day.
With most larger airports, there is a room designated specifically for pilots, aptly named, the “pilots lounge”. Most have a couch and computer to check the various needs for flying such as weather, airport conditions, etc. Typically, the rooms are empty. Jack decided that he would push the limits of the rooms’ usage and stay there overnight. He figured if anyone questioned him, he would tell them he was waiting for the weather to clear at his next location.
It wasn’t his bed, but it wasn’t uncomfortable either. As he laid down on the couch and pulled his fleece jacket over him as a blanket, he reflected on the day’s flights. They were pretty uneventful, ‘almost boring’, he thought to himself. He smiled slightly knowing that tomorrow would bring a change of scenery, something he would be experiencing for the first time, something he awaited with nervous excitement and anticipation. He had butterflies in his stomach as he envisioned the new sights he’d be seeing over the next few days.
Unfortunately, as entertaining as his dreams were, Jack was exhausted and couldn’t keep his eyes open another minute. While thinking about the future, he drifted off into a deep sound sleep.
During the planning stages, Jack felt that three, 3-hour flights per day would be as much as he could handle safely, essentially flying 750 miles every day. With this goal set, he figured he would arrive at his destination in Peru in a little over eight days. If he ran into any foul weather, he’d have to wait it out until the storms passed, extending the length of his trip.
He woke early and checked the weather. He could see that a low pressure front was moving toward his flight path. If he didn’t leave soon, he would miss his window of opportunity and the storm front would then block his route of flight. The size of the front looked large, producing heavy rains and fog, something that Jack was not equipped to handle.
‘Having to wait out a storm front this size could take days,’ he thought to himself.
He leaped from his chair, grabbed his gear and ran out to the plane. Eating a peanut butter sandwich, he laid his map out in the seat next to him, dialed in the data for the next destination and departed.
Soon he was flying over mountains and dense forest. This kind of flying made Jack nervous due to the lack of flat open land he would need in an emergency landing. Without a suitable option for landing, he was left to consider “hard” landings in trees, the kind that could easily produce a fatality.
“What a way to start a morning,” he said out loud.
He tried to relax by listening to the smooth sound of the engine. As long as it ran flawlessly, he had nothing to worry about. He checked his gages often to confirm his feelings.
Pretty soon, the view out in front of him started to become hazy, like a hot August day in New England, only it wasn’t August, it was April. Jack knew this was the first evidence of the storm front he was trying to avoid. The haze had wispy, finger-like clouds that stretched out from the storm’s center, located hundreds of mile away. They reached out and “felt” their way across the sky as they moved east toward him. He looked down at his chart and recalled the position of the storm he had read off the computer in the pilots lounge earlier. The storm appeared to be moving faster than reported.
Looking down at his instruments, he saw he was traveling 85 knots and 8,000 feet. He decided to try to improve upon his position by increasing his speed to 90 knots. Looking down at his map, he saw that he could also safely descend to 4,000 feet, hoping to get under the storm’s reaches. Thirty minutes later, the haze had become an overcast sky and he noticed that the cloud’s ceiling wasn’t much higher in altitude than his.
Jack had been flying for about three hours now and needed to stop and refuel. This was going to have to be quick. He descended to the regional airport in Columbus, Mississippi, refueled, checked the weather, used the bathroom and departed. He was on the ground no longer than 15 minutes.
‘An impressive turn-around,’ Jack thought to himself.
Once airborne, he climbed as high as he dared, almost to 2,500 feet. Looking up, Jack guessed the ceiling had dropped to 3,000 feet. This was a very bad sign. The weather was now deteriorating rapidly.
Checking his map, Jack was happy to see that he only needed to fly another hour to be out of it. He knew that the highest obstruction along his route of flight was only about 1,200 feet high. If he needed to, he could descend to 1,500 feet and still feel relatively safe he would avoid any dangerous obstructions.
Thirty minutes later, Jack was forced to fly lower. The clouds were just above him now at his altitude of 1,500 feet. Below, the heavy green forests that had made the flying uncomfortable, were now absent. They were replaced by green grassy plains and brown plowed farmland. He watched dust rise from the middle of a couple of “rectangles” as he observed farmers on their tractors plowing their fields.
Suddenly, without notice, Jack’s world went white. The cloud bank had descended to his altitude and he was now flying in it. He heard a strange sound from the engine. It sounded as if he had changed his power setting.
“What the….” he called out, puzzled.
Frightened, he frantically scanned the instruments. In seconds, his eyes locked on the attitude indicator. Jacks eyes widened. Without the horizon to use as a reference, he had inadvertently pulled the control stick toward him causing the plane to climb higher into the cloud bank. He was losing airspeed rapidly and approaching a stall. If left unchecked, the wings would lose their life, stall and he would spiral down, out of control in a maneuver called a spin. He had practiced the spin before in clear airspace, but he was now in dense clouds and low to the ground, creating a life threatening scenario.
Quickly, he moved the stick to its center position and watched the attitude indicator as the wings began to level. Moving the stick forward, he began to descend as he scanned the gages rapidly to insure the control of the plane.
Suddenly, he heard the pitch of the engine change once more. Scanning the gauges, he noticed his airspeed rapidly climbing.
“Dammit, I’m diving,” Jack hollered out loud.
He hauled back the stick to slow his descent. Again, the pitch of the engine change. Jack scanned the gauges and realized he was now in a spiraling descent.
“Dammit, watch the attitude indicator you idiot,” Jack yelled to himself.
Jack hauled the stick in the opposite direction. In seconds, he was now spiraling the other way.
“Focus Jack, focus,” he called to himself, frantically.
He scanned the instruments again, then concentrated on the attitude indicator. He watched it carefully as he made subtle control inputs, leveling off the plane and forcing it into stable flight. Slowly, holding the stick steady, he pushed it forward and began his descent once again, this time insuring he did not overreact to any further inputs.
Moments later, at 1,100 feet, he popped out below the clouds.
“Phew, that was close,” Jack shouted out loud. “That could have gotten ugly.”
Jack was now flying far below the safe altitude for the region. Anxious and scared, he immediately thought about making an emergency landing in one of the farmer’s fields.
“Hold on you idiot… don’t overreact. As long as you can see, you can fly,” he said, trying to soothe his fears.
Jack could see out in front of him clearly now. The only obstruction in the area was a radio tower that he knew he would easily miss. Nervously, he continued on.
“Whoa!” Jack shouted out.
Again, without warning, all went white. Jack was now terrified. With flying conditions deteriorating so rapidly, even if he did find clear air again, he had no idea if he would be able to land. Jacks mind started to race, but quickly, he controlled his thoughts and slowed his thinking.
“Think this one through, Jack,” he said to himself. “Slow and methodical. Keep a cool head.”
Through beads of sweat, Jack focused on his gages. Pushing the stick forward, slowly he descended and passed through 900 feet. This was now a dangerous situation. He couldn’t see anything. His altitude left no room for a planned emergency if his engine quit and he was flying below the legal altitude allowed for that area.
At 700 feet, he popped out from under the cloud bank. His hands were shaking and he was having trouble controlling the plane. He knew he couldn’t continue on like this. Many have died doing exactly as he was doing at that very moment.
He checked his map for the closest airport to fly to. Everything seemed too far away. Jack realized he would have to make an “off airport” landing, in a farmer’s field below. As he surveyed the landscape, he breathed a slight sigh of relief as the possibilities for landing were everywhere. The land was flat, plowed and without obstructions.
“Ok, how about that one?” Jack said, talking himself through the dangerous decision.
“Too soft… maybe that one further up ahead,” he continued.
Jack flew by the first location and continued on to the next possible landing spot. Watching the second location, he spotted what he thought was an even better landing spot even further up ahead.
“Hmm, a grassy field. No furrows to contend with and it looks really flat.”
Jack bypassed the second landing possibility and headed for the third location. As he approached the third, just as he had done before, he spotted an even better landing opportunity further along his route.
Over and over, the selection process continued. With each site he selected, a better one popped up on the horizon in the distance. Disregarding the previous site and heading for the new promising site, he inadvertently continued on his course.
Fifteen minutes later, still flying and still selective, something dawned on Jack.
‘As long as the farmland continues, so can I,’ he thought to himself.
After a while, Jack noticed that he could fly a bit higher. Pulling back on the stick, he was able to ascend to almost 1,200 feet.
‘Could this be the end of the storm?’ he thought to himself.
As he flew, he kept his eyes on the landing sites around him while he attempted higher altitudes.
1,500 feet, 1,800 feet, 2,000 feet
Jack breathed a sigh of relief. He now realized he no longer needed to consider an emergency landing. He had beaten the storm and was now in the clear.
“Woohoo, dodged another bullet,” he shouted out.
A short time later, he landed in Alexandria, Louisiana and refueled. Confirming the weather was indeed behind him, he took off for his last destination of the day: Galveston, Texas.
With all the excitement from the “scud running”, a term used in aviation when referring to flying illegally below the clouds, Jack hadn’t noticed, but he was now flying over a type of land he had never seen before. It was the high plains of the south. Obstructions, as well as towns were few and far between. The flying was relatively safe, something he rarely observed in New England with it endless rolling hills and heavy forests.
He’d been flying for quite some time as he crossed over from Louisiana into Texas. He was now near the coast and could see large rivers that ended with gaping mouths to the oceans. They seemed to be everywhere. No matter where Jack looked, he saw something relating to the oil industry: oil refineries, oil rigs, oil tankers, etc. He felt it detracted from the lands beauty, but was very entertaining nonetheless.
Up head, he approached the city of Galveston. With a city of this size, an airport could easily blend in with the roads and landscape, making visual contact very difficult. At previous large airports, Jack had spotted his airport only after flying over it, creating a very dangerous scenario when air traffic was heavy.
Instead of searching for the airport, Jack opted for help from Air Traffic Control in locating his destination. He radio ATC with his position and within seconds, he was being vectored to his destination.
With a second set of “eyes” watching his flight path, Jack felt he could now relaxed a bit and take in the sights of the ocean and the city. The water wasn’t exactly a Caribbean blue-green color he’d seen in brochures. It was an ugly dark and brownish color, much like that of the Mississippi river. He could see oil rigs way off in the distance, dotting the horizon.
‘Ugly and disappointing,’ Jacks thought to himself as a first impression.
He lined up for his approach to the runway and moments later, he was down. As he taxied along the runway, the control tower asked his destination on the “field”.
“General aviation,” Jack replied.
They gave him directions as he rolled across runways and taxiways, until he parked at the Fixed Based Operator or FBO for short, where general aviation business was conducted on the field, usually supplying fuel, weather services an aviation related products.
Day 2 was now behind him. He found the pilots lounge, then prepared for the next day’s flight into Mexico while he ate another peanut butter sandwich. Once again, having completed his duties, he laid down on the couch and fell asleep.