Day 10: Flying Denali

Day miles: 315
Trip miles: 4139

I had plans to fly with Lance from Above Alaska Aviation again in the morning, so I awoke early. I got to the Talkeetna Road House just about when they were opening the sitting rooms for breakfast. Due to the dietary requirements of mountain climbers, they offer their plates in both a “half,” and a “full” serving. The half is plenty of food. After managing to finish this off, I awaited for their public laundry room to open officially at eight. I did some laundry, charged some devices and made some more phone calls.

Lance and I took the Champ up to Denali National Park. After discussing some mountain flying techniques, we entered the Ruth Glacier and started climbing. We passed through the mile wide “Great Gorge,” supposedly one of the deepest in the world if you measure to its bottom, and came out into the Ruth Amphitheater. This is also respectfully referred to as the Sheldon Amphitheater for Don Sheldon, Talkeetna’s famous pioneering bush pilot. My mother had mentioned the evening before on the phone that she had read a book years ago, probably up north to camp, about a famous bush pilot from Talkeetna. She recalled his name, and it was the first I had heard of him. I’ll have much more to say about this later, perhaps once I get home. I wouldn’t know the full meaning of my decision to head to Talkeetna for flight training until days after I had left.

However this flight was ideal. I was able to both gain some unique flying experience, and see Denali in a much more meaningful way than driving by it on the Parks highway. My mother remarked, “somehow I think your dad was your copilot.” I agree. This was exactly the kind of flying I was searching for. I had no interest in going up for a tour flight with a number of other passengers equipped to the hilt with camera equipment. A few photos wouldn’t have been bad, but I was happy to just fly. I cannot convey this passion with words, but I had no need to as I found myself here among friends.

That afternoon I rode back to the road entrance to Denali National Park to take a couple of pictures and look around. There is a small village on the outskirts of the park, consisting entirely of hotels, gift shops and tour companies. I managed to find someone to print a copy of my flight logbook that I had my roommates email to me, and grab some food before heading back. This ride also added a fox to the list of wildlife I had seen along the road.

Back in Talkeetna I settled in at the West Rib bar, which would become my regular evening stop when I didn’t have to get up early to fly. I had a beer and then wandered around the river bank at the summer sunset. This town was definitely growing on me.

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