July 2009 Travel Blog - Terry and Elize fly Cessna 185 N4999T from Florida to Alaska

Click to view slideshow    Please note: Takes 5-7 minutes to load. Click and go make a cup of tea. When you return it will be ready to watch.

Sunday July 19 - My bags are packed and I’m ready to go. In just a few hours I’ll board a 6:30am Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose, California to Tampa, Florida where Terry

Barnes and I will begin the adventure we’ve been planning for months. We’ll spend a few days getting the plane packed and ready before leaving Wednesday July 22 (late afternoon) or possibly early Thursday morning. We’ve targeted spending Thursday night in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota with friends of Terry’s, and that’s a long way from Florida. We'd prefer to get a few hours of flying in on Wednesday, otherwise the 1500 miles to Devil’s Lake will make Thursday a long-ass day.  Of course our plans will remain flexible as the weather dictates. On the return end of this adventure I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be back home in California, but probably the first week in August. Our plan is to leave the airplane in Alaska for the remainder of the Summer and fly home from Alaska on commercial flights. Basic info: We’ll be flying Cessna 185 N4999T (taildragger) with a 300HP turbo charged Continental engine.  I expect we’ll cruise 140 mph (ground speed) on average... assuming headwinds and tailwinds cancel each other out.  We have autopilot and full IFR instrumentation (Terry is IFR rated).  Terry’s first order of business will be to give me some flight instruction in the C185 so my piloting skills will come up to speed quickly. Should be a piece of cake...it’s like riding a bicycle right?  I knew I’d enjoy retirement but I had no idea it was going to be this good! 
Tuesday July 21 - We’re on track to leave tomorrow afternoon. It’s an incredible lot of work to organize the details, file the paperwork and flight plans, and anticipate what emergency equipment, food, tools, tarps, etc. we need to take.
The aviation sectional charts, and flight approach plates for flying with instruments take up the equivalent of 2 milk crates!  
Tools, ropes, cans of engine oil, flotation vests and tarps stretch from here to there. We’re sorting it all out and lining it up across Terry’s living room floor.
The amount of stuff blows my mind. I’m getting excited now....  
Wednesday 7/22 - Terry heads into his clinic in Branford for a few hours with patients while I get ready and pack the car. Around noon we lock up the house, kiss the cat, and head south (1.5 hr drive) to Ocala Airport. N4999T has been here at an FBO since Monday having an EDM (Engine Monitoring) instrument installed.  This very sophisticated piece of equipment will allow us to monitor the exhaust gas and head temperature of each cylinder separately as well calculate a multitude of other engine performance indicators. When we roll up to the hangar we are disappointed to see the cowling is off and N4999T clearly not ready to fly. So we have a bit of a delay while a mechanic goes off chasing a probe part.

And did I mention it was HOT on the ramp? Like 98 with 80% humidity. Sick-making heat. For me. Terry is out there packing the plane while I soak first my head and then my shirt in the restroom sink and wear them both dripping. Tick tock, tick tock.... Finally, only a few hours later than planned, we head down the taxiway. B during the run up Terry notices the new EDM is not reading correctly. He immediately sees the Horse Power numbers are off by 50%... and figures they are miscalculating for 4 instead of 6 cylinders. So we taxi back to the hanger which by then is closed up. Terry calls the EDM manufacturer in California and explains what he sees. A knowledgeable technician walks us through a set-up procedure that fixes the problem.

We take off and head north to Kittyhawk Estates, the airstrip where Terry’s parents live during the winters. They are in their Alaskan home now in the summer so we won't be able to see them but we need to drop of some stuff and pick up a case of oil. A few miles out of Ocala we develop an oil leak that coats the windscreen. It doesn’t take much oil (a few table spoons) to really foul up the visibility.  We land without a problem and Terry whips off the cowling to determine the oil is coming from one of the new engine probes that was just installed for the new engine monitor. Terry is a licensed aircraft mechanic and goes to work re-seating the probe. We take off an hour later targeting Huntsville, Alabama for the night. But thunder storms crop up (they’ve got weather out here in this part of the country) and by now it’s dark. So we land in Anniston, Alabama where Terry lived 30+ years ago. And, by the way... the oil leak is still with us...  It's late. We're tired. We call a cab. The taxi driver doesn’t appear to speak English (seriously) until I pick up that Terry is talking to him with no problem. Only Terry isn’t speaking English either! It’s Alabameium. I’m having culture shock in Alabama! Marriott Courtyard here we come. 
Thursday 7/23 – The taxi driver this morning is a real life, chain smoking Larry the Cable Guy. Terry whispers as we walk away “I was wondering where we were gonna get our dose of second hand smoke today. Glad we got that taken care of!”  We fuel up and check the weather. Thunder cells are nearby and the visibility and ceiling not so good. So we file for an instrument clearance and get out of there. Now we’re finally feeling like we’re actually on our way! It’s so exciting for me to be back in the air. I’m starting to remember the procedures, terminology and sensations. The first thing that comes back is reading the chart and running the radios. By mid-day I’m interpreting the new EDM data in a way that makes the tool useful to me. We cruise northwest over Alabama and into Tennessee. We’re moving about 140 mph over the ground. It’s like watching Google Earth in the slow drift phase.  Beautiful green stretches of land fly by beneath us. Nashville is off to the right out of visual range but I tell Terry we need to go there on another trip....  We stop for fuel at St. Louis Metro airport, an adorable little residential strip, 20 miles east of St. Louis. Corn grows right up to the edges of the runway. Beautiful homes with hangars attaches are sprinkled around acres of green lawns. The owner comes out to greet us and when he sees I’m making sandwiches (while Terry fuels the tanks) he walks into a small vegetable garden and comes out with a tomato and peppers! Too cool. We chow down and hop back in. 

The weather is clear and hot as we climb out towards our evening destination: Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. We make another fuel stop in Redwood Falls, Minnesota where there is not a single redwood in sight. A friendly guy gives us ice cold bottled waters to take with us. We continue to press on as the flat ground unrolls beneath us. We’re pretty worn out by now and still have 2+ hrs flying time to Devil’s Lake. We press on telling each other jokes and ensuring each other what awesome adventurers we are. We discover the recuperative effects of dipping our hands into the ice cooler behind the seats and rubbing each other down with cold wet hands. We sing against the engine noise and laugh at the oil coating the  windscreen. 

Despite having to look at the world through the side windows we’re happy and our tails are going wiggy-waggy.  At 7:30pm we spy Devil’s Lake out on the horizon and start a slow descent, with the sun in our eyes. Beautiful landing. Whew! We flew over 10 hours of tachometer time today. That’s a lot by any standard. Terry’s friends Greg and Chris see the airplane overhead as we approach the town and rush out to meet us. Before we even get out of the cockpit they are there to pick us up. We feel like returning warriors being welcomed by the tribe. We enjoy a much-needed meal at a restaurant over looking Devil’s Lake. Then a short drive out to Greg and Chris’s farm where the guest room is ready for our tired heads.  Oh boy does this feel good! 
Friday 7/24 - This morning Terry is out at the Devil’s Lake airport changing the engine oil and making what we hope will be a permanent repair to the probe-seating oil leak problem. I’m at the farm washing our filthy clothes and typing away on the miniscule keyboard on my I-pig. I can’t remember when I’ve been this happy. Oh yeah... It was yesterday! We plan to cross into Canada this afternoon. Terry has suggested we make a push for Edmonton, Alberta and enjoy a night in the city. Fancy hotel and swank restaurant.... weather permitting of course. When he returns to the farm we sit outside at the picnic table and do our planning, then go inside to sit in front of Greg’s computer together to fill out the REQUIRED electronic customs and boarder crossing on-line form. It is very complicated, multiple-pages, un-intuitive and... shall I say it (?) User-Hostile. In order to use the system Homeland Security requires users to take an on-line tutorial. We both took the tutorial before leaving FLorida and found the process has more holes than a screen door.

And it doesn’t help that the tool frequently reminds you of the harsh penalties inflicted on anyone who fills out the forms incorrectly. We manage to file for an afternoon departure and then wait for the return email with the clearance approval. Only it doesn’t come. And continues to not come. The process states adamantly that once you submit the form you MUST remain true to the plan you submitted. In other words if you say you are taking off at 2:30pm zulu time and landing in Saskatoon Canada at 6:30 zulu time you better stick to that plan, regardless of head winds or tail winds or severe weather. We wait by the computer... Greg and Chris had headed off on a planned weekend of their own leaving us their truck to use and leave at the airport.  We decide to go out to the airport, pack the plane and check for the approval email on I-pig email. 

We have about 2 hours before we must take off. But we find no Wi-Fi in Devil’s Lake.  Not at the 
McDonalds. Not at the airport. Not anywhere. So back to the farm we go... and still no clearance... Terry makes numerous phone calls to customs and the FAA and gets the run around several times as he is referred back and forth between the two government agencies. Finally he speaks to someone who knows what she’s talking about and she gives us a clearance to leave the next morning.... Just to be sure we re-file using the on-line form again and this time we get a on-line confirmation and clearance in under 5 minutes.   Grrrrrrrr.  By then it was too late in the day to go anyway. So we spend Friday night at the farm and have a nice dinner and drinks at a resort by the lake. 
Saturday 7/25 - We make an early morning departure from Devil’s Lake on an international flight plan to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada. Clear skies and a direct compass heading of 300. The mostly flat terrain is mostly unblemished as it makes a very slight increase in elevation over the 3 1/2 hour flight. These are growing fields we’ve been passing over for days now. We all know the central part of the land mass is agricultural and we’ve all seen it from commercial flights but seeing it closer with more intimacy drives the point home. We average 120 knots which is 140 mph. Making good time. We land in Saskatoon (don’t you just love that name?) and Canadian Customs gives us a nod. Truly. They just give us a nod. Canadian customs is very different from USA requiring nothing more than a phone call ahead of time. But we are pleased we complied with the U.S.A. proces and in so doing maintained our country’s security. Good on us! The Saskatoon general aviation operation is very modern and cushy with leather furniture and glass end tables. We are offered the use of their little kitchen and a comfy lounge. We are getting really good at these short stops. Terry and I fly into gear with the refueling and sandwich making tasks. Still we waste no time getting back in the air for the long flight across Alberta to Prince George in British Columbia, where we target spending the night. The US customs and boarder screw-up cost us time we could have spent in Edmonton. But we to get within striking distance of Alaska by tonight so we push on. Then Terry suggests we celebrate my English heritage and our arrival in Canada by stopping today for a little tea party. We have a small cook stove and a beach towel we can spread out. Maybe even make crustless sandwiches and tear open one of the dried fruit packages. Terry selects a fuel stop east of the Canadian Rockies at a small rural airport in Albertaprovince called Ponoka. While he heads off in search of someone to sell us fuel I wander into a nearby hangar to find a restroom. I am astonished to walk into a model airplane paradise. The owner has built racks along every wall full of boxed model kits and several aisles are stocked with supplies. He has about 50 cut lengths of white plastic pipe (the kid used for plumbing) and has filled them with every size of little prop imaginable. I say “ Wow!”.  He invites me into a big hangar where he works on full size airplanes and we start talking RC airplanes. He remembered Kraft Radios and I say “Wow!” again. I tell him I’m going to brew a little tea and ask if there is a picnic table somewhere nearby. He immediately offers homemade cookies to go with the tea. Meanwhile Terry learns he needs to join the local flying club ($20 Canadian) in order to buy fuel. So now, as members, we can use the little club house which has an electric kettle. We sit there with our tea and cookies and look over the aviation charts, especially the passes in the Canadian Rockies we are about to navigate through.  Terry plans a route while I calculate liters to gallons and Canadian dollars to US dollars. I am enjoying being the ‘flight engineer’ tracking tach time, fuel utilization, and fuel costs to maintain an ongoing log for the trip. I guess I miss the level of detail I applied to these kinds of things when I was at Intel. Refreshed after our tea, we climb into the foothills of the Rockies and watch the terrain rise before us. We have unbelievably good weather with skies clear enough to climb above it all and fly a direct line to Prince George. But where’s the fun in that? We climb high enough to clear the passes with a good margin of safety and cruise through the Rockies like an eagle. We cross over the rising terrain to Jasper then follow the natural wind of the Fraser River, and the road, until we spill out into the high plateau where Prince George sits. The Fraser River canyon is uniquely beautiful with the tight curly cues of river winding like a ribbon below us. Terry points out the oxbow lakes that have taken a millennium to form and I look for other patterns where more oxbow lakes will be created far into the future. Terry recounts a previous trip along this route when the weather forced him to fly way down along the river, eventually turning around and landing at a small airstrip where he found an unlikely (but well placed) B&B within walking distance. We see it all from altitude. I can’t help think a quaint B&B would be a nice way to spend the night. But it isn’t nearly night time and as we get further north I notice the days are longer and longer between each sunset. When we land at Prince George I scuttle to the main terminal to get a rental car before they close. We check into a Sheraton hotel and just about collapse in the luxury. It is just too much work to go out for a meal so I go foraging for food while Terry recuperates. I’m very aware that the responsibility for all the flying details fall on Terry and although he loves it it’s still a stress. I return with a bag-o-salad and a roasted chicken from a grocery store I find nearby. Slept like two rocks. 
Sunday 7/26 - Another early morning take off.  This flight tops all the others so far in terms of beauty. We trace a path in the air above the Yellowhead Highway, my eyes searching the ground in an attempt to recapture the memories of the drive Steve and I made 37 years ago in the Corvair van. Ralph Nadar never heard about that trip.  But the memories are old, the direction is reversed, and I see everything now as new and uncharted. Not sad. Just a realization that letting go has it’s own rewards. I see Terrace and the huge airport where Steve and I saw the Canadian Snowbirds perform 37 years ago. As we turn due west towards Prince Rupert we set up the in-flight music system which has a few bugs to work out. But before long Terry and I are listening to Beatles songs and singing along with the familiar old melodies. During Abby Road at the part that goes …..and in the end… the love you take… is equal to the love… you make… Terry swoops us through the air in time to the familiar and well-loved ending. My stomach does little flip flops of happiness. And then Prince Rupert appears on the coast line and we turn north to see the entire western coast laid out before us. Again, Google Earth before me. Soon I see Metlakatla, the little Indian village Terry worked in just 3 weeks ago. I can see the clinic building and the little house we stayed in. And within a few more minutes Ketchikan is straight ahead of us. Blue skies, Perfect landing. Clear customs. Sandwiches, though we’ve run out of bread now so it’s more like deconstructed sandwich material and hot tea. Yummy.  We depart Ketchikan with full fuel tanks and head north to Juneau on our last leg of the “getting to Alaska” adventure. This leg is short (about an hour and a half) but is spectacular in terms of scenery. Terry hands me the controls north of Ketchikan in the Stikine Straight.  I make a few gentle turns and wonder if I’ll ever get my skills back all the way… South East Alaska is basically all islands, peninsulas, water channels, bays, and straights. There are a million tributaries and run-offs seeping from the land areas into the water. Many of them are the dripping ends of glaciers. This place is lousy with glaciers! Just north of a tiny community called Wrangell Terry encourages me to make a shallow right bank up a crooked little channel. My first clues are the floating chunks of ice in a small body of perfectly still turquoise water. At the end of the channel is the blunt end of the pristine Le Conte Glacier. The color is not white like you’d expect but a translucent pale blue with deeper tidy-bowl blue tinges sparkling through it. This is old ice. It’s very old ice. It’s ice that has been under extreme pressure for a long time. The pressure is so great (think coal compressing into diamonds) that the gases (oxygen and nitrogen mostly) are forced out of it. So it doesn’t look like what we’re used to seeing in our cocktails. Terry takes back the controls and does some serious maneuvers to give me awesome views of the glacier and it’s drop into the turquoise water.  We exit the channel and fly up Stephen’s Passage where I am advised to look for whales. And lo and behold... Terry spots a party of about 20 humpbacks blowing and slapping their tails. I’m talking serious whale gymnastics just to amuse and delight us. We are fairly high up but Terry performs a beautiful spiral down to 500 ft where we circle around the whale herd counting huge cigar shapes on the surface and shouting “show us your tail!” after each blow. I accuse him of contracting with the whale authority to have them right where he wanted them in order to impress me.  We continue seeing whales (though no herds as large as the first one) as we fly up the passage to Juneau. We land, tie down, and chock the wheels at a local airport operation called Coastal that sells fuel and charters helicopters.   This is where I fid out that Terry is pretty well connected up here. People know him and that is a big help in terms of logistics. As we unloaded and stretch our legs the Coastal line guy brings a crew car out to the ramp for us to use. No paperwork or signature is required. Just hands Terry the keys. Then we head off in search of a friend of a friend’s place north of the airport past Auke Bay where we’ll hopefully find Greg’s Bronco where it has been left by another friend who borrowed it. These Alaskan towns are pretty close knit, especially the aviation communities. People help each other. After driving up strange rural driveways and having three-way conversations between Greg in ND and his friend in CA (who had borrowed the thing last) we finally find the right curving, steep driveway and (Voila!) there is an old red Bronco snuggled up behind another truck alongside a house. A guy comes out, greetings are exchanged, and off we caravan back to the airport to drop off the Coastal car. Terry gives me a brief tour of down town Juneau before we cross the bridge to Douglas Island where Greg and Chris’s condo is waiting for us. And the condo is perfect. Furnished and cozy  We turn on the water heater, furnace, and fridge before heading out for some nightlife. Terry takes me to the ‘Hangar on the Wharf Bar and Grill’.  What a great location for a restaurant. From our seats at the bar we can see all five cruise ships docked in town and a continual stream of float plane activity. We can practically see the dollars flying out of the cruise ship passenger’s wallets into the hands of the Juneau merchants.  And why not? We toast to a fabulous adventure and to Greg and Chris who have generously provided us their condo and Bronco. Two martinis later I’m feeling no pain and Terry is grinning at me as I giggle like a goofball. He assures me I’m not too goofy as he takes my hand and guides me down to the touristy Juneau sidewalks. I’m glad to be led and know I’m in good hands. 
Monday July 27 - I sleep in while Terry rises early to attend a meeting at the SEARHC (South East Alaska Regional Health Consortium) clinic where he hopes he can line up some temporary duty assignments providing dentistry to several of the SE communities.. When he gets back he takes me to lunch in Juneau and we have a nice walk through the down town area where I buy smoked salmon for our dinner.  Back at the condo we have a hugely spirited conversation about engine performance in regards to exhaust gas and cylinder head temperatures and their relationship to various mixture settings. Sexy huh? Basically we enjoy an uneventful day of catching up with ourselves and finish up the evening watching one of the ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ DVDs we brought with us. Our plan for tomorrow is to travel to Haines and Sitka so Terry can make face-to-face appearances with the SEARHC clinic staff.
Tuesday July 28 - We both rise early today hoping to make an early departure for Haines but when we see the weather we know we're not going anywhere too soon. Mist surrounds Juneau's airport and even the air taxies aren't flying. So we watch and wait. 

I find an orange thing to sit on and Terry takes my photo. Soon small openings in the sky start to appear as the marine layer starts to burn off and before long we’re in the air. This morning we head north over more uncharted territory (for me anyway) as the sky clears completely and the outside temperature heats up. In less than an hour I see Haines, a beautiful little jewel of a town, glistening in the sunlight on the south end of a western peninsula. Skagway is just visible on the east side of the water channel about 20 miles to the north. Terry has worked in Haines on and off over the past 8 years and knows the dentist and his wife who live and work here. As we tie down the airplane Linda comes up to greet us warmly. We tour the new clinic and she suggests we leave Terry to talk with Dr Chuck Hazen while she takes me on a tour of Haines.

Linda and her husband are desperate to get another dentist into Haines on a half-time basis so he can semi-retire. They are excited Terry may be interested in taking the contract. Haines is a fairly remote but desirable little place. It has a throw-back-to-the-hippie-days feel to it and an appealingly modest amount of tourism. They get cruise ships here but not too many. Overall it had not been ruined and has much to recommend it. The tour doesn't take long. o traffic lights in this town and no traffic either. Linda takes us back to the clinic where she gives Terry and I her car so we can explore a bit on our own before we take off for a similar visit in Sitka. And Sitka is beyond charming. The approach to the runway is over crystal clear water populated with countless hobbitity little islands, some no bigger than a basketball court, and many with a little house or dock on them. This is the perfect place to kayak. The runway juts out into the water and is surrounded by these little islands. There are boats and float planes everywhere. The airport services office hands Terry a set of car keys (again no paperwork required) and off we go to the large SEARHC hospital for another meeting Terry has set up. He is making all the appropriate connections with his Alaskan dentistry contacts. They all know he’s interested in working up here as part of his own semi-retirement. I believe he will have several options moving forward. After the hospital visit Terry shows me the lay of the land. This is by far the most attractive of the towns I’ve seen so far. It may just be that the weather is perfect but it has a European flair to it. Or maybe Caribbean. It doesn’t have the hard scrabble element Juneau has, or the kicked-back tie-dye element of Haines. We drive to the north end-of-the-road where a beautiful river flows out across a green meadow flat land, under a quaint bridge, and into a sheltered bay. Salmon are bunched up at the bridge wagging in the current as they tighten up to enter the narrower waterway. The males are snipping at each other as they dart to prove their Salmon-Manliness. I find the setting to be enchanting and am hesitant to leave too soon. We drive slowly back to the airport and depart uneventfully. On the return flight to Juneau we are both lost in our ow thoughts as we consider what the future might hold and where it might hold us. Once back in the condo we start planning our next adventure: Flying west across the southern part of the Alaskan land mass from Juneau to the Kenai Peninsula to visit Terry’s parents.
Wednesday July 29 - Again we rise early.  It doesn't take long to pack up our gear and return the condo to shut-down mode. We borrow the Coastal Fuel crew car to drop off the Bronco in it's parking place in Auke Bay.

We’re not exactly sure where we’ll head after our visit with Terry’s parents. If Terry is offered a TDY assignment in the Metlakatla clinic next week we will come back to either Juneau or Ketchikan. Depending on weather between SE Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula we could possibly need to leave the plane on the Kenai Peninsula and fly back on a commercial flight from Anchorage. So with full tanks, clean clothes, and new food in the cooler, we strike out for the Kenai Peninsula. It’s about 600 miles (as the crow flies)

but we can’t fly as the crow flies. Crows can set down anywhere and we can’t. There are miles of inhospitable territory east of us that we need to fly over. The jagged snow-covered peak Mt St Elias sits over 18k feet above sea level. And what’s alarming is that only 25 miles away from this peak is the Pacific Ocean at zero feet above sea level. What a whopping drop in elevation! Our Plan-A option to fly along the north curve of Prince William sound over Valdez and onto the Kenai Peninsula is not going to be possible because the Portage Pass is obscured by weather. So for safety’s sake we fly the highest altitudes of the trip crossing the rugged Malaspina and Yahtse Glaciers. Both of these old frozen rivers have scores of dirty, deep crevices checkering their surfaces. Any attempt at setting down on one of those would ruin our day for sure. So we keep at 10.5k feet as we cross the Bagley Ice Field and turn north up the Tacu Glacier into the Copper River Valley. From here we follow the famous Alaskan Highway east to Anchorage then turn south and fly 100+ miles south to Ninilchik where Terry’s parents have their Summer home.
Terry’s Dad (Dan) meets us at the little Ninilchik airstrip and within a few minutes we’re being driven to an adorable log cabin with a matching log garage where Terry’s Mom (Fran) has a steaming pot of chili on the stove. Their home is super comfortable and cozy and right away I feel at ease. Terry and his Dad resume immediately what I can tell has been an ongoing, life-long, aviation-related discussion. Dan retired from NASA. The (almost 30) years he worked there spanned the most significant milestones of the space race. He still has a keen interest in the space program and loves to share his stories. Fran is a fire ball of energy and an excellent source of information on all thing Alaskan. She is an accomplished quilter and will shortly be completing her 100th baby quilt for the Metlaktla Indian Reservation Terry provides dentistry to. I can see where Terry gets his wicked sense of humor and love of adventure. Before dinner Dan drives Terry and I around the little fishing haven of Ninilchik. This is halibut paradise for folks coming up from the lower 48 to do sport fishing.

Dan takes us out for a little sightseeing. We drive out along a narrowstrip of beach where he announces we are going for what he calls a “noodnick”. It turns out a noodnick (in Terry’s family) is any treat or unexpected goodie. Yum! We all get ice cream cones! We take a moment to see the colorful salmon boats lined up cheek-to-jowl in the harbor. They are all waiting to be released by the authorities when the start of a fishing session is triggered. Then we drive up the hill to the highest cliff to see the beautiful old Russian church with it’s spectacular flowering cemetery and bright whitewashed fences. Everything is bathed in the magic of the afternoon sun at an impossibly shallow angle. This shallow angle lasts for hours up here near the top of the world. At 9pm it is still shining like gangbusters! Dan pulls the car to the side of the road so I can get out to see a rack of halibut hanging up for display while the proud silicon valley types who caught them wait to have their catches filleted and made ready to be sent home Fed-ex. It is fascinating to see the boat worker's hands expertly slice these huge fish into clean firm strips of flesh. I will ever eat Halibut again without thinking of the origin of my meal. We return to the log cabin house where Fran has set up a wonderful dinner. We talk into the evening about Terry and his five siblings and the family adventures they had growing up. I share my stories about Mum and Dad and how they were both in the Royal Air Force before immigrating to Canada after WWII. And of course I pass around my I-pig so they can see pictures of everyone, especially my beautiful grand daughter Elana who I am so proud of. When the sun was finally down and the energy low Terry and I shuffle off to the guest room and as I take off my watch I noticed it is almost midnight! It hadn’t been dark all that long! It’s a good thing the days are long up here or we’d never be able to fit all this fun into them. 

Thursday July 30 - Terry and I borrow his folks Suburban and drive along the coast to the town of Homer on the southwestern tip of the Kenai Peninsula. It started out as an old fishing village and it mostly still is. The Homer Spit, a favorite destination spot in these parts, is a narrow bar of land maybe 100 ft wide jutting out over a mile into the water. Commercial and charter fishing outfits dot the length of it and a happy string of shops, restaurants and bars crowd the tip. Exactly what I expected to see and I wasn’t disappointed. We pick the fancy-dancy restaurant at the tippy-dippy end of the spit (appropriately called Land’s End) and have a delightful lunch of steamed clams, salad, and chowder. Then Terry puts on his ‘patient boyfriend hat’ and accompanies me as I systematically scope out the shops until I find the perfect, tiny, handmade pocketknife for my trip souvenir. I chose one with a bit of antler on the handle and brass fittings securing a hand-hammered (or so the tag reads) serpentine blade. Bingo! And, in an effort to let Terry’s Dad know I understand the meaning of Noodnick, I buy a box of fudge to take back with us. Then we drive into town and find the Pratt museum. Of course I inquire of Terry where we might find the Whitney museum..... (a small joke for those of you who are aircraft-minded). I love local museums. You learn the most amazing things. This one has a broad scope and includes a fair bit of history about the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Lots of politics surround any discussion of this event. I don’t have enough data to have much of an opinion but I pick up that the ethics issues demonstrated by Exxon following the incident have been equaled somewhat by local splinter populations who still benefit from the litigation, whether or not they were impacted by the spill. Like I said there are politics here. But clearly many wild creatures were killed in the spill and many people from around the country came to help clean it up. The photos were chilling. On the way back to Ninilchik I semi-jokingly tell Terry I’d like to see a moose and... Voila! Within a few miles there’s a lady moose standing just off the roadway. How does he do this? Did he contract with the Moose Authority at the same time he contracted with the Whale Authority? It’s the first moose I’ve seen. Looked just like Bullwinkle but without the rack. By the time we get home Fran has made another yummy dinner and Dan proceeds to put a wicked edge on my new knife. Fran offers to post the thing back to me so I don’t risk having it confiscated at the airport. 
Friday July 31 – We awake to rain. The four of us eat an Alaskan size breakfast at a local cafe and drive north up the coast to the towns of Kenai and Soldotna. On the way back we pull into a roadside charter fishing shack where Fran proceeds to select half a King Crab. Terry makes an attempt to curtail the

purchase on the basis of expense but Fran dismisses him. His objection seems to spur her on to select a second half a crab, but this may just be my imagination and she intended to buy two from the get-go. Now, for you who are crab-arithmetic challenged this is the equivalent of a WHOLE ALASKAN KING CRAB. It’s bigger than both our heads and costs and arm and a leg! When we get home I reassemble the thing on the table and photograph it. I add a Ritz cracker just to provide some scale. Fran starts a big pot of water on the stove and doesn't make any attempt to prepare dinner 'fillers' like salad, potato, or bread. Apparently Fran is a purist when it comes to crab. In a little while the four of us sit down at the table and attack the thing with scissors and knives. Now when is the last time you had your fill of crab?  I mean really had enough crab to fill you up? It was awesomely delicious. Then, with our bellies full of crab we retire to the living room and talk away the evening the way families do when a coveted visit is drawing to a close. 
Saturday Aug 1 – Clear skies. Terry’s parents drive us to the Ninilchik airport where we pack theplane, say our goodbyes, take photos and hug each other. After takeoff Terry rocks the wings as I watch Dan and Fran get smaller and smaller standing by the gravel runway waving to us.  The weather is favorable for a northerly route back to Juneau so we reverse-trace our path to Anchorage and pick up the great Alaskan Highway going east this time. We make a fuel stop at Northway, a virtually vacant community 40 miles from the eastern border ALaska shares with Canada. It’s a remote settlement that exists solely because the airport was built there to provide strategic defense to Alaska during WWII. There are B&W photos on the wall of squadrons of P63s lined up on the ramp in the 40’s. Today it is dusty  and desolate and under reconstruction due to an earthquake that caused a fair amount of damage to the runway and ramp. But despite it’s appearance it is an official airport of entry for boarder crossing into and out of Canada and... they sell fuel and... they make a mean burrito. The guy running the place is very friendly and sends us off with a huge chunk of cake the preacher’s wife made that morning. We must have some kind of aura about us because everywhere we go strangers give us free stuff. The flight south from Northway to Juneau is lovely as we pass back into Canadian airspace. Terry tells me about the time he flew through here in his cub-on-floats, had weather trouble, and had to land and spend the night. Back in Juneau we repeat that (by now ) familiar Juneau routine of fetching the Bronco in Auke Bay and heading to Greg and Chris's condo. Then we treat ourselves to a little nightlife at the Hangar on the Wharf where the bartender remembers how I like my martinis. I could get used to this lifestyle! We split a fish dinner and nighty-night. 
Sunday Aug 2 – It’s a beautiful morning in Juneau! We do a first-pass attempt of organizing our stuff into piles of what we’ll take home with us on our commercial fight tomorrow and what will stay in the airplane as it spends the rest of the summer tied down at the Ketchikan 

airport. For the last time this trip we drive the Bronco to Auke Bay. Then we make a quick stop at the Flight Service Station before firing up for a spectacular flight south to Ketchikan . Terry flies us over Sea Otter Sound and points out all the Prince William Island lakes he’s landed on in the Super Cub on floats. We know this is the last flight of this trip in N4999T so as we cruise over the most beautiful scenery in the world we take a ceremonial moment to recognize our successful adventuring.  At Ketchikan airport Terry arranges to rent a tie-down spot for the C185 for the next 2 months. We rent a car, pile everything into it, and drive it onto the ferry for the 10 minute ‘crossing of the Narrows’ to downtown Ketchikan and our motel. After sharing an awesome dinner of halibut fajitas and Coronas at the Ocean View we go back to the motel and watch the sunset from our balcony. 
Monday Aug 3 – Whoo Hoo! We’re down to the wire now. Terry takes a (chartered) float plane to Metlakatla for a meeting he’s arranged with the clinic there while I go into town and do some last minute looking around. Specifically I want to visit the Soho Coho, a shop run by Ray Troll and his wife, that I’d like to try and get my jewelry into. I pick up Terry at the float plane dock after his meeting and we have a leisurely lunch before putting the car back on the ferry for the quick ride back across the narrows to the airport. It feels like Ketchikan was just a blink in time…..  At the airport we  do the final arranging of the things that are staying inside the airplane. The last chore is to download the engine performance data onto a USB drive for Terry to analyze back home. It feels a little sad to be leaving N4999T behind. Terry says “say goodbye to your baby...”  So I give N4999T a big kiss on the spinner before we head to the terminal. We drop off the rental car keys and immediately become… normal travelers waiting for a flight to Seattle.  It feels a little sobering to wrap up the trip. We’ve accomplished what we wanted to. Terry has reconnected with the Alaskan clinics, booked some work weeks between now and November, and has a number of possibilities to achieve his goal of working halftime in Alaska next year. His head is swimming with all the logistics he’ll need to arrange and the decisions he’ll need to make regarding schedules, travel, transportation and accommodation over the coming months. I’m excited to see how it all fits together so I can work my own logistics to dovetail time together again soon.  We talk about this kind of stuff while waiting for our flight to Seattle and again while on our flight. But once in Seattle I don’t want to talk. This is where we part paths. I’ll be back in Santa Clara in a few hours and Terry will be taking a red-eye to Florida. We hold hands and sneak grins at each other. It's all good. My flight to San Jose is uneventful. I use the time to adjust myself back to being a solo traveler again. My wonderful son Dusty is there to meet me at the San Jose airport.  The dogs, Calli and Charley, are over the top with happiness that I’ve returned to them. The house looks the same and the garden has grown.  The mail is stacked high. Dusty puts on the tea kettle. Ahhhh home.  Hey Terry…. When’s our next adventure?