FLY LIKE AN EAGLE – LITERALLY: ALASKA PART NINE, FINAL CHAPTER

I am a frequent flyer – for work, for pleasure.  There is something about relinquishing one’s grip of land and soaring into the clouds that is as, Wilbur Wright so aptly stated:

More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination. ~Wilbur Wright

Prior to my trip to Alaska, I have flown on big jets, a helicopter, a commuter jet and a few  8-seater island hoppers.  None of these prepared me for what I had decided to do in Homer – fly in a 4 seat Cessna float plane from Homer to Anchorage.  This is the plane:

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Those dark clouds hovering above didn’t help my initial reaction when we pulled up to the “airport” – really more like an air dock.  My friend Lenore and I had discussed this flight prior to our trip – both wanting to experience this but also cognizant of the dangers – in fact there had been a report of one of these planes crashing in Alaska right before we left New  York.  Still, we both are fatalists – “que sera, sera, whatever will bE, will be” so we had determined that unless the weather was really inclement we were a go.

Seeing those looming clouds, however punctured my cheery outlook – and my first comment upon seeing the above was “Oh Shit.”  That brought on somewhat shaky laughter from Lenore and the other woman who was traveling with us – but it did break the tension we had been feeling and the clouds soon disappeared.  Whew.

A stately gentlemen approached us and he looked like “Sky King,” the main character of the same-named Saturday morning television show I watched as a child:

 “From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes Sky King”

Sky King piloted a Cessna 310 from his Flying Crown Ranch in Arizona and with his niece Penny ran into weekly adventures.  Our pilot totally looked the part so we were happy to proceed, and then from behind Sky King out popped Casey, our real pilot who looked 12 years old (he was actually 23):

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photo courtesy of Lenore

Looking behind me and seeing the shocked faces of Lenore and our fellow traveler upon discovering this latest news, I figured I’d better so something before women were running screaming away from the floatplane.  I asked Casey a bunch of “innocent” questions pertaining to how many hours a pilot has to book on a float plane before he is licensed, how many trips like ours did Casey do a day etc etc.  Somewhat mollified, the back-seaters entered the plane and I took the copilot seat up front:

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Not my best closeup but it gives you an idea of how small this cockpit is.  The dashboard also gave the impression of being from a model airplane:

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When we eyed this gadget, Lenore and I started laughing.  You’ll recognize “Miss Garmin” from my post about my birthday celebration with Lenore and Sande in Tuscany.

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Casey took his time checking these instruments and gauges which increased our confidence that he would be able to get us to Anchorage without mishap.  And we were off:

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The perspective flying over land and sea was simply breathtaking and for the most part it was smooth sailing.  Casey did warn us that when we flew near glaciers, the cold air coming off the ice hitting the warmer air above would cause turbulence.  At those moments, the camera was stashed and I frankly held on to my seat with both hands – luckily those instances were few and far between.  The ride – about 90 minutes – was a once in a lifetime experience – literally flying in the clouds:

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It was definitely light years away from what experiences in a large jet – at once I  felt vulnerable and in the hands of nature.  The rewards were more than worth the slight anxiety. Some areas were green and lush:

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The immensity and vastness of the Kenai and Chugach Mountain ranges was strongly felt – I certainly wouldn’t want to get stranded in this isolated area:

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The glaciers, seen from above gave us a true view of their power:

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The shining glacial lakes added to the incredible beauty, often providing a sky mirror :

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And, before we realized it, it was time to land. Lenore is our official trip videographer so watch and share with us the thrill of the landing:

However, it was not quite easy-peasy.  As we taxied towards the dock – Casey uttered: “Uh Oh.”  Not a statement you want to hear from the pilot. It appears that the waters used for landing are now inundated with kelp – a result of an unseasonably warm season – so much so that there is danger of entangling the floatplane’s rudder, making it difficult to steer.  In fact, we find out our originally scheduled floatplane never made it out of this “runway” – the kelp literally broke the rudder and the plane was put out of commission.

Before we made plans to abandon ship and swim to the dock, Casey expertly maneuvered the float plane through the kelp and we safely docked.  Figuring this was now a good time, I casually mentioned that the oil gauge in front of me had been near the red zone for the last part of the trip – so Casey might want to consider adding a few quarts.  He explained it was not an indication of low levels – but of something else blah blah blah very technical – so I gave him a pass (the cynical New Yorker in me not quite sure of his veracity).  We were safe on land once more (note the kelp in the water):

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Back to the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage – where we celebrated our bravery in a totally unique bar – The Whale’s Tail:

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This “credit card,” once loaded with a dollar figure of choice, gives you access to a slew of automatic wine dispensers, similar to the Sodamats of my youth.  Many fine wines to choose from as well as pours: single, double or triple.  We had so much fun we honestly had to fill our cards twice:

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A few appetizers and a yummy sundae later we went up to our suite to rest before saying a final farewell to an amazing place – and this was the first night that we actually saw the sun set (for 5 minutes in the wee hours):

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Thanks, Kenai Peninsula, thanks Alaska, thanks John Williams and John Lorec and thank you Classic Journeys for a truly memorable adventure.  Now on to Peru!

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