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  • Contents may have shifted during the flight

  • To be perfectly candid, Mr. O'Rourke has never been a particularly close friend of mine.
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  • To be perfectly candid, Mr. O'Rourke has never been a particularly close friend of mine.
    I've always found him to be a crass fellow, crude and rude. And don't get me started on his lack of physical hygiene. Gag.
    Not to be unkind, but he can only be described as one miserable retch.
    Yet I have to credit him with being the one who taught me that hangovers are to be avoided at all cost, dashing any thoughts I had ever entertained about becoming a boozer.
    So I haven't had a chat with Mr. O'Rourke in decades. We long ago stopped frequenting the same circles.
    What I'm referring to, of course, is the foul art of regurgitation.
    Blowing chips. Losing your lunch. Upchucking.
    When a friend of mine in the Marine Corps woke up with a hangover, he would stagger off to the head — bathroom in Marine parlance — for what he called having a "little chat with Ralph O'Rourke."
    It was either an idiom from whence he came in upstate New York or one he made up, apparently figuring the name sounded a lot like ralphing in the head. He had a wicked sense of humor.
    What brings Mr. O'Rourke up — so to speak — was the flight that MT photographer Jamie Lusch and I had on a small reconnaissance plane Thursday afternoon over the mountainous region that is southwestern Oregon. The flight was part of the legwork needed for today's package about spotting fires when they are mere infants.
    We couldn't have had a better crew for the flight. They both had that rare combination of wit and wisdom.
    Pilot Ron Vogt obviously knows his stuff, although I may be a bit biased because he is a former Marine Corps officer. As a former Alaskan, I also appreciate the fact he flew for years in the Last Frontier, a rugged place where, as they say, "There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots."
    And Matt Krunglevich knows wildfires by land and by air, a veteran in both worlds. You just know the Southern Oregon native is one of those folks who makes the extra effort in whatever task he undertakes.
    But I was a little concerned when, during the preflight briefing, the pilot handed out vomit bags.
    "It could get a little turbulent up there," Ron said with a malicious grin.
    As someone who can get seasick while walking on a dock, I was worried, particularly since the cabin was smaller than my desk. The old Cessna may be a reliable workhorse but it didn't have much room.
    Now, I'm all for recycling, but I have to put my foot down when it comes to recycling food. I find it in really bad taste, particularly in tight quarters.
    Nor were my concerns eased when Matt announced that he always brought along a larger gallon-size plastic bag in case things went south.
    "When he said that, I thought, 'Oh God!' " Jamie acknowledged later.
    Indeed, you didn't want to go there. After all, Matt is a bear-size guy, one who looks like he could have played football for the Ducks, despite the fact he is a Beaver alumnus.
    As I climbed into the cabin, I was reminded of a bouncy 1995 flight from London to Dublin with my twin brother, George, on one of those small Aer Lingus jets, the kind that are about as wide as a Volkswagen van. A gregarious fellow, George chatted away with an Irish lady sitting next to him while she proceeded to get very sick in a bag.
    I forced myself to look away, knowing a mere glance at her would cause me to follow suit. It was a very long, short flight.
    As was this one.
    The plane immediately began pitching and lurching as the strong cross winds buffeted it back and forth. My stomach started churning like a washer stuck in the agitation cycle. I was on the verge of losing it.
    Nor did it get any better when we lifted off the runway.
    Despite having an expert at the controls, we bobbed up and down like a butterfly in a brisk wind the whole flight through. When I glanced over at Jamie, the avid fisherman was looking a little green around the gills.
    But Ron and Matt seemed largely oblivious to the turbulence, although they would allow later it was the roughest flight of the season.
    After one bad bounce, followed by a drop that brought stomach contents too near the top, I couldn't help myself.
    "I don't think having those four chili dogs for lunch was a good idea," I groaned into my headset.
    That was the only time the pilot, sitting dead ahead of me on my potential projectile flight path, seemed anything other than nonchalant. But Ron took my practical joke in good humor.
    While flying over the Sterling Creek drainage, I pointed out our home below.
    "It's the one with the red roof," I told the pilot.
    He banked the aircraft slightly, giving me a better view of the property.
    My stomach protested. But it would be bad form to splatter on one's roof, although chances of hitting it would be difficult. You would have to allow for a lot of Kentucky windage at some 2,000 feet above ground.
    Beside, I don't think I could keep the little window near the pilot open long enough for a clean shot.
    None of us succumbed to the urge to purge. But, as they like to say in the aviation world, there were some near misses. As for me, I was ready for the rinse cycle.
    However, when Matt offered to buy a beer for anyone who spotted a fire before he did, both pair of MT eyes began staring hard at the forest below.
    After all, one brewski does not Mr. O'Rourke invite.
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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