Alaska & Canada to Wisconsin, July 2007, part 3

Saturday, 21-Jul

The National Geographic cruise ship (the Sea Bird) that Susan, Alex, and Jenna were on arrived in Sitka early, but I made it to the dock in time to watch them come in. Enthusiastic waves all around. My family excitedly tried to tell me all at once everything that had happened during the week. Of course that was not possible, but over the next few days I heard more stories about their adventure. A trip report of their first full day can be found here. (Click "Next" to see the successive days.) The cruise offered a bus tour of Sitka along with box lunches, but I talked Susan into skipping it. The weather had improved but was not expected to hold. I could easily see getting stuck there for several days, so I was anxious to depart. Although Sitka is a pretty area, it also was too touristy for my taste. We made a stop at the U.S. Post office to ship home a large duffle of gear we no longer needed ... good thing, as I don't think it would have all fit into the airplane. I called Canadian customs and filed a flight plan to our Canadian airport of entry - Prince Rupert.

Pictures taken enroute to Prince Rupert.

Between the deviations around weather and the stiffer than expected head winds, I was right on the outside limit of the allowed plus/minus 15 minute window, so I amended my flight plan with the FSS who said they would advise customs. Wheels touched within my original window, but nobody was there to greet us. Initially my cell phone did not find service and it took me 15 minutes more to find the direct line to customs in the terminal. The customs guy started with "YOU ARE LATE" and continued to give me a hard time. He said flight service never notifies him, so you have to contact customs directly. I told him that FSS was my only successful communication and even that was marginal. I asked if I was supposed to go all the way back to Sitka because I was about to touch down 30 seconds late. He didn't really have an answer for me, but finally let it pass. Personalities like this shouldn't be in the customs business, but all too often they are - or so I hear.

I decided to continue on to Prince George - which was reporting pretty good weather with an even better forecast. The briefer was making some guesses about what the route would look like, and it soon became clear that he guessed wrong. Soon I found it was impossible to stay VFR under or between layers. I got suckered into going higher and higher and I was surprised it was not possible to go over the clouds either. I eventually converted my VFR flight plan to IFR. There was significant moisture, so I climbed high enough that icing would not be a problem - eventually to 19,000 feet! For the first time ever, Alex asked for oxygen as we were climbing thru 18,000 feet. (Before today, it always appeared that he could survive with no atmosphere.) Fortunately I had O2 masks for four. Without that and the turbonormalizer, I'm sure I would have given up and returned to Rupert. The winds up high were squirrely. Initially my ground speed was only 110 knots and it looked like I would never get there. Near the end however I was seeing 180, and even faster in my descent. The flight took 2.5 hours, although it seemed like 5. I was remembering that I had planned to buy one of those small single mask backup O2 bottles. Still, even if my O2 failed I probably would be ok with the remaining 10 percent of my brain capacity. (Like Alex, I can get by with little oxygen). Still, that will be my next aviation-related purchase.

I was amazed that the Fujitsu slate computer continued to operate with no problems during this flight. The hard drive is only rated to 10 thousand feet (since the r/w head rides on a cushion of air). Yet I noticed no problems during or after the flight. I was thinking of replacing the 60G hard drive with a 30G solid state drive, but now I'm somewhat less motivated.

After descending thru 6000 near Prince George I broke out with great visibility underneath the clouds as you might be able to tell from the pictures above. (I didn't take any pictures enroute, both because I didn't have time, and because the ground was rarely in sight.) Center was happy to accept my IFR cancellation, and I proceeded to land VFR. The FBO had a van they rented cheaply, so we took the van and went into town and booked the first hotel that had a nearby laundromat. That was high on Susan's priority list, although I still had plenty of clean clothes left.

Partly because of losing an hour to the time zone change we had a late and relaxed dinner at a nice restaurant while our clothes were in the washer. Unfortunately the laundromat closed while we were still at dinner.

    Tach: 1.8     Hobbs: 1:55     Gallons: 23.56     Cost: $171.72     Track: (234.7 / 240 nm) Sitka-Rupert.kmz
    Tach: 2.2     Hobbs: 2:25     Gallons: 27.06     Cost: $206.21     Track: (274.1 / 320 nm) Rupert-PrinceGeorge.kmz

Sunday, 22-July

I was planning on going to Banff. The Canada supplement listed the airport as PPR - which I eventually realized meant prior permission required. (The use of abbreviations in this flight guide is more cryptic than anything I've seen stateside). When I tried calling for permission I was told that they have stopped giving permission to land at this airport. Oohh kkayyy ... I guess I will file to Jasper Hinton instead. Normally the laundromat opened at 7, but on Sunday it didn't open till 9. Jenna wasn't complaining however since she likes to sleep in. By now the winds were already up to 20 knots, making it a challenge to taxi. Just as I managed to get lined up with the runway, the tail wheel went flat. Susan got out to verify that this indeed was the problem. Prince George tower really wanted me off the runway, since it was needed for the jet traffic waiting to take off and soon for arrivals as well. I tried to taxi off the runway, but as heavy as we were, soon the plane was sitting on the rim. I thought any further taxi would damage the rim and I would be in for some serious down time. So I shut down and we scurried to remove all our bags and emergency gear to make the airplane lighter. By now, the ground service guy had come out in his truck. With his help, we could lift the tail while pushing forward onto the grass. (The tower said they needed 150 feet from the runway before commercial traffic was allowed to use it). Again, not a good day to be a Sunday. No mechanics on the field until 3pm. Fortunately I had a spare inner tube with me. I couldn't find a chair or stool to prop the tail up, but I found a bunch of empty soda crates next to the soda machine that was just perfect. The ground service guy drove me back out to the grass between the runways and helped me lift the tail onto the crates making it fairly easy to replace the inner tube. I actually had the two deep sockets required to split the wheel, but I didn't need them since the guy helping me had access to tools as well.

I suspect the tail wheel fiasco wouldn't have happened if not for the laundromat fiasco, (because of the high winds) but that is the way the cookie crumbles. We eventually got the airplane repacked, flight plan refiled, and got the ship off the ground.

The flight to Jasper Hinton was spectacular, cutting right thru the heart of the Canadian Rockies - as beautiful as any of the Alaskan mountain ranges. We flew low along the Fraser river valley, which provided a ready safety net (the highway), the easiest way to avoid the clouds, and some of the best scenery around. The one disadvantage of staying low on such a windy day is that it makes for a bumpy ride. This doesn't bother Alex or me, but eventually will turn the girls a bit green. Fortunately this flight was only about 1.5 hours, not long enough to have that effect.

Pictures taken enroute to Jasper Hinton.

The pictures I have don't even do justice to the sense one gets about this area. Perhaps my 12 year old (Jenna) can do this this better, so here are a few pages extracted from her journal:

We are now underway again, but because it is later in the day it is very turbulent (it shows in my handwriting). The scenery is gorgeous! If I look out my window I see a long, green, glittering, meandering river and sparkly white mountains (the Canadian rockies). A few clouds have tendrils of mist reaching down into the green hills and valleys. I know it's rain but it looks like fog. I don't think many people get the chance to see rain from the outside. We just passed what looks like a ski resort if it was winter: a big forested bowl with paths of paler green grass through it. Even with the turbulence, I am glad to be flying today. It surprised me, but I realized I actually missed living in the plane!

Glacier -
Carving, grinding, hundreds of years ago.
Blue ice, unfathomable wall, mile high
Retreating, melting, giving way.
Now all I see is valleys and rivers, carved by ice.
Mountains with peaks of shining snow.
Green hills with rounded tops.
Cliffs steep, with jagged tooth marks almost there.
The glacier was a living breathing thing,
eating rocks and devouring trees.
Now the glacier is extinct or gone,
leaving only a ling'ring memory.

Not much has been happening these last couple days. I stayed at a very comfortable B&B in Hinton called the Flying Dog. The owners are Bill (who reminds me a lot of Dumbledore) and Marilyn. They have a big, friendly old black lab who loves to play tug-of-war (his name is Guinness) and a puppy named Farley who likes belly rubs and rolling around on the grass with a friendly kid. Marilyn's breakfasts were delicious, and I got along quite well with the whole family. We went on a hike in Jasper National Park that was absolutely the most gorgeous hike I have ever been on. 3.5 miles going up: I admired flowers and birds and tried not to let the altitude get to me. 3.5 miles down: I ran down, racing Alex and Dad. I won. It was very steep, and slippery with loose rocks and gravel. It was a strenuous hike even for my family, and even two days after it I am stiff and sore. The flowers were beautiful though, and the view at the top I would walk 10 miles for!

Serpentine River -
Smoothly flowing, light green Athabasca, sparks of sun on the water.

Jenna asked for a smooth landing but the wind gusts had other plans. Susan commented that this looks like a go-around, however since this was a long runway I had the luxury of time. Eventually everything stabilized for a smooth and controlled transition from air to land.

The airport was deserted, but Susan found a phone and some listings for lodging. She managed to find some rooms at a B&B and a taxi into town while the kids helped me with the airplane. There were no tie downs at the airport, so I'm glad I had my fly-ties.

Once settled at the B&B (a beautiful house in a wooded residential neighborhood), we were not quite ready for dinner, so we tried to hike thru the woods, over the rail road tracks, and to the river - according to the directions from Bill (the owner). We turned back before reaching the river, since we thought we had taken a wrong path, although later we found out we just hadn't gone far enough. Following Alex (my 1st mistake) back across the tracks, my shoe got stuck in the mud. Since I now only had one shoe, Jenna tried to pull my shoe out of the muck. But it was stuck too well and I had to hop down on one foot to retrieve it. Bill lent us the keys to his truck, but we still had enough energy left to walk the 40 minutes into town for dinner. After returning, we all sat around the living room and chatted with the owners and 2 other guests from Calgary. Before bed, we took advantage of the house DVD player to watch the DVD of the cruise created by one of the ship's crew. The cruise looked fantastic (and the kids say we should do something like that again), however I don't regret for one minute doing the flying tour instead.

    Tach: 1.7     Hobbs: 1:40     Gallons: 17.16     Cost: $117.00     Track: (178.5 / 220 nm) PrinceGeorge-Jasper.kmz

Monday, 23-July

It looked so nice here we decided to make today a non-traveling day. After breakfast, we drove to the Jasper National Park and hiked the Sulfer Ridge trail starting at the hot springs. This was a 10km round trip with a 700m vertical rise. The trail guide said it will take 4 to 6 hours, although we knew better (being well calibrated in relation to our black mountain hikes back home). Sure enough the kids and I did it in 2 hours and Susan (who doesn't run down hills) took an extra half hour. The wildlife in this area was the tamest I had ever seen. The deer would let you get within a meter or so of them. Due to a fortunate wrong turn in the park we also got to see some elk (or moose, or something that looks like them). We topped the day off with a late dinner in town - a Greek place that was highly recommended by Bill and Marilyn.

Pictures taken on the Sulfer Ridge trail.

Tuesday, 24-July

I decided on Weyburn, Saskatchewan as a good destination for today. It was a 4 hour flight and would set us up to reach the Wisconsin cabin the next day. (Canada is so sparsely populated, there were not many choices once I figured out about how far I wanted to go.) I probably already had enough fuel to make it to Weyburn, but not with as much reserve as I would want for such a flight. I called the numbers listed on the refrigerator but none of them could make it out to the airport, so they gave me the combo for the fuel shed, told me the price, and asked my to enter the fuel cost into the old mechanical credit card imprinter, and to run my card thru.

The flight to Weyburn was nice after climbing on top of an overcast layer early in the flight, although a bit boring compared to the majesty of our previous leg. It was a shock getting out of the airplane at Weyburn. It was 39C, although we were told it was even hotter yesterday.

I was surprised the kids were suggesting continuing on to Grand Forks, our planned U.S airport of entry. However because of the winds and the heat, I was expecting the afternoon to be quite bumpy. I didn't get any resistance to calling it a day. Susan found a hotel willing to come pick us up and return us to the airport in the morning.

We had both lunch and dinner at the hotel restaurant. For dinner, we actually tried to go elsewhere, but at 8pm most places were already shutting down for the day (one of the many ways to tell we were not at home).

    Tach: 3.3     Hobbs: 3:35     Gallons: 38.71     Cost: $ 243.16     Track: (563.3 / 573 nm) Jasper-Weyburn.kmz

Click here to continue to part 4 (Wednesday, 25-Jul).

Click here to go back to part 1 (Friday, 13-Jul).

Click here to go back to part 2 (Monday, 16-Jul).

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