View Full Version : Waynesville to Alaska - Week One

02-01-2002, 10:26 PM
Waynesville to Alaska
by Rick Sanson
Week One of Three

Day One

On Friday June 22, 2001 my buddy Charley and I left our 3500? turf airfield in Waynesville, Ohio (40I) destined for Alaska. We weren?t sure exactly where in Alaska but we were going. I had planned this trip since I bought my 1970 150hp Super Cub two years earlier but Charley has been planning it for 30 years. I?ve only been flying for 5 years so he had to be more excited about it ?cause he?s been waiting a little longer then me. http://www.pbase.com/image/1047835/medium

My route called for a 3297.6 (statute) mile one-way trip to (begin with) Fairbanks Intl (PAFA) and I thought that this is going to be a long trip. To my surprise, at least five of our friends showed up to see us off and several others called my cell phone just to wish us well. I don?t know about anyone else, but that kind of support was very well appreciated.

That morning the ceiling was too low to go and we waited. My Super Cub was a bit (150lbs) over weight but we launched at about 11:00am for Kankakee, Ill. (KIKK). The ceiling lifted as we moved west. Stopped in Kankakee for aviation fuel and people fuel then left for beautiful Winona Minnesota (KONA) for more fuel and my Mom?s snicker-doodle cookies. http://www.pbase.com/image/214713/medium. We?re now about 490 statute miles from home.

Next stop was Wilmer, Minnesota (Home of Jenny O Turkeys) which has a beautiful N-S grass strip in addition to the paved strip. This was the last stop for the day. Beers and sleep awaited us in the No-tell Motel and the service at the Applebee?s in Wilmer was the pits! The folks at the airport are great. Fuel was about $2:30 for 100LL. My GPS told me that we were 697 statute miles from home. I?ve never flown that far before and I?m thinking I?m in the far North.

Charley is my flying buddy and I?ve learned more about flying from him than probably anyone. Charley hates being on the ground. He?d rather sleep in an airplane than in a bed. He?s got some ex-wives that will attest to that too. In fact, I think a few of them did in court on one occasion or two but that?s his story.

Day Two

Anyway, Sat. June 23, 2001 at 9:00am (I hate mornings) and off we headed towards Jamestown, North Dakota 213 miles away. There are some pretty isolated country roads around those parts and if a fellow had to pee he could land on a nice paved back road to take a leak and a few pictures. http://www.pbase.com/image/214729. None-the-less, the country is very flat and we flew about 50 to 100 feet off the ground for the next, maybe, 700 miles. Of course we climbed to land where we had too. http://www.pbase.com/image/214728

This was the beginning of the real adventure for us. We charted our routes on the sectionals and followed them exactly via pilotage and GPS. We flew so low that we could see lots of things we couldn?t see from 200 feet. Charley would warn of an occasional tower and we did this for hours. This is the way to go in my opinion. I could land just about anywhere. The winds were less of a factor that low and crop dusters were nowhere to be found. If you take this route be sure and look for the NORAD missile silos scattered about the country side. http://www.pbase.com/image/214737/medium

We climbed to land in Jamestown, North Dakota. Got more fuel, had a coke and launched for Minot, North Dakota. We tried to fly at tree-top level but there weren?t any trees. We then flew what we thought was tree-top level for about 213 miles.

Minot is the place where we would file an international flight plan for the next stop being Regina, Sask. The airport authority there has a Jeep Cherokee to use (for free) and we headed to KFC for lunch. We then bought our US Customs sticker ($25.00) and then filed our flight plan for Regina Sask. That leg was worth about 3 hour?s time (214 statute miles) and we had a constant cross-wind of about 25 ? 30 mph although it was generally smooth. Of course we flew very low the whole way, climbed to pattern (circuit) altitude for Regina and called approach. http://www.pbase.com/image/214745 They were great! They did vector me around just a little but before I knew it we were being given progressive taxi instructions to the little customs shack. http://www.pbase.com/image/214748/medium

As I was carrying a rifle Canadian customs required that I show them the weapon and then register it. That cost about $35.00 US and I was done in about 20 minutes. The customs official was very polite and considerate and seemed interested in our trip. We did not use CANPASS to enter the country. They didn?t ask for my aircraft registration or Charlie?s driver?s license. They did ask to see my driver?s license as I needed it to register my weapon. I was given a registration number for my weapon for use in returning to Canada after reaching Alaska. This entire process is smooth and effective.

We got more fuel and went to the FSS in Regina for a briefing and to file a flight plan. Canadian flight service is very, very cool! There is a FSS on most every field and they have the latest weather. They describe the weather in common terms. In fact, when you land, they will automatically close your flight plan for you. I became good friends with the Regina FSS guys on the return flight?

We bolted for Saskatoon, SK. (CYXE) 149 miles away and once again flew just high enough to clear the cattle and occasional telephone pole. The longer I tell this story the lower we flew but anyway, we finally arrived in Saskatoon in the late evening. Wheew, my GPS told me that we flew 727 miles in about 9 hours and a lot of that was into a head wind. That was a long day. Off to the No-tell Motel for a few beers, some french fries with gravy and some little Canadian honey wearing FMC chaps?

We?re two days out of Waynesville which is about 30 miles north of Cincinnati. We?ve traveled 1419 statue miles (excluding the, ?Did you see that? No, I didn?t!? turn-arounds). Now I really feel like we?ve hit the far North. We?ve seen a lot of country and haven?t been bored for one minute. When we left Waynesville my airplane had about 70 hours on a 160hp Superior ?Millenium? rebuild and is strong. The only problem so far was my transponder died the first day out but who needs a transponder anyway. Things are looking very good for this trip.

Day Three

A cold front entered this region and it rained all night. When we got to the airport the ceiling was right at a 1000? with light rain and flight service said it was like that for most of the way to Edmonton, Alberta City Center. I filed direct to Edmonton at 2500? (Saskatoon is at about 2000?) and took off. What we, down in the lower 48, call scud-running they call a flight plan! What fun! http://www.pbase.com/image/215434/medium

Next stop is Edmonton, Alberta and is about 300 statute miles away. Here is the beginning of the question and answer period:

Q - How high did we fly?
A ? I could see the plaid pattern on the fabric of some kitchen chairs in someone?s house.

The weather was getting worse and I wanted to go by and see Phil Kite at Twin Island Air Park just outside of Edmonton but decided to land at Cooking Lake which is a seaplane base south of the city. Cooking lake is a nice place but has few facilities. We saw a C-172 with the tail number C-FEAR which I thought was cool. Anyway we left after an hour or so and landed at City Center. The weather became poor west of Edmonton and we decided to stay. The ESSO FBO got us a great rate across the street at a Hyatt or something for $33.00 US a night. It was nice hotel really! See the ESSO people at City Center. There were no tie-downs there and I had brought my own (Good Idea!). I was the only airplane tied down in the grass in the whole place. Bonanzas, King Airs, Helicopters, 737?s and one little Super Cub tied down in the grass. Too bad I don?t have a picture of that! The ESSO people treated us like Kings anyway! http://www.pbase.com/image/215439/medium

Here we had our first of several rain-outs. The food in Edmonton is good; the people are as usual, friendly and helpful. We waited 24 hours before we left which put us out of Edmonton at about 2:00pm the next day. That isn?t too bad a wait! http://www.pbase.com/image/215446/medium

Be sure, when flying into these areas to tell the approach or the tower you?ve never flown into their facility. They will give ground references and are very helpful in getting you safely into and out of their airport. Like I said, my transponder had bit the dust and it was not a problem at all! They told me what to look for on the ground and to tell them when I got there. It worked that way in Anchorage too.

Day Four

We departed Edmonton City Center at about 2:00pm local time for Grand Prairie, Alberta via White Court, Alberta. I?m not sure of the distance but I think it?s about 225 miles. All was well for about forty five minutes until we got close to White Court Alberta. There are two north ? south ridges that almost meet just east of White Court and it seems that the weather bunches up here. So, we go left and right and left and right and finally see a cell spitting thunder, lightning, cows, chickens and ruby-red slippers. The chart shows some rather tall towers just north of the main road and the cell is just south of the main road which we need to follow west bound. We can see cleanly west along the road and shoot for it. Sure as my family is from West, By God, Virginia I keep the road right under my tightly puckered butt and Ka-Boom lightening strikes very near my bobber of an airplane. Charley has been around the patch a time or two, has seen a few things and has quite a pair, but at this moment in time we?re both reduced to quivering little banty chickens. My Super Cub?s redline is 2750 rpm and I about shoved the throttle through to tomorrow. 2750 rpm and 70 mph don?t make for a speedy getaway but getaway we did. Charley resumed his cool and collected self and off we went to Grand Prairie albeit considerably more humbled by the experience. I dreaded, for the rest of the trip, returning back through Grand Prairie.

The scenery started changing dramatically here. In place of flat, farmlands were forests. We flew across these forests (rather than the road) to Grand Prairie where just like its name, is a large prairie with rolling hills and forests. After we landed and were taxiing to get fuel we noticed people waving at us and I thought that we may have screwed up but they were, in fact, trying to get us to come to their FBO for fuel. That was interesting! Three gas stations and three guys doing the ?taxi forward? motion with their arms. I pass the first one and his ?taxi forward? motion turns into a ?turn left? motion that turns into a ?I?m number one? gesture. Same with number two. We top off with gas at Shell (for like $4.00/gal) and head for Ft. St. John BC.

We took off for Ft. St. John, British Columbia feeling like we were really making progress. We flew over Mile Marker 0 of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, BC. We were still maybe 1260 statute miles from Fairbanks as we passed over Mile Marker 0. The terrain was still changing and larger elevation differences confronted us. Now we?re in the far North I think. We just weren?t flying as low now for some reason! http://www.pbase.com/image/215459/medium

We landed in Ft. St. John, BC and were immediately attacked by the locals! Thousands of mosquitos invaded the cockpit as we opened the door. I?m not allergic to anything and that seemed to make the mosquitos mad. They must have called all their obnoxious friends to come over and play ?cause I still carry the scars, both physical and emotional, from their attacks. Pit Bulls have nothing on these guys. We ran, not walked to the FSS for cover.

There are a lot of gas and oil wells around Ft. St. John. I couldn?t find a tie-down and didn?t feel like feeding the vampires any more so I found some 200 pound drill bits to tie my Super Cub to and off we went. We got a taxi and spent $25.00 to get to town and spent another $75 or $80 dollars to get a stinking room. The room smelled terrible. We found a great place to eat nearby and walked there. All the mosquito?s had left for the airport apparently. We had great food, a few beers and went to bed. Don?t hang out in Ft. St. John too long!

We?re now about 2,300 statute miles into our trip and day four has ended! The fun was about to begin!

Day Five

We got up early for me and found a storm cell was hanging out over the airport. We shopped a bit, Charley bought a coat ?cause he forget his and had some breakfast. We got to the airport and talked with flight service. The cell was still hanging out and would probably pass soon. At this point in the trip we?re planning to follow the Alaska Highway all the way into Alaska but the local pilots were reporting that some of the passes north towards Ft. Nelson, BC are weathered in. We also spoke with several local helicopter pilots who tell us we can fly via GPS or VOR direct to Ft. Nelson if the passes are closed.

The cell moved off a bit but the passes were still considered closed. Where I come from we tend to go have a peek every now and then because you may just find things are different than reported (Duh!). So this is what we did and they were still right. No-go on the highway route and a quick right turn to intercept the GPS direct (or VOR) from Ft. St. John to Ft. Nelson. It turns out that there?s not much out there except a lot of intersecting lines cut in the forest which are/were used for oil and gas surveys. We head north for quite a ways. Its 234 statute miles from Ft. St. John to Ft. Nelson.

The weather that caused us to take a more ?direct? route to Ft. Nelson still was out there. Though the highway takes a more westerly path north the weather didn?t have to follow the highway either. And so the story goes. Not one but two cells (they like to hang out together) almost blocked our path north. We flew between them without too much stress on us or the airplane. The ceiling was maybe 1500? and was hugging the terrain which we followed up to an east ? west ridge. As I cleared the ridge the sky got particularly dark just beyond and I decided to go left or west or back towards the Alaska Highway so it would take them a little less time to discover our bodies. I did file a flight plan back in Ft. St. John and did change it for direct but at this time they couldn?t hear me as we?re quite a bit out of range.

The weather west was very much brighter and less foreboding. I flew about 40 or 50 miles to the highway. I turned north up the highway only to discover that the dark stuff we saw earlier was in our path once again. I have a buddy who flew to Alaska once and his advice to me was this: ?Don?t push the weather! Land on the highway if you need to!? Pretty simple. The clouds were dropping all around us and my personal limits had been reached. There are gravel runways along the highway that were built when the highway was built but I wasn?t exactly sure where I was along the highway so I didn?t know exactly where these damn runways were. We flew on as we had a 1200 mile long runway right below us!

I thought I saw a windsock at a farm but couldn?t find a runway. There were only muddy fields! I needed to make an instant decision between landing in a muddy field in an over weight tail-dragger or on the Alaska Highway. Not much of a decision to make and I made a perfect three pointer at mile marker 230. I know this ?cause I saw it go by as I was rounding out. Very soon after I landed an IFR helicopter pilot flew over and asked if I was okay. I told him I was and I asked him to tell flight service that I had landed and to suspend or cancel my flight plan. He said sure! http://www.pbase.com/image/215483/medium

I taxied up to a drive and we pushed the airplane backwards into the drive. Wayne Fells the owner of the farm drove down to welcome us to his farm. What a nice guy! It turns out that Wayne has a Super Cub and that started the conversations. He and his wife, whom I forgotten her name (I?m sorry missus Fells) welcomed us into their house and offered us coffee and watermelon. Charley loves coffee and I love watermelon so we were happy. We talked about flying and bears and some fellow that once flew a live adult male elk with his Super Cub that had 3500 hours on his O-320 and burnt more oil than gas. Allegedly he would stop for a top off of gas and a fill up of used motor oil. I guess he?s dead now but those in the Prophet River area of British Columbia will know who I am referring to. Anderson, I believe, was his name. Quite interesting I must say. There was a book written about him and we looked for it but didn?t find it. http://www.pbase.com/image/215478/medium

We hung out with the Fells for 4 or so hours and Wayne drove us up to the pass to check the weather which now appeared okay. We got back to my Cub and took off for Ft. Nelson buzzing the now famous Mr. Wayne Fells on our way north. Thanks Wayne!

By the way, I did call Flight Service from Wayne?s place and they ?suggested? that I call the RCMP. I was told by others not to call them as they may or may not have made me remove my wings and truck my Super Cub out. This is something I did NOT want to do and didn?t!

We flew the last hour or so in the rain and made it into Ft. Nelson, BC just before dark to find another incredibly wonderful group of people at the Shell FBO called Sky North. Please visit these people. No mention was made of my ?emergency landing? by flight service! Jordie (pronounced Yordy) is the proprietor who loaned us his Ford Explorer and told us where in town to eat. http://www.pbase.com/image/215488/medium

After a short drive into town, we walked into the establishment Jordie told us about which had about 50 ladies all playing Bingo. Well, Charley, being the ladies man he is saw his opportunity and sat down next to this rather attractive and elderly British Columbian woman who wasn?t up on her luck at all, until now. Charley, without skipping a beat looked at her bingo card and then shouted Bingo. If you?ve ever been to a Bingo match or game or whatever they?re called you?d see that most everyone else who didn?t ?Bingo? will sigh or cuss or whatever and begin to clear their bingo board. This exactly is what happened and as I was heading towards the door (I know Charley and I can smell trouble) this lady punched Charley on the arm and began to tell everyone that she had not gotten a bingo and this man was lying. They were, of course, playing for money. Charley looked at her and then the crowd and then me. I decided to act as though I didn?t know him and then I put on my best Spanish accent and said ?No habla Espanol?! This, of course, means I don?t speak Spanish or something like that and some people started hollering in Spanish to me and Charley ?cause I guess they figured we spoke Spanish. I told Charley we had to go now which we did but as we got outside we learned that we didn?t know which vehicle to get away in as we hadn?t really looked at the vehicle we had borrowed so we didn?t know which ?SUV? to get into.

Being in a small town in a rather remote place in the north it seems that everyone has an SUV and no-one locks their cars or takes their keys. I thought we had jumped into the right one until we were trying to leave when this younger Native Canadian lady hollered that we were stealing her car. By this time, a crowd had formed outside and they now were between us and the road. I looked a Charley and he said, in a very calm (and apparently experienced) voice, ?Put it in reverse and step on it!? I put the Explorer in reverse and stomped on the gas. This establishment was a combination bingo parlor, bar, restaurant and shooting/driving range.

In the muddy field behind us were quite a few vehicles that were used to shoot (guns) at and hit with golf balls. So, here we were, going backwards in a stolen SUV through a muddy field almost in the Yukon with a group of angry Bingo matrons watching us as if we were Mexican Bigfoots here to take their Sport Utility Vehicles and to ruin their Tuesday night Bingo game. Well, I got the SUV far enough from them, stopped and watched to see if they would come into the field to lynch us. They didn?t but interestingly enough the Ft. Nelson Royal Canadian Mounted Police did. And no, he was not on horseback and his name wasn?t Dudley Dooright!

We explained the situation and apologized for causing all the ruckus. The officer made us explain to the Bingo people what was going on and had us apologize to them to. It was that or go to jail. We promptly apologized! Another instant decision gone right. Charley should have been shot!

We finally had some dinner, met a beautiful young lady who loved our story and got back to the FBO. http://www.pbase.com/image/215496/medium

This FBO, Sky North, has a double bed and a shower which is free if you buy fuel. They don?t lock the door at night should a weary pilot come in late and need a place to stay. I slept on the floor and Charley slept on the bed. We?re 2,271 miles from home and an apology from jail!

Day Six

Since we stayed at the FBO and as Jordie arrived for work at the butt-crack of dawn we were up early to find the weather from the night before remained. We were hauling food and Jordie had a refrigerator stocked with food but we borrowed his Explorer once again and cautiously snuck into town and brought donuts back to the airport and waited. I went over my airplane with a fine tooth comb and found nothing the least bit wrong (except the still deceased transponder). I did a few low level laps to warm the oil up, changed it and then chatted with the helicopter pilot who had relayed our message to flight service the day before. There is a lot of gas and oil work being done in the area and helicopters are almost as common as airplanes.

We talked about helicopters and aerodynamics and such but most interesting were the discussions about flying directly north, over the bush, to bypass the weather that closed our route via the Alaska Highway. The weather over the highway, it appeared, was not going to break. I was about to get some mountain flying experience and I have only read some books on the subject specifically ?The Mountain Flying Bible? by Sparky Jameson.

After careful consideration I chose to take an almost direct route to bypass the weather along the highway. We were going to fly direct from Ft. Nelson BC to Watson Lake Yukon for 70 statute miles. At this point we should cross a large river cut deeply into the terrain, the Liard River, then turn upriver and follow it until we reached the Alaska Highway. The weather and pilot reports indicated good weather from where the Liard River and the Alaska Highway met all the way to Watson Lake which is 231 statute miles direct from Ft. Nelson. Our more circuitous route would obviously be longer then that.

Around 2:00pm we loaded up and took off destined for Watson Lake, Yukon. I was apprehensive to say the least. This leg would probably be the most remote of the trip and definitely the most remote I had ever done.

We traveled the 70 miles north through more and more remote countryside. The scenery is spectacular. We more or less ran parallel and upstream to the Ft. Nelson river on the right, the Rockies to the left and through more and more terrain changes. Due to the cloud layer and light winds the trip was rather smooth though the pucker factor was increasing mile by mile. There were very few places to drop the airplane into if necessary and the likelihood of not bending my Super Cub was very slim, to say the least. http://www.pbase.com/image/215502/medium

Finally we climbed over a ridge to find the Liard River as advertised. We dropped down into the river valley and turned upstream. The river was in a gorge and moving rapidly. At this point and for the next, maybe, 20 or 30 miles there was not one single place to perform an emergency landing. Nothing but forests, cliffs and the raging river. Having seen a show about some people who were killed by bears at Liard Hot Springs (which is where this river and the Alaska Highway join) I knew that if we were to survive a crash we probably would not survive the bears. My rifle is not a large bore bear killer!

We were in the river valley and I kept my Cub close to the downwind side of the valley so that I could fight updrafts rather than downdrafts and kept moving. As I turned a bend in the river I found that it was raining. The cloud layer was low but not much lower than I was anyway. Charley sensed I didn?t like this at all and he simply said, ?You can see through that!? and he was right. So, using the mountain side as a visibility gauge we pressed on keeping the river below in constant sight. We meandered through valley and through the rain until I saw both the rain letting up and the valley opening up. I knew by the charts that there was some king of strip on the east side of the river and once I spotted it I felt better. I know Charley did to. I marked it on my GPS. The sun shone in patches up ahead.

As we got to better visibility I chose to continue to follow the river rather than hop over a camelback king of protrusion. We were within a couple of miles of the highway. There I spotted another strip, snapped a picture and marked it on my GPS. The pucker factor had reduced quite a bit and I was much less nervous. Instantly we were hit by the most turbulence I?ve ever been in. I had to pluck my camera from mid-air and loose objects were floating about and hitting the top of the cabin. Finally we got back over the highway but we were bouncing around like big boobs on a trampoline and turned north to Watson Lake Yukon. I have since renamed the Liard River to the Scared River! http://www.pbase.com/image/215505/medium

The turbulence didn?t really subside but I had an opportunity to practice what I had read about mountain flying. They say to visualize the wind as water flowing through the mountains and to look for updrafts, downdrafts and eddies in the flow. Sure enough they were right. I could almost predict what was going to happen. Sometimes I wasn?t even close and even though it was turbulent I found it fun to try guess where the next round of bumps would be. We landed at Watson Lake Yukon in the late afternoon. It was beautiful!

We topped off with fuel and took of for Whitehorse, Yukon 218 statute miles from Watson Lake and into some of the most incredible country I?ve ever seen. As we entered the Watson Lake region the mountains opened up into a large forested expanse surrounded by forested mountains. Following the highway, more or less, we entered a pass (about 3,300 msl) to another wide mountain valley. This pass marks the north/south continental divide where water flows either into the Arctic or Pacific Oceans.

The next area was Teslin Lake, is about 70 miles long and then on to Whitehorse, Yukon where we spent the end of our first week on our trip. We had traveled about 450 statute miles that day and were now 2,270 miles from home. Now I really knew that we were in the far North! God had smiled and given us this trip as a gift!

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: steve on 2002-02-01 21:53 ]</font>

don d
02-10-2002, 10:13 PM

Great story, but did you make it to Alaska and Back? I made the trip in 1989 and 2000. Have the urge to go back this summer.


02-10-2002, 10:43 PM

Actually, Rick Sanson wass the man behind the stick, I just posted the story for him. He did make it there and back and we are waiting for the next few installments of his trip! :smile:



Rick Sanson
02-11-2002, 09:50 AM
Week two is coming up (hopefully this week)!

03-04-2002, 04:29 PM
Great story Rick. I can't wait to tell my own story about flying a cub to Alaska.