Ron Kilber's Loobook ( Reporte de vuelo) FULL COMPLETO!

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Alaska Flying Sabbatical (Part 1)
By Ron Kilber


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First installment of a most entertaining account of Ron Kilber's May 1982 flying sabbatical trip to Alaska, solo in an antique and tiny Ercoupe. In this episode, the author flies from Bellevue, Washington, to Anchorage, Alaska -- a trip that involves a minor mechanical problem, large quantities of Moosehead beer, and some unexpected but not altogether unpleasant encounters enroute.





Day 1, Bellevue Airport, Washington

This day is the culmination of many months of preparation for an adventure I've longed for ever since I had my first airplane ride as a teenager in South Dakota. I pull my faithful Ercoupe from Hangar #1 at the Bellevue, Washington airport. It is already topped off and loaded with provisions to accommodate the worst -- a forced landing in the cold Alaska Bush. There is barely enough room left for me in the cockpit, but who would let this interfere with the excitement of flying to Alaska? Not me.

May is a little cold and early in the season for flying the inland route to my destination in Anchorage, however, the weather is expected to be relatively stable. Besides, I want to avoid the tourist season which generally picks up in June, not only to save money on less expensive food and accommodations, but I prefer experiencing my first-ever trip to Alaska when its population is truly Spartan. That's part of why I'm going it alone, and part of why I'm going to the land of the midnight sun.

Before departing on my first leg, I want to say good-bye to Ron Parcells, the owner of Hangar #1, however, even though I've been waiting an hour, he doesn't show up. Ron has been hangaring my Ercoupe, along with a few vintage planes of his own, for the better part of a year. We are friends, often enjoying flights to his ranch across the Cascades along the Columbia River, or to an airport restaurant in the Seattle area.

After getting a little nervous about flying all the way to Prince George by sundown, I leave Ron a farewell note, and scramble my Ercoupe into the air.

This is my last day in Bellevue. I'd been working at a Fortune 500 computer company across the I-90 freeway from the airport, however, my days as a mercenary in the corporate world are now over. This adventure is part of a flying sabbatical, after which, I plan to relocate to Phoenix, Arizona to expand my successful part-time financial business. Already I've given up my apartment in Factoria (less than a mile from here), and have moved all my possessions for staging to Linda's place in Los Altos, California. Actually, Linda's place used to be mine, too, but we soon learned the strength in our friendship is greater when we allow each other complete independence. In other words, we can't live together.

The first leg from Bellevue is to a sleepy little town by the name of Harvey, situated on the Western slopes of the Cascades near Everett. I need one more piece of provisioning before crossing the border into Canada. The Coast to Coast store, within walking distance of the field, is having a huge sale, and I need a shotgun. Canada will not allow any pilot to proceed into the country unless a survival weapon is on board. So I buy a beautiful Remington Model 870, 12-gauge shotgun, the weapon-of-choice among police departments. How I came to choose a shotgun is a long story, and I will share with you later how I came to this option.

The airfield at Harvey has an extremely popular restaurant for THAT pilot whenever he is in need of a $50 hamburger. I can't count the number of times I had breakfast or lunch there.

Whenever anyone from work asked me how they could get a ride in my airplane, my standard answer was always, "Buy lunch!". Nine times out of ten, we ended up at Harvey.

After buying the Remington and walking back to the field, it is noon and I am hungry. Of course, I put down a huge lunch to hold me over for a full afternoon of flying.

The next leg into Canada is so much fun. Northern Washington has the most beautiful landscape and scenery. Never mind the Puget Sound or the Cascades, I am savoring the beautiful rolling hills where lush pastures are separated by large stands of trees, then cut by serpentine rivers and creeks. For most of this leg, I fly below the tree lines over pastures, rising only to clear a stand of trees and then descending again over the next meadow. Of course, I always steer clear of live stock and buildings. Close-ground maneuvers were a staple of my pilot training days in New Mexico (I thought I wanted to be a crop duster), and ever since, I never miss the opportunity to enjoy more of it. For me, no other part of flying provides more gratification, except maybe the utility of going from point A to point B by airplane.

I take one last look in the direction of Puget Sound's beautiful San Juan Islands. These have been part of my weekend playground during the last year. Friday Harbor, Roche Harbor, Orcas Island and Blakely Island, to name a few, have all had a little yellow Ercoupe visit more times than desired, I'm sure. Weather permitting, I reserved these destinations for my closest friends.

Crossing the border into Canada is no big deal, as long as you land at a port-of-entry field, such as Abbotsford, British Columbia. I climb to pattern altitude, radio the tower, and land. Just as quickly, I taxi to Customs where an agent (with the requisite train conductor hat) is already waiting. This is comical, because he asks me a whole litany of questions, believing all my answers except the one about the shotgun. This is the only thing he wants to see. He comments on my choice for a fine survival weapon. His only other major concern is if I have any handguns, however, he doesn't search for any. Of course, the sight of all my provisioning on board would discourage anyone.

After topping the tanks, I'm back in the air for a long leg to Prince George, BC. I fly East and then North, following the swelling Fraser River and its valley all the way to my next destination. Here I avoid close-ground work. The terrain below me is some of the most rugged and treacherous I've ever flown over. Even at 8,000 feet, there are long stretches where I have concern for the lack of landing opportunities. Even though my reliable little bird has fewer than 100 hours on an overhauled engine, still, I am not willing to put all my eggs in one basket.

Like pilots must do so many times, I can only cross my fingers.

About an hour from Prince George, I notice something unusual.

The nose fuel tank gauge is no longer indicating full, as it always does. An Ercoupe has three tanks, one 9 gallon on each wing, and one six gallon on the nose behind and a little above the engine (24 gallons in all). Fuel is gravity-fed via the nose tank to the carburetor. This leaves the mechanical fuel pump with the job of moving fuel from the wing tanks to the nose tank.

In the event the fuel pump fails, the nose tank provides more than an hour of fuel reserve before you have a dead-stick situation. Obviously, something has gone foul in my fuel system.

Judging from the gauge, there remains a good five gallons of fuel in the nose tank.

My concern right now is to safely make my destination with the remaining fuel in the nose tank. I've already overflown Williams Lake, and Quesnel is thirty miles ahead. Sixty miles beyond is Prince George. So, I am 90 miles out with five gallons of fuel.

I only need four gallons. I am concerned about landing at Quesnel where lack of facilities and service are a certainty.

Quesnel is coming up on me quickly, too, so I radio Prince George and learn that the winds are out of the SW. This encourages me.

In fact, a little calculating puts my ground speed at 130, which means I can easily reach Prince George with 3 gallons of fuel, and still have 2 gallons reserve. So I decide, although somewhat hesitantly, to go for the better airport.

The tower puts me downwind for a long final. My nose-tank fuel gauge is still indicating pretty good, so I don't request a quicker landing, but just as soon as I touch down, I make a beeline to the fuel pumps. The nose tank requires 4 gallons of fuel to top. Just as I figured, I have a good 2-gallon reserve.

Next I taxi to the repair shop. The owner is closing shop for the day, but assures me he can look at my fuel problem first-thing in the morning. While I push my Ercoupe to a tie-down, a local pilot helps me, and I share my experience with the friendly guy. He immediately assesses that I'm a good guy, because he gives me the combination to the lock for the local EAA Chapter clubhouse. He tells me to help myself, and to feel free to stay in it overnight. He even tells me there is a phone to use as long as I don't use it for toll calls. Why not, it's 30 miles to town, and I don't have a car.

By now I'm pretty hungry again, so I go to the airport coffee shop and try some Canadian food for the first time so far.

Afterwards, I try the lounge (and some Moosehead) where the bartender is friendly. She is concerned about my broken airplane and all, and offers a ride into town with her and her boyfriend when he arrives to pick her up at closing. I'm tired and decline her offer, so I grab my sleeping bag and sack out in the EAA clubhouse.

About one o'clock in the morning, I'm awaken by a knock on the front door. I quickly dress and find out it is the airport security officer. She is an Irish lass in her twenties with flaming red hair and the requisite freckles, and just as friendly as the bartender, too. She says she saw the light I left on, and came over to check it out. I invite her in from the cold, and we chat for a good hour. Mostly she is intrigued by the spectacle of my sabbatical, and wants to hear my flying adventures, but what I really think she wants is to quit her job and join me (I hate to tell her how much room I don't have in my Ercoupe).

Now she has to go on her rounds again, but she says she could come back a little later and bring something for me to drink. I think I'm too tired (maybe too stupid), so we plan more chatting for tomorrow night.

Day 2, Prince George, British Columbia

The hot coffee at the terminal is pure heaven, as is the lumberjack breakfast. Whenever I fly I can always eat two meals, but I never do. I'm not sure why this is so. Flying is not very physical, however, it is stressful, and that may explain the need for calorie-intensive meals.

The owner-mechanic arrives and we remove my fuel pump. Sure enough, the linkage between the cam follower and the diaphragm is broke and missing a piece (should've left the old pump in when I overhauled).

"Needs replacing, eh?", he says, and I agree.

He doesn't have one in stock (who would for an Ercoupe?), but he will locate one.

When he does, I learn that it will take several days to get here (because he is not in good account standing with the supplier back East, who wants cash before shipping). Am I in a hurry? After thinking of spending maybe up to a week here, YES!

"Let me see what I can do", I say, "I want to make a few phone calls".

After about thirty bucks for calls to US suppliers, I learn that the Ercoupe fuel pump is really an automotive pump. The FAA approves because it is a non-vital element in the fuel system (due to the gravity feed from the nose tank). Now all I need to do is find a fuel pump in town, and I'll be set. This calls for another Moosehead with my favorite bartender (it's afternoon already).

She is delighted to tell me that her boyfriend owns an automotive parts store. Right away she calls him and puts me on the phone with him. We do not make much headway on the phone, so he decides to drive out to the airport and have a look at the pump for himself.

I do not know what this guy is thinking at all, because he says nothing. After about an hour or so of closely examining the fuel system and everything, out comes his first recommendation, "What about an electric pump?"

I think for several moments, "Why not?"

Then he says, "Let's go to the lounge and talk it over, eh?"

So we do, as it is about 5 o'clock anyway. Actually we are not talking it over as much as we are drinking it over. This guy is a hard drinker. He loves to sit and drink, and pretty soon he is not so quiet anymore. I know he is my friend, just as long as I continue to drink with him.

While his girlfriend is working, we have dinner in the coffee shop. Then it's back for more Moosehead (for him, not me). When the lounge closes (10 PM), all three of us drive 30 miles to town to pick out an electric fuel pump from his automotive store.

After one more Moosehead for him, I'm dropped off at a motel around one o'clock.

"I'll pick you up in the morning, Ron", he slurs.

Day 3, Prince George, British Columbia

After breakfast I find a message from my new Canadian buddy.

Soon he stops by and we are on our way to the airport. By noon, the electric fuel pump installation is complete (including a new switch on the panel to turn the pump on and off). What a neat set-up; just like the Cherokee 140 I always flew. We have lunch, then I take the bird for a test flight. I am 100% completely satisfied that having an electric pump is much better than a mechanical one. Jim wants to celebrate now, so we go to the lounge for a Moosehead. No matter how hard I try, Jim will not take any money from me. He goes back to town, and wants me to meet him at nine o'clock when he comes back for his girlfriend.

Now I go over to the EAA clubhouse where I see a note from the security officer.

It reads, "I see that your airplane is still here and wondering where you are".

I forgot all about our little date for last night, and now I hope she stops by so I can explain.

Sure enough, in a little while she arrives in her high-rider pickup (complete with running lights on the roof), and she still has the soda left over from last night. We chat until it is time to meet my buddy in the lounge.

I drink one Moosehead to his three, then we part and say good-bye. I sleep at the EAA clubhouse for the second time.

Day 4, Prince George, British Columbia

The next leg of my journey has two options. The object right now is to get to Watson Lake, Yukon. One way is to fly Northerly to Williston Lake, and then take up a 300 degree heading to Watson Lake. In all, it's close to a 500-mile leg, a tall order for an Ercoupe without a tail wind. Ingenika is a private strip about midway, however, fuel availability is not always assured, as is the condition of the strip. This route takes you through the notorious Trench, a well know grave yard for more than one bush pilot.

The Trench is a 320 mile long narrow canyon with tall mountains on both sides. Williston Lake occupies the Trench for more than 150 miles. What is most troublesome about the trench are the endless box canyons which lie-in-wait to entrap the unsuspecting pilot who would be so foolish as to veer only 1 degree off course. Skud-running is a virtual impossibility, with death a mathematical certainty. Once in the Trench, there are no nav-aids, save ded reckoning.

The other option for getting to Watson Lake is to fly Northerly to Williston Lake and then steer clear of the Trench with a Northeasterly heading to Fort Saint John. From there, you fly 310 degrees to Fort Nelson, and then 264 degrees to Watson Lake.

The only problem with this route is that it is much longer and out of the way. Flying the Trench in a day is easy, however, flying this alternative route in a slow plane would take two days and maybe three.

I can't get any positive fuel or strip information on Ingenika, the little strip in the middle of the Trench, and the winds in the Trench are at 300 (head wind). That pretty much rules out the shortcut in this bird (maybe on the way back). So I depart using the long way to Watson Lake. It is uneventful all the way to Williston Lake, however, there is a ceiling on the mountains which I must cross to get to Fort Saint John. So I fly the highway under the clouds, and boy is it windy. I reduce my airspeed, and still I can't tighten my seat belt enough to keep my head off the bubble top of my Ercoupe. Sometimes I feel like I will invert as I struggle to maintain control. These are not moguls in the sky, but dangerous pot holes. I don't see how a lessor ship can stay together. Surely the wings must now be bent, even on this tank. How much longer will these winds persist, and how much more punishment can this little tyke take?

Just as soon as I clear the mountains, things calm down dramatically, however, it is still very windy. I radio ahead and learn the winds at the field are 60 MPH at 200. I've got a perfect tail wind, boy am I flying. My ground speed is 180 MPH.

The field is fifty miles away, but I'm closing-in really fast.

First I turn base, and now final for runway 200 (am I glad they have a 200). My nose is down, I'm turning 2300 Rs, and I'm not making much progress trying to move down the runway. If I throttle back too much, I know I will fly backwards, so I maintain power and control descent with the elevator. Finally, I touch down with 2,000 RPMs and about 10 MPH ground speed. No roll-out today. Now if I can just taxi without inverting.

I would like to find a building to park behind, but I must settle for a tie-down space in the open. Luckily I can taxi into the wind as I park. For extra security, I get out my emergency anchors to augment the airport's tie-downs. I just have this feeling that my airplane will fly away on the power of the wind.

I want to check for structural damage, but the wind is way too debilitating.

I think I've had enough for today, so I head into town for some chow and a room. During lunch I learn that there are no rooms left because some sort of oil convention is under way. Now what, I wonder, and I go back to the airport.

It is 200 miles to Fort Nelson. If I fly there and they have no rooms, I won't be any worse off than here. I check the weather and find out that it is calm at Fort Nelson. In fact, the winds have died to 40 here, which is no problem for the Ercoupe.

I give the Coupe a good pre-flight (she's still solid as a tank). So I taxi out, gingerly, and make a run down the field. I'd say no more than 100 feet and I'm off the ground. Now I'm climbing almost vertically while the airport remains stationary beneath me. The fun ends when I turn my crosswind leg and take up a 310-degree heading.

This leg is routine. Off my left wing is the Alcan Highway.

It's easy to spot because the landscape is blanketed in snow. I don't see any vehicle traffic on it. It veers away from my route and pretty soon disappears. The sky is clear, and the outside temperature at 6,000 feet is 10 degrees. This is the coldest so far, and even with the cabin heat on full tilt, I'm cold. I manage a struggle to put on my ski bibs (very difficult but now worth it).

After an hour or so, the Alcan veers back, and now I see several vehicles inching along it. The air is smooth and I begin my descent. Pretty soon I'm on final, and just as soon I'm on my way into town. I find a room right away at this place with a huge polar bear in the lobby, standing taller than the Washington Monument, looming over me while I check in. I never realized these creatures were so huge. Really, this bear is a minimum fifteen-feet tall, maybe more. It's paws are wider than a truck tire.

Day 5, Fort Saint John, British Columbia

While flight planning at the airport, I meet two pilots each ferrying a Cessna to Anchorage from the US. They only met up in Montana, and began flying together. Now they invite me to join them. They want to make it to White Horse today (2 legs). I accept right away, and am first in the air on a 264 heading to Watson Lake, Yukon. This leg is routine, however, more exciting because I have someone to chat with on the radio while flying.

We refuel in Watson Lake, eat snacks, and visit the weather station. The clouds are solid over the mountains between here and White Horse, Yukon.

Soon we are on our way. I assume a heading of 251 directly to White Horse and climb to 12,000 feet for VFR-on-top. This leg is exciting as I approach the mountain tops, which are exposed through the solid layer of clouds. Even though I'm above solid overcast, I feel safety in the huge snowfields below me, protruding like islands in a sea of clouds (no fingers crossed). Any one would be a good landing place in an emergency.

Pretty soon I find myself on the Western slopes, and I hear my pilot buddies calling. They want to know where I'm at. I learn they are over the Alcan Highway below the clouds. When I set down at White Horse, I wait ten minutes for them to show. That's when they inform me of my little faux pas for the day.

"There's no such thing as VFR-on-top in Canada", they inform me.

These guys are great. They didn't want to mention it over the radio for fear of someone at Flight Service discovering my wrongdoing. Hey, we Americans stick together. Besides, all is well that ends well.

Day 6, White Horse, Yukon

The three of us are having breakfast when I decide to stay over in White Horse to sight-see and slow the pace a little. I walk with them to their planes and say farewell. I don't think I'll ever see these guys again. They will fly back home commercially just as soon as they arrive in Anchorage.

There's a commercial flight arriving at the terminal, and I find myself amongst the passengers competing for a cab into town. An attractive brunette recognizes my predicament, and offers to share her cab. She is a 25-year-old research assistant from Toronto on her way to the McBride Museum and the library. I learn she is assisting a writer with a new book on the Jack London days of the gold rush. After checking her into a downtown hotel, we find ourselves talking about high society, restaurants and night spots in Toronto. None of this really interests me at all, but I am well qualified for the conversation because I spent nearly one year living and working in Toronto several years earlier. I sense that it is important for this woman to have me for an audience, but only on her terms and while she is dominating the conversation. When I tell her I once dined with Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa, she does not even want to know the details. (Actually, it was a Sunday in 1978 when the Prime Minister and his family walked into the McDonalds restaurant where I just happened to be. Of course, I didn't talk to him or anything.)

Now it is late in the afternoon, and I decide to tell little Miss Muffit that tomorrow is a big day, so I go to my hotel next to the airport for dinner alone and a good night's rest.

Day 7, White Horse, Yukon

The motel and airport are perched on a mesa. I find myself looking out my room window at the huge expanse of the great Yukon River which is still frozen. The birch trees on its banks are void of all leaves. It is hard for me to imagine that this 2300 mile long waterway, with less than 2,000 feet of elevation, flows Northerly through the Yukon, then Westerly across the entire state of Alaska where it empties into the Bearing Sea south of Norton Sound. The per mile drop is only 10 inches (rapids unlikely), which probably accounts for why it is navigable all the way to White Horse. Without navigation on the Yukon, Dawson and White Horse, together with hundreds of outposts, would not exist as we know them today.

Last year I read Jack London's "To Build A Fire", a short story about a trapper who meets tragedy during a winter hike along a river in the Yukon or NW Territories (not sure). If you've never read it, I strongly recommend it, although be sure to wear a good coat beside a nice warm fire because the story will make anyone shiver.

Over another lumberjack breakfast, I read a brochure about Skagway, so I check the weather to consider flying the short hop to the historic town where the infamous Soapy Smith reigned during the gold rush days. The weather is not good, and I rule out the bus ride. How would I get to Juneau if I want to go there, too?. Maybe on the way back, I figure, so I'm in the air again on the way to Northway, by way of Hanes Junction and Burwash Landing.

This is another usual leg, however, now I'm starting to develop an impression of the landscape as I fly over Hanes Junction. Huge valleys, as flat as the sea, dominate the horizon, and mountains rise like islands on either side. Snow is everywhere so it is hard to see the thousands of lakes and rivers which dot the chart. There is no mistake about Kluane Lake, which to me looks fifty miles long and 8 to 10 miles at its widest.

Soon I pass over Burwash Landing, and take a 290 degree heading to Northway. After three hours, I'm on a long, high final to runway 22 when the unspeakable occurs. My engine looses all power. I'm high, and probably can make the field, so I remain remarkably calm. I check everything. Fuel is good, carburetor heat is on, my new fuel pump is working, what could be wrong?

Once, this happened to me in the desert over Arizona, but that was because I had my nose way too high while practicing a power-on stall.

I continue on final and realize that I am descending faster than usual. The head wind is far too light to impact my descent this much, so I conclude the propeller must be acting as an air brake as the airplane's forward momentum is used to windmill the propeller. Even so, I can make the runway, and just before touching down, the engine restarts on its own.

Northway consists of a fuel island and a small restaurant. As far as I can tell this is all there is. I refuel next to a Cessna 152, and have lunch with the pilot. He is ferrying the plane purchased in Montana by his FBO in Anchorage. He's a soft-spoken flight instructor, maybe 35, but his words pack a lot of punch. He thinks I developed carburetor ice after I powered back on final.

"What made the engine restart?", I ask.

"Well, when the engine RPMs fall off, less fuel goes through the carburetor", he says, "This means less cooling, which stops the formation of more ice. Now heat from the engine has a chance to melt the existing carburetor ice".

This sure does make sense to me, as does his advice to keep lots of power on final to prevent future occurrences.

I give the bird a good engine pre-flight; everything looks perfect. No water in the tanks, no leaks, and the carburetor heat mechanism works perfectly.

I prepare to leave when the flight instructor wants to know my route. I tell him I want to follow the road by way of Tok, which is considerably out of the way. He suggests I follow him by a shortcut which can save an hour. I am concerned that I can keep up, and he assures me he can throttle back.

Soon we are both in the air flying 210 degrees from Northway over flat terrain towards mountains dead ahead. There are no man-made landmarks anywhere. Most certainly, with my limited Alaska experience, I would not attempt this shortcut without the benefit of my new bush mentor. His calm voice assures me we are not entering the abyss of no return.

Nonetheless, I maintain close scrutiny of my chart and the surrounding terrain, just in case he loses me.

There is a 3,000' ceiling today. After flying 1,000 feet off the deck for 30 miles, we take a new heading of 250 degrees as we enter a valley with 6,000' peaks on the left and 5,600' peaks on the right. The visibility ahead is marginal, and we dash right into light snow flurries. This concerns me, but I'm assured all is well as long as precautionary carburetor heat is on. I've never flown through a snow storm before, and my guide explains that Alaska pilots would be grounded every day, if they had to avoid this type of weather.

"Welcome to Alaska", he says, and I stop worrying, even when the visibility drops to two miles.

After twenty miles from the last course adjustment, we change to a new heading of 190 degrees. We exit the snow storm and head straight for Suslota Pass about fifteen miles ahead. How any neophyte would know when to turn, especially in this weather, would be near impossible.

After we clear the pass, we change course and head directly to Duffys Tavern. Now we are over the Glenn Highway to Anchorage, and the ceiling keeps us at 1,000 AGL. My metabolism slows considerably, and for the first time since leaving Northway, I'm able to resume my study and enjoyment of the terrain below. It is shocking for me to learn the near total absence of large vegetation such as trees. In fact, Alaska is a huge desolate place, and I cannot comprehend how such cold barren wasteland can support so much wildlife. I want to see Mount McKinley, but the clouds do not allow the spectacle today, as is the case with all high terrain. I look for bear, wolves, and caribou, but I see none.

When we cross the Alaska pipeline, a friendly helicopter pilot calls. First we tell him everything he wants to know, and then he tells us all about the pipeline he is inspecting from the air. Finally I spot him at pipeline elevation.

Three hours and 10 minutes after departing Northway, I touchdown at Merrill Field in Anchorage (with plenty of throttle until I'm sure I can make a dead-stick landing). No engine stall this time, although the weather is much warmer than it was in Northway. I taxi to the only motel on the field, and as luck would have it, I find a room for $35, with parking for my plane close by. This is more than the $20 rooms along the way, but still less than my expectations for Alaska.

I've arrived, and I've flown all the way to Alaska -- solo.

Continued... Part 2



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Alaska Flying Sabbatical (Part 2)
By Ron Kilber
Day 8, Anchorage, Alaska


It's already 10 am; I haven't been up very long, even though I went to bed early last night. I guess all that flying from Northway yesterday, together with too much tension en route, wore me out pretty good. Anyway, here at the Big Timber Motel right on Merrill Field, I did get a sound and good night's rest, in spite of the fact that there are many noisy little airplanes right out the door.

The rooms are really small, in fact, half the room is for the bed and entry way, and the other half is for two bathrooms -- one for me and one for the room next door. In other words, about one fourth of my room is used for the next room's bathroom. I've never seen this type of "L" shaped room layout in a motel before. It's probably an Alaskan strategy to hold down already high construction costs. In other words, for every four rooms built, the motel owner yields an extra room for free. The window is smaller than usual, which is an asset for holding down the heating bill, but it doesn't do much for lighting up the room or for alleviating claustrophobia in already crowded quarters. I'm sure I could do better for room size elsewhere in town for the same price, but the added advantage here is that I get to taxi my airplane right to my front doorstep. Sure beats the nuisance of cabs and rental cars.

As I walk towards my airplane, I notice two men looking over my little Coupe. Before I even get close, they notice me, and already know I'm the owner, because when I arrive they tell me what a nice bird I have. Both have pleasing dispositions, and they are so relaxed and so confident, I'm envious. How does one attain this much peace of mind, I wonder. I guess I've just been living too long in Seattle and San Francisco where everyone seems so jaded. One of the guys tells me he is a building contractor and that he used to own an Ercoupe. We talk until lunch time (and until they are satisfied they have my complete biography), and then they invite me to lunch at a bar/restaurant within walking distance of Merrill Field on East 5th Ave. I learn over lunch from them that flying in Alaska is a little different than in the Lower 48. For one thing, they tell me, it is legal to fly airplanes 10% over gross in Alaska, and that everybody does it.

This does not sound too good to me. Certainly I wouldn't do it. But then again, maybe it isn't any worse than flying an airplane into a high altitude airport in New Mexico on a hot day. You just compensate with a longer runway.

They continue, and tell me that in Alaska, if you can safely get off the ground at 10% over gross, by the time you get to where you are going, you will be well under gross after burning some fuel. Also, they argue, if a pilot is making a delivery to an outpost, he might be heavy when he lands, but after unloading, he's light again for the takeoff to return home.

After lunch, my two friends leave me, so I just hang around the airport. After a little while, I meet another friendly guy who is doing the same as me--loitering around the airport. He is a school teacher from Nome, and brought his plane in for some major work. He has been killing time for several days while waiting for completion of engine work at an FBO on the field. Actually, the work was suppose to be done today, however, a slight problem should not delay it beyond tomorrow morning.

My Nome friend has an old car which he keeps here at the airport for use whenever he travels to Anchorage. In true Alaska tradition, he wants to give me (a complete stranger) a guided tour of Anchorage. As we first drive around the neighborhood near the airport, I'm struck by how dirty everything is, especially the roadways. We visit the shopping center (east of town if I'm not turned around), a college, the city center area where there are some tall buildings, then the International Airport, complete with a float plane facility adjacent. After I treat him to some diner, I retreat to my large, luxurious prison cell at the motel.

Day 9, En Route to Homer

My throttle is practically fire-walled as I cruise south down the coastline of the Kenai Peninsula. I want all the airspeed I can get, for safety reasons, because I'm flying low again. In fact, the coastline here is really an endless cliff, very shear, along the Cook Inlet. I'd say the cliff is about one hundred and fifty feet high, more or less, and on top is a highway winding close to the edge. There are houses between the road and the edge of the cliff. In fact, as far as I can see south, there seems to be no end to the individual homesteads, spaced generously, all with a birds-eye view of Cook Inlet.

Sometimes I fly below the precipice, just above the water, then I pull up and climb above land and fly inland for awhile. I feel I have the grace of a swan as I first bank gently left while climbing. When I clear the cliff, I continue to bank, but now I lower the nose so I can fly low over land. Eventually, I make a slow roll to the right, towards the cliff, and descend down to the water again. Then I repeat the whole process over. This is so much fun, much more so than maneuvering around meadows and trees.

On one of the homesteads ahead, I can see people in their yard. I descend out of their view, then, as I anticipate their position, I climb just enough to sneak a peak. They wave at me, and I return the gesture as I fly out of view.

I don't think I could ever get bored with these maneuvers. It is just plain the greatest feeling of freedom for me. Even if my engine stalls when I'm near the water, I'm confident the extra airspeed I attain from diving is more than sufficient to trade for altitude in order to reach the safety of the road above.

I don't know for sure if this kind of flying is considered bad habit. If it is, there sure are a lot of pilots with bad habits.

While a student pilot in Las Cruces, NM, I remember the owner of the University Air Academy taking me for a plane ride one day. For a whole hour, all we did was fly 10 feet above some pecan orchids in the area, as well as chase some roads in the surrounding desert. That's when I got hooked, and I've been flying like this regularly ever since.

This is my first flight since arriving at Merrill Field in Anchorage. As I prepare for landing at Homer, I'm still a little ginger about the engine stalling when I was on final at Northway. After I find the airport, I see how huge the runway at Homer is--it looks two miles long and plenty wide too. I wonder what such a huge airport is doing way out here in the middle of nowhere. I decide to make use of the long field and test my mighty little power plant for carburetor ice and engine stall on landing. This is the perfect place for such a test.

I maintain cruise power as I turn my base leg for runway 21. On final, when I'm absolutely sure that I can make a dead-stick landing, I slowly reduce power all the way. Sure enough, the engine losses all power for the second time now. As I rotate, the propeller stops before I touch down.

This is an eerie feeling, being at the controls of an airplane on landing, without an engine and staring at a propeller which no longer rotates.

With just enough momentum, I coast clear of the active onto the taxiway. When I hit the starter, the engine springs back to life. Boy, I can't deal with this anymore. Before, I might of believed the motor stalled because of unusually moist, cold air at Northway, however, those unstable conditions are not present here. I'm just a little worried now. The dead-stick landing put the fear of God in me (epinephrin too).

The Land's End Resort is at the end of a natural spit extending what seems to be 7 miles into the Kacemak Bay and perpendicular to runway 21. I'm riding in the shuttle, and as we travel the length of the spit, the driver is telling me all about the Kacemak Bay, and how it is the richest seafood body of water in the entire world. They harvest so much fish here, it is mind boggling he says. Most of it is flown out in 747 cargo ships, thus the huge Homer airport.

As we near the resort, he directs my attention to a fish processor selling huge shrimp (5 to the pound) for $1. Imagine that, a pound of shrimp for $1. That would cost $10 or more back home. Alaskan halibut, my favorite fish dish, comes right from these waters.

I think I'm the only regular guest here right now. I find out from the desk clerk that everyone else at the resort is an employee working somewhere on the spit, either as a fisherman or fish processor worker. All of them are staying in the bunkhouse for seasonal workers, which is operated as an annex to the resort.

I decide to go outside to tour the spit, but soon exhaust all opportunities after only thirty minutes. There just isn't all that much out here, for me anyway. I guess if you're a fisherman, then this certainly must be a paradise. As far as get-aways go, I certainly wouldn't call this a resort.

Before I go back inside, I notice there are many tents set up on the beach. I don't see any people, but the wind is very cold and is blowing about forty miles per hour. If I were camping, I'd be in my tent too (if that's where they are).

Unexpectedly to me, the lounge has quite a crowd, but it is unusually dark and quiet for a place of libation. I order a brew from the bartender who is not friendly at all. In fact, my impression is that she is annoyed by my very presence. As I drink my beer, I notice the other patrons (more than likely seasonal workers). All are men and all of them seem so reserved. In fact, I'm not even sure the paired ones are talking with each other, just drinking with each other. Then again, to me, this is a desolate place, and maybe their dispositions are just a normal reaction of the boredom and void which must exist out here. Actually, I'm sort of depressed right now myself.

After one more brew, I go to the restaurant and experience the worst halibut diner of my entire life. Imagine that, at the richest and best seafood bay in the world. Maybe it's just that I'm here too early in the season.

Day 10, Homer to Anchorage

I'm a little worried about the carburetor icing problem, so today I think I will go back to Merrill Field in Anchorage and try to find someone to help me resolve it.

As I ride in the shuttle past the $1 shrimp again, I contemplate the idea of owning something like a Turbo Centurion. Let me see, If I buy 1,000 pounds of shrimp, I could fly it to the San Francisco Bay area and probably sell it wholesale for 7 bucks a pound. That's a gross profit of $6,000 -- not bad for a day's work.

Returning to anchorage is uneventful. I notice some people fishing on a river between Skilak Lake and the Cook Inlet. This lowland of the Kenai Peninsula is so barren (and flat). By this I mean devoid of large vegetation. And when I look east to the mountains, they are completely white from all the snow. It just seems that there is not a live plant anywhere, although I know there has to be, and probably buried in deep snow.

I'm on final to Merrill Field for the second time since first arriving in Alaska, and very much concerned about carburetor ice. All is well with the engine though, as I touch down heading north without a hint of engine stall. I taxi to the Big Timber Motel. The clerk remembers me, and I get room 205 again. This time he tells me about the weekly rate, so I pay him $172.75.

Day 11, Anchorage

Today I want to resolve the problem with my engine. So I walk to a repair station on the field where the owner and several of his mechanics are working on several single engine bush planes. The fuselages are all torn apart, and much of the zinc chromate primer is exposed.

The proprietor informs me that it will be several weeks before he can take a look at the problem with my Ercoupe. In spite of his schedule, he is very much concerned with my puzzle. In fact, he advises me that the problem might have been put there when the engine was overhauled.

He explains how the engine compartment of an airplane is actually two compartments. At least it is suppose to be. The top compartment houses the top half of the engine; the bottom compartment houses the bottom half of the engine. While the airplane is flying, ram air is forced into the top compartment via the nose bowl. With no where to go once in the top compartment, the air's only escape path is right over and through the cooling fins of each cylinder. In this way, the engine is guaranteed maximum cooling from the incoming air.

He thinks I may have an air leak in the top engine compartment. Therefore, not enough air is passing over the cylinders, and not enough hot air is reaching the carburetor in the bottom engine compartment. This may be my problem, and he says I can fix it myself, if it is.

Sure enough, I inspect the engine compartment and find that the rear seals are missing. It is apparent to me that much intake air can escape, and worse, that this can severely impair engine cooling on a hot day. I don't have engine over-heating to worry about here in Alaska, but I am anxious to correct this deficiency right away.

I use the rest of the day and gather all the material and tools necessary to complete the job tomorrow.

Day 12, Anchorage

After fiddling all day with the engine cowling and rear compartment seals, I'm satisfied my Ercoupe is in better shape than ever. In fact, just by looking at the air path in the lower compartment, I'm confident the old boy knows what he is talking about.

Back at the motel, I'm watching the news on television. The British are dukeing it out with the Argentine military positions in the Faulkland Islands. Listening to the political leaders speak and boast (with impunity) about this conflict is most unpleasant (forget about all the lives of the troupes, they are expendable). How arrogant.

Day 13, Anchorage

There are good things and bad things about Alaska. I find this out by renting a car and getting around a little. The best I can do is with Alaska Dial-A-Car at $28.95 per day (cars here must be worth their weight in Klondike gold). Having to pay more for a car than a room is rather discouraging.

On the other hand, the people in the shopping center, the restaurants, and everywhere are just plain nice folks.

The weather is generally gloomy, so I have lunch at a large hotel in downtown Anchorage and spend some time loitering around the lobby.

The hotel lobby here in Anchorage doesn't hold much promise for human interaction, so I go back to my room and take a nap.

Afterwards, I'm hungry for some Italian food, and the exercise of looking for a pasta restaurant makes me think about my favorite place in California. I am an Italian food connoisseur, and by far the best place in the bay area that I've been to is the Florentine Restaurant in Mountain View, California. Their sauce is so rich and so exquisitely delicious. I always made sure to use plenty of the sauce with each mouthful of pasta. That way, when the waiter noticed that the remaining pasta on my plate didn't have any more sauce on it, I always got an extra side dish of sauce for free.

If I could only have some of that rich sauce right now, I'd be in seventh heaven.

Day 14, Anchorage

Another gloomy day here in the land of the midnight sun. Due to the weather, I can't even go for a sight-seeing excursion to the glaciers.

Beside the weather, there is another big problem with Alaska. Where are the women? There are not that many anywhere in sight. The ones that are seem to always be escorted by one or more men. In a bar, it's about a 20 to 1 ratio. My impression is that if I tried to make a move on one, not only do I risk mathematically certain rejection (I don't have a beard or a red plaid shirt), but probably the wrath of some burly bushman fearing his babe might have a soft spot for a more refined gentleman. Some do look at me like I'm a threat. I doubt many conflicts are resolved in Alaska without resorting to assault and battery, so I decide to keep my hands to myself.

Day 15, Anchorage

Today the weather is clear so I decide to do some sight-seeing of the glaciers in the mountains to the southeast. Most unappealing about the immediate vicinity to Anchorage are the huge mud flats on the shores of Cook Inlet and surrounding waterways. When the tide is out, it seems this mud is ten miles wide in places. I wonder about the consequences of landing in this mud. My first thought is that any airplane would immediately invert from the tremendous drag on the landing gear. Once inverted on the mud, is there any escape? Surely I would be trapped upside down, only to drown when the tide returns.

Not more than fifty miles from Anchorage, I see several cumulus nimbus clouds, dark and black at the base, and billowing to what must surely be thirty thousand feet. Precipitation lowers the visibility below the clouds to less than a quarter mile. I think of the violent updrafts, and wonder how long of an elevator ride it is to the tops. These storms are only miles across at the base, so I maneuver around them.

The glaciers for me are not a big deal at all. In fact, I'm wondering what it is that attracts so many to them. I take a few close-up looks, then head back to Anchorage.

Day 16, Anchorage

My motel rent is due tomorrow, so today I think I will decide if I will stay another week here, or move on to another place, like Fairbanks.

While buying charts from the FBO where I received help with my engine compartment air leaks, a local pilot strikes up a conversation with me. He is interested in my whereabouts as well as my plans. I learn that he is in the hovercraft business, and that he is experimenting with deploying these vehicles for hauling huge amounts of cargo across the Cook Inlet and elsewhere. Hovercrafting is especially advantageous during fowl weather when all airplanes are grounded. But launching a new business that depended on marginal weather is foolhardy at best, so he is experimenting to see if hover crafting can have a cost advantage compared to airplanes.

After a half hour of chatting, I'm on my way with him to his hover craft facility across town on East 1st Avenue. We take one of the vehicles for a joy ride. My first impression is that these things are extremely noisy, and not from just the engines alone, but from the tornado-speed winds which are required to sustain hovering. The dust and dirt are flying everywhere, and it is most annoying, especially as if you are right out of the shower.

Afterwards, we retreat to the comfort (and silence) of his office where we talk about Alaska and flying. Then we discuss the possibility of an opportunity for me in the hover craft business, however, I tell him that I already have plans in the desert (and warmth) of Arizona.

Back at the motel, it is late in the day. I wonder about flying to Fairbanks, or is this something I should save for another visit to Alaska. I do want to return here again someday. One thing for sure though, I think I've been in Anchorage long enough for one spell--maybe Alaska too.

I decide to check the weather, then I decide to check out of my room in the morning. Another weather system is moving across Alaska, and it will overtake Northway by tomorrow evening. If I want to leave Anchorage, I must do it first thing in the morning, otherwise, I will be stuck here for several more days. I decide to skip the idea about goingto Fairbanks. Instead, tomorrow I will depart for the lower 48.

Also, on the way home, I think I would like to try my hand at the shortcut through the famed and notorious Trench.

Day 17, Anchorage to Northway, and Points Beyond

Considering the advancing storm, the weather is remarkable nice here early in the morning.

It isn't long before I'm on my first leg home to Northway. As I follow the Glenn Highway, I'm looking for the sheep I'm suppose to see at, of all places, Sheep Mountain. Sure enough, there they are, right in some small mountains off the right side of the road. It is incredible where I see some of these mountain sheep. How they got on top of the rock is a mystery. And what are they doing there anyway? There doesn't appear to be any food for them at all.

I wish I could see Mt. Mckinley today, but the approaching weather makes it impossible to discern the horizon from the sky. Off to my right though, I can clearly see the peaks of mountains reaching over 12,000 feet. Also, a few good sized glaciers are in plain view too.

Some of the glaciers from here look to be maybe twenty miles long. Knowing they measure glacier movement in inches per day, I wonder how old the ice is on the leading edge, before it melts or breaks off. How long does it take a given chunk of ice to move from the beginning of the glacier to its end?

One foot of movement per day would take a glacier about 15 years to move only one mile, or 300 years to move twenty miles. Then again, assuming only two inches of movement per day, the nose of the glacier started out about the time they switched the calendars from B.C. to A.D.

I decide to brave the shortcut (which we took on the way into Anchorage from Northway) across the tundra alone this time, so I break away from the Glenn Highway at Duffys Tavern and head for Suslota Pass. Even with the advancing weather from the west, the visibility is much better today than it was when I went through here before.

I consider one of my strongest piloting skills to be dead reckoning. Just give me a chart, and I think I will find my way anywhere, even without a compass.

This shortcut is well worth the time savings, however, I sure would not want to loose an engine out here. There is nothing, nowhere. I do not even see game tracks.

One thing is for certain, with good visibility, this route has no hint of intimidation for me, as was the case when I came through here with my newly-met guide at Northway. Except of course for the thought of a forced landing out here. Without survival gear, life would indeed be grim (or short).

Now I'm on a very high final to Northway. I slowly pull the power back so as I don't cool the engine too fast. When the throttle is all the way off, the engine idles perfectly with no hint of a stall at all. I am convinced the carburetor icing problem has been cured. Right now, I'm so high I must do large S turns to descend without over-shooting the runway (I wish this Ercoupe could slip). All is well that ends well, as I touch down just in time to catch the taxiway to the fuel pumps.

After fuel and food, I want to go to Whitehorse, Yukon, via Burwash and Haines Junction. Altogether, it's about 300 miles to my destination in Whitehorse. Haines Junction is not reporting VFR, but Burwash is. I figure I might as well go to Burwash Landing and wait it out there. At least I'll be making some progress. If I'm lucky, maybe the weather will move farther east while I'm traveling, then I can fly on into Whitehorse.

Burwash Landing is a virtual nothing on the northwest end of Kluane Lake. About all that is here is an airfield and a weather station with a few antennas on top. The station is manned by one person who tells me he has been here three months. Boy, back in Anchorage I though I was getting lonely. This guy is way beyond loneliness. I would say that he's more like catatonic. From the moment he lays his eyes on me, I can tell he does not want me to leave--ever.

First, he makes a cup of coffee, which I badly need. Then he shows me all around the building, like I'm a guest who just arrived to stay for a week. There's the bathroom, and over there I can sleep on the couch if I'm tired. The hospitality is great, especially for a weary traveler.

When he gives me a weather briefing that Haines Junction doesn't look good at all, somehow I suspect the information is inaccurate, and thus, just his ploy to get me to hang around for a few days and provide companionship. I'm certain the weather reports are accurate, however, I'm not certain he wants to encourage me to leave.

I hang around for about three hours, and then I check the weather again. Haines Junction has been steadily progressing to VFR all day, but it is still too marginal. Northway, where I just came from, no longer is VFR. The advancing weather has overtaken and is heading this way.

If I make a run for it now, by the time I get to Haines Junction, the weather will be even better. Should I make a run for it? I look in the direction of Northway and now see the huge front about thirty miles away which is quickly approaching. If I don't move now, how long will I be stuck here? I can't imagine staying here for the time it will take for all this to pass.

Against my host's better judgment, within five minutes I'm in the air flying easterly, outrunning the weather from behind. It is only about 70 miles to Haines Junction, then another 90 miles or so to Whitehorse.

The ceiling is much lower than reported, and this forces me to fly about 800 feet above the Alcan Highway.

When I reach the east end of Kluane Lake, I make a slight course adjustment over higher ground, so I don't loose sight of the road. Now the ceiling is even tighter, and boy do I have gratitude and comfort for having that road below me and in my view. I have no intentions of taking my eyes off it.

Looking back in the direction of Burwash Landing, I can no longer see the airport. The front has completely engulfed it, and now is beginning to do a good job of consuming all of Kluane lake.

The valley I'm flying over has solid overcast, no more than 1,500 feet AGL. The forested valley floor gently slopes to the mountains with 8 to 9,000 foot peaks on each side, and then disappears into the low ceiling overhead.

As I approach Haines Junction, something does not look right, and I no longer believe the weather is clearing there. In fact, quite the opposite is occurring right before my eyes. If my orientation is correct, the ceiling is right on top of the village. The Alcan Highway disappears into the clouds as it snakes through the pass to the northeast of Haines Junction on its way to Whitehorse. To my horror, my route is totally obscured and impassable.

In fact, in every direction I now look, the ground meets the clouds. I get the feeling that the valley I am in is a huge bowl, and I'm flying just under the lid of clouds reaching to mountains on all sides. There is no retreating to Burwash, although now I wish I had stayed there with that attendant. Unless I find another way over the small mountain range between here and Whitehorse, I'm trapped. And not only that, a forced landing is a certainty.

The chart indicates a road branching off the Alcan Highway at Haines Junction heading southeast off the chart in the direction of what must be Skagway. I find it and follow the road, but it is no use. It disappears into clouds, too.

Things do not look good at all. Now I resign myself to the fact that indeed a forced landing is imminent. Short of a miracle, I have nowhere else to go. It is only a matter of time, and I will be forced to set down on the road. How embarrassing this is going to be, as I think about the awkwardness of explaining my predicament to a passing traveler who cannot proceed because I am blocking the narrow road with my airplane.

Coming to grips with this reality is difficult. I'm unhappy with myself for not staying at Burwash Landing. How stupid to be so impatient, I think.

With just under two hours of fuel remaining, I have no other recourse but to fly around and around, if I want to avoid setting her down. For now, I'm content to delay the inevitable for as long as possible.

So I fly in the direction of Haines Junction again. Out of desperation (and much metabolism), I wonder if I should make a run through the pass on instruments. It's not that far to the other side, according to the chart. Fear, not logic, prevents me from this insane option. At least over here out of the pass, I'm alive with or without fuel. But over there in the pass, I have no such guarantee.

As if I don't have enough problems already, I can see that the visibility is deteriorating rapidly to the west. I'm convinced there is zero chance for retreat or refuge in the direction of Burwash Landing. Fear drives me southeast again over the windy road to Skagway, where I can fly higher off the ground. There is no other way to face this. Indeed, I'm trapped over the bush south and east of Haines Junction.

The chart indicates a small valley through the little mountain range between here and Whitehorse. It looks to be maybe 12 miles south of the pass which the Alcan Highway goes through. Maybe I can make it through this pass, then pick up the Alcan once on the other side.

I check it out, but it does not hold promise. So I turn around and retreat. By now the ceiling is even lower, so I'm forced to fly so low over the trees, I can no longer see the road from Haines Junciton to Skagway . This sends a surge of epinephrine throughout my body, and my heart races as it prepares me for the inevitable. Now I am really afraid as I realize, on top of all else which has gone wrong, that now I'm lost too.

Up to this point, the recognizable landmarks on the chart have provided me with a great deal of comfort. No longer can I recognize anything on the chart. Where is the road? I am puzzled as I ponder my disorientation, and realize during these last thirty minutes I've been navigating solely by terrain, without any instrumentation at all. Where am I? Nothing looks right out there anymore.

I can't help thinking about pilots who have lost their lives in a plane crash. And how their tragedy is used to teach us the unforgiving nature of flying. I can remember how I've always swore I would never intentionally do anything stupid, like fly without checking the weather. Well, here I am, not only doing something stupid, but in spite of checking the weather. Is this what has happened for so many unfortunate pilots? Is this how it happened to them, by just sneaking up on them, and hitting them over the head?

I think about how my Ercoupe and I are the same age. We both arrived on the earth in the exact same year. Are we now going to part together, too, I wonder?

Considering the gravity of this situation, I don't know how I'm able to stay so remarkably in control, especially in my heightened state of alarm. One of my greatest fears has always been that I would panic in an emergency. This situation is now an emergency, but I have not panicked. Not yet, anyway.

Maybe it is not yet time to panic. I do have more than enough fuel, plus reserve. But what about when I have only 5 minutes left, or when the engine stops? Will I panic then?

Maybe my subconscious mind tells me there is no need to panic, because I do have the recourse of crashing into the trees. If I make a well controlled ditch, maybe the trees will do the rest, and the worst that will happen is that I will loose my airplane.

These thoughts and more all race through my mind. In fact, my entire life is on instant replay, and now I have an acute mental awareness of all my remembrances.

Concurrent to reliving my life, I'm still tuned into reality. The reality that if I'm to get out of this miss which I flew myself into, in one piece, I must find a way out. And I must do it now.

As luck would have it, I find myself flying low and oblique to the road back to Haines Junction. I am not flying perpendicular as I expect, and my heading is off considerably from my expectation. Now things are fitting back in their place again with the chart.

As I approach Haines Junction one more time, I notice that the Alcan Highway is more apparent as it winds through the pass. A closer look reveals daylight on the other side. In fact, I can actually see places in the valley beyond where it is clear. This is most promising, even though the pass is extremely marginal. I decide to make a run for.

Things have improved here remarkable in only thirty minutes. In an effort to stay out of the clouds, I'm actually flying about 50 feet off the deck as I negotiate the pass. Even so, I am running an obstacle course of clouds. I dodge the thick ones and fly right through the thinly formed ones. Pretty soon I am in the clear, and it is all over.

Wow! What a nightmare. And what a relief. That was close. Very close.

Will I ever do a dumb thing like that again? No! Never!

As I descend into Whitehorse, there is no hint of carburetor icing. The problem definitely seems to be behind me. The nose tank is still full, but both wing tanks are bone dry.

Without bothering to refuel, I tie my bird down and walk the short distance to the lodging district. I find a room at the Airport Chalet, consume a nice hot meal, and within thirty minutes I hit the sack and I'm sound asleep.

Continued... Part 3



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Alaska Flying Sabbatical (Part 3)
By Ron Kilber
Day 18, Whitehorse, Yukon


It is noon, but already I've had breakfast, showered, and refueled the Coupe. That weather system moving from the west moved on top of us last night and is still with us now. This will be a good day for a little R&R.

Whitehorse is a bustling little town full of people that seem to be everywhere. I don't do much at all today, except try to imagine the life and times of the people who lived here almost one hundred years ago. Certainly, only the hardiest (the creme de la creme) were able to survive out here (or wanted to). Any village idiot from the lower 48, who dared travel here, was doomed en route to this barren place. In my opinion, I'm afraid not many were able to survive here at all.

Some of the deciduous vegetation (barren weeks ago) is now sprouting, and no longer detracts, but complements the evergreens.

About the time when I need a cab to go back up the hill to my motel, I encounter two young ladies who pull over to the curb in an antique pickup truck. They are giggling and generally having a grand time as they both exit the cab. Then one of them retrieves a long, thin branch from the pickup bed, and uses it to check the level of fuel in the gas tank. Obviously, their gas gauge isn't working and they fear they might be out of fuel.
 
They notice I am curious, and then they have just as much fun explaining to me what they are doing with the stick. Both know without asking that I'm not a resident of Whitehorse, and then they ask if I need a ride somewhere.

After they drop me off at the motel, I give them $5 for the ride. Now they are more tickled than ever. With new gas money, they can now drive around Whitehorse some more, instead of going home. They even invite me to join them.

I think they feel a little guilty for accepting something for an unsolicited ride, but my impression is these gals can really use the money. When I decline their ride offer, I think they are satisfied that their kind gesture justifies accepting the money.

Day 19, Whitehorse, Yukon to Prince George, British Columbia

The tail end of the weather system moving east has already passed, and the skies are clear. The Canadian Snowbirds are at the field and appear to be preparing (with military precision) to depart. They probably flew in late yesterday, and stayed over to wait for the weather to clear.

By 8 AM, I'm off the ground and on my way to Watson Lake. It's about 220 miles as the crow flies, but I plan to follow the Alcan Highway by way of Teslin Lake. When I arrive at Watson Lake, I will check the weather and decide if I will fly the shortcut through the treacherous Trench, or go the long way around to get to Prince George.

While on final to Watson Lake, I can see that the Snowbirds I saw in Whitehorse are already on the ground and parked en echelon at the far end of the field. They probably arrived here two hours ago, and now they are waiting out the weather again before proceeding east.

After I top the tanks, another airplane with three people in it pulls up to the fuel pumps. It is a big, yellow, single engine Beaver, and looks to be ready for any mission in the bush.

Watson Lake is an outpost about 40 miles northwest of the most notorious aviation obstacle (in my opinion) in North America--the Trench. I'm in the FSS checking the weather for Prince George (at the other end of the Trench) and Fort Nelson (the long way around the Trench). Neither one looks good. Fort Nelson is very bad, in fact, the reason, I'm sure, why the Snowbirds are grounded and waiting. The route through the Trench has excellent visibility, however, there is solid overcast at 2,000 AGL. The winds are at 300, which is a perfect tail wind. This means I might be able to reach Prince George without refueling, about a 500 mile leg.

I'm on the fence as far as deciding what to do, so I make the decision to wait out the weather. When in doubt, don't, they always say (actually, I think I've learned my lesson pretty good the other day at Hanes Junction).

I don't mind missing the opportunity to fly the Trench. I sort of would like to go farther east anyway, and stop off in Edmonton. That is where I have a friend who attended private high school with me in the US. I have not seen George since I last visited him in Edmonton a long time ago.

About when I'm ready to inquire about accommodations in Watson Lake, the pilot of the Beaver comes inside to obtain a weather briefing. He is wearing a heavy jacket with an RCMP emblem on it. My first impression of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police goes back to the television days when Sgt. Preston traipsed around the alpine country with a dog.

I start a conversation by asking him for his destination. He tells me he wants to go to Prince George, and he wants to fly via the Trench.

"Aren't the conditions kind of marginal?", I ask.

Thinking he missed something on the report that I read, he looks at it again and says, "No, they are about right".

"What about the ceiling?", I lament.

Now he knows I'm a neophyte pilot for these parts, and states, "You don't get much better than this; the visibility is good and so is the forecast". "There shouldn't be a problem."

He also knows from my composure I am afraid to fly the Trench. He asks if the Ercoupe at the pump is mine, then suggests I can follow him through the Trench. If I start out now, he will catch up, then throttle back and fly along side me. He also informs me that fuel is available at Ingenika, a small dirt strip about half way and on the shores of Williston Lake.

All this changes my mind about flying the Trench, so I decide to commit and fly together with the RCMP to Prince George.

He briefs me on how to find the entrance to the famed route. At the entrance to the Trench, there is a lake with an island in it on the south end.

"It's the only lake with an island around", he assures me, "So you can't miss it".

By the time I reach the lake, he thinks he will catch up. We shake hands and he tells me his name is Rick. So off I go.

There are two Snowbird pilots checking out my Ercoupe at the fuel pumps. They are young guys, and leave me with the impression that they wish they could be on their own adventure like mine, rather than have to go where the military sends them.

Funny, I should be checking out their birds, instead, they are checking out mine.

I lift off at 12:10 PM from Watson lake and fly 120 degrees, 1,000 feet off the deck. I have no trouble at all locating the lake with the island in the middle. It definitely is an excellent landmark.

At 12:45 PM, I'm directly over the island and heading towards the entrance to the Trench. Still, I have not heard from my RCMP buddy. This worries me a little as I stare down the throat of the long, narrow passageway ahead. Indeed it is narrow, but has enough room for a 180 retreat, so I continue. The mountains on each side, some reaching to well over 8,000', are steep and disappear into the solid cloud layer. I feel like I'm entering a huge hallway, ceiling and all, with no sky or end in sight. This is both eerie and exciting.

I'm ambivalent about the absence of nav-aids on this route, so I make a point of it to closely record the time as I pass landmarks. If he doesn't show, or if I get disorientated, at least I will know where I'm at. I'm especially concerned about unwittingly flying up one of these box canyons and, unscheduled, into the next world.

It isn't long before I get a call on the radio from the RCMP. He's about 10 miles behind, and assures me I'm doing fine. "You're flying faster than I expected", he says at 1 PM as I pass over Scoop Lake Ranch. I tell him I was getting a little worried.

When he is along side me, he powers back to just under 100 knots to match my speed. I can read his tail number (C-FCJB). Uncertainty which I had about this route moments earlier vanishes. The Beaver looks a little tail heavy flying slow, and now I think how wonderful all these people are way out here in the bush. No one is exempt from dispensing kindness.

We talk until we have exchanged each other's biographies. People up here want to know everything about you, not just to make conversation, but because they genuinely are interested--which to me, make them interesting.

Then I ask him about his two passengers in the Beaver with him. They are prisoners, and he is transporting them to a jail in British Columbia somewhere. How interesting, I speculate, that it must be in law enforcement up here. Why not a patrol plane? There aren't enough roads for a patrol car!

At 1:20 PM he alerts me to a left fork in the canyon. I learn that it is a graveyard for more than one unsuspecting pilot who wrongly assumed an incorrect course. In fact, as I look down our route in the Trench, the terrain rises, and the vanishing point looks like it ends in the clouds. It appears to be a dead end. The left fork, on the other hand, does appear to be the better choice, at least in these weather conditions. I certainly can see how a pilot could mistaken the left fork for the route to Prince George. For a pilot unfamiliar with the terrain, trouble definitely is waiting out here.

I am very fortunate. As we continue our journey, my guide informs me of every detail. A cabin here, a good fishing lake there, a plane wreck in there, etc. I don't have enough capacity to absorb all that is pointed out to me.

Pretty soon, I switch to the subject of bears. "Are they a problem?", I ask. He tells me that if someone survives a forced landing, and someone doesn't find them, a bear eventually will. So it is important to have a survival weapon.

"What do you have for a survival weapon?", he asks.

I tell him about my 12 gauge shotgun and ammunition, and he says, "I like the 870 and the #6 game shot, but you can throw away those slugs". He tells me #6 shot is the best defense against bears. A slug is good too, but you have to hit the bear in exactly the right spot to kill it. This is an unlikely feat for anyone while a large animal is bearing down, especially for a scared and potentially injured pilot. On the other hand, with small game shot, all you do is aim for the head to maximize the likelihood of blindly the bear. This is certain defense, the RCMP assures me.

I like and accept all of his advice about small game shot and bears, which, incidentally, never came up once, as I struggled for months researching the best solution for a survival weapon to be used in the bush. Most pilots, law enforcement types, and gun store employees (you know, the burly ones with plaid shirts), advised that a high-powered rifle was the only way to go. I resisted the rife idea because it did not seem to be an option for hunting game food. Others familiar with weapons argued for shotgun slugs. No one recommended bird shot or anything. I only happened to bring along #6 shot so that I could survive on fowl and small game, in the event of a forced landing. It is only a coincidence that I now have the best defense against bear too.

Time is moving so quickly as we continue our way through the Trench. I'd say the terrain here is 400 to 500 feet higher than at Watson Lake. In other words, the ceiling is now even lower. With these birds which we are flying, there is no way out of here except straight ahead or straight back.

Looking straight ahead, we must cross a saddle to reach Williston lake on the other side. The ceiling over the saddle looks to me to be only 800' or so. It looks tight for my experience, however, I can see it opens up quite a bit on the other side of the saddle.

At 2:08 PM we cross over Fort Ware, a small private strip, and now I can see Williston Lake which seems to continue with no end in sight. I wonder if the other end of the lake is out of view due to the curvature of the earth.

I once calculated that either end of the long San Mateo Bridge in the San Francisco area is approximately 65 feet lower on one end than the other. This is due to the curvature of the earth, like a ship at sea hidden from coastal viewers, when 7 or 8 miles out. In fact, when driving across the bay, for this reason, you cannot see the other end of the bridge at all, only the horizon in the foothills beyond.

Here we have a lake which is about 150 miles long. I wonder how much of this lake is invisible due to the curvature of the earth. Even at 1,000 feet of elevation, a substantial amount of this lake must be out of view. After all, VOR stations are strictly line-of-sight radio signals, and even when flying a mile high, they generally don't work past 70 to 80 miles (depending on the terrain of course). Now that I think about VOR stations, I now conclude that even if I were two miles above Williston Lake, I still would not be able to see the other end. After all, the drop-off with distance is not a linear function, but rather an exponential one. It is hard to perceive, but one end of this long lake is definitely more than two miles lower than the other.

"How's your fuel doing", my RCMP buddy calls on the radio.

Ingenika is about thirty minutes ahead and lies on the east shore of Williston Lake. The RCMP assures me they have fuel, because he was there only days ago to buy some, and they had plenty. I calculate that I will have been airborne more than 2.5 hours when we reach Ingenika. Ingenika is about half way, which means Prince George is another 2.5 hours further. Four hours aloft in this bird is possible, but five hours is definitely not workable. I decide to stop for fuel.

The RCMP informs me that while I am refueling at Ingenika, he will continue ahead so he can stop at a private strip to check on some native people. After I'm back in the air, I'm to call ahead and then we will rendez-vous in the air as we did before.

It is 2:35 PM while reconnoitering the situation at Ingenika, I notice a herd of horses grazing nonchalantly on the good sized strip below. I would not want to make horse meat out of any of them (or me). So I make a low pass to scare them away, which works. But by the time I reach final, the horses are all back on the runway again. So I do a go-around and scare them off again, only to be met with the same results after reaching final again. Now what?

I devise a strategy to drive the horses farther and farther from the strip by flying tight circles and scaring them. Horses are pretty smart. After I make a pass and circle away from them, I notice that they stop and look at me, waiting to see what I will do next. They want to make sure I will not come back and scare them again with another fly-by. When they see me coming again, they move a little farther. Then they stop and look at me some more after I fly by. When I think they are far enough away to make a safe landing, I make a run for final and land.

Sure enough, while taxing to the fuel barrels, the horses (every one of them) are back on the runway grazing away to their hearts content, oblivious to my noisy presence. It must have been a long winter for the horses.

Runway lights wouldn't do any good here. Imagine the thought of trying to land here at night knowing all these horses are around somewhere.

I taxi to the only obvious area for parking, and pretty soon a guy arrives in a pickup from a building about a quarter mile away. There are what appear to be 55 gallon drums scattered everywhere. Lots of them. He tells me the avgas is transported here in barrels via a barge on Williston Lake.

As luck would have it, I'm parked close enough to a full barrel of fuel. He tops my tanks using a hand pump and hose, which he gathers from his pickup. I don't expect him to take a credit card, but to my surprise he does. Only thing, he doesn't have an imprinter, so he completes the three-part invoice with a ball point pen. Out here, you improvise.

When I taxi back out, of course, the horses are still grazing away on their favorite pasture. They move out of my way, but after I complete my run-up, they are back in the middle of the strip again. Happily, the guy and his pickup assume the role of a sheep dog, and herds them well out of my way. He probably has to do this every time someone stops for fuel.

It is 3:20 PM when I lift off from Ingenika. With all the excitement of the horses and everything, I forgot all about the time, as well as my RCMP buddy. He's probably wondering where I am at. It's been almost an hour since we split up.

After thirty minutes of flight, the canyon walls are wider now, as is the lake too. The terrain on the canyon floor is lower than at Ingenika. Pretty soon, Williston Lake forks to the east, according to the chart, maybe 70 miles. The chart indicates a dam about midway between here and Fort Saint John (the place where I could have flown backwards while landing if I wanted to). It appears that dam is what forms and holds back the entire lake.

Off my right wing are two private strips. One of these, I think, is where the RCMP checked in, however, I do not see his plane anywhere in sight. I figure he is long gone. Anyway, the worst is over, so I make a bee-line for Prince George.

One thing though. I meant to ask him something. When I think about that huge polar bear in the lobby of the motel in Ft. Nelson, I do have my doubts about any shotgun having much good for defense. Would my shotgun be of much defense against such a huge animal? I would like to know what the RCMP thinks.

I decide to spend the night at Prince George, and wonder if the bartender, her boyfriend, and the security guard are around. I think I'm too exhausted for socializing, so I really don't make an effort to find them. I'm only in the mood for food and sleep, then I want to continue my journey home early in the morning. Besides, I really don't want to get stuck drinking a bunch of Moosehead beer again.

After refueling, I'm really exhausted and I don't feel like or want to travel the thirty miles into town. I would like to eat at the airport, then grab my sleeping bag and sack out again on the sofa at the EAA clubhouse on the field. I still have the combination to the lock on the door. I can't assume that I'm still welcome, so I scheme a little and think that if I don't turn on the clubhouse lights, maybe the security officer won't even notice my arrival. If she does, I'll invite her in. Will she be any the wiser that I'm not welcome? How would she know? Did she verify that I had permission the last time I was here? I doubt it.

My conscience overrules my desire to sleep in the clubhouse. It is just too bold for me. I think the better of it, so I catch a ride into town instead (and very tired).

The Anco Motel has a room for $28 (CDN); this is $2 more than they charged when I stayed here before. I guess when the temperature goes up around here, so does the price. After another very long day, I enjoy an abundant and hearty hot dinner. Then, I'm sound asleep in minutes.

Day 20, Prince George, British Columbia to Cashmere, Washington

Prince George is definitely the breakfast place for me. After a great lumberjack breakfast with the best bacon ever, I'm on my way again.

It takes me more than an hour to over-fly Williams Lake (where I had fuel pump failure when flying from Abbotsford), and another hour and a half to reach the field at Kamloops, British Columbia. I'm a little anxious to make some good flying time again today, so I only stop in Kamloops, British Columbia long enough to re-fuel.

My next objective is to fly southeast about 100 miles across 6,000' mountains in order to reach the beautiful Okanagan Valley, however, according to weather reports, direct VFR flight is not possible. The weather is localized over the mountains, so there's a chance that I will be able to find a way around it.

After more than an hour of trying to find a way over the mountains, it becomes apparent I can not reach the Okanagan Valley by flying southerly, unless I go all the way to west to Vancouver--at least a full day out of the way. I may as well stay over in Kamloops.

Before throwing in the towel for the day, I make one last attempt at reaching the Okanagan Valley. I fly east of Kamloops, then NE over a narrow lake. Here the ceiling is 2,000 feet with excellent visibility, so I continue, following the lake as it snakes around the mountains and eventually leading into the north end of the Okanagan Valley.

I'm a little uneasy flying between mountains below the weather like this, because 90 percent of all power line strikes (non-agricultural) occur under these conditions.

I use to have perpetual nightmares about getting trapped under power lines. Those dreams never included an actual power line strike, but I was always hopelessly trapped under an endless maze of power lines. No matter which way I turned my airplane, more power lines always appeared. My only escape was when I finally woke from my sleep.

I believe the source of these dreams goes back to my student pilot days in Las Cruces, New Mexico. That's when a student pilot struck high tension lines while on final to runway 2 at University field. The impact nearly sheared off the landing gear, and the airplane landed on its back. Luckily, the power lines slowed the craft enough prior to impact with the ground, and the pilot, although injured, was not killed.

While I was a member of the Mt. Diablo's Pilot's Association, the local utility company put on a seminar (which included a professionally produced documentary about power-line strikes) at one of our regular member meetings. That's when I learned that power line strikes don't occur (for the most part) in good weather. It's only when clouds force pilots close to the ground that 90 percent of the accidents occur. Mountain passes are especially dangerous, because utilities have the opportunity to save expensive infrastructure by just draping power lines across a valley.

Ever since that seminar, not once have I ever had another one of those nightmares. That's because I no longer have fear of flying into power lines, because I know when to be extra vigilant.

Even when I'm flying below the weather, as I am now, I'm confident I will not strike a power line, so long as I do not let my guard down. Like I said, I'm a little uneasy, but I have to be.

The weather in the Okanagan Valley is beautiful, as is the scenery along the Okanagan Lake which appears to be 100 miles long. This valley is a jewel.

After over-flying Kelowna, midpoint on the lake, I'm hungrier than a bear, so I stop at Penticton, which it at the south end of the lake and only 30 miles from the US border. Since re-fueling at Kamloops, I've only made 100 miles of progress (as a crow flies), but already I need more fuel.

I'm a little anxious because I want to make up for lost flying time, so I only stop long enough to have lunch, to re-fuel and to make arrangements with the US port of entry people at Oroville, Washington.

When I arrive in Oroville, no one is around. I'm the only person on the field. After about a twenty minute wait, I wish I hadn't notified the port people, and instead decided to just fly right on through this place. How would anyone know? There's no one out here.

When the female US official appears, I get the impression that she is a part-time employee assigned to the airport detail. I'm thinking if I had not come along today, she would not have had to put on her uniform and get ready. Therefore, I am being punished because I interrupted what otherwise may have been an undisturbed day for her.

She is a nice enough lady, and soon I forget all about my impetuous thoughts. After exchanging formalities, I'm on my way and back in the air flying south again.

Within an hour, I'm approaching the Chelan airport. Below my left wing is my friend's ranch and its short dirt strip. There is no indication that anyone is around, otherwise, I certainly would drop in.

Looking off my right wind is Lake Chelan, a 50 mile long narrow lake between tall mountains.

So far this has been a long day, and it is getting late. At this point Wenatchee, WA would be a good place to stop for the night, however, I know of a tiny, sleepy town with an airport within walking distance of the community. Cashmere, WA is nestled in a canyon of the Cascades about 25 miles northwest of Wenatchee.

I'm on final to the little airport. The strip is very short, and I'm in doubt that I will not touch down soon enough, so I go around for another try.

On final again, I'm doing better this time, but I'm a little hot, and when I touch down I apply the brakes hard. Suddenly, my right wing drops, and now I'm veering off the runway to the right. I must of blown a tire. No amount of effort on the controls can keep me on course. In a flash, I'm on the grass, and just as soon I'm traveling sideways. When I finally come to a complete stop, my airplane is perpendicular to the runway behind me.

I think to myself "Cashmere traffic, 14H, clear of the active".

Sure enough, my right tire is flat, and my airplane looks crippled on the grass, listing severely. It is apparent I will need a new tire. Useless now, I have two brand new tires back in Los Altos, California.

Within minutes, a man arrives in a pickup truck and introduces himself. He is a pilot and says he heard me go around and decided to drive over to see who I am.

By now it is getting dark, and using his pickup and a rope, we drag my disabled airplane to a tie-down spot. We conclude tomorrow may be a better day to deal with this new setback.

In the fashion of bush people farther north, my new Samaritan aviator tells me I can bunk for the night in the airport pilot's clubhouse. He will come back in the morning and help me deal with the flat tire.

After dining on snacks which I buy from a small shop two blocks from the field, I retrieve my sleeping bag and prepare to sack out in the bunk house. While doing this, I meet a lady who lives in a mobile home on the field not more than 200 feet from my clubhouse quarters. She tells me she provides night watchman services at the airport in exchange for the use of the mobile home she lives in.

After chatting with her for a while, she invites me into here home for a beer. Being a complete stranger, accepting such an offer (after dark) is a little uncomfortable for me, because I worry that she might wonder if I'm Jack the Ripper. Nonetheless, I accept anyway.

Once inside, there are two huge great Danes curiously starring at me. After they settle down, one jumps on the couch. The other one would get on the sofa too, except there is only room for one dog at a time.

My host is very friendly (or lonely), and is completely comfortable with a total stranger in her home at night, although I'm not so sure I'm all that comfortable being here with a couple of unpredictable 100 pound pooches. She could care less if she invites in Jack the Ripper, the dogs are so bored they would welcome the excitement.

After I finish one beer, I'm tired and sleepy, so I excuse myself to the club house.

Day 21, Cashmere, Washington to Palo Alto, California

Early in the morning I meet a pilot who is already fiddling on an Aeronca Champ. He figures right away I'm the one with the Ercoupe, and offers to help me out. We use his car jack to raise the right wing and remove the flat tire. He tells me the closest place for airplane parts is in Winatchee, and he gives me the phone number for Columbia Skyways. If they have what I need, he will fly me down there in the Aeronca.

Within an hour, we are back from the Wenatchee airport with a brand new tire and tube from Columbia Skyways, which costs me $72.81 & $30.32 respectively, plus tax (I hope you guys get your comeuppance, only in the form of a real robbery).

We mount the tire with the help and tools of the guy from last night, and by noon the installation is complete and tested.

It isn't long before I'm back in the air and flying to Winatchee for fuel and much needed lunch.

Then I'm on a long leg to Redmond Oregon, and then another leg to Corning, California.

It is already dark and the air is calm as I approach the San Francisco Bay Area. I skirt Buchanan Field and Mt. Diablo, then head generally towards Palo Alto. When I report over the Dumbarton Bridge, I'm the only one in the control area, and the tower gives me clearance to land.

By the time I reach familiar surroundings in my friend's home in Los Altos, I'm totally exhausted. Three days of marathon flying, non-stop from Whitehorse to Palo Alto, is more than any pilot should attempt. But it was worth it, because I'm home again. How sweet it is.

The End.

 
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