It is a very sad day, because Anna Sky Dancer is completing her first part of the Canadian Arctic Aviation tour, phase 1 (Western part). I may rejoin the Tour in the Phase 2, on the East Coast of Canada. This part is still in the planning stage at this time. But for now, it’s time to go home soon. It’s a bittersweet feeling. I missed home, family and team of the flight school. I met many new friends here up North, and I know that I will be back here. I tried not to make it too hard, and “rip off the band-aid”: a few hugs to the team and the Fort Smith welcoming ground crew, and I was on my way to Fairview, AB.
The trip was scenic, but it was more and more “civilized” scenic. More groomed fields, more towns, bigger and bigger every time.
At Fairview, I figured that I have another two hours before dark, and decided to go for another short leg of 170 nautical miles to MacKenzie, BC. For those who are familiar with mountain flying, will remember that strong winds between cumulus granitus are no fun. From Fort Smith to Fairview, I had 10-30 knots of headwind and constant light chop. But now it was getting serious.
Imagine air is water. How would water behave if it was rolling fast over the mountains. Both air and water are fluids, therefore their behavior is very similar. So on the lee side of the mountain ridge, you often encounter downdrafts for this reason. It’s all a very cool theory when you teach it on a local mountain flying course. It was no theory that night. I was approaching MacKenzie with only 10 minutes to spare before dark, and no night lighting at the airport. Winds were so strong that with full power, and indicated airspeed of only 80 mph at 10000 feel of altitude, I could barely maintain altitude. My ground speed at that time was dropping down to 44 knots. So I was questioning if I was really “approaching” MacKenzie.
I was already about to turn around and go to Fort St John if I was not able to cross this mountain ridge. Or continue another 100 miles or so at night in the mountains to Prince George, nearest airport certified for night operations. But citabria once again was a brave little plane that persevered, and picking up speed in a steep descent, we landed 7 minutes before the official night MacKenzie. To a big surprise after the upper level storm, there was not a slightest air movement on the surface.
I was back at my favorite fuel stop. Don’t take the deceiving friends surroundings for granted – grizzlies are near. But people are here extremely welcoming and friendly! I was actually so tired after 6 hours of constant turbulence, that I was ready to pull out my sleeping bag and camp under the wing – I had my bear repellent with me after all! (A nice 12-gauge shotgun from Seraphim Armoury in Abbotsford). But what was worse than bears – are the mosquitos that invaded the cockpit and took a few bites out of me before I had a chance to put a jacket on!
So I phoned the Willinston Lake Lodge for an overnight stay. The nice Chinese lady at the reception took my booking for a standard room, then asked if she would make me happy if she put me in a King bed room. I said it would be lovely. So she just upgraded me to a very nice King bed suite – “Here, she said, I’m glad I can make you happy”.
Vicky from Trench Aviation Fuel was an angel. She drove back from the airport to the motel to pick me up, then made be toast and strawberry with cream for breakfast. On the way to the airport we met a local deer family, unafraid of people.
And while fueling, the crew of the next plane parked arrived – Kisik aerial survey pilots, our neighbors from Boundary Bay airport! If there are coincidences, this morning was definitely packed with nice ones :)
That day, I could only make it as far as Kamloops. Vancouver is still IFR weather all day.Starting our flight school base in Kamloops 5 years ago was one of the best decisions. Since then it has been not only a year-round good weather training base for our students, but also a safe haven "home away from home" returning from long trips, when Vancouver coastal weather was prohibitive. In 2015, I returned to Kamloops from the Atlantic coast, last year from Alaska, and today from the Canadian Arctic Aviation Tour. Love Kamloops!
The next day, weather cleared up and it was just a short 140 nautical miles leg to the home base. As I was flying over the snow covered peaks, I was reminded how privileged we are to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the most beautiful country, and having these mountains, glaciers and lakes literally on our back yard.
And it was nice for once to have the GPS always showing you way. In the Arctic it was giving up on me often, switching to “dead reckoning” mode a few times per hour. As you remember, there are no GNSS satellites North of 60th. So satellite availability becomes less and less, the further North you go.
Disturbing thing coming to the Lower Mainland was the traffic. Vancouver terminal controller right away told me to stay away from his space because he is too busy, and Pitt Meadows guy pointed out three potential traffic conflicts right away. In the North, we were the entertainment of the week (or month?) for any traffic advisor up there! And seeing no other planes for hundreds of miles…
Landing in Boundary Bay and unpacking the plane. I departed on the trip with lots of equipment and “stuff”, trying to be prepared for any possible scenario I’d encounter up North. I ended up throwing away a lot of meaningless things. And coming back with three bags of gifts and treasures instead: gifts received from the people of the North (including Duchess’s Camelia moccasins :) ), gifts bought supporting the local artists, for the friends and the loved ones back home. More important – most valuable and totally not affecting the Weight&Balance of the plane – gifts of new relationships and experiences, in your mind and heart. They will stay with me forever.
I definitely know why so many people go up North for ten days and stay for ten years. I know that I may be back in the Phase 2 of the Arctic Tour. I know that I will be back up North one way or the other. I hope if you had a chance to follow me for these three weeks online, you will want to go up North and discover it for yourself first-hand - because it’s one of the most amazing experiences you will have.
I’m proud to be Canadian. I have heard our anthem sung in English, French and Inuktitut over the frozen Arctic ocean. I have seen the most beautiful sceneries, the most exotic wildlife and the most fascinating rich cultures. I am in love with Canada. We are “TRUE NORTH, STRONG AND FREE”. Happy Canada’s 150th!