It was with some regret that everyone drove home from the evening of chatter and banter. George scrutinized a strange-looking set of clouds and sighed. "I'm just sure it'll be a boonies chase tomorrow," he said.
"The second task," said Marshall Claybourn, opening the next morning's meeting, "will be a distance task along a fixed course—139 miles to Winnemucca and return and then along a line through Alturas, Calif." Westerly winds, it seemed, would range up to 35 knots, and thermals would be weaker.
Stuck with a late takeoff, Moffat compensated by finding strong lift and making the most of it: after a rubber-burning ride, his crew had little more than enough time at Lovelock, its standby point, to consume milk shakes and hamburgers. Bucking heavy headwinds ("if you threw a refrigerator into this wind with its doors open, it'd fly downwind," someone groused), return to Stead was slow enough to encourage the crew to pass the time in persiflage.
"I tell you, Ralph," said Suzanne, sobering slightly after one sally, "I would never try to make George choose between me and flying. 'Cause I don't know how it would turn out.
"George met me at an airport and proposed to me at an airport," she said, now wholly serious. "Maybe that has something to do with our sensing in each other that we were sort of loners. I know I am. I never read the news. Couldn't care less. I live in a world of my own. Always have. Zero eight Romeo is cur baby right now, and she's enough. And we just keep a little apartment as a base; we use everywhere as home."
"Ground Romeo," George radioed as the crew approached Stead, "estimating Reno within the hour. Proceed to Doyle." Ground crew proceeded to Doyle (pop. 77), 45 miles northwest of Reno.
After a four-ice-cream-cone wait, ground had worries. It sighted interesting aircraft—a tanker refueling a bomber and three gliders that turned out to have contrails—but it neither saw nor heard Moffat. George, it later developed, had very nearly fallen ignominiously at Stead and then had had to limp all the way to Doyle. In the next 85 miles, through beautiful, deserted Lassen County, he found some of the waves and thermals that are expected where the Sierra flows down to the Great Basin, but only by hopscotching from cloud to cloud, wringing out lift wherever he found it.
Peering at maps, Moffat's crew appraised every scraggy airstrip, tested every infrequent field. Occasional gliders now glinted in the distances; thanks to sheer persistence and to surviving the downs near Stead, where planes had fallen like snowflakes, Moffat was overhauling the leaders. Suzanne threw rocks off runways, clambered over fences, galloped pastorally through thigh-high grass in search of hazards, brushed her hair in unconscious expectation of an imminent landing.
Suddenly, just below Likely, with the moon well risen, George began to get more lift than he could use. "Moon thermals," said Suzanne. Whatever it was, the Austria soared on and on, past Alturas, past Davis Creek, Willow Ranch, New Pine Creek and finally, almost unbelievably, into Oregon, 439 miles from takeoff. The sun had dropped behind the mountains, shadows crept across wide, wild Goose Lake, a note of urgency crept into Suzanne's voice. Finally George yielded. He could no longer see the ground; he would land.
Boehm marked the road, flashing car and trailer lights. Suzanne marked the end of an imaginary strip. Heads craned into the deepening twilight. Abruptly, the hitherto invisible Austria materialized, looking big and black as a bomber, dipping down from dusk into darkness. It circled once, whistling a glider's jet-like whistle, dropped down over a barbed-wire fence, touched, bounced, then skidded and scraped to a stop. George was not yet entirely disengaged from his machine when his wife ran up to wrap her arms around him.