330 AM: the alarm sounds. I hit the snooze button and close my eyes thinking how nice it would be to get another hour of sleep. Then I think about how smooth a flight it will be if I get an early enough start before any turbulence builds up from the sun’s heating of the earth’s surface.
I get myself out of bed and take a peek outside the window. So this is what they mean when they say it doesn’t get dark in Alaska or northern Canada. It looks like the wee hours of the morning right before sunrise – it looks like it should be 5 AM instead of 3:30 AM.
I shower, get dressed, and then head out to the airport across the street. After draining the fuel, checking the oil, and looking over all the airplane’s surfaces, I get in the airplane and call the weather briefer. She takes my flight plan information and files it for me to open after I take off.
The weather is perfect! Clear and cool, Moose climbs to 8,500 without any problem. My next stop is Dease Lake for some fuel. When I land, the place looks completely deserted. It’s still before 8 AM and I’m hoping there’s some sort of self-serve fuel pump here. But, the only fuel tanks I find are full of Jet A for what appears to be the daily flights that come in and out from other parts of Canada.
I shut the engine down and walk out to see if I can find a phone somewhere since I don’t have any cell phone service here. I walk along the ramp until I come to a small cluster of trailers. I open the door to one and walk in. I find a phone and call the briefer. After closing my flight plan and filing the one for my next leg, I try calling the phone number listed on the Canadian supplement for fuel service on the field, but there’s no answer.
I hang up and go see if I can find any form of life on the airport. I enter a hallway and it looks like I’m in some sort of holding trailer – there are closed doors lined up on both sides of the hallway. I get the funny feeling that there are men sleeping behind those doors in makeshift motel rooms.
So, I quickly get out of there and walk back outside where I spot some more fuel tanks at the very end of the field. I had taxied there already before I parked the airplane where it currently sat, but decided to turn around because the up-sloping piece of pavement that went to that area looked more like a driveway than anything an airplane should be taxiing on. But as I start walking in the direction I see a couple of men loading up a pick-up truck.
When I get there, a very handsome, tall man smiles and walks over to me.
“Hi. Where can I find some Avgas?” I ask.
“Right here,” he says. “Just taxi your airplane up this driveway and we’ll help you out.”
“Ok. I parked way over there, I didn’t see you guys down here. Did you just open at 9am?”
“No, we’re always open,” he winks.
So, after walking what seemed like a mile back to the airplane, I taxi up and get fuel at Pacific Western Helicopters. The guys there look busy getting ready to go somewhere, some in the pick-up and some in a helicopter. After, I finish paying, I quickly hop in the airplane, start it up, and taxi out. I’m anxious to get back in the air and get going. It’s only just after 9AM, if I’m lucky I can make it all the way to the US border today.
Flying along my route, I take out the chicken quesadilla that I had ordered the night before. Knowing that I would not have time for breakfast, I had decided to make use of the small refrigerator that the Airport Chalet had in each room. After dinner, I ordered a quesadilla to go and had been warming it up by placing it on the floor of the copilot seat where the warm air was blowing from the passenger heating system. I’m not too picky when I’m hungry, so this morning’s ferry pilot breakfast wasn’t as good as yesterday’s, but it was good enough.
Smithers is my next fuel stop. The nice thing about Smithers is that it was full service, so I could go inside and use the facilities while the airplane was getting fueled. It still was nothing like the FBO’s we have in the US. I was lucky to find the restroom, but it was better than Dease Lake where it wasn’t even obvious where the fuel tanks with Avgas were. Smithers, I remember was where we stayed our first night on the way up to Alaska a few years ago. The people were nice enough to give us rides and helped us get an early start the next day. But, this time, I was only passing through.
The rest of the journey for me was marked by turbulence and transponder trouble. After stopping in Williams Lake for some more fuel, I realized that I could keep going and get to Seattle by 6PM. So, I called the US Customs and Border Patrol and informed them of my ETA. But, once in flight, I was afraid I might be late due to the dodging of some building cumulus clouds and some minor headwinds. I could see dirt roads and trails that ran through some ranges that I had originally planned on circumnavigating, so I decided to fly along those to make up a little bit of time.
I was able to make up time and was doing well until I started getting near Vancouver airspace. I had been in contact with Vancouver Center so that I didn’t surprise them when I tried to fly under their veil, but as I got closer they informed me that they were unable to see me on their radar – they were not picking up my transponder’s signals. So, I had to basically circumnavigate their airspace as well.
Even with that minor detour, I made it to my airport of entry only 5 minutes late, landing at 6:05PM. The customs patrol officer was waiting for me when I taxied to customs and shut down the engine. He came up and drilled me with all sorts of questions. I answered everything to his satisfaction and he finally left me alone.
Finally! A few days of rest lay ahead of me and possibly some time with Moose – that is, if I can figure out what’s wrong with the transponder.
Nice to read more about your adventures and experiences. Thanks for taking time to share in detail about it over here