Part 1: Coming Full Circle (Mark)
As was the case the night before at Buffalo Pound Lake outside of Moose Jaw, a full moon enlightened the tents all night long on the shores of Eagle Lake. A full moon seems to carry with it some odd powers, and as was the case the night before, nearby dens of coyotes howled their form of text messages back and forth to each other, gossiping most of the night.
Unlike wolves that have a distinctive howl, coyote howling seems to be a family affair. The coyote song combines a plethora of voices from a high pitched “yip yip yip” to a small-dog-accidentally-kicked-under-the-dinner-table yelp, to a melancholic screech, in a chaotic serenade that crescendos for a moment, and then dies off. Separately located dens provide a stereo affect. Dozing off in your sleeping bag, you convince yourself that they are finished for the night. Then you faintly hear the class clown coyote, (you know the one, he just can’t keep his mouth shut) with his evil coyote smirk and his wimpy little whelp, and the rest of the colony can’t help themselves, and the whole rock show starts all over again. The cacophony is exacerbated by the fact that the classical music lovers of Eagle Lake, the mallards, Canada geese, and frogs that are so plentiful there, try to drown out the imposing rock stars with their own concert.
So much for sound sleep at Eagle Lake. It was magnificent, however, and well worth the lack of sleep on the eve of our homeward leg.
The dawn brought more moonlight, cool still air, a blanket of dew on the tents and a blanket of fog on the lake. Autumn is coming to Alberta. We awoke to country music, as one of the heifers from a nearby farm must have gotten separated from her cow gang and started bawling. One could hear lousy cow impersonations coming from the tents as well.
Leslie Pringle of the Eagle Lake RV Resort (www.eaglelakervresort.com) graciously offered her fax machine for faxing our customs forms to Seattle, as well as a send-off cup of coffee. Thank you again Leslie, for the hospitality.
The Beavers broke glassy water and started the arduous westbound climb towards the Rocky Mountains in smooth air on what promised to be a perfect last day of flying. The day did not disappoint.
As the heavy Beavers got busy with their morning chores in workmanlike fashion, slowly gaining altitude in warm inversion temperatures, we followed the highway out of Calgary up through spectacular Banff Provincial Park. Doug Devries recalled a 1982 venture when he and a friend pedaled 750 miles from Calgary to Vancouver over this same highway, albeit with fewer lanes and less traveled than it is today. This was just an earlier version of ambitious adventure for Doug. My experience is that if you hang out with him long enough, you will find yourself engrossed in some wild scheme to bike, canoe, dog sled or fly to a far region of the earth. The bumper sticker “Get in, sit down, hang on, and shut-up!” comes to mind. I realize that I have been hanging on for 45 days now, and am happy for it. In some way, I realize that I am better for it as well.
The Rockies regaled us with striking granite monoliths sporting dustings of snow on the upper ledges, hanging glaciers, and small glacier-fed lakes in every conceivable shade of green and blue. We buzzed our good friends John Hamler and Cindy Helgesen at Big White Mountain outside of Kelowna, BC. Chatter on the radio and within the cockpit was friendly and fun, as the six of us tried to capture one last time and hopefully for all of memory the joys of our hours together. Jocular ribbing was frequently accentuated with a “woo hoo!” or a “hoo ahh!” or a “What’s your position?” or a “Roger that.”
We touched down for our last fuel stop on beautiful Skaha Lake in the arid town of Penticton, BC. We were cutting the corner for home like horses returning to the barn, deviating from our original published course, which included two stops after Calgary in Vernon and Mission, BC.
As we slid onto the beach, our good friends Fred and Dawn Hamilton of High Arctic Lodge were pulling their Beaver C-GSUE out of the water and across the highway to the Penticton airport for the winter. Fred had quite coincidentally, just moments before our arrival, returned from his season at Cambridge Bay. We joked that poor Fred had been flying across Canada trying to avoid the two pesky Beavers from the US, but no matter where he went, from the 69th parallel of Cambridge Bay, to the 49th parallel of Penticton, he just couldn’t get away from us. It was a friendly reception on the beach under the hot BC sun.
With a mere three and a half hours of fresh fuel on board, and flight plans filed for two hours to Kenmore Air (KS60), we took off in formation for our final leg, turning an early crosswind to avoid one of the many fire bombers based in Penticton. She was taking off on another run to douse a forest fire in this scorched country. The skies were also a-buzz with helicopters, tethering water buckets replenished in Skaha Lake and zipping off towards ribbons of rising smoke emerging out of nearby deep canyons. What a contrast to our Arctic ports of call!
Another slow climb ensued and the last vestiges of this mountainous region of Southern BC passed by under the EDO’s. (The floats on the Beaver.) As we crossed the 49th parallel into familiar US airspace, Doug and Mark shared some thoughts on the radio, mostly thanking each other for making such an adventure a reality. We recalled the high points of the Yukon, Bathhurst Inlet, landing at Resolute Lake, ice bergs, polar bears, the Maine Fly-in, Ottawa, and of course, our magical evening with the legends of De Havilland in Toronto. We also recalled some tough times such as the difficult leg to Resolute, the treacherous arrival at Baker Lake, the endless low pressure trough swirling around the 60th parallel, and the biting Arctic wind that somehow pierces the best windbreakers money can buy.
The real high point though for both of us has undoubtedly been the people: The wonderfully diverse cultures of Canada; The warm and generous Canadians in every corner of this amazing country that came out to greet and assist us when we needed it most; The RCMP officers that came to our aid in the Arctic villages; Our gracious hosts in Maine, Ottawa and Toronto; Our valued team members Tom F., Tom M., Jani, Dan S., Michael, Steve, Dick, Vince, Dan N., David, Lisa, Robbi, Norma, Rick, Doug N. and Brian, who supported us in so many ways, lifted our spirits from segment to segment with fresh team chemistry, brought in food and treats from home as well as good weather, did so much of the hard labor required to load and unload airplanes on windy beaches in driving rains, and set up the camps and got dinner going night after night; Our camera crew of Eric Thiermann and Jim Clark that willingly traded the comforts of a studio for the rigors of the Arctic to capture some amazing images of our adventure for a movie later. They are both consummate professionals, always ready with a smile and a laugh to lighten the sternest mood; The web subscribers that have faithfully followed our progress, sent us emails of encouragement, endured our occasional technological shortcomings, and flattered us with your genuine interest; Our support crew at home of David and Carol Good, Robbi Devries, Emmy Schoening, Carol Murphy and Brian Marquardt; And finally, our dear family and friends that encouraged us, tolerated our absences and financial excesses without complaint, and welcomed us back with open arms. Thank you all for making this trip possible.
We cleared the tall ridges of the North Cascades and started the long high speed slide (if you call 130 mph “high speed”) from altitude to avoid the floor of the Seattle Class B Airspace. Doug remarked that we didn’t have to fly far from home to witness some of the finest scenery in North America, a subject on which we are now experts. As the North end of Lake Washington came into view, we couldn’t resist a low pass over Kenmore and Arrowhead Point on approach. We had to readjust our approach path for the many boaters out enjoying a perfect September afternoon. Boats? Now there’s something we haven’t had to deal with in a while!
As we pulled into the familiar Kenmore Air dock to clear customs, we couldn’t help noticing a small gathering of friends and family there to welcome us home. After customs, long awaited hugs and handshakes were exchanged on the dock. Thanks to friends Van and Eve Van Rennes, Matt Mostad with Cooper and Cos, as well as Phyllis and Ken Smith for taking time out to come down and greet us. Also on the dock were Robbi and Doug’s mom, Mary Lou, with Mark’s wife Emmy and son, Brian. Greg Munro, Director of Operations for Kenmore Air, and Todd Banks, the GM, offered congratulations.
Then it was back to Doug’s house for a neighborhood reception graciously hosted by Robbi. Mark and son Brian jumped off N2SF to cool off. Mark’s two year old niece, Ava, not recognizing her bearded uncle asked “Where’s Uncle Mark?” Our thanks go to our neighbors that joined to make it a special homecoming for all of us. It was a wonderful finale to our Great Arctic Air Adventure.
Tonight’s shout out goes once again to our hosts at the Toronto Aerospace Museum, with some corrections for Episode 40. The Board members in attendance were Ken Swartz, Lyle Abbott and Robert Cohen, the Marketing Chair. Not only did we miss Wayne Barrett’s name, referring to him as “Dwayne”, but we neglected to mention that he is the Chairman of the Museum. It turns out, that Wayne personally sponsored the dinner. Wayne, please do not let the fact that we missed your name interfere with the warm regards we have towards you, and our debt of gratitude to you for making this once-in-a-lifetime event possible for us! We will always remember. Thank you, Ken, for pointing out the errors.
Evening has now settled on the Arrowhead Point community. A full moon rises over Lake Washington, with its ribbon of light sparkling on the calm waters of twilight. They glisten off the wing tops of N2SF, parked at the head of the dock still loaded with freeze-dried food and GAAA gear, a job for tomorrow. Could it possibly be the same Canadian moon that caused the peaks of the Yukon to glow? Could it possibly be the same Canadian moon that electrified the ice bergs off Resolute Bay with their florescent light? Or the same Canadian moon that woke up the coyotes of Saskatchewan and Alberta?
We’ve indeed come full circle.
Part II: Episode 45: Reflections on The Last Imaginary Place (Doug)
On Day 45, the last day of our arctic odyssey, our flight took us across both the Canadian Rockies and the North Cascade mountain ranges. The jagged peaks and icy glaciers provided by any measure some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Oddly, as this dramatic panorama unfolded below, we were delighted, yet not moved as we were by the relatively drab arctic tundra. The gorgeous beauty of our home turf was a familiar and welcome site, but our lack of awe and wonder started me musing about the allure of exotic places.
The need for change and variation is a basic human need, though it often goes unrecognized and as a result unmet as our lives unfold. How many times have we seen the careers of our fellows begin as a passion, transition to a responsibility, and ultimately end up as a burden? For me, our travels through the arctic, though at times harsh and unforgiving, satisfied that need for change, as it was a land of unknown people and places.
In the book, The Last Imaginary Place, Robert McGhee opens with a discussion of why the arctic so effectively captures our imagination. Historically, we as humans tend to fill in the gaps of our knowledge with assumed truths or myths. The sun was a God that must be appeased, and the earth was a flat plate that dropped off into an abyss at the edges. As both travel and knowledge increased, the myths were replaced by scientific explanations, but not without a cost. The allure of the unknown is a powerful force and makes for a great story, and so it is today that we still enjoy a good yarn about the latest Sasquatch sighting, or the origin of crop circles.
The arctic is still a relatively inaccessible place – you really can’t book a “Pleasant Arctic Holiday” cruise through your local travel agent. Nunavut, the largest Canadian arctic territory, encompasses 750,000 square miles, yet has a total population of less than 30,000 people, making it one of the least populated places on earth. This is a place beyond the end of the road, a land that does not support the basics of food production such as farming or ranching. Wood, still the most commonly used building material of our society, is non-existent in the arctic. Visitors must adapt – the arctic is unyielding and unforgiving.
Our time machine, the venerable de Havilland Beaver seaplane, provided unique access and insights to this unfamiliar place. By air, from our vantage high above the ground, we observed the “big picture”, a mosaic of lakes and rolling tundra, punctuated by the occasional esker rising from the plain. Upon landing, our craft became a boat, conveying us to the shores where we set up our nightly camps. Once on the tundra, we experienced the other arctic, an unexpected ecosystem teaming with life against seemingly impossible odds. A curious ferret popping up from the tundra like a jack-in-the-box, a pair of sik-siks scolding the intruders, a curious caribou wandering by to gawk at the visitors who dropped in from the sky, a pair of regal arctic swans floating in the distance, all part of a community of life thriving in an unlikely place.
I’m home now, and trying to re-integrate into my old life – a great one to be sure – but as I fumble with the now-confusing digital remote control, or inch along the traffic jam on highway 405, my mind returns to the arctic, the last imaginary place.
Hmmm, we still have that unused fuel sitting up there in Eureka…
From N47d.44m.12s., W122d.15m.59s.,
With warm regards and our heartfelt thanks for your support,
The GAAA Team
PS: What’s Next?
Over the next few weeks, Mark and Doug will be reviewing the video footage with videographers Jim and Eric, devising a plan to bring this amazing adventure to life in the form of a film. We plan to update on our activities around the first of each month, through both the email list and the BLOG, so check back often for new info on our progress.