Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Weekend Wings

So Sunday, as I was struggling on the edge of a migraine, the BF calls me up and says, "I'm going to fly up to the glacier. Want to come?"

Well, the correct answer to this is always "YES!" - regardless of migraines - so I popped an Excedrin Migraine, settled the dogs in, grabbed my jacket and my camera and waited for Dave to swing by and pick me up. It's fall here, and he pulls his Cessna off floats around this time, since (as he is often gone for work, being a commercial jet pilot) he doesn't want the plane to freeze into the lake ice at his house. (Evidently this - and having to plow through a scrim of ice on the water's surface - presents some kind of a flight hazard. Gee, how is that possible...? Go figure!)Consequently, the plane is on wheels, at Willow airport (rather than conveniently on his lake, as it is in summer, and will be in winter, once the ice is thick enough.)

It's a gorgeous day, mostly clear and with a moderate breeze. There's an unmistakable cool edge to the breeze, presaging winter, but it's sunny and warm otherwise, and the Excedrin is kicking in. I haven't been up in the plane for a bit, so I'm eager to go. The fall colors are fading now, but there's still a hint of gold clinging to the trees.

Dave does his preflight, gasses it up with av-gas, and has us in the air in no time. It's a slight bit bouncy, what with the breeze on high, but I am completely content with the world as we make our way to the Knik glacier. There's a fair amount of air traffic - we overfly a 170, going slower and lower than us, and listen to the chatter in the bowl of the glacier. There's a helicopter up there, and another 180 (who, like us, is dropping down to check out the grass strips just past the glacier.) Dave files with Palmer Tower - two souls on board and one dog, three hours in flight max, five hours of fuel on board, possible landings by the glacier, ultimate destination back to Willow.
Oh, goodie. Landings. My favorite.

Pretty quickly we're approaching the glacier, snaking down from the pass, silty and blue and frozen rock-hard under the weight and pressure of the ancient ice. Once in a while we fly up (when Dave is on floats) and land on the lake to collect ice for cocktails. Because the ice is so dense, it lasts a long time. The texture of it is somehow different on your tongue in a way that is hard to describe, glassy and heavy and somehow laden. With what I don't actually know.... History? Time? I can't say.

The air up here is calm, the wind tamed by the arms of the mountains. Lake George - which sits at the foot of the Knik glacier - is smooth and glassy. The water is the color of flint, grey with glacial silt so fine that it hangs in the water, giving the lake water the same slightly translucent and grainlessly smooth texture. Small blocks of ice, calved off the glacier, float on the surface, which otherwise is smooth and mirrored.

The pilot of the other 180 is on the horn as we circle around, asking our intentions and describing his own. For a while we spiral the bowl at different altitudes, keeping each other in sight, Dave and the other pilot on the radio, making sure we're not on collision course. The other 180 does a touch-and-go, and after they depart we take their vacated grass strip, landing and getting out to walk around. Pepper has her ubiquitous frisbee, and brings it to me with her patented blend of hopefulness, charm and insistence, dropping it thoughtfully on my feet and then crouching to stare at me, every muscle at the ready, employing her BC "Eye" to will me to throw it for her.

We spend a while at the Far North Frisbee Dog Competition (which Pepper, naturally, wins, since the other competitors evidently knew that they were out-classed and didn't even show up). It's warm here, almost hot in fact, and there are (most amazingly) bugs. Lots of small fat flies, not much nuisance, but in surprising numbers for this late in the year. We pace the strip, Dave inspecting it for take-off hazards, me just enjoying the gorgeous day. After a while we walk back to the plane, nestled in the dying horsetail ferns, the weight of the mountains resting on her wings.

Dave lifts us off and points us back down the tongue of the glacier. There's not much snow yet and the sky is an amazing color of blue, but there's a broodiness to the scant clouds; it's almost as if you can feel the land dreaming of winter, of dark, of blanketing snow.

Dave takes us on what he refers to as "The Star Wars tour", hugging the south wall of the bowl, dropping us low over the canyon between the rock and the glacier's edge. Sometimes here you can see mountain goats or Dall sheep, leaping casually down the cliff faces or staring at us from some outcrop.

There are no animals out today, just the blue of ice and sky, the grey of the silt, the dusky purple-green flanks of the mountains. The brilliant red of the Cessna as she carves her way through the air.

We land below the glacier on the gravel flats. Dave skips rocks off the silty braids of the glacier-fed river. Here the wind is strong and constant, shaving the rocks into flat discs, some no thicker than a quarter. Dave bounces them off the water, some of them making it across the water and onto the other shore. The Cessna shines in the sun, beckoning.

We gather up Pepper and load up. Under Dave's hand his bird hops into the air, climbing sweetly on the edge of the wind. The valley is spread out below us, broad and golden, spangled with lakes. As we edge past the bolster to the Talkeetnas, I can see the massif of the Alaska Range. The Mountain is there, skirted in clouds, looking almost like a cloud bank herself, dwarfed by distance and altitude. We fly face-on toward her as we approach Willow. There are planes on the runway, planes in the pattern, stacked three deep as two pilots do touch-and-go's, with us slipping into the pattern between them for a full stop.

Dave sets us down lightly and we roll off the runway. I take pictures of the planes on the rise as they exit the touch-and-go while Dave ties down his bird. It's still a gorgeous afternoon, sunny and bright, though the breeze has picked up a bit. I'm hungry now; in the peculiar timeless way of flying the glacier, it seems like no time has passed, but it's been almost five hours since Dave picked me up. I am completely contented with my day, sated by flight, intoxicated with sun and color and heat. Just another Alaskan weekend.

I could do worse.


MaskedMan said...

Yes, you could do worse. Far worse.

Is it Alaska that brings out the poetic and vivid writer in people, or is it that people of those tallents tend to head north? Or is it that Alaska simply inspires those with tallent to greater efforts?

Well, I knew you had the tallent before you moved north, but you definitely seem inspired!

Anonymous said...

agreed, i love your poetic verse, and the vibrancy of all the colors you used in the writing!

Cavewoman said...

I officially yearn to come to Alaska now. Think there's another guy with a plane available for me?

Toffee said...


AKDD said...

Thanks, guys! You are so kind! You are my favorites now! :p

MM, I've always written a lot, (and hopefully not too badly) but I think it's just that now you get to see what I write, because of el bloggo (which I'm CERTAIN is the correct Spanish for "blog", yes? Not.) :D At any rate, it's hard NOT to be inspired up here... it's quite gorgeous, everwhere you look. At least, to my eye it is.

As for pilots in AK... there are more pilots per capita here than anyplace else in the U.S.; maybe more than anyplace in the world. I can't vouch for all their skills, but I know for sure that there are lots of good ones up here, and I am certain that they're not all married, taken or gay. :D I think maybe it's a case of the odds being good - although the goods *might* be odd. I've liked most of the pilots I've known up here, though.... something about the way their minds work, and you at least know that they're smart and capable enough to learn to fly, and that at some point in their lives they had the gumption and the wherewithal to afford the lessons and/or the plane.

I need orange said...

Wow. What a great day. Thank you for sharing it with us.

AKDD said...

You betcha! :)