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Dave and Fred's excellent adventure
ALASKA 2000 - Flynorth.com "Flatlanders"
to the mountains.
Fred read the article in the COPA magazine back in December 1999 -
Flynorth.com an Alaskan 2000 experience. Gina, Fred's wife, didn't
seem keen to participate with him on initial suggestion. So, Dave
volunteered without really realizing what he'd let himself in for.
Contact was made with John Dale at Flynorth.com, and the process set
in motion. E-mail and website interface gathered momentum as the months
and weeks progressed toward the official start of Alaska 2000 due
to commence at the Springhouse Airpark in British Columbia on August
4th 2000. The list of supplies and materials took on a life of its
own as the planning took effect. Perhaps a train of pack mules would
be more appropriate to transport the contents of the list; Survival
gear, camping gear, fishing gear, clothes, food, coolers full of the
comforts of life. Rain gear, cold gear, hot gear, information and
books to read……
How are we going to fit this stuff into the Beechcraft Sierra B24R?
Should the cylinders be replaced prior to the expedition? The 2000-hour
engine runs fine, consumes a little more oil than it should. The oil
analysis indicates slightly elevated aluminum and chrome content,
a sure sign that the pistons and rings have a little more clearance
than a new engine. Fred mulls this issue over for months before making
the decision to do so, in conjunction with the annual aircraft inspection.
Oshkosh Air Venture 2000 fits in nicely to the departure schedule
so the plan was to leave Windsor, Ontario on the evening of July 27th,
spend until July 31st at Oshkosh then make our way west for the rendezvous
with the other Flynorth.com participants at Springhouse, British Columbia
on August 3rd.
The following is an account of the trip from
the perspective of "Flatlanders" who make their first adventure west
and experience undulations greater than 100 feet high for the first
time in their aeronautical lives.
Thursday July 27th
Rendezvous time was 4.30 p.m. We were late of course, but not by much.
The "plane packing" occurred the night before but its funny how half
the stuff doesn't appear until the last minute. Standing on bathroom
scales with ballast in arms to get an accurate assessment of the baggage
weight was the chosen method of balancing the aircraft. A muggy, crappy
day, but the weather forecast indicates there are some holes in the
clouds between Windsor and Oshkosh. Fred files the flight plan and
reports to US Customs and Immigration that we will arrive at Detroit
City airport, the point of entry to the USA, at 6 p.m. for clearance.
Out of the hanger at 5.30 p.m., all pre-flight checks OK and away
we taxi. Get runway assignment 20. Those of you who have had the privilege
of flying out of Windsor fully laden on this runway will understand
the concern. Fred immediately retorts that he doesn't like this runway
because of "the poles". Anyway, we're off. Gave up assessing the weight
of the aircraft and contents long ago:
Gross weight 2,750 lbs Actual estimated 2,740 lbs
It is funny how Murphy always plays a role in these situations. Weight
max'd out, shortest runway on the field, not often assigned, cross
wind and "the poles" center from the end of the runway. Fred certainly
noticed the effect of the well-laden craft during take-off. Ten minutes
to Detroit City Airport with a perfect landing on runway 15 at 626
feet in altitude. We taxied directly to the Customs and Immigration
holding area punctually for the 6 p.m. appointment. Pilot and passengers
are not permitted to leave the aircraft during this process. The temperature
is close to 30OC and humidity in the 90% range. After 10 minutes or
so and two or three enquiry calls to ground and tower, the Customs
and Immigration officer appears. I.D.'s check out fine but co-pilot
Dave has to intercede and prevent pilot Fred from wrestling the Customs
Officer to the ground as he attempted to make off with the well exposed
Canadian bananas. Dave tries to pacify Fred by telling him that the
officer was probably only feeling a little hungry, after all it was
close to suppertime. Have to hand it to the pilot though; he was successful
in retaining the breakfast fruit before it was devoured. BANANAS!
Departed Detroit City in the direction of Jackson Michigan, Gary Indiana,
then north along the western Lake Michigan shoreline past Chicago
south of Milwaukee to Fond-du-Lac Wisconsin. The weather was very
muggy, skuddy was Fred's terminology. The weather advisory recommended
the southerly lakeshore route to avoid storm activity over Western
Michigan and the lake. Visibility was not ideal, poor according to
Dave, but well within VFR (Visual Flight Rules) limits according to
Fred. Ran into some showers, which were not heavy enough to blast
the thick covering of bugs from the windshield. What the hell business
do bugs have flying at 2,500 feet anyway. Forgot the window washing
gear - didn't we?
Visibility improved somewhat at Chicago. We could see the tops of
the buildings downtown as we flew by. The bottoms were not visible
though. Dave is very impressed at the flight following services provided
in the controlled airspace - VOR (VHF Omni Range), ground radar, altitude
encoders, and air traffic controllers. On board GPS's and vectoring
signals provide a means of deadly accurate location determination.
Squawk frequencies assigned by the air traffic controllers permit
them to track your location by radar and they advise you of other
aircraft, weather, airport locations, altitude advisory etc. How come
these services aren't made available for ailing parents tracking the
whereabouts of their delinquent teenagers? Sometimes its better not
to know! They hand you off from their controlled space to that of
the next controller together with communications frequency advice
I'm (Dave) impressed. We were too late to fly directly into Oshkosh.
The airport facility at Oshkosh closes at 8 p.m., so we headed for
Fond-du-Lac at an altitude of 809 feet. Made a beautiful landing on
runway 36 and taxied directly to field camping. Found a campsite directly,
reversed the plane in and strolled to the washroom and FBO, which
closed at 9 p.m. - arrived at 9.01 p.m. Ablutions completed the camp
was to be set up. By this time all "man" sized mosquitoes from Chicago
to Milwaukee had notified their family members that new campsite residents
had arrived. We both lost chunks of head, face, legs and arms to the
buggers before putting on coats for protection. At 30oC and 90% relative
humidity, the perspiration compounded the situation. The still exposed
body-parts such as legs were really taking some punishment now. Members
of the Flynorth.com group five days later looked in amazement at the
disease the "Flatlanders" had brought with them to the mountains.
Our excuse was the acidic air in southern Ontario etches these blemishes
into the body. Don't think anyone bought this line. Everyone kept
his or her distance from us for days into the trip. Tents finally
erected, the only task left was to remove the beasts from inside the
accommodation. Blood all over the place we finally slept.
Friday July 28th
Awoke to poor visibility. No flying would be possible until late morning.
Breakfast at the airfield. A lot, at least what Dave thought were
a lot, of planes were on the field. Wait till Oshkosh and then learn
the definition of "a lot"! Minimum VFR conditions (three miles visibility
and 1,000 foot ceilings) aren't very good - skuzzy. We take off and
head for Oshkosh, following the well-publicized arrival procedure
via Rippon following the railway tracks and awaiting instructions.
Had to keep to an altitude of 1,500 feet (700 feet above the ground)
in order to see the ground. It was raining pretty hard. The railway
tracks were located but there was no mention of the "extinct" trackless
railway that was more visible than the posted ones. The little side
tour was enjoyable. Headed east to intercept the "real" track. Followed
the orange arrows and instructions being shouted to us from controllers
perched in trees somewhere out of sight, close to the ground. Landed
runway 36 right (taxiway) together with many others in front, behind
and at the side.
NEVER SEEN SO MANY PLANES AT ONE TIME IN ONE LOCATION - THOUSANDS!
Directed to general aviation parking/camping, we set up home for the
next three days. Major disappointments were established during camp
set-up. The brand new double burner stove, purchased exclusively for
the venture, leaked gas at the connector tube - a poorly (non) brazed
joint. Boy, did we curse Coleman! Searched out the Coleman sales truck
at the "fly-market" and complained bitterly about the quality of their
products. The guy denied having any knowledge of a Coleman product
that resembled "our" tube, but wrote it off as a Canadian special,
and was unable to help us further. Approached a vendor at a booth
demonstrating fancy soldering equipment and threw down a challenge
to him to demonstrate his process. He "bucked" at the opportunity
saying that the chrome plating would not permit adhesion of the solder.
Off we went in search of a file to remove the subject adhesion offender.
Couldn't find one to purchase but talked a vendor, demonstrating aluminum
product welding, into loaning us his file, which he obligingly did.
Back to the soldering/brazing guy who's resistance had waned in the
meantime. Wallah! - What appeared to be success. Later, the test run
proved the success of the venture. The lamp - assembled it, again
a first time event and noticed the poor workmanship. Cursed Coleman
and their products again. Discovered later by studying the packaging
that the suspect products were actually Canadian Tire specials. SORRY
COLEMAN. The free-bee single burner Coleman stove that Fred had acquired
from Oshkosh the previous year (retrieved from the garbage container),
and brought with him as a back-up resource, performed perfectly and
took on the role of primary utensil.
Saturday July 29th
Spent all day studying what the vendors at the show had on offer.
How many GPS pouches did Fred actually end up purchasing before the
right sized one was found? Watched the air show in the afternoon.
Relaxed on the campsite in the evening to homemade cooking and red
Sunday July 30th
Up early, breakfasted and visited the antique aircraft area. Searched
the Fly-market for the hat Dave saw on Friday and hesitated to purchase.
No more to be found. Dave's hair has been wavy for a number of years
(waving goodbye) so it has become an essential of life to wear headgear
for protection from the sun. Treated ourselves, Fred did, to a flight
on the Ford Tri-motor. At 2 p.m. the line up included about ten or
fifteen people. The staff indicated we would probably not get off
before commencement, at 3 p.m., of the Warbirds airshow. So, we sat
at the Tri-motor departure area on their chairs and settled in to
watch the show. Our neighbours here indicated they often fly to Tobermory
from the Detroit area. In fact, they indicated that they were there
the previous weekend, on Saturday. Is that not a coincidence? So were
we, we declared. It turned out that they were the aircraft that arrived
as we were fueling up for departure. The blue and white Cessna 206.
What a small world isn't it? The Tri-motor flight took us out over
the town of Oshkosh and Lake Winnebago, a pretty sight. Then back
over the west side of the airfield on a left base to land. Man, did
the pilot cut the final short to put the craft down hard on the left
wheel. Didn't seem to faze him, just taxied down the runway onto the
grass to disembark. What a nice experience. Oshkosh and Lake Winnebago
from the Ford Tri-Motor Decided, the weather forecast helped, to depart
Oshkosh Sunday evening. By then the traffic was much lighter. Prior
to noon, the aircraft had been lined up fifty at a time, four directions
on the taxiway and two at a time on the runway. What a spectacle,
just standing on the flight line watching planes fly in and out is
pure entertainment. Anyway, Sunday evening departed Oshkosh on runway
9 and charted course for St. Cloud, Minnesota, altitude 1,024 feet.
Amazed by the vastness of the landscape and the forests. There are
some tall masts sticking up out of the ground in Minnesota. Cruising
at 3,500 feet ASL (Above Sea Level) we encountered one 1,500 feet
high just 1,000 feet below the aircraft. A smooth landing on runway
31, nobody is manning the radio. Taxied to the general aviation building
and encountered the late shift guy who put us on track for motels.
Phoned the Royal Court Motel and were picked up within fifteen minutes.
Nice motel, comfortable room, good nights sleep, for Dave anyway.
Fred had become so used to the hard ground from camping that a bed
was just too tough to adjust back to.
Monday July 31st
Awoke and dodged traffic on Highway 10 to make it to the "greasy spoon"
diner for breakfast, a recommendation from the proprietors of the
motel. The times that they had frequented the establishment must have
coincided with the times when the air system worked in the joint.
Needed supplementary oxygen for this part of the journey. Beside the
environmental atmosphere in the building, the breakfast conformed
to the recommendation provided. At last, the air system kicks in and,
within minutes there is air to breath. Why did that not occur sooner?
Stomachs loaded with eggs/omelets, hash browns and toast, we risked
life and limb again on highway 10 to reach the motel. The neighbours
were up and functioning by this time, a German family vacationing
in Minnesota. Shot the breeze on German/US relations for ten minutes
whilst waiting for the motel office to open at 8 a.m. Ready to roll
and after waking the courtesy driver, we're off, bound for St. Cloud
airport. Fred consulted with the avionics experts on the potential
cause of the voltage surges evident through consistently pulsating
(dimming and brightening) of the planes instrumentation lighting,
evident last night in the dark. The diagnosis confirmed a suspected
faulty voltage regulator. Attempts to locate a replacement locally
were unsuccessful. Dave, the avionics guy did adjust the regulator
which temporarily eased the problem. Its not until November of 2000
that Fred discovers the real reason for the voltage fluctuation, a
loose connector on the ammeter. Set off at 11.30 a.m. in search of
Dickinson, North Dakota. Mesmerized by the isolation of the landscape
we navigated our way with the use of maps, compasses and GPS's successfully
via Bismark to Dickinson. The arrival in Dickinson gave us the first
taste of altitude landing, 2,592 feet in hot humid conditions. Remember
at this point flying experiences were limited to Southern Ontario
and Michigan. The plane just dropped onto runway 32, which presented
a significant uphill gradient. We were greeted by the airport personnel
who donated a courtesy vehicle, a Dodge Caravan, for purposes of visiting
downtown Dickinson for lunch at Applebees. Back to the airport with
a bag of ice in tow for the coolers. The plane was fueled and ready
to go. Sky clear and 80OF + temperatures we were in for our first
high altitude take-off on runway 32, destination, Great Falls, Montana.
Amazed by the vastness of the landscape, literally miles of no habitation
except the occasional ranch, trail and road, a few trees. Approaching
Great Falls it rained heavily through clear blue skies. Big old lumps
of rain bombarded the now bloodless windshield stowaways. Behind us
was a perfect rainbow and clouds. First taste of mountain air - hum!
TRSA or Terminal Radar Service Area approach into Great Falls due
to the presence of military aircraft. Approach control continuously
confused with our intentions; are we landing or flying through? Took
a while to straighten this out with him. Confused over the runway
assignment also, but finally got this sorted out with full apology
from the controller and in for the second altitude landing on runway
3 - good one at 3,677 feet. Pulled up at Hollman Aviation, fueled
up cancelled the flight plan and set off to the Best Western for another
good nights sleep. Tough stuff this camping! Requested the front desk
to assist us with directions to the local Wal-Mart for tape for the
video recorder and swimming pants and pajamas for Fred, more forgotten
items. The front desk clerk spent 5 minutes explaining how to get
there to which Fred retorted - "do you supply courtesy bicycles?"
He didn't respect the British humour and responded with " Don't you
want to go there now?" "Yes, but we don't have a vehicle" was the
reply. At last he saw through the sarcasm and offered the service
of the hotel courtesy bus. Found the tapes, pajamas, no swimming pants
and no wine. The wine was procured later at the local gas station
next door to the hotel. Locating a corkscrew was an act of God. We
both had remembered to pack one but of course they were buried in
the bottom of the baggage compartment of the plane 10 miles away.
Wine is an essential ingredient for the next day's flight planning.
The gas bar was fresh out of corkscrews so the hotel restaurant became
the preferred source. Over a glass of Chardonnay overlooking the hotel
pool tomorrow's route over the mountains to the Flynorth.com Alaska
2000 rendezvous location was planned in excruciating detail. Tomorrow
we would start early to experience some real mountain flying. Sleep,
alarm set for 6.30 a.m. but, as we would discover tomorrow at 7.30
a.m., never activated.
Tuesday August 1st
Awoke at 7.30 a.m. breakfasted well and set off to Hollman Aviation.
Even though Fred and Dave have known each other for more than 30 years
their ability to coordinate the "tipping" process of the courtesy
bus driver leaves a lot to be desired. He probably thought it was
his lucky day when we filled both his hands with lovely loot. Notified
CANPASS of the anticipated arrival and customs clearance at Penticton,
British Columbia the point of entry back into Canada. Flight plan
filed, off we set for the real altitude test, the mountains. A daunting
experience lay ahead for the "Flatlanders". Out of Great Falls on
runway 21, hot in the thin air, we ascend to jump the first mountains
at 8,000+ feet within 45 minutes of the airport. Would we get up there?
Plane just short of gross weight, first time up that high, unsure
of the maximum altitude capability of the aircraft, we went for it
all the way over. A reference to the onboard manual did not clarify
the answer, managed 10,500 feet and soared over the mountain edge
for the first view of the Rockies - awesome! Dumbstruck with the beauty
of the scenery we rummaged through the onboard baggage for the cameras
and shot what turned out later to be too many photographs of the same
thing. Snow still covered the peaks, where would we land safely now
if an emergency occurred? Nowhere we are fully committed. Confident
in the planes ability to fly at 10,500 feet we headed directly to
Penticton via Idaho and Washington State. The first taste of mountain
flying west of Great Falls, Montana Now, en-route we discover Penticton
in the Okanagan Valley to be at an altitude of 1,129 feet as we soar
over the last peak at 10,500 feet and descend, with full aid of the
drag of the landing gear, for landing on runway 34. For the novice
mountain flyers the descent was akin to the downward slopes of the
worlds largest roller coaster but you never quite reach that up turn,
gear down, pointing the nose at the airport tower with the vertical
speed indicator off the dial we're descending at 3,000 feet per minute.
Ears popping and Fred's arms aching from pushing the controls forward,
we fly into the valley and a right approach over the lake to runway
34. What a sight, clear blue skies and 28OC temperatures. All we wanted
was to exercise the legs, quite a contrast from 4OC at 10,000 feet.
Lunch en-route consisted of soda water, granola bars and the last
of the corn chips, which Dave ate all by himself and suffered Fred's
wrath for the balance of the trip. Immigration formalities conducted
we walk the short distance to the lake south of the airport for a
pop and an ice cream, Dave's first in at least three years, whilst
walking on the beach. Back to the airport for gas and we leave runway
34 heading north through the Okanagan Valley and a rapid assent to
clear the Okanagan Range. Again, for the "Flatlanders" of Ontario,
an awe-inspiring sight of mountains and British Columbian forests.
By now, this mountain flying stuff appears to be second nature. Penticton
to Kamloops, 70 Mile House, 100 Mile House to Springhouse, our destination
today and rendezvous location for the start of Alaska 2000. The mountain
flying turns into a more relaxed valley-flying affair now. There really
is no need to get up and over the mountains as we did from Great Falls
to Penticton. Springhouse was very easy to locate. The clearing on
the Plateau at 3,250 feet was spotted miles out, aided by the plume
of smoke from the local mill. Once over the airfield, we are in for
landing on Runway 33. The grass strip came up at us pretty quickly,
exaggerated by the uphill slope. Fred handled it very coolly, Dave
thought the grass was going to enter via the windshield. On taxiing
to the parking area we are met by Lawrence Chambers of Lawrence Aviation
who offers us the choice of the camping locations. We are the first
of the Flynorth.com'ers to arrive. Camp established we set in for
the first real campsite supper of lentil soup and salad. The hommus
was becoming a little boring by now. Fred insisted it was going off
but each time we resurrected it from the cooler we had to convince
ourselves it was still OK. Have to beg milk off the Chamber family.
Man is the air fresh here. Just the mooing of the horses and the naying
of the cows or moose break the still of the night air - all night!!
We arrange to travel to Williams Lake tomorrow at 7.30 a.m. with Judy
and Tami Chambers. The "bug tent" was our savior. The mosquitoes seem
to grow disproportionately large to decreases in atmospheric pressure.
Wednesday August 2nd
Arose early, breakfasted and left at 7.30 a.m. promptly for the trip
to nearby Williams Lake and the chance to do the accumulated laundry.
Judy and Tammi dropped us off at the laundry, next door to the local
supermarket. So all could be accomplished while they ran their errands.
Clothes successfully in the washing machine we figure the local Zellers
store would yield the illusive swimming pants but we're too early,
the store is yet to open. We wonder what the Chambers' can find to
do in Williams Lake prior to the stores opening. Judy and Tammi have
agreed to meet up with us at 9 a.m. for the visit to the liquor store.
They are late and suffer the wrath of Dave. They get their revenge
quickly and profusely. As locals, they know what goes on outside the
liquor store in Williams Lake 10 minutes before opening time on "welfare
Wednesday" and Dave joins right in as they watch from the safe distance
of the truck in the parking lot! On the ride back to Springhouse we
ask if they can recommend a car rental. We want to see some of the
local sights prior to our scheduled departure on August 4th. Tammi
offers us the use of her K-car. After all, she says she is leaving
town tomorrow and has no immediate use for the vehicle. We are deeply
honoured. By the time we arrived back in Springhouse Judy and Tammi
offered us the use of their shower facilities for which we were deeply
thankful. Equipped with shower, vehicle and plane there was no stopping
us. That afternoon John Dale and Diana Haschke arrived and established
camp next to us. John and Diana are the organizers of Flynorth.com.
There are a number of important chores to do in preparation for the
big "off". Learn how to operate the borrowed camcorder for one. But,
learning how to fish and breaking in the new tackle takes preference.
Downtown we ride in the K-car, with Diana as passenger. She shops
at the supermarket; Fred and I head to the fishing store to enquire
about licenses. Shocked at the $16/day rate we decide against it and
meet up with Diana and head to the liquor store for John's six-pack.
Back at camp we decide to pack the fishing tackle in the car anyway
and head on out in search of hiking trails or fishing lakes. Travel
miles northward on Dave's advice instead of east, should have had
the GPS. Head back to town of Williams Lake in search of Duggan Lake.
First a stop at the Tourist Information centre for local maps (fresh
out) and advice on hiking trails. Little luck in this regard. Decide
to purchase postcards which are probably still in the plane today!
Next stop, gas. The least we could do is fuel up Tammi's car. So we
head to the neighbouring gas bar with Fred at the helm. Why do some
folks, in this case a lady with a heavy German accent, decide to roll
forward from the pumps whilst staring down at their laps, stuffing
change and receipts in their purses? Fred can't align the K-car swiftly
enough at the pump before the rolling intruder buries her front bumper
into the rear quarter of the newly acquired limo. Oh no, what now?
Dave leapt from the passenger side, searing mad, to enquire why the
intruder was driving heads down. After verbal encounters its decided
that damage is negligible. Only the gas pump attendant feels obliged
to write an accident report. Who doesn't have his driver's license
with him?? What's going through the mind of the attendant as Fred
declares he has no license? Enough of this stress, we're off fishing.
Poles assembled, in the lake go the spinners, Fred catches the fish.
More tackle required - swivels. At least something was achieved today.
Back to camp for supper. But, not before Fred takes a picture of the
"leaning shed" and "cow" at Duggan Lake. Staring back at you In the
evening we sit around the fire pit at the airpark and shoot the breeze.
Need to visit the laundry again tomorrow to eradicate the smell of
campfire smoke. Going on midnight and still dusk, we gaze in amazement
at the Aurora Borealis and satellites, which are observed streaking
across the midnight skies.
Thursday August 3rd
Up early, breakfasted (breakfast is worthy of mention throughout this
journal as the two travelers usually dine on thin air and the smog
from driving Interstate 75 in suburban Detroit). Porridge was enjoyed
for the second time on the trip and the first time sweetened with
honey. With the courtesy car we drive to the local riding stable to
survey the scene and check out the shower facilities. This, like the
airpark, is a major activity centre; horses, camping and a German
restaurant open three times daily, may be of interest to future tour
groups. We did not find the opportunity to dine here. Breakfast was
a campsite affair, if only to burn off some of the excess baggage
in preparation for the long journey ahead, and the realization that
we were carrying too much stuff. If we didn't want to return to Windsor
with what we left with, then we had better devour some of it. Paid
the $5 shower charge, well Fred did anyway. Dave hung his head and
other notable body parts in the washbasin at the airpark earlier today.
Hey, we discover the laundry facilities here, so Dave hi-tails it
back to camp to retrieve the laundry stuff. Confusion over the cost
of the coin operation, the sign on the machine says $1, the notice
on the wall $1.50. We lose a quarter confirming the truth. A few moments
to make some journal entries, on the picnic table in the morning sunshine,
before we head out for the day, whilst waiting for the laundry. To
the local Canadian Tire store for swivels and butane gas for Charlie
and Karol. A whole bunch of other un-useful stuff too. Have to wrestle
Fred down from buying a base for the new non-Coleman lamp. Off in
search of a place to throw our tackle in the water. Find the island
trails of Williams Lake and hike them instead. No opportunity to fish,
too many reeds on the bank. Tim Hortons for lunch, coffee, juice and
a muffin and off again in search of fishing territory. Yes, Williams
Lake has a Tim Hortons and a Canadian Tire store. Pull over on the
side of the road at a parking area; grab the tackle and scale down
to the waters edge to fish. Hell! Forgot the newly acquired swivels
so, with oxygen mask strapped on, Dave makes the accent to the summit
parking lot. Back again, equipment erected, the sport commences. Fred
catches the big one on the first cast. Dave catches the only whale
in the dammed lake. The whale breaks the rod in two places. Manage
to save the spinner and swivel though. The end of a good days fishing,
back to the Canadian Tire store for replacement tackle. We return
to the airpark for the barbeque/pot luck supper hosted by the Williams
Lake Flying Club. Wow, what a spread! Karol cracks open the mammoth
red wine bottle and fun is had by all. The last supper We stay away
from the fire pit tonight, for fear of having to do the laundry once
more. All participants of the Alaska 2000 group 1 have arrived by
now at the Springhouse Airpark, with the exception of Joe Pace and
Jeff Fraley who will be meeting the group at Dawson Creek tomorrow.
Friday August 4th Everyone appears to be awake early and heading
in all compass directions around Springhouse to capitalize on the
"sweetheart" shower arrangements made over the potluck supper last
night. Fred and I are privileged to shower at the Chambers' home.
Breakfast supplied by Judy, then away we fly, departing runway 33.
Direct flight to Barkerville landing on runway 11 at 4,060 feet. Barkerville,
being a Goldrush City from 1862 and maintained/rebuilt in the original
style with dirt streets and wooden sidewalks. Lunch at Wake-up Jakes.
Ice-cream at the House Hotel, then hike back the 2 miles to the airstrip.
Climbing is a strain from runway 29 into the valley. Up, up and over
the hills, eventually circle en-route to Dawson Creek. Landed at Dawson
Creek runway 24 and altitude 2,148 feet and established camp in the
foot-long wet grass. The bug-tent really worked to advantage here.
The airport is hosting a steak dinner tonight and the city sponsored
a bus tour of Dawson Creek. Reporters are out in force. Dave and Fred's
interview is published in the "Peace River Block Daily News" under
Tuesday August 8th. Accessible via the website "www.thepaperboy.com".
After the interview and before dinner a shower would be nice …… This
turned out to be a little more difficult than it sounds. There are
no shower facilities at the airport. Other members of the group have
commandeered the airport courtesy car. Punishment no doubt for the
courtesy vehicle assignment in Springhouse. The vehicle is in the
hands of our friends from LA - Tawni, Lyndon, Jeanne and Bill. We
solicit the driving assistance of the airport manager and set off,
courtesy car in tow for what was a long drive to downtown Dawson Creek
only to stop at the local laundry. The entrepreneurial laundry proprietor
has capitalized on the transient 5th wheel community cruising the
Alaska Highway and installed pay showers inside the public laundry.
We dive in, quarters at the ready, dial in the time and get caught
soaped up just as the nickel expires. Hey we get clean don't we? Back
to the airport freshly scented in time for the hospitality meal after
which everyone dives into the local public transport bus to take the
guided tour of the city. Stop downtown and climb aboard the Alaska
Highway Mile Zero Sign and take photographs followed by the quickest
pitcher of beer in the Dew Drop Inn. Where has the bus gone? When
it does return the passengers are brawling inside to be the first
to be dropped off at their accommodations, those of us who aren't
camping at the airport, that is. Again, the "bug tent" proves invaluable.
The mosquitoes are gnawing at the fabric to get inside. They are clearly
intoxicated by Charlie and Karol's bottle of Tomatin Single Malt Scotch
Saturday August 5th The airport restaurant is open at 6.30
a.m. for breakfast. Not early enough for John Dale we suspect. The
poor guy was up all night with a splitting headache. We are privileged,
as normal opening time is 8 a.m. $5/head for breakfast. Wash in the
airport washrooms and off to break up camp. Very wet this morning.
Everyone else is away and leave Fred and Dave to dry their tents prior
to packing. Never been known for our early fluency but make up for
it with endurance. 9.30 a.m. and we finally depart runway 24 en-route
to Ft. Nelson. We decide to miss landing here which gave us the opportunity
to catch up with the stragglers who had landed here for fuel. The
Luscombe is out after us, never to be seen on the trip again. Today's
route with fuel stop at Watson Lake, took us over hundreds of miles
of wilderness with literally no sign of habitation; no railroads,
roads, trails, power lines, nothing, absolutely nothing except trees
mountains and valleys.
Now, the airport facilities at Watson Lake are nothing to bewilder,
but the sign above the toilet indicates priorities in this remote
"Conserve water if it's yellow let it mellow, if it's
brown flush it down".
Destination today is Whitehorse, Yukon. The scenery between here and
Whitehorse reminds one of the levels of isolation in some parts of
the world. Thinking of overcrowded countries and communities we stare
out of the cockpit of the Beechcraft to literally no signs of human
habitation; no roads, no trails, no power lines, no houses, nothing
but raw nature. We are feeling so privileged, when all of a sudden
we find ourselves with the right wing pointing to the ground and the
left wing pointing to the sky. Fred corrects the attitude quickly,
a stark reminder of air movement between the mountain peaks. Horizontal
images preferred! The landing in Whitehorse is on runway 31L at an
altitude of 2,317 feet. The intention was to camp but rooms at the
North 60o airport services are $45. So we relent and take a room.
Laundry facilities are also available, operated by "Grizzly Adams"
who manages the place, pumps gas and tends the laundry. Charlie and
Karol have a room in the lush surroundings of North 60O also. Fred,
Charlie and Dave cross the highway to the Husky truck stop for beer
and ice. Man, the store and everything in it are covered in dust.
Stash the beer in the refrigerator at the pilots lounge for later
consumption. Supper rendezvous is set for 6.30 p.m. Fred, Charlie,
Carol and Dave share a cab from their humble abode to the more luxurious
surroundings of downtown and the restaurant in the Edgewater Hotel.
Here we have to rearrange the tables in the joint to accommodate all
except Charlie and Karol who try to make the local theatre but fail
and dine on Italian cuisine instead. After dinner, Fred and Dave wonder
the streets of Whitehorse and view the S.S. Klondike riverboat. Sign
at the riverboat terminal building indicates: "Dog sled parking only,
violators will be peed on". Back to North 60O and a beer in the lounge
with Charlie. Going on midnight Dave falls asleep with half full can
in hand. The north is not known as the land of the midnight sun for
nothing. It's still not dark when Dave turns in for the night. Fred
and Charlie are still going strong. Everyone else with the group appear
to have adopted the more luxurious accommodations of downtown. We
seem to have struck lucky with the North 60o at $45 and the service
provided by the proprietor.
Sunday August 6th
Arise and shower. Karol and Charlie are checking out temporarily for
a side trip to Homer, Alaska to fish. Fred and Dave breakfast on the
airport campsite. Boy, is the west wind blowing cold. The gas fire
lighter, which Fred claimed to be the success of the whole trip, is
buried in the tool kit in the plane. So, the Canadian Tire waterproof
matches get their first workout. We conclude that it wouldn't be disadvantageous
using them in the wet 'cause they can't work any worse than they do
in the dry anyway. Another useless product of Canadian Tire's camping
department. Useless, Fred discovers the solution by lighting a fistful
at once, only to have the howling wind extinguish the flame from the
single burner Coleman stove. Huddled inside the windowless camp shelter
nothing works, so we transfer locations to the leeward side of the
structure, outside. Everything seems to function better there. We
dine on porridge, cheese, rye bread and home brewed coffee. Chores
completed we set out from runway 31L in a northerly direction flying
low along the Yukon River to Dawson City. At an elevation of 1,000
to 1,500 feet above the water all the way to the destination we are
looking for the elusive wildlife yet to be spotted. Nothing, no bears,
no wolves, no moose, nothing. Canoeists en-mass heading down river
to Dawson City. Remote native villages, remote, remote. En-route to
Dawson City Company frequency 123.45 is a good thing, but Fred and
Dave take instructions too literally when being advised by the "scouts"
ahead. Right at 52 and left at 48. 52 and 48 are GPS distance markers.
In this case nautical mile markers from the programmed destination
for those of you who have never navigated by GPS. We do as advised
and head east into some remote valley, left at 48 into some box canyon
before deciding to ignore the good advice from those who went before.
We take the navigational decision into our own hands and return to
follow the Yukon River north. That seemed to be the sensible way to
Dawson City anyway. It took us 30 minutes to figure out they were
just trying to help us navigate the Yukon River. Why make it so complicated?
Right at 52, left at 48 was supposed to signify the bend in the river.
Why not just say - follow the river? The approach to Dawson City airport
is over miles and miles of old mine tailings. We thought it was some
residue from a natural weather phenomenon. Looked like "wash" from
the great flood. Strange! It appears the miners just dumped the tailings
at the nearest location beside the road and just worked their way
down to the river. A big Gulfstream transport landed ahead of us at
Dawson City airport on the gravel strip kicking up dust in its wake.
First time Fred has landed the Beech on a gravel strip. Runway assignment
was 20 at an altitude of 1,214 feet Transportation from the airport
to the 5th Avenue Bed and Breakfast was by way of the proprietor.
Nice house, nice room, nice people Tracey and Steve. Tracey is in
the show tonight at Diamond Tooth Gerties. We grab a late lunch of
soup and a sandwich at Klondike Kates with Joe, Jeff, Diana and John.
Dave purchases the local hat. On reflection, we did eat frequently
during the venture. This was evidenced sometime later on the video
distributed by John and Dani. Walk around Dawson City; buy a copy
of Snowshoes and Stethoscopes for signature by the author John Dale.
Mail postcards from the "old" post-office, everyone speaks German
here. The post office was closed for years but has reopened for tourist
purposes in the summer. No heating, running water or sewage facilities
at the old P.O. so things don't function well in the winter months.
Observe the "biggest crow" perched on the fence at the rivers edge
and wonder what "she" is doing this far from home. Snap a photo of
her. Following us Back to Klondike Kates for dinner with the entire
group. Don't think the staff was equipped to deal with the masses.
Have to bribe the waiter to cash out before the show starts at Diamond
Tooth Gerties. $6 for all three shows. No camera for shots of the
girls so we trek back to the B&B for camera, then revisit for the
second show and photographs. Oh, all the legs. Who's the dude from
the gold rush? Knee high Klondike boots, denims tucked inside, sleeveless
leather vest, gold miners hat with neckerchief. He's either part of
the show, or the real thing. We draw the conclusion he is genuine.
Just like in the goldrush! Back to 5th Avenue to sleep, even though
its still light outside.
Monday August 7th
Why can't the German guest lock the bathroom door? Keep walking in;
he just stands there staring back at the intruder. I think we have
all had difficulty with the push and turn to lock door handles at
one time. Breakfast and off to the airport, seven in the vehicle plus
baggage and all. The Gulfstream is there again and takes the full
length of the runway to lift off. The caravan took off from runway
20 for Northway, Alaska altitude 1,716 feet and runway 22 and customs
clearance for entry into the USA. Tom, the customs officer, is a real
pleasant guy, willing to be photographed and take a group photo. Individual
photos, sticking heads through the silly signs. Customs clearance,
full tanks and off to Mt. McKinley. The forecast is for clear skies
and perfect visibility. Think we are on a roll where the weather is
concerned. McKinley approaches from about fifty miles away, clear
as a bell with a "skirt" of cloud between summit and base. Think we
are going to find out how high the Sierra will climb. We're at 13,500
feet by the time we approach the mountain, free of cloud. It still
appears willing to climb, but the inhabitants are concerned about
breathing. We've been holding our breath since 10,000 feet and we
have still to circle the mountain. So, the system weakness turns out
to be the coffee creamers, not the unopened bottle of British Columbian
red wine, as we find out to our disappointment at breakfast the next
day. Good job they were contained in a Ziploc bag. The altitude creates
illusions on the relative height perception. Which peak is actually
McKinley? There's 3,000 feet difference in height but we can't tell
which of the three peaks is the highest, Mt. McKinley, Mt. Hunter
or Mt. Foraker.
Into the Kahiltna base camp and a 360O turn before heading down the
glaciers to Talkeetna airport at an altitude of 358 feet. It takes
Dave 10 minutes to figure the altitude of Talkeetna. The map indicates
three digits but this must reference a radio frequency or something.
The flight supplement repeats the three-digit number but still Dave
is doubtful. From 20,000 feet to an airport under 1,000 feet in close
proximity, can't be! Fred becomes impatient as the ground is still
coming up fast from the decent and Dave is still questioning the reference
points. Landed runway 18. The altitude/time difference sure plays
havoc on the ears. They won't return to normal for days after this.
Talkeetna airport services seem obsessed with the commercialism of
Mt. McKinley and have little or no time to be of assistance to a bunch
of weary air travelers seeking camping hospitality. "You can sleep
on the gravel parking area if you wish, but don't park the planes
on the grass". All right, we decide that sharing a room with four
at the Swiss Alpine Hotel is the preferred option. If not for Mt.
McKinley, Talkeetna would be struck from the itinerary on future Flynorth.com
missions. Airport authority - take note! Mid afternoon beers followed
by dinner in the restaurant at the Alpine Hotel, followed by a walk
downtown in search of bear tours. Tours are publicized but everywhere
is closed. How do we schedule this? Disappointed we talk the girl
in the local café into brewing double strength coffee and enjoy a
really relaxing cup and apple pie on the deck whilst viewing the p__sing
contest between two voluntary firemen. It seems to be the pastime
in Talkeetna to wash the streets down with fire hoses from opposite
ends of the town. They are firing hoses at each other, getting soaked
and generally having a good old time. A walk through the local campsite
to the river and Walla! We stumble upon the returning river tour.
Gleeful passengers tell stories of black bear seen on the trip. Exited,
we attempt to negotiate a 10 p.m. tour, but meet with resistance from
the tour guide, who appears to want to turn in for the night but we
are insistent and push the envelope. The guide strategically places
his rifle on the table in front of us, which perhaps helped change
our viewpoint. "OK, in the morning if you insist". The only way we'll
make a riverboat trip tomorrow is if the weather is unsuitable to
fly. Back to the hotel where we wake John and Diana whilst turning
in for the night.
Tuesday August 8th
Wake, shower, Dave walks down town and gathers Stones from the River.
The morning air is clear with perfect visibility. The mountains offer
a perfect view. Why the confusion yesterday? McKinley is clearly higher.
Back to the hotel for breakfast with the gang. Couldn't sneak a strong
coffee downtown, the café is closed. A short walk to the airport,
hauling the baggage. Yesterday's $2 bus ride was surely not worth
the investment, it's only a couple hundred yards. Set off from runway
36 in the direction of Homer. Fred is insistent on a side trip to
Merril Field in Anchorage. We're so close and can't pass up the opportunity
to land at the centre for general aviation. For the non-aero buffs
reading this, Merril field is the largest general aviation facility
in the world. What pilot would not relish the opportunity to land
here just to say you've done it? Fred absolutely had to. Where are
we? Disorientation, the GPS must be wrong! We throw a lifeline to
the airport traffic controller who straightens us out. Never doubt
the instrumentation, why did we? Back on course, 600 feet over the
bay headed for the shipyard. Never mind the ships, what about the
high rise buildings. For those of you who have never flown into Anchorage
there are three airports in very close proximity to each other. Merril
Field is the least conspicuous of the three at 137 feet altitude.
The landing is on runway 24. Safely on the ground and taxi to the
transit parking. Here we see Arthur and Debbie Earsom's aircraft,
so we stick a "hi-there" sticker on the pilot's door. Spend 30 minutes
in the aviation store, and then meet Arthur in person at his plane
as we prepare to leave. Now to depart for Homer, the ATIS warns of
cranes on departure. Nobody made mention of the flat sided 30-storey
structure positioned at the end of the runway. Only astute piloting
helps us to avoid sticking the nose through the nineteenth floor window
and surprising the employees. Guided out of Anchorage by the International
air traffic controller who forgets we even exist by the time we're
30 miles out and still flying at 1,500 feet. Let's assume he forgot
he was controlling us and make an independent decision to climb in
altitude before we bury the nose again. This time, into the side of
a very rapidly approaching mountain. Boy, we can use our initiative
when we try. We arrive in Homer on runway 21 at an altitude of 84
feet and stretch the legs on the 2 mile hike from the airport to the
Lands End Restaurant on the spit. Who said it was only 2 miles anyway?
Nobody accepted the blame for that misjudgment when interrogated later.
It was certainly the longest 2 miles we've ever walked. You know,
one of those destinations that always appear to be just around the
bend, but the bends keep coming and the Lands End remains in the haze
of the day, far from sight. We reckon it was more than 2 miles. As
good ex-boy scouts we figured we were walking at 4 miles an hour and
we were still walking after an hour and twenty minutes. Never actually
made Lands End. Walked into the rest of the troops at the Salty Dog
Restaurant awaiting the return cab to the airport. Obviously well
rested and well fed. Note the term "return cab". We find out they
hadn't walked there in the first place. Fred and I assumed this was
some subversive punishment for the unscheduled side trip to Merril
Field. Karol and Charlie had been spotted by the others during the
cab ride to the spit. Talk was of a fish barbecue sometime in the
near future. Well the 2 wayward travelers decide against an immediate
return with the rest of the gang but opt for a quick sub at the local
Subway, then grab a cab to the airport. Today as usual we were in
pursuit of the rest of the group.
Today's destination is Valdez.
What a tremendously scenic trip over the mountains and glaciers it
was. The vastness of the Harding Ice Field and the Wittier Glacier.
We descend from 8,000 feet from the mountains to the Gulf of Alaska
and at 1,500 feet Fred spots whales in the ocean, bobbing and diving.
At this time he is so confident with the mountain piloting capabilities
that he descends to just a few hundred feet above the water and circles
over the whales which we determine to be sea lions from this altitude.
Ah well! They are diving away from the shadow cast by the plane on
the water below. The Columbia Glacier, as it flows into Prince William
Sound, is a magnificent site as it reaches the sea and dissipates
as icebergs into the ocean. We fly in and make a left hand circle
over the bay to the point where the glacier meets the sea. What a
wonderful sight. This is the famous location for Alaska cruise ship
viewing. Into the Bay at Valdez we fly, completely encapsulated with
mountains this is a tranquil location. The airport, at an altitude
of 120 feet is wedged between mountains to the east and north. We
land on runway 24. Fred and I had planned on camping here. It appears
nobody else did. There is no campsite at the airport so we relent
once again and phone the Downtown Bed and Breakfast where Teri and
John and Chris and Sheldon have booked rooms. Seven of us together
with baggage climb into the "A"-car and cruise into town. Fred and
I go souvenir shopping but don't find anything suitable. Dave buys
an Alaska cap. What better place to seek advice than the tourist information
Bureau. The couple from New York is just as perplexed as we are. Fred
enquires what good things are there to see and do in Valdez? The official
retorts with "nothing". We recommend that she return to marketing
school and do her best to promote the community. She does direct us
to the drive through coffee shack two blocks away though. This turns
out to be a shack that peddles ice cream and coffee. For lack of a
vehicle, we walk through. The cute little girl outside the window
is licking on her ice cream cone and indicating "ice cream is free".
Fred tries his luck but the server ain't having non of it and charges
us for both coffee and ice cream. The cute little girl just struck
lucky we assumed. We rendezvous later at Mikes Palace for supper after
which Fred strikes gold with the Valdez sweater, at $20 not a bad
deal. Walk around the harbour. Now we know what a 280-pound halibut
looks like. The fishing competition is in full swing; everyone is
weighing in the days catches. Fish entrails everywhere. We notice
the sly seal floating on his back in the water looking for the easy
Wednesday August 9th
Leave Valdez from runway 4 for Northway. Flew past Mount Drum and
Mount Sandford en-route. Funny how everyone got lost in the Mentasta
Mountains prior to arrival in Northway. Could have sworn we were somewhere
other than where we were. This time we had faith in the instrumentation
and calculated our position from the VOR. Reorientation, then things
turn out fine. Confusion in Northway after landing runway 22. Particularly
on the part of the US citizens carrying weapons. The calls to the
Canadian Customs and Immigration Service for pending arrival and clearance
in Whitehorse are accompanied with specific questions regarding size
of weapon and type of ammunition. Offload tons of hollow point bullets
into the garbage at Northway. Canadian Customs threaten confiscation
of weapons, personal effects and aircraft if the weaponry turns up
in Whitehorse. Dave's biggest concern is the $4 charged for a bag
of ice to keep the cooler functioning. The airport server can't seem
to look him in the eye and say $4. His face drops to his feet whilst
uttering the words. I'd think so to! The Canadian Customs official
at Whitehorse turns out to be a pay phone nailed on to the outside
of the terminal building. Landed runway 31L. It appears that only
Dave and Fred have aspirations of camping at Whitehorse tonight. John
Dale and Diana Haschke have had trouble with the landing gear on the
Cessna 210 all day today. The gear retracts but the doors don't close.
For fear of stripping the doors from the aircraft in flight, they
fly the whole route with the wheels down. The control of the landing
gear is so complicated on the Cessna 210. The mechanic in Whitehorse
fixes a broken wire. After setting up camp Fred and Dave walk to town
via the airport perimeter. The airport in Whitehorse is about 200
feet above the City. After a number of attempts to find the trail
to town we successfully descend to the lower elevation into a back
street. If it had been left to Fred's decision we would have scaled
down the face of the mountain and risked life and limb. We stumble
upon an Alpine Bakery. Here, in the middle of the back streets of
Whitehorse we are confronted with the best German bakery that Dave
has experienced anywhere, including Germany. We peruse the shelves
and buy a loaf and pose the question - "if you are a German bakery,
you probably sell good coffee?" Not exactly, but the French Canadian
server directs us a half block down the street to the Midnight Sun
coffee shop. We truly have found heaven in the Yukon. We sit on the
sidewalk on plastic picnic chairs in the late afternoon sun and enjoy
the Java. The downtown mall provides us with the opportunity we need
to stock up on the souvenir shopping. Everything under one roof, remember
the sweater deal, 4 for 3. The server confirms that the folks in Whitehorse
truly understand good bread and good coffee. She confirms the presence
of the Alpine Bakery and the Midnight Sun coffee shop. The world is
OK here. Dave is planning his retirement at this point. A cab back
to the campsite. The rest of the group is well into the communal cook-out.
Pasta and sauces, wine and beer, what else is there to wish for. The
campfire is burning vigorously. We settle in for an evening of food
and wine. The feast in Whitehorse, Yukon Charlie and Karol rejoin
the group and book into the North 60O . They disappear to the bar
across the road and surface a few hours later, worse for wear. In
fact, Charlie is numb from drinking with the local firefighters. It's
late tonight when we finally do turn in.
Thursday August 10th
John Dale finally gets the promised porridge breakfast today. As usual,
Fred and Dave are the last to leave. After all, we were the only ones
to camp last night, so I guess it figures that the process takes longer.
Finally we are ready for off. Runway assignment 13R south through
the valley of the Yukon River, next stop Dease Lake. As we depart
Whitehorse Charlie and Karol who left 15 minutes prior but are circling
over Atlin, waiting for us and contact us by radio. They just know
we are going to be spotting the wild life today don't they? We experience
some wonderful mountain flying. By this time we are picking our way
through the scenic valleys instead of flying over the highest peaks.
Yes, I guess you can say we are feeling a little more confident in
our mountain flying abilities. Disappointed that we have not seen
any wildlife so far, especially disappointed that no grizzlies have
been spotted, we fly about 1,000 feet above the ground, eyes glued
for movements amongst the trees, in the open grass land and in the
lakes. 159 miles out of Whitehorse, in the Jeslin River Valley, Charlie
and Karol on ahead, Fred notices movement in a lake below us and radios
them. We go take a look and circle the disturbance in the lake at
about 500 feet Charlie and Karol now behind us following suit. Yes
it's a grizzly bathing or just having fun in the water. As we circle
close overhead it stands on its hind legs and lifts its front ones
into the air. When we radio to Charlie to confirm the gesture he replies,
"yes, he's waving to Karol". Man are we exited at having spotted our
first grizzly. 23 miles further along at the edge of the Jeslin River
Valley in the foothills of the Kawdy Mountains the exact same lake
disturbance is spotted. So we swoop again to a few hundred feet above
a lake and low and behold we see our second grizzly, again being disturbed
from having private fun in the lake. We are truly exited about experiencing
the privilege of what has just graced our eyes. This is truly wilderness.
Animal trails can be clearly spotted in the meadows beside the lakes
in the clearings between the trees. Again, noticed because of disturbances
in the lake waters we see moose. Again we swoop within 200 feet of
the lake for an amazing view of moose drinking. They are not as exited
as the bears to see us circle overhead. They carry on business as
if we weren't a factor. Why should we be? After all, we have nothing
on them. By the time we arrive at Dease Lake and refuel, we have spotted
2 grizzlies and 5 ˝ moose. The ˝ was a baby. It is cool in Dease Lake
as we land on runway 02 at 2,600 feet altitude. This remote airport
probably has not experienced such traffic and fuel business for the
longest time. In addition to the Alaska 2000 tour planes, a Cessna
Caravan is lining up for gas. Today's destination is Smithers. We
leave Dease Lake on runway 02 flying in tandem again with Charlie
and Karol's Cessna. The scenery is indescribable. For anyone who is
ever presented the opportunity to view the landscape from this perspective,
take it. The landing in Smithers, altitude 1,712 feet is on runway
15. Construction work at the airport dissuades the group from staying
the night, so we fuel and head for Quesnel (pronounced Quenel for
those of you/us who don't, didn't know). Just prior to our departure,
the yellow Cessna 172 lands and punctures the nose wheel tire on the
runway. Quesnel is a mere 225 miles from Smithers. We land runway
31 at an altitude of 1,789 feet. This location is well equipped for
camping so we populate the campsite. Everyone who's still with the
tour (the Cessna 310 twin being the exception) camps out at Quesnel.
Even Joe and Jeff and Chris and Sheldon. The only incentive we could
figure was the Charlie and Karol salmon cook out promise. BUT, no
barbecue. John Dale raises the airport administration manager and
her husband whose names we can't recall, (sorry for the ignorance,
we should recall it because you were so helpful. Not only with the
barbecue, but also with the beer and wine transportation and the tour
of downtown). Thank you both. With barbecue roaring and beverages
available, Charlie adopts his role as chief chef and prepares the
salmon and rice gumbo special. Everyone is just chipping in with support
and food. Keith and Sonia set up the aviation fueled oven and cook
brownies for desert, what a life. Even the mosquitoes join the fun,
in spite of the citronella candles and the smoke from the fire pit.
Naturally it is rather late to bed.
Friday August 11th
The rain and the low cloud hinder the early start for some. This is
the first inclement weather that we experienced since departing Oshkosh.
I guess we can't complain. The rain starts at 4 a.m. and is finished
by 8. It takes a while for the clouds to clear and the gear to dry,
but what the… Everyone departs from here for their journeys home.
The Beechcraft needs an oil change and it is planned to do this at
the Springhouse Airpark on route to the home leg. John Dale and Diana
Haschke plan to visit Springhouse for an oil change and a final repair
on the gear. As usual, Fred and Dave are last to leave. The active
runway is 31 and, by the time we reach Springhouse, John and Diana
are already away and flying. We have an invitation to call on them
in Nelson B.C. before we finally depart for Windsor. The oil change
and refueling goes well at Springhouse and we depart runway 33 for
the leg over the Rockies east bound. Again, we marvel over the beauty
of the landscape. It is difficult to describe unless you have personally
experienced it. We shot many photos and are aware that future viewers
of them will see them as just another Mountain View with pieces of
aircraft wing in the picture. For Fred and I they will bring back
vivid memories of the mountain flying experience. We decide to call
on John and Diana in Nelson, so plot our course in that direction.
En-route we are avidly watching for the tell tale signs of wildlife
and sure enough Fred spots the lake disturbance to reveal a moose.
We circle numerous times and, this time decide a photograph is worthy.
At the time of finalizing this journal these last photographs are
still undeveloped. The approach to Nelson is spectacular, narrow steep
valleys between 9,000 feet mountains. Nelson lies at an altitude of
1,755 feet. The airport is designed for a right approach to runway
22. We miss the right approach and fly left over the town. Fred figures
we have got it wrong, but it's too late to change, so we disturbed
some of the dwellers of Nelson with our antics over the town. We land,
taxi and park. Dave puts a deposit on a floatplane parked next to
our location. A quick phone call to the Dale/Haschke residence and
the disappointment in Johns voice as he realizes he hasn't shaken
the "Flatlanders" yet. He does commit to picking us up at the airport
in 20 minutes though. During the wait the yellow Cessna 172 with the
damaged front wheel from Smithers yesterday, lands and parks close
by. By the time John and Diana arrive there are 4 nomads requiring
a ride, food, drink and a bed for the night. Burger stuff and Nelson
Brewery beverages are procured en-route to the Dale/Haschke mansion.
We all agree, they live in a wonderful wooden home on a 1 ˝ acre treed
lot, nice place. British Columbia living does certainly have its advantages.
Fred and Dave are both wondering if there is a future for automotive
engineering types in the mountains out west.
Saturday August 12th
Our return plans leave little to the imagination now. Saturday and
Sunday for the homeward journey. So, we set off and plan to fly as
far today as we can without flying while fatigued of course. John
and Diana are both awake early to give us a ride to the airport. Thanks
for coffee. At the airport we fuel and say farewell to John and Diana.
They leave while we do the pre-flight routine. Departure is on runway
04 and straight out eastwards over the lake along the valley. John
Dale is listening to our departure on the hand held radio. Whilst
eastbound over the lake we pass by the house and wave farewell. Fred
and Dave both concur that John and Diana are OK folks. Got lost traversing
the mountains to Cranbrook. Well, as lost as one can get with the
sophisticated navigational technology at ones disposal. Some quick
vectoring reveals the true position, corrections are taken, and we
are en-route for Lethbridge, today's first refueling stop and hopefully
breakfast. In spite of favourable weather forecasts for the eastward
journey, the approach to Lethbridge is through the proverbial can
of pea soup. We are cleared for a right base on runway 05. Lethbridge
is at an altitude of 3,047 feet. In spite of the runway 05 clearance,
Fred is insistent on putting down on runway 12. Called the tower on
final for 05 and was promptly corrected by the controller. We taxied
for gas and found out that Lethbridge airport offers no restaurant
service, so we unpack the supplies from the plane and eat breakfast
at the airport parking, on the wing of the plane. The weather forecast
indicates clearing skies We depart for Regina, the next stop on our
route east. Regina airport is at an altitude of 1,894 feet. Landing
is runway 31. We taxi for fuel and eat the "leaded fish burger" in
the airport terminal for lunch, where Dave leaves his coat. By this
time in the journey Dave is obsessed with the purchase of hats. If
he sees one he scoops it up. The weather is absolutely beautiful now,
blue skies and temperatures in the mid-twenties. We think we can reach
Kenora Ontario today, so we set off via Winnipeg. The airport at Winnipeg
is directly in our flight path. Here, we get the first indication
that the flight altitude transponder is not functioning correctly.
We indeed do make Kenora at dusk. Well, it is actually dark by the
time we put down at 1,344 feet on runway 25 with a cross wind and
the warning of deer on the runway. Finding a hotel room in Kenora
on the weekend of the bass tournament proves to be difficult. None
of the named hotels have vacancies. The Kenricia offers the last room
available in Kenora, a smoking room, we become suspicious. The cab
driver doesn't break into euphoria as we request him to deliver us
to the said hotel. We think he is just trying to be amiable when we
request his humble assessment of the establishment. He makes a quick
escape after dropping us outside of the lodging. He is not about to
suffer our wrath as we establish just how amenable the establishment
is. We walk around town and establish the lie of the land. We thought
that Kenora was the epitome of a sleepy backwater nestled in the Lake
of the Woods. How disappointed one can get when illusions become tarnished.
We eventually settle on Christoph's Kneipe and sample the Warsteiner
beer and Jägermeister to assist in the digestion of breaded shrimp,
onion rings and cheese sticks. Dave slept standing up in his clothes,
absolutely afraid of what company he may encounter in the bed.
Sunday August 13th
Dave's up and on the street at 7 a.m. in search of milk. No breakfast
planned at the Kenricia. Breakfast at the airport on the picnic table
outside the Flight Service Station appears more attractive, especially
as the weather is glorious. Yesterday's weather repeated. We finally
break into the Whitehorse Alpine Bakery bread and are not disappointed.
The Flight Service personnel were very helpful in Kenora. We depart
runway 07 heading over the Lake of the Woods. This is unique scenery.
The land is divided equally between water and land. It is difficult
to tell whether we are flying over a lake with many islands or a landmass
with many lakes. Lakes in islands in lakes or vica-versa. The nuclear
power plant buried in the landscape, near Atikokan is very predominant
with power lines radiating like the legs of an octopus. Visibility
is at least 60 miles, as we see the cliffs at Thunder Bay approaching
in the distance. Thunder Bay has an altitude of 653 feet. At last
we are back at a familiar altitude. We land runway 30 and fuel prior
to departing for a journey south across Lake Superior and a view of
the Picture Rocks on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. We traverse the southern
shore of Lake Superior before crossing back into Canadian airspace
and a landing for fuel in Sault St. Marie. Here we encounter the only
weather related difficulty of the entire flight. 12 miles west of
the Sault we are confronted with a 300 feet ceiling and are forced
to circle over the lake whilst the air traffic controller applies
for a special VFR on our behalf. For which they incidentally invoiced
Fred $13 Canadian. Approval granted from Toronto, we are requested
to fly south over the Michigan U.P. until we pick up the I75 interstate
highway, which we follow north until our approach to the airport becomes
visible at about 6 miles. We fuel and find ourselves stranded for
the next hour or so. The weather clears within the hour to reveal
perfect blue skies. The weather reports indicate VFR conditions over
Michigan so we plan our departure for Windsor accordingly. As we approach
the Michigan mainland it becomes obvious again to Dave that VFR conditions
can be pretty grotty and still be within limits. The weather did not
really clear until south of Bay City. From that location on the visibility
was perfect but, we were reminded of the luxury of air quality experienced
in B.C., the Yukon and Alaska as we were confronted by the yellow
and purple band of smog surrounding Detroit and Southern Ontario.
"Flatlanded" runway 12 in Windsor back at 622 feet. A special thank
you goes out from David Phillips (Navigator) and Fred Tonge (Pilot)
to Rand McNally for invaluable navigational assistance provided.
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