Day 13: More bush flying

Day miles: 58
Trip miles: 4236

I had plans to fly twice more today to finish up the bush course with Above Alaska. The first flight would be upriver late in the morning to practice landing on the gravel bars. However, the cloud cover was quite low in the morning and we spent some time at Talkeetna’s FAA Flight Service Station (FSS) observing the weather report and discussing the forecast. Drew of Above Alaska, was confident the weather would stay high enough for such a flight along the rivers, which convinced my instructor enough and we planned to reconvene in an hour to start the flight.

The training focused on “pioneering” an airstrip; how to determine if it was long enough and good enough to land on, and then to take off from again. There is some overlap with training from other areas, but the repetition builds skill and the experience was great. Flying provides an unparalleled way to explore areas otherwise difficult to access and over the days of flying the rivers with Above Alaska they pointed out numerous amazing geographical features, such as the mighty high speed waters of Devils Canyon on the Susitna river.

Later that day, when conditions improved marginally, we headed back into the mountains for our final flight. The plan was to visually navigate (all navigation is visual here) around some mountains and up some valleys to a gravel airstrip at around three thousand feet. We had a “sectional chart,” a type of aviation map, with a line drawn on it for the route to the strip to follow. My mountain training a couple of days ago was reinforced here in the tight space between the mountains on both sides of the landing strip.

There was a small camp here, probably for mining, in a beautiful spot. As I retrace our route on Google Maps, I cannot underscore enough how amazing it was flying there and how poorly this is conveyed by the satellite imagery.

The flight was a little eventful, carefully watching the weather ahead and behind us as to not get closed into the mountains by the clouds. Additionally, while circling the landing strip another small airplane with skis unexpectedly came down out of the mountains and flew nearby toward Talkeetna. We didn’t doddle long here, as to not give the weather more opportunity to sock us in, and were soon flying back out of the mountains into clear weather.

I made the decision this evening to leave the next day and go back on the road after one more flight with Lance in the morning. This was hard, as I had grown attached to both Above Alaska and Talkeetna, however I hadn’t come to Alaska to start a new life. Not having a clear plan for flight training while I was here, I decided some more miles would do me good.

I had found upon arriving in Talkeetna that the Dalton Highway had not treated my trash bag system from waterproofing my shotgun well and the barrel had picked up some rust. Unfortunately the bags held water as well as they repelled it. I dried everything out and wrapped it better with fresh garbage bags from the hardware store. I decided to ride with it atop the bike despite being a bit more obvious as to its contents and search for a better solution in the next city.

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