Episode 35: Greetings from Greenville

Doug 3 Comments

After pushing hard for several weeks, the crew is relishing a deserved day off. Auntie M’s Diner in downtown Greenville provided a home cooked breakfast that was a welcomed break to the normal instant oatmeal fare. The prediction of rain and wind is not panning our for the Moosehead Lake Region, so lunch at the Black Frog was served outside on their floating Tiki Bar.

In the warming sun, we were constantly entertained by the never-ending barrage of low altitude fly-bys. What a great town this is! Cubs, Taylorcrafts, ultralights, Cessnas of all types and colors buzzing right down Main Street, all eyes upturned. But instead of folks running to the phone to call the local FAA office to report low flying aircraft, there is a reverence expressed by the onlookers, and an occasional “Oouu” or “Aaah”. It seems as if everyone in this town loves airplanes.

It got me to thinking about how many thousands and thousands of times I have watched an airplane take off or land or fly by; and yet when I hear that sound, I am impelled to turn my head and watch, regardless of what is going on in my life at that moment. In Greenville, Maine, there is no shame in it. People fly, drive, walk, or canoe to this beautiful little town on the south shore of Moosehead Lake in droves from all over the country to sit on the docks, or in lawn chairs, or on the tops of their RV’s, to watch airplanes. This is my kind of town.

The highlight perhaps, was multiple fly-bys by a 1954 Grumman Albatross operated by a delightful crew based out of Virginia. This behemoth flying boat sports a pair of giant Wright Cyclone R-1820 radial engines rated at 1500 hp each, emitting a roar not often heard in this day and age. All the diners at the Tiki Bar watched in awe as windows rattled and the ground shook.

Much of the day was spent down at the docks chatting with other attendees about our trip, seaplane flying and of course, the venerable Beaver. I especially enjoyed talking to young Sydney and Kyle Tilton with their parents Jeff and Cheri from Richmond, ME. Our friend, Mark Mathieson, head test pilot for Wipline Floats is here showing off the only float-equipped Kodiak Quest in the world. Mark took a tour and dreamed.

As we are headed back to Canada tomorrow, Doug and Mark spent the better part of the afternoon trying to arrange customs. You’d think it would not be so difficult.

This evening we were treated to a steak and lobster feast in Telford Allen’s hanger. Doug and Mark were asked to say a few words to the favorable crowd.

Many thanks to our generous hosts, the two Telford Allens, Darralyn Gauvin (thank you Darralyn for your help shipping our rafts!), air boss Tom, Mic, Peter, and John and the rest of the Greenville Fly-in Committee, who have extended to us a most warm welcome. We had a great day in Greenville.

Warmest regards,

GAAA Team

Episode 34: Back in the USA

Doug No Comments

We departed Lac des Plaines seaplane base at Havre St Pierre with Captain-in-training Dan Noble flying left seat in Mark’s Beaver. Doug, unaware of the crew change in N2SF, received several curt “stand-by” responses from N2SF in response to the usual plane-to-plane banter. Evidently instructor Mark had informed trainee Dan of the three priorities of flying (in decreasing order of priority): aviate, navigate, and communicate. However, the relatively useless drivel that passes for communication between our planes has become a central part of the adventure. Having your wingman out there looking out for you and sharing your pain during the stressful times has become a key part of the experience, and when the radio goes quiet there is a sense of loss, of being a lone castaway abandoned in the expansive skies. So we were all happy when Captain Mark finished his training duties and resumed his role as our aviation talk show host.

Banking the Beavers to the south west, we spent some time exploring the unique stone sculptures of Mingin Islands National Park, all the while assuring the inquisitive CARS radio lady that we were maintaining the (ahem) requisite 1,000 feet AGL. Tiring of harassing the good folks of Havre St Pierre, we climbed to 4,500 feet to cross the Saint Lawrence Seaway via the Strait of Jacques-Cartier and the Strait of D’ Honguedo. For the GAAA’ers, flying at this altitude is equivalent to peering down from high-earth orbit, as we normally fly low enough to “smell the roses”. Up here, where normal aviators fly, we see the forest, but not the trees. We see the ancient game trails, but not the caribou or moose who travel them. In short, we are seeing the big picture, but missing the rich details below that have so connected us to the land on this journey. Not to worry – having crossed the strait, we descended to tree top level and were immediately rewarded by the sight of a big bull moose wading across a lake in search of a fresh feeding area. We are once again bound to the good earth.

Pressing on, we landed at Jackman Lake and taxied to the Moose River Seaplane Base to clear Customs, where we were talked through a rather dicey docking by fellow pilot and proprietor Steve Coleman. The procedure went something like this:

1. Land on Jackman Lake, into the wind and as close to the mouth of the Moose River outflow as possible.
2. Water taxi into the flowing river, being ever vigilant to hug the right bank and avoid the sharp rocks to the left.
3. Taxi past the dock, and move to the RH side of the river with right wing hanging over numerous obstructions including boats and small float planes.
4. Make a left180 degree turn against the current in a wide spot in the river that is really not wide enough to turn a Beaver. Tighten turn by raising water rudders midway through the turn, allowing the current to accelerate the turn. (A newly acquired skill for the GAAA pilots).
5. Brush shrubs on far side of river with right wing.
6. Pull plane into very small space on dock, careful not to hit N2SF ahead, or the boats behind with the tailplane.
7. Remove soiled undergarments and replace with a clean set, or the closest facsimile found aboard.

After clearing customs, we took off for our final destination of the day, the Greenville Seaplane splash-in, located on Moosehead Lake in Maine. After a formation flight over the docks, we set up for final approach and touched down at about 5:00 PM. While on approach, we noticed an upside down seaplane bobbing “floats up” in the water surrounded by several boats. Not to worry, we later learned that the ultralight seaplane flipped over when caught by an errant gust, but the pilot was safe and the craft was soon righted with little harm done.

We were immediately whisked away for a cruise and dinner on Moosehead Lake, sharing our stories of daring-do with fellow seaplane enthusiasts. Later, after setting up camp at the airport, we crawled into our cozy bags and reflected on the days events while listening to the occasional sweet sound of an arriving aircraft.

It was another Great Day for the GAAA.

Doug and the GAAA Team

N45 27.8 W 69 35.6

Episode 32: New Views

Doug 5 Comments

For the crew of Lisa, Eric and Mark that was camping out, an early start brought a spectacular sunrise. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal mixed with granola and powdered milk, the tips tanks were topped off from jerry cans and 2SF broke water a bit after 9 AM Atlantic Time (we keep losing hours) from a pristine Labradoran lake. The short flight to Goose Bay was spent discussing great canoeing rivers in the west, with many good recommendations shared. The placid waters of Otter Creek were a welcome sight.

Freeman Poole, base manager for Air Labrador was on the dock to greet us along with one of the fine dock hands, Bush. Also on the dock was CBC Radio Goose Bay Bureau reporter Kate, with her microphone, recording the idling sound of the Beaver as it pulled up to the dock. Once Doug and the crew returned to the base, we had a pleasant chat with Kate, discussing our adventure for the benefit of listeners all across Labrador. I’m sure there is a way to access Kate’s feature on the trip, which we understand will air in the next couple of days, by logging onto the CBC website.

We had a nice chat with Warwick Pike, who, along with his brother Roger, are the proprietors of Air Labrador. Besides thanking Warwick for his hospitality at the base, we listened some of his stories about bush flying in Labrador during the last 40 years. It is interesting to note that while Air Labrador no longer operates Beavers, the company has a rich tradition spanning several decades of operating De Havilland aircraft. The current fleet is almost exclusively De Havillands (they operate ONE Caravan) including Dash 8’s and Twin Otters on wheels, skis and floats.

Freeman, Eric and Mark held a ceremony for Doug’s benefit. While we have been previously a bit disappointed at not attaining our goal of reaching the Magnetic North Pole, Freeman pointed out that the lake that 2SF camped at last night was named “North Pole Lake”. Well that was good enough for us, so we surprised Doug with a Santa hat, meant to be presented at the MNP.

Fueling went very quickly with the aid of dock hand Shane, and a fuel hose, an odd new contraption with which we have been unfamiliar for the past few weeks. Strangely and conveniently, it allows one to refuel an aircraft with out using a fuel drum, hand pump, jerry can, or pick-up truck. It is as if the fuel appears magically. We were all delighted at this new invention.

Subway sandwiches were purchased by the airport shuttle team of Dave and Norma, Robbie was met at baggage claim, and we all enjoyed a reunion and lunch on the dock as the temperature climbed to 85d. Hugs were exchanged as we said goodbye to David and Lisa. David has been such a key member of the team, who along with his wife, Carol, has kept our website fires burning. Lisa brought fun, hard work, and great weather to the team during her brief four days with us. She also brought Mark some needed family time. Thank you to David and Lisa. Until the next adventure, happy travels to you both.

Thank you also to Warwick, Freeman, Bush and Shane for their hospitality at Otter Creek.

Our departure in blustery winds brought new views. First of all, the addition of Robbie and Norma has once again energized our team with new team chemistry. Secondly, our 320 nautical mile sightseeing tour out to the Atlantic Ocean, down the coast and into Belle Strait at the mouth of the St Lawrence Seaway, revealed the amazing quilt works of rocky islands, shores and fishing villages that is the Labrador Coast. We had not seen such scenery prior to today. Seeing the Atlantic, and finally making the turn westbound on the one month anniversary of our departure from Lake Washington, caused us to reflect on the past four weeks and all that we have experienced. For fun, Doug brought up PAE on the GPS (the identifier for Paine Field in Everett, a few miles north of our hometown of Kenmore) and found that we have 2553 nautical miles to go, and two and a half weeks in which to do it. We have gone as far as we can go in this great land of Canada. Turning towards the setting sun and donning sunglasses, our little band of adventurers is finally heading home.

With fond thoughts to all our missed friends and family,

From our beach front campsite at N51d.38 W56d.52,

The GAAA Team

Episode 31: Fire

Doug 3 Comments

There are signs:

It could be that we haven’t been fighting a headwind for the last couple of days…

Perhaps it’s because we haven’t had an Arctic Char feast for a few days…

Come to think of it we didn’t set up our Polar Bear defenses last night…

Or it could be that last night we landed in relatively flat water and pulled the planes up on a nice sandy beach free of rocks and pounding wind waves…

The bears are black instead of white…

Maybe it’s because we pulled up to an actual seaplane dock in Kuujjuaq this morning, and refueled with Avgas instead of auto gas…

It could be all of these things, but I think the campfire we had last night, enabling us to warm our feet was the final sign.

Yes we have departed the Arctic – and are saddened for our loss. After whining about the rigors of the north for the last few weeks, and fearing that we might get stuck up there for the winter, it is an unexpected emotion, but I think we are all experiencing it.

We all miss the Arctic our own way, but for me I think our travels have suddenly become too easy. There is something about fighting for each mile against the elements of wind, rain, and cold that gives you a certain satisfaction at the end of the day. Perhaps it’s the vastness of the place, the thousands of miles of tundra inhabited by some of the toughest animals and humans on the planet that changes your focus. For the last few weeks, we’ve had no news of or interest in the politics, financial markets, or other functions of western society that normally dominate our day-to-day lives. We’ve just being concerned with eking out another mile, getting fuel, and experiencing this exotic place.

Yesterday, after crossing into the Boreal Forests, finding a campsite with available firewood became a priority. And so after a brief search for a suitable site, alert GAAA’er Dave Good spotted wood lying on a beach, immediately clinching the place as our campsite.

After three weeks in a land with no trees, the return of the evening’s fire and the warm and cheery atmosphere it provided was welcomed by the weary GAAA team.

And so after listening to the soothing patter of a warm and friendly rain on our tent flaps last night, we broke camp and made the short hop to Kuujjuaq where we glided to rest at a seaplane-friendly dock, and pumped real Avgas from drums into our thirsty Beavers. While there, we spent some time with legendary bush pilots Johnny and Billy May. Johnny, who has logged an incredible 20,000 hours of flying in these parts, was one of the first native pilots in the north. For these guys, the rigors we experienced over the last few weeks are just another day at the office. Out hats our off to Johnny and Billy, who endure bad weather and engine failures with no complaint.

Departing Kuujjuaq, we headed south to “Caribou Central”, an area about one hundred miles south rumored to be swarming with the hoofed herbivores. Alas, our efforts yielded little, as we only saw three of the elusive reindeer. However, ever vigilant GAAA’er Dave spotted two black bears, another sign that we were returning to a familiar land.

Mark and crew opted to land at a lake about 60 miles NW of Goose Bay (N54 02, W61 36) while Doug and crew pressed on to the Otter Creek Seaplane base at Goose Bay to meet up with incoming GAAA’ers Norma Ward and Robbi DeVries (Doug’s spousal unit.) Doug and crew were greeted by Freeman Poole of Air Labrador who provided a well appreciated docking space and loads of support and goodwill to the weary travelers. Thank you, Freeman, for your warm hospitality.

Norma, who by now had made friends with the entire town, took us out for a nice dinner, each of us savoring the fresh food while sipping our “spirit” of choice.

Did anybody hear what the Dow did yesterday…?

Until tomorrow,

Doug and the GAAA Team

N53 21, W60 25

Episode 28 & 29: The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

Doug 2 Comments

Morning of Day 28 dawned in Baker Lake much as those before – gray skies dripping with moisture hovering close to the soggy tundra. Undaunted, and armed with a reasonably good forecast from Arctic Radio for our flight to Coral Harbor, we loaded our sodden gear into the Beavers and departed to the NE in hopes of better weather ahead. Initially, visibility was fair, with scattered areas of reduced visibility in fog and rain. Gradually, the rain and fog won out, and poor flying conditions forced us to land at a lake located at N 64 50, W 90 50. After pulling the planes onshore, we got out the Sat phone and checked in with Arctic Radio. Incredibly, we were now informed that conditions had deteriorated and no improvement was expected for the next 4 days. If you are all tired of hearing about our weather problems, multiply that emotion by ten and you have some insight into our thoughts and feelings at that moment. Were we ever going to get out of the arctic? After contemplating our plight and deciding that we had food and shelter to survive the siege, we had a good laugh and took off to “summit” the nearby five hundred foot stone mountain.

Following trails set by caribou and musk ox, we entertained ourselves by trying to match the various scatological samples along the trail with the animals of the tundra. Meanwhile, ever so slowly the skies to the east began to lighten, and we again plotted our escape. Adopting a new opportunistic policy of flying whenever the weather is good regardless of the time or duration, we again took to the skies – much to Dan’s chagrin who had just pitched his tent and was hunkered down for the duration. Too our delight, the weather continued to improve, and the arctic yielded some unexpected surprises. After seeing several small groups of caribou our hungry eyes picked up two white forms streaking across the terrain. As we grew closer the shapes took form as none other then canis lupis, los lobos, two arctic wolves looping with ease across the barren terrain, no doubt on the hunt for an unwary caribou. Reluctantly we flew on, lost in our thoughts about the life and death drama unfolding below.

After some distance, while scanning the surface below, we spotted what appeared to be a small iceberg in a lake, which upon further inspection turned out to be a Polar Bear. While Doug spotted from above, Mark landed and the film crew got some great footage of this grand arctic predator. The bear eyed us as if debating our suitability as a food source. Ultimately deciding that we were too old and tough for a good dinner, he ambled on unperturbed by our presence.

As we approached Coral Harbor, alert GAAA mate Dave Good noted that we were quickly approaching sunset, a problem that in the continuous light of the high arctic had heretofore not been an issue. So we landed on a lake about 30 miles west of Coral Harbor and set up camp for the evening. (N64 08, W 84 25). The arctic served up one more delight that night in the form of the northern lights, nature’s light show of dancing light sabers against the northern sky.

The next morning everything seemed wrong as the sun was shining, the winds were low, and the air was dry. These conditions, new to the crew, prompted an early departure to Coral Harbor. After scanning for a good site, we set up final approach over the town, and carefully avoiding both power lines and rocks in the water, landed to the south. Doug’s landing was aborted by the departure of a flock of birds, but everyone got down safely and we beached the planes. We were greeted by an enthusiastic mob of villagers, and over the next 5 hours refueled with over 200 gallons of car gas carried in 5 gallon jerry cans from the one and only pump in town. Since the pumps were closing down for a holiday weekend, we had competition from the locals and had too wait in gas lines up to 18 deep. Due to the inquisitive Inuit kids and a rapidly changing tide, we had to post guards at the planes to make sure they were not damaged by the changing tide or the eager fans. The local RCMP, Serge Cote stopped by to make sure we were OK, having been notified of our pending arrival by our RCMP mates back at Baker Lake.

We departed about 3 PM and headed south and east crossing the north end of the Hudson Bay via Fox Channel via Nottingham Island. Arriving on the mainland at Cape Wolstenholme, we descended to do some filming along the spectacular white cliffs. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, the air was filled with thousands of birds, who fortunately proved skilled in avoiding these large noisy interlopers that had invaded their nesting area. We quickly departed the area and headed south east along the coast of Peninsula D’ungava to our next fueling stop at Kangiqsujuaq. With sun setting in the west, we landed on Lac Qanartaliup Tasinga (N 61 42.38, W 72 54.26) where we pitched our tents in the serene arctic twilight.

It was, in short, a Great Day in the Arctic.

Our shout-out today is to Able, Doris and their wonderful family who helped us hump fuel at Coral Harbor for the better part of 5 hours, a helping hand that was gratefully accepted by the GAAA team.

Your warm-and-dry-for-the-first-time-in weeks GAAA Team

Episode 27: Benighted in Baker Lake

Doug 1 Comment

Is anyone out there starting to notice a pattern to our blogs? Is anyone picking up on a theme for our adventure? Yes, once again we spent a day waiting for better flying conditions. Since our arrival in Resolute on Monday, August 18th, we have made progress on our route around Canada in only three of the last ten days. Is it growing old?

And so we learn the hard lessons of travel in the Arctic. Fly. Wait. Wait. Fly. After yesterday’s miscalculation, we are careful not to repeat that adventure, finding ourselves perhaps a bit more conservative in our decision-making. We are united in our decision-making however and we will continue to wade our way as safely as possible through this labyrinth of low pressure systems that continually pound this land with which we are unfamiliar and at the same time awestruck.

We have been well-treated here in Baker Lake. Dale Schwehr, the manager of Nunamuit Lodge has provided us with cozy rooms and great meals. Thank you Dale. RCMP Constable Jeff Henderson has kept us out of trouble. We look forward to seeing his dad, John, when we visit the Canada Aviation Museum and Canada Vintage Air in Ottawa on September 7th. All of our encounters here have been of a friendly sort.

Eric and Jim interviewed a couple of men here in Baker Lake, today. Glenn McLean, owner of Arctic Fuel has done just about every job you can do in the Arctic and told us great stories about a life well lived above 60 N. Ebe Scherkus, president of Agnico-Eagle Mines, was gracious to spend time with us telling how his company is opening one of the first goldmines in Nunavut and its positive impact on the community of Baker Lake. Eric and Jim were inspired by the importance that both of these men place on caring for the people and land of Nunavut.

The planes are fueled and ready to go at Airplane Lake. The forecast is improving somewhat. We look forward to the opportunity to make some progress tomorrow.

Until then,

The GAAA Crew

Episode 26: Battling to Baker Lake

Doug 2 Comments

Before coming to the arctic, back when we were reading and dreaming about it in the warm comfort of our sitting rooms, we learned that this place, and particularly the weather, is in a state of constant change. At no time was this more dramatically played out then our flight in to Baker Lake today.

After a restless night on “Dog Days Lake” listening to the tent flaps snapping and popping in the wind, we crawled out of our warm cocoons to a slightly better day, which is to say that the ceiling was up to 600’ and we had a mile or two of visibility. A quick call from the Sat phone to Arctic Radio confirmed that with predicted ceilings 800’, 4 miles visibility, and winds of 18-22 knots we were good for the run to Baker Lake where we could refill our thirsty tanks and fly on to Coral Harbor.

So in celebration of our impending good fortune, we cooked up a mess of Kodiak Cake flapjacks, broke camp, packed up the planes and were off in a mere 2 or 3 hours. With our 450 hp Pratt and Whitney radial engines roaring at full power, we made a safe (if a bit rough) take-off.

As we approached Baker Lake, our ground speeds slowed to less then 70 knots in the face of an increasing headwind. WHINING ALERT: statistically, we should experience an equal amount of head and tail winds on a trip like this, but in fact have been bucking a headwind over 90% of the time. (Thanks for letting us vent our resentment to this great metrological injustice.)

We contacted Baker Lake radio to report our position and to get the updated weather. We were somewhat disconcerted to find that the pressure had been dropping dramatically over the last couple of hours, winds were now in excess of 30 knots, and for good measure a wind driven rain was hammering our planes. Continuing on to Baker Lake, we observed 3-4’ wind waves way in excess of our landing capability, so we continued on to “Airplane Lake” , the designated seaplane base according our Canadian Water Aerodrome Supplement. As you will soon see, we have a bit of a bone to pick with guy who named this “Airplane Lake”, as it is the worst case of false advertising since a group of four male rock-n-rollers got together and named their group the “The Bare Naked Ladies”. After circling the lake a few times, we decided to splash down, knowing that it would be a rough ride with 2-3 foot wind waves. After some rather energetic control inputs, and dodging a radio tower on final, both planes touched down, with Mark landing short and Doug landing long.

And then things started to get interesting…

A seaplane is an uneasy marriage between a boat and an airplane, with both functions somewhat less then optimum. On the Beaver design team, the aviation guys won out over the marine guys, yielding a pretty cool airplane with somewhat compromised boating characteristics. While you contemplate this strange juxtaposition of competing elements consider this: what boater in his right mind would go skimming across three foot wind waves at 70 mph with a hull constructed of 0.040” thick aluminum.

Mark’s crew skillfully maneuvered over towards the north shore, but found the rocky landing site combined with the pounding surf unsuitable for beaching. Where upon Mark and Jim jumped into the chest high freezing water and proceeded to set an anchor, an admirable feat considering the circumstances. Meanwhile, up at the far end of the lake Doug and team were experiencing an aquatic thrill of their own. Unable to turn down wind because of the strong wind, Doug decided to shut the engine down and “sail” back to Mark’s location. This scheme worked well for a few seconds until one of the floats struck a rock just under the surface that was completely hidden by the high seas. Firing up the engine, and with tremendous help from Dan and Dave, Doug was able to “tack” down the lake through a series of sailing and power-taxing maneuvers, all the while checking the relative freeboard of both hulls to see if they were taking on water.

As Doug approached the landing zone backwards, Mark, who gets the hero-of-the-day award, jumped in yet again to the chest high water and set an anchor. Now, at least for the moment, the planes and crew were safe.

Doug hitched a ride into town with some miners, while the rest of the crew shivered in the driving rain. After hoofing around the this hearty hamlet for the better part ofan hour trying to find transportation and lodging, RCMP Corporal Cam Lockwood and fellow seaplane pilot graciously took pity on him and drove out to the lake to fetch the guys, who were now very cold and shivering badly. They all piled into his pickup and rode into town where we found some rooms at the Nunamuit Lodge.

After warming up and drying out, Dale the cook presented a feast of Caribou steak, and we had a grand time reliving the day’s experiences. Later, Constable Jeff Henderson drove us out to check the planes where a thorough float pumping revealed that the floats on Doug’s Beav were still intact. ONE HUGE THANKS TO THE GUYS WHO DESIGNED AND BUILT THESE RuGGED EDO FLOATS.

Having internet connection, we entertained ourselves by reading a comment to our Blog of Episode 24 from a “Steve” who took off from Seattle in a turbine Beaver and is flying our route in an effort to catch up with us – you’ve got to read this as it is very entertaining and has a plot twist at the end. Thanks Steve to you and your buddies for all your support.

Our Shout-Out tonight goes to RCMP Corporal Cam and Constable Jeff who came to our rescue in this trying time. You guys are the best.

Current location: N 64 degrees 19.26 minutes, W 95 degrees 58.46 minutes.

OK, we’ve done the Adventure part of the GAAA, we’re all ready for the “Great” part.

The GAAA Team

PS: Most of the Inuit villages are “dry”, so we are forced to relive the day’s events while completely sober, thereby reducing the magnitude of our own bravado, which is a real drag to everyone but non-drinker Mark. We even tried to score some black-market hooch – but alas our RCMP friends were of no help in our retched scheme.

PPS: Steve, when you land at Airplane Lake, be sure to do it with forty knot winds, 3’ whitecaps, and watch out for the rocks on the NE end of the lake.

Episode 25: Dog Days

Doug 1 Comment

It started to rain around midnight. Not that pitter patter rain we love to hear on the roof of the house back home on a warm spring day. Not that spitting Yukon rain that we experienced a couple of weeks ago; the kind of rain that is barely an annoyance. No, this was more like a hard driving Arctic rain, that comes in sideways, accompanied with a 30 knot blow out of the NE, blasts through the seams of your tent and your expensive raingear, slides under your ground cloth and weeps up to your sleeping bag; that kind of rain.

Even though our lake has a short ½ mile fetch, three foot rollers with whitecaps have pounded the shore all day. Scud hangs low in the rolling tundra. And so we find ourselves weather-bound yet again. These are our dog days, where forward progress slows as we patiently wait. Whose idea was this anyway?

The dismal forecasts for Baker Lake (95.5 nautical miles SE) and Coral Harbour (app. 450 nm east) notwithstanding, the bright side still has its shine. Our planes are safe and sheltered on what we have agreed is the nicest sandy beach of the trip so far. (Mark is excited by his belief that a good fine sand polish on the bottom of his floats will increase his take-off performance.) Eric has become quite the provider and caught a beautiful 7 pound char this morning, resulting in another fish feast. Caribou were spotted. The venerable Beavers have performed flawlessly the last 2 weeks. (Oh Canada, we love these airplanes!) Our camera crew of Eric and Jim, has proven itself Arctic tough, and remains energetic and driven in its insatiable appetite for the perfect footage. Our new team mates have proven their worth. David Good, an experienced pilot, gave Mark a needed break at the controls of 2SF yesterday during a long, tough day in the cockpit with a heavy load in deteriorating weather. He has also been a major contributor around camp. Dan Noble, an experienced Himalayan mountaineer, has willingly pitched in with getting the stoves going in windy conditions and provided medical advice. (He won’t say it but I’m sure he finds our plight laughable when compared to some of the weather he’s endured.) Jim and Mark entertained themselves jacket sailing off a bluff. At dinner, Doug explained to Mark the various sub-cultures of California, helping him to better understanding the strange behaviors of our Santa Cruz-based camera team. Tundra walks to break up the tent-bound monotony have been accompanied with friendly conversation and camaraderie.

Through it all there’s been no complaining, no ill-temper, no self-pity. All remain upbeat, expectant and committed to our goal at hand of navigating these 2 wonderful machines around their homeland while inhaling a full draft of this spectacular country.

And so we remain one more day at 65d.33m north, 98d.21m west.

Allison’s ornithological report:

Today’s ID’s: Canada goose, snow goose, peregrine falcon, and glaucous gulls nibbling on the remnants of Eric’s fish. Yesterday, flying over enormous flocks of snow geese, our tally ran into the thousands.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the Wilsey’s of Delmar, NY tonight, a hearty and loving family that has courageously pulled together to inspire us at a difficult time.

With thoughts of familial love to all our family members throughout the world,

The GAAA Team

Episode 24 – Retreat from Resolute

Doug 1 Comment

Morning of day 23 dawned much the same as the previous five mornings, low ceilings, poor vis, etc. So with newbies Dan and Dave in tow, we showed off our local knowledge and gave them a tour of the hamlet of Resolute Bay. That kept us busy until 8:30 AM or so, at which point Mark & freinds took off to summit the mountain to the north. I am happy to report that the expedition summited without oxygen – all four hundred feet of it. Upon returning they stopped in to the local Anglican church and enjoyed the service even though it was spoken in the native tongue and they had no idea what was being said. Fortunately, the good pastor let the service out in time for Randy-the-chef’s lunch at the South Camp Inn.

Meanwhile, Jim and Doug took off to set up the camera system on Mark’s Beaver in the normal sub-freezing temperatures and high winds. Regrouping at 12 Noon we decided that the weather was good enough to stage our escape to the south. With winter setting in early, we need to get south FAST to insure the continuation of the GAAA.

Threading our way through snow squalls and mist, we wound our way south, ever vigilant for glimpses of the exotic arctic wildlife. On our approach to Prince of Wales Island, we spotted a large group of Beluga Whales, and decided to land to get a closer look. We spent the next hour or so bobbing in the rough seas and admiring these white whales of the arctic

Crossing McClintock Channel, we flew over pack ice and had some fun flying and filming over the patchwork below, looking for all the world like a giant snowflake resting on the surface of the sea. We made our camp on a small unknown lake some 100 miles east of Cambridge Bay. As we poked our heads out of our tents this AM, we were greeted by a light dusting of snow – confirming our resolve to continue moving south.

After refueling in Cambridge Bay, we headed south and east for Baker Lake, all the while bucking a 15 knot headwind. We flew over giant formations of Snow Geese, numbering in the hundreds. We made several attempts to fly in formation with these winged wonders, but found that our noisy Beavers were not well received by our would-be wingmen.

Tonight we are camping about 100 miles north west of Baker Lake.

The GAAA Team.

Episode 22- Polar Bear

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With our time here in Resolute coming to an end, we headed out to the planes to act out what has become one of our favorite pass times – refueling from drums. As we bounced along the gravel road leading to Resolute Lake, alert cameraman Eric Thiermann noticed a white head bobbing in Resolute Bay to the south. Eric’s sharp eye may have been aided by the presence of several villagers excitedly gesturing toward the bay, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Anyway, after skidding to a stop and piling out of our sporty 1975 Suburban, we stampeded towards the shore. And sure enough, there was the great white bear, Ursus maritimus, swimming in the frigid arctic waters . Here we were, in the presence the world’s largest land predator, a species whose adult males can weigh up to 1500 lbs. Even though we were quite safe with the bear some distance out in the bay, I can say that when the bear tuned and briefly swam towards us we were all mentally calculating the sprint time to the Suburban, and wondering if GM had tested this venerable utility vehicle against bear attacks.

After talking with the locals, we found that a couple of days ago the Inuits had shot a Beluga Whale and dragged it ashore.. Evidently the hungry bear scented the slaughtered whale from many miles away, and swam in for the a feast before being driven away.

Resuming our travels brought us to our planes where we commenced the fueling ritual. There are certain aspects of arctic fueling which cannot be fully appreciated until experienced. Take, for example, the occasional splashing of fuel on one’s gloves. Aside from the normal unpleasant odor, in the arctic the cold wind causes rapid evaporation with associated sudden cooling, rendering the afflicted fingers numb within minutes. Note to self: bring better gloves next time.

While refueling we heard the daily First Air flight arriving, bringing in good friend and GAAA webmaster Dave Good, and Doug’s brother in law and fellow adventurer Dan Noble. We were excited to have them join us, first for their good company, closely followed by the fact that they were bringing fresh food supplies for the next leg of our journey. In the harsh world of the high arctic, we have come to better appreciate the staples of life – food, warmth,and the camaraderie of our fellows.

Having called this harsh and barren gravel pit home for the last few days, we’ve picked up a bit of the local history. Founded in 1947 as an airfield and weather station, Resolute is home to approximately 230 year-round residents. In an effort to establish sovereignty in the high arctic, thus ensuring access to the natural resources, in 1953 the Canadian government forcibly relocated Inuit people from northern Quebec to Resolute. Having lost most of their traditional skills and purpose, many of the native population depend on the government for survival in this inhospitable land. As you contemplate this co-dependent relationship between the Inuit people and the government, imagine trying to survive in a place where it is impossible to cultivate crops or maintain live stock of any kind. Is it any wonder that NASA comes to the arctic to test technology for exploring unknown worlds?

Tomorrow, if the weather gods bestow upon us the favor of good weather, we will begin winging are way to the south and east as we continue on the Great Arctic Air Adventure.

Doug and the GAAA Team

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