Bahamas Boy Trip Adventures

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We’ve just concluded our annual Bahamas Boy Trip Adventure so I thought it would be fun to share the story behind this phenomenal tradition.  Our boy trip consists of a week of fun in the sun with my two little buddies at the Atlantis Resort at Paradise Island in the Bahamas.  I turn off my cell phone and disconnect from my e-mail for a week to dedicate 100% of my time and energy to my boys.  The entire trip from start to finish is all about having fun and building amazing memories together that will last a lifetime!

Way back in 2010, my twin boys were just five years old.  I travel a lot for business and had recently missed out on a weekend of playtime with them.  I was airborne heading home to Orlando thinking about what sort of special treat I could do to make up for our lost time apart.  As I cruised along at 10,000 feet, I looked out the window at the bright sun, then glanced at my airplane’s display – and there it was, a moment of clarity and inspiration as I spotted the Bahamas in the upper left corner of the map.  It was one of those times in life that you know you’ve just stumbled upon something special, even without experiencing it yet.  I landed safely and then formulated my plan for what would become the legendary Bahamas Boy Trip.

Departing a Presidential TFR Airport

Departing a Presidential TFR Airport

This past week I arrived at Chicago’s Midway Airport and was informed the President would be in town with a TFR (temporary flight restriction) in place the entire weekend – including when I planned to depart Saturday morning.  I quickly experienced the “looks like I’ll be stuck here” feeling then the CSR at Atlantic Aviation mentioned there was a gateway procedure in effect that would allow me to still depart following a TSA security check.  Apparently, these TSA gateway procedures aren’t implemented often, but when the President is going to be in the same area for multiple days they try to put them in place.  I was relieved, but still didn’t know what to expect, so thought I’d share the experience with you.

At least 24 hours before the planned flight, you need to call a local TSA number to get a departure reservation (though they later told me they try to accommodate even last minute requests whenever possible).  They ask your name, tail number, passengers, etc.  It’s a quick and easy process.  Surprisingly, they don’t ask for your social security number, pilot’s license number or any real identifying information.  I then filed a flight plan just like normal, no special codes or anything required.

I arrived Saturday morning at 10:30am and was met by three TSA agents in a conference room they’d set up at the Atlantic Aviation FBO.  I was scanned with a metal detector wand while another agent inspected my bags.  A third agent ran a quick background check on the computer system using my driver’s license.  Again, no social security number, pilots license nor anything else was needed.  The process took all of three minutes.  After that was complete, an agent walked out to the plane with me and took a quick look inside, then photographed the aircraft.  He advised me that he would give the tower and TRACON a call to confirm that I’d been cleared by the TSA for the flight.

The entire process took a total of less than 10 minutes, including the long walk to the plane.  I found the TSA agents to be polite, professional and very friendly.  While I initially didn’t know what to expect, the process was no where near as burdensome nor bureaucratic as I’d anticipated.  These folks did a good job and made the security experience go very smoothly.

My A-game was in full effect for my departure knowing there were surely lots of eyeballs watching me.  ATC procedures were just like any other flight leaving the busy Chicago airspace.  A few minutes later, I’d departed the TFR and was safely on my way home to see my two little boys for the weekend!

Flying My Cirrus Aircraft to Puerto Rico

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When you fly as much as I do traveling throughout the country, it takes a lot to sit back and say “Wow, that was an amazing experience” reflecting on a flight.  This past weekend was one such experience flying from Orlando down to Puerto Rico in my Cirrus SR22 Aircraft, so I thought I’d share a blog post about it along with photos from my journey.

I left Orlando and flew directly to Exuma (MYEF) which took roughly 2 hrs.  The tower services were a bit strange in that they only serve in an “advisory” capacity, basically providing winds and nothing else.  Approaching the island was gorgeous despite some scattered clouds throughout the area.  There’s a 7,000 foot runway with only one turnoff (no taxiways) being about 5,000 feet down, so I’d recommend landing long – the condition of the runway itself was great.  The folks at Odyssey knew I was coming in ahead of time for a quick turn fuel stop ($7/gal) and pulled up the fuel truck as soon as I turned off the engine.  I walked into the FBO, a few minutes later was fueled and cleared customs ($50 fee – never talked to anyone other than the friendly person at the desk).  My expedited customs arrival/departure was due to e-mailing my passport and info ahead of time, didn’t even need to pull out my passport since they already had it.  I was airborne again about 20 minutes after I’d landed, a really quick turn.

Heading Southeast leaving Exuma was some of the prettiest flying I’ve ever done over water and islands.  The Turks and Caicos were especially pretty – that’s actually where I’d planned my fuel stop originally, but they wanted $150 for customs for the stop so I thought I’d save $100 enjoying the view from above.  Once I was South of the Turks and Caicos was where it got a bit more sparse.  You’re still communicating with Miami air traffic control, but there’s no land in sight for a long, long time as you cross hundreds of miles of open water.  Total flight time was around 3.5 hours, passing Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic along the way.  I had a maritime survival equipment onboard including a life raft (thanks to my friend Rich for inspiring that purchase), a marine radio, personal locator beacon (PLB), etc.  Despite being well prepared to take an unexpected cruise, I’m glad all that preparation was for nothing.  Just before reaching San Juan, Puerto Rico, I was switched over to their approach control from Miami.  I landed at Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci Airport (TJIG) which is the executive airport about five miles from the commercial airport (TJSJ).  My landing was smooth as silk and the tower air traffic control services were flawless.  Since I’d stopped in the Bahamas, I was now considered an international flight returning to the US (even though I was in Puerto Rico).  My stop at the US Customs office took all of 2 minutes and was uneventful.  The FBO (Million Air) greeted me at customs, unloaded my bags, and towed the airplane next door to their facility.  Then they pulled up a brand new Mercedes and the line guy drove me about 10 minutes down the road to my hotel.  Amazing service to say the least!

I had several days of successful business conference meetings then it was time to return to Florida.  On my departure from Puerto Rico, I once again passed through Million Air and had another fantastic experience.  Smiling faces who were over-the-top helpful – truly one of the best FBO experiences I’ve ever had anywhere.  My IFR (instrument flight rules) flight plan was filed and I was ready to go.  Here’s when I discovered a quirk compared to some of the other flying I’ve done in the states.  I filed fixes on the airways all the way back to Exuma.  Clearance rejected my flight plan however because they wanted the actual airway listed too.  Funny thing is the airway was a straight line between the two fixes, but I re-filed with the exact same route (this time spelling out the airway) which then made everyone happy.  My flight back to Exuma was equally as beautiful as on the way down.  This time there we no clouds though which made for even better views out the windows of my Cirrus.

It was late in the day as I landed in Exuma just before sunset.  No big deal, or so I thought.  I didn’t realize that when the clock struck 6:00, that meant there were no more departures – even though it was still perfectly clear daylight out.  The FBO attendant told me that I was stuck there for the night, unless I wanted to pay an extra $86 fee for an after hours departure.  So, at about 6:04, I paid my $86 and got my clearance to depart after hours – still with nothing more than a “wind check” advisory for my departure.  The way I figured it, my cost to stay overnight would have far exceeded the $86 so it was a no-brainer to pay it and chock it up to a lesson learned to fly earlier in the day.

I cleared US customs at their brand new customs facility at Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport (FXE).  They customs agents there were fantastic!  They asked if I had any fruits, seeds, nuts, etc… right about that time I pulled out my snack bag I’d packed and realized I had a trail mix called “Fruit and Seed Mix”.  I’d just hit a double home run with my snack choice!  The customs agents were great and it wasn’t an issue as they were still sealed (and discarded) but did make for a good laugh.

On a trip like this the one thing that I’d stress is to make sure you’ve got all your US Customs eAPIS (Electronic Advance Passenger Information System) filings done ahead of time which just makes everything so much easier.  You’ve got to file your outbound US departure to Exuma, your inbound from Exuma to Puerto Rico, then the same in reverse on your return flights.  Between the US, Bahamas and Puerto Rico you’ll be clearing customs four times on the trip and file four eAPIS reports.  I use the FlashPass App on my iPad which makes it quick and easy to do.  It’s good to have the customs numbers for your intended airports handy too so you can give your US Customs Notices of Arrival as necessary.  Also, for anyone wishing to take this trip looking for alternate airports to file as well just in case a diversion becomes necessary – in the Bahamas you’ve got Stella Maris (MYLS) and in San Juan you’ve got Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (TJSJ).  Though it’s worthwhile noting at TJSJ, I was quoted $300-$600 for a ramp fee, but they wouldn’t be able to tell me exactly what it would really cost until I arrived.  Needless to say, I chose to go to the executive airport instead – and made an excellent choice choosing Million Air.  They communicated quickly with me over e-mail ahead of time and knew exactly what to expect in terms of fees and services provided.  If you go there, say hello to Juan the manager for me, really nice guy who runs a first class operation.  There’s also an excellent Cirrus Authorized Service Center on the field (Caribbean Aircraft Maintenance) in case you have any mechanical issues which need to be addressed.

Overall, this is one of those trips that goes down in the books as a truly great experience that reminds me of why I fly a Cirrus.  All the other folks at my conference took airlines down there.  I’m sure several thought I was crazy for flying myself – until I chatted about my adventure and showed them some pictures of my journey… then they wished they’d tagged along with me instead!  This is what living the Cirrus Life is all about, the experiences and joy it adds to our lives!

Feel free to reach out to me if you’re ever thinking of flying down to Puerto Rico and will be happy to chat further about my experience.  Definitely looking forward to taking another trip down there (and beyond) soon!

How a Fitness Tracker Changed My Lifestyle

How a Fitness Tracker Changed My Lifestyle

Many years ago I purchased my first fitness tracker, the original Jawbone Up.  I bought it almost as a novelty item – I’m a techie guy and this was the latest and greatest tech gadget so had to give it a shot.  It was annoying to wear, constantly getting caught on my bracelet, uncomfortable as I tried to sleep and a chore to charge and sync.  My fitness tracker experiment lasted a month or so at most.  It soon lived in my backpack with the idea that one day I’d get back to wearing it again…  That day never came.

Fast forward to 2015, I was hopping around online and came across the Jawbone Up Move.  This fitness tracker seemed to be the answer to all my prior complaints – wireless Bluetooth syncing and a six month battery that never needed charging topped the list of benefits.  So, I hit the buy button and two days later it arrived at my doorstep.  Once again, I was off to tracking my steps.  Here’s the thing, I realized just how sedentary I was on a regular basis.  I’m a guy who’s always on the go, 24/7 aside from a few hours of necessary sleep to recharge.  I realized that while I’m always “active” doing things, I wasn’t very physically active aside from weekends playing with my boys in the park.  My average day at the office consisted of 1,500 steps on a good day.

That was six months ago.  I’m still wearing my Jawbone Up Move daily, it’s comfortably clipped to the inside of my pants pocket everywhere I go.  It’s discreet, out of the way, and it just plain works with zero effort.  I love the app which is really the key to it all.  It makes me accountable to myself to hit my daily step goal.  In the past two months, I haven’t missed my goal even a single time.  I’m averaging around 12,000 steps per day, knocking it out of the ballpark with upwards of 16-18,000 steps on a great day.  Here’s the thing, it’s been a relatively easy transition from pathetic to walking several miles each day.  I’ve found I’m great at multitasking in terms of being able to walk and talk or walk and type e-mails.  Now, instead of sitting idle at my desk while taking a twenty minute call, I pop on my headset and chat while I walk.  I’ve just instantly added 2,000 steps to my day (I walk at a pace of 100 steps/min).  Same thing with catching up on e-mails, especially reading those that are just informational or those which only require a short response.  I can work through a handful of e-mails on my phone and simultaneously add a thousand or more steps to my daily count.  As an added bonus, I find I’m also focused without distraction as I walk along doing these other tasks.  A true win-win scenario.

In addition to my daytime walking routine, I’ve also found that I really enjoy the relaxation of a late night walk after the rest of the world has gone to sleep.  It allows me to reflect back on the day’s events and think through solutions to the challenges I face in the day ahead.  It’s a great routine for both my body and my mind that’s become something I look forward to each evening.

In terms of the sleep tracking functionality, this tracker honestly hasn’t changed my sleep habits at all, but I still enjoy using it each night.  The things that I’ve learned are (1) I’m a really solid sleeper – and (2) I don’t get enough of it.  My sleep cycles are virtually textbook perfect with my body alternating between light and deep sleep.  I discovered that I fall asleep in minutes, it’s clear when I slow down and lay down I’m out like a light.  I honestly don’t have the desire to change the length of time I sleep each night.  I’ve got a million and one things happening in life and I don’t want to miss a moment of it sleeping life away.

Now-a-days I’m looking great and I’m feeling great too.  I’m not meaning to sound conceded, but I’ve truly never looked better in my entire life.  The funny thing is I didn’t look bad before I started this new lifestyle routine, I’ve always been in good shape and been happy with my height to weight ratio.  Turns out dropping 10 lbs (literally) was an even better fit for my body.  It almost came as a surprise that I’d lost the weight, it wasn’t even intentional, it just happened.  Makes sense though, a friend of mine recently lost a ton of weight – to the point I mistakenly thought he’d gotten surgery.  He explained to me that it was all a matter of simple math: move more and eat less equals less weight.  Well, I’m moving more but have skipped the eating less part, I love great food way too much.  Probably a good thing or I’d be considerably underweight with all I’m moving these days.

If you’re interested in buying the same model fitness tracker I use to try it for yourself, don’t be confused by all the different models and brands.  This one is simply called the “Jawbone Up Move” and is sold virtually everyone online and locally at a lot of retailers.  People mistakenly refer to my device a “FitBit”, but that’s actually a completely different brand.  Nothing against FitBit, they’re the household brand name in these devices, but their software pales in comparison to Jawbone’s.  Since the phone app software is the single biggest area where I interact with the device each day (which strongly motivates me), I wanted the best, cleanest and easiest to use platform available.  Jawbone is the clear cut winner in this regard.  A great app matched with a great device has made for a fantastic user experience which I highly recommend to others.

One last caveat, these fitness trackers aren’t just $50 each.  Yes, that’s the price for the FIRST one you buy.  Then when that one falls off your belt, pants, etc., you need to fork over another $50 for a replacement.  When another one mysteriously falls off of an aircraft wing (oops), there’s another $50 spent.  Eventually you’ll be spending $50 for Jawbone #6 after the fifth one finds a new home on the floor of a crowded concert never to be seen again.  To all those who got free Jawbone’s courtesy of me, you’re welcome.  I’ve probably spent around $300 on these little devices.  That being said, are they worth it?  Every single penny.  I’m already looking forward to my brand spanking new one…  I’m thinking by around February my current one will take leap of faith off of my pocket to find its new owner.  Hopefully it will add another 10,000 steps to their daily routine too – it may end up being the best treasure they ever find!