After I landed, I rolled up to the loader truck and spun the airplane around, watching the wing tip clearance as I did so. I set the brakes, flipped on the hopper light and leaned back to watch the milky substance gurgle into the airplane. A thought occurred to me, “I’m hungry.” A load of smelly pesticide isn’t something that generally elicits that sort of response. It had been a long night with a long way to go. I was sure missing that peanut butter and jelly sandwich I left on the counter at home.
I usually carry a few energy bars in my little blue lunch box. There’s nothing like a compressed sawdust patty and raisins to slake the old hungry feeling. I think they were raisins anyway…
My dutiful wife is very good at keeping me fed. Being a skinny guy, she worries that I might blow away. I’ve discovered that the term ‘comfort food’ is anything made by the hands of the woman that loves you. It just makes it that much better.
A good old PBJ and a ziplock bag full of apple slices are what gets me through most of my work nights. They don’t do a lot of good when they don’t find their way to the airport with me though.
I think a lot of us don’t eat very well during the busy season and maybe too well in the off season. We eat what we can, when we can and go from there. I know there are some operations who make it part of their standard operating procedures to have a lunch ready and available. Grills in the hangar, or a buffet filled with chow, are always a good thing. It’s having the discipline to stop and eat that is usually the problem. We want to get things done. The clock is ticking. The bugs are eating. The weeds are growing. The kid’s got a ball game I can get to as long as I can get all this work done beforehand.
We’ve run reams of paper through the presses filled with all sorts of statistics regarding nutrition and the need to hydrate ourselves. What color is your urine today? All that information is fine and dandy when you’re having your classes and meetings. They make great powerpoint productions and fill an hour for your CEUs. The fact is, it all goes out the dump gate when we get into the saddle and start rolling. I’m generalizing here by the way, so for all you guys who make sure your calorie intake is at the daily, doctor recommended level, good for you. I certainly can’t claim that myself.
I can’t count how many times I’ve blasted down the runway with half a sandwich clenched in my teeth. Rotate out, adjust the flaps, set the prop, power and chomp down the rest of it on the way to the field. It’s a disappointing thing when your half a sandwich breaks away and drops to the floor during your take off roll. It usually falls to a hard to get to place, especially while flying and alters the taste drastically. One more reason to have smooth runways.
At Lakeland, we take a mandatory thirty-minute break. It’s a law in California now. The ground crew shuts down and sits in the truck staring at their phones for a half an hour while we finish the loads we’re on. By the time we get back, their break is almost over and we get back to work. I’ve learned to take advantage of the extra down time to wolf down some food and gulp a bunch of water. If there’s time, I’ll hop out, clean my lights and windshield and be ready to go.
I’m not a nutritionist or anyone who knows anything about food besides what tastes good and what doesn’t. However, I’ve learned to try and balance a few things. When you get past fifty, you start to pay closer attention to what your body’s telling you. You can’t help it by this time, because the old bag of bones that’s been carrying you around starts to speak louder. Sometimes, very loud.
I’ve always been a sugar addict. I put sugar in everything and anything. Or, I used to anyhow. I’ve found, through the advice my doctor at the V.A. that sugar exacerbates arthritis worse than throwing hay bales (Well, damn.). I’ve no doubt that a majority of us tough and stalwart ag pilots have experienced the grating caress of arthritis to one degree or another. Of course, most of us have outgrown their sugary phase. I’ve always been a bit delayed.
Caffeine is the next thing and isn’t much better than sugar. I discovered through accidentally reading an ingredients label, a lot of the snacks, drinks and energy bars contain a bunch of caffeine. It picks you up quick, but let’s you down hard. I burn through caffeine quicker than Jet-A.
So, where’s that leave a poor old guy like me trying to struggle through another season and stay on top of the game? No place good.
Fortunately, the good Lord provided us with an abundance of yummy stuff we can take along that doesn’t have a cellophane wrapper. There is also quite a few things out there on the market that a guy can pack along that doesn’t taste like compressed sawdust. The trick is to go ahead and put on your glasses and read the contents. And be prepared to pay more. That’s okay though. You’re a wealthy crop duster pilot and you can afford it. Nothin‘ but the best for you!
Summer is upon us. We’ve already received plenty of bad news. Keep your head and eyes out of the cockpit. Keep your energy levels up. Kiss your wife and don’t miss an opportunity to give thanks and say a prayer.
Fly well, and Stay Safe!