Wednesday July 4th, Thursday July 5th, Friday July 6th, and some thoughts.
We left Edmonton on Wednesday. Our plan was to stop in
Thunder Bay for fuel and then go on to Sault Sainte Marie Canada for the night.
We had a good tail wind so we climbed up to get a little more of the "prop
stream" (we're too small to get up into the "Jet Stream"). We were
therefore able to fly from Edmonton to "Canadian Sault" non-stop. This
took exactly seven hours and covered 1,385 statute miles. One question
that comes up is the range of my Aztec. It depends upon winds of course,
but by flying higher and at lower power settings, although I do go a little
slower, my range is extended. We landed with 1 hour and 25 minutes fuel
We planned on leaving Thursday for the trip home. This would involve
relatively short hops. About 2:10 to Buffalo for US Customs and then
another 1:30 to Philadelphia. As it sometimes happens, after looking at
the weather in Philadelphia and the forecast, I decided to stay in Buffalo Thursday
night. I guess we could have left later in the evening but why hang around
the airport. We stayed at the Marriott in Buffalo and left
Friday morning for home. Although this is a day or two earlier than
originally planned, we knew that the trip would have a great deal to do with
weather, so we left a little leeway just in case it was needed
really doesn't take long to reflect upon Alaska. I guess this was done even
while we were still there.
I have some
thoughts on Alaska and this trip.
This was certainly a different way of traveling. I think
there are more advantages than disadvantages. I know many who have taken a
cruise to Alaska, with some side trips, and what they told me encouraged me to
make this trip even more. The sights are incredible, but we saw them a
little differently. We also had the opportunity to go places where others
seldom go. I think we "experienced" Alaska as have other friends of mine
who made the trip in small planes. (There are many who gain some similar experiences by coming to Alaska and renting an RV.)
I want to thank my
pilot friends whose tips were very valuable.
The size of this state is difficult to comprehend. It is
more than twice the size of Texas (sorry friends) and yet has a population of
only 657,000, of which 40% live in Anchorage. Many places we visited - - -
big names like Nome, Barrow, Cordova - - - have a population of 4,000 or less.
Think about how some of these places get their supplies. There are no
roads to Nome or
Barrow. (There is the ice road from Prudhoe Bay to Barrow but only for a
few months in the winter and only for trucks.) Food is flown in. Heavy equipment is brought in by barge during
the few months the ports are free of ice. In Barrow, natural gas is cheap,
fresh water is expensive. There are a great many small towns and villages
that get their supplies only by bush plane.
Being tourists? Here is an example. When we drove down to
Skagway Alaska from Whitehorse Yukon Territory for a day trip the streets
were quite empty. Many of the small shops were closed. THEN the ship
came in. EVERYTHING opened up and the streets were loaded with those on
the cruise. Yes, they saw Alaska, but did they really see it?
Traveling on your own certainly involves more packing, unpacking, transporting,
arranging, etc. but it has its advantages. We met Alaskans. We met some
casually, and a few out of necessity. Fred, at Arctic Aviation in
Fairbanks, was an incredible help in doing some work on the plane, but I also
had the advantage of spending some hours with him and his friend Guy. Fred
and I drove into town to pick up some things he needed and we just talked.
Then of course we went to some places that the ships and tours just don't go.
Places like Barrow on the Arctic Ocean and Nome on the Bering Sea are accessible
only by plane.
Actually Nome is expanding their port as they expect to get three (and hopefully
more) small tour ships in the summer.
Many of the experiences we had were because we just found something or somebody.
The roadhouse we stopped at on one of the roads from Nome along the Bering Sea
gave us the unexpected opportunity to just sit a talk with the owner/proprietor.
Flying also gave us a different view of Alaska as well. Talking with
Alaskan pilots gave us tips on flying the State. Flying low through the
Anaktuvuk Pass through the Brooks Range from Barrow to Fairbanks- - -
flying along the Copper and Chitina Rivers through the Wrangle Mountains to land
at McCarthy - - - these gave us incredible views.
Mostly however, IT'S THE PEOPLE. They are very friendly as well as
helpful. Driving by construction areas, the traffic guides are waving and
saying hi. I have never been to a place where friendliness is so
prevalent. In Nome, an Alaskan woman stopped us on the street and asked
Sharon if she is enjoying Alaska. I think many of these people have lived
there all their life and that is just they way they have always been. Others
came from the lower 48 and stayed because they just wanted to live that way. They
seem to be saying, "I love my state and I want you to love it too."
It was interesting. When we spoke with some people, like the FAA folks in
Nome, and others in Barrow, I often asked what it was like in the winter.
30 degrees below zero with 20 to 40 mph winds can be brutal. These people told me that
yes the weather was brutal, but it wasn't the cold that bothered them as much as it was the darkness. After all, in Barrow it
is totally dark for about two months. On the other hand, there is a
feeling in many of these places that in the summer, they are on "Arctic
Time." No, I don't mean the time zone, but it seems that they eat their
meals at different times, and sleep is not necessarily at "night." Boy,
they really enjoy the sunlight!! (Many people in Barrow were wearing
Bermuda Shorts when the temperature got into the low 40's.)
Some things about the flying part. First, just the transportation.
We packed many things in stuff bags- - - one for underwear, one for sox, one for
summer shirts, one for heavy winter shirts, etc. as well as one for dirty
clothes that can be washed and of course one for my pillow. We would then
pick those items for the next stop and put them in a bag we would take with us.
Of course the plane gave us the advantage of not having to pack things in
suitcases. This worked out well.
Although it was almost a last minute thing, the Iridium Satellite Phone was
invaluable. It was convenient to use when our plans changed while we were
in the air. We made hotel reservations at places where we were going
to stop, checked on fuel availability when our plans changed but it was very
valuable when we called Air Traffic Control on the phone over the Brooks Range when
there wasn't any radio contact with anyone. I even used it to call some
operations at airports to tell them whether we were staying overnight or just
getting fuel, so they were ready when I landed and parked me in the proper
place. I had to file a flight plan and notify Canadian Customs on the sat
phone when we were in Cordova. There is no cell service, no pay phones,
and I couldn't make a long distance call from the hotel room phone without
buying a phone card from the front desk, which wasn't open yet.
As far the the actual flying, there are differences in this part
of the world, meaning Alaska and Northern Canada. You are often out of
radio contact and usually out of radar coverage so such things as "what
transponder code to use" (squawk 1000 when IFR but no radar coverage) and "who do I call next" and "what happens when I can't
reach anyone" are things that you just get used to and hopefully get briefed on
before the trip. I was fortunate in that flying across the North Atlantic
and in Europe I had the opportunity to learn a lot of this stuff. Today,
the Garmin Avionics have a great deal of information in their data base.
You can easily see what frequencies are available and WHERE the Air Traffic
Control antenna is so
you know who you have the best chance of reaching.
Alaska?- - - maybe it's true- - -
Come to Alaska once for a
tour. Come a second time for a visit. Come for a third time, and
you'll stay for life!! (I just read that Edward R. Morrow Jr. did. He was
a pilot. He went to Alaska, become Lt. Governor of the State, declined to
run for Governor and instead became an Alaska Bush Pilot- - - and still it