Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bush Pilots, Goslings and Anaphylaxis

I'm in Coldfoot, Alaska working for a Bush Plane company in the Brook's Mountain Range. It seems like I can't get away from spending my summers up north somewhere, so if I get to learn about flying and engines then all the better.

Solstice at around 2:30 am

I get 4 day flexible workweeks, full use of their subaru, free food, my very own "playhouse" cabin with a caribou blanket I've nicknamed 'Carlos', free flights, etc...

It's like I'm a part of the family; Dan teaching me how to drive a Bobcat, and my boss showing me how to make my first set of bbq caribou ribs, (in addition to giving me flying lessons in the Beavers). They even ordered me a pair of pink-trimmed coveralls that are aptly named "Rosie's Coveralls", although besides the dash of pink, there really is nothing feminine about them. I love all the pockets though.

My boss teaching me all about bbq sauce and caribou ribs

me taking the Cat out for a drive
What's my job? I'd describe it as groundskeeper/maintenance. I take care of the 25 chickens, 6 ducks, 2 goslings, 10 turkeys, 3 dogs, and the cat. I fetch defibrillators by ransacking the trooper's hanger when someone goes into anaphylactic shock. I drive around the bobcat hauling gravel, clean sparkplugs, figure out how the plumbing works, make the zucchini flowers have sex because there aren't enough bees up here to get the job done, build sheds with German carpenters named Olaf while balancing precariously on 2x4's, paint random walls, airplanes, etc...

Scouting for a place to land
Pumpkin getting her 100 hr check-up. (I think I was trying to find a fallen bolt or something here)
The first time my boss let me fly, he leans over in his seat and says "Time for you to fly now", lets go of the controls and started getting out of his seat. We did a mid-flight switcharoo in between the updrafts of air wafting from the mountainsides, and that was my first flying lesson this season.

Meet "Jeane", one of the 1953 Beavers that my boss flies. 
 There were about 1600 Beavers ever made and 900 of them are still flying. Solid workhorse airplanes. My boss has been letting me fly Jeane, and is an amazing teacher: "Flying is all in the fingertips. Don't overgrip. It's all about finesse."

Bart had a bit of an engine problem with his WW2 era machine... as in it caught fire anytime he'd take off. 
What the inside of a DC-3 looks like. This plane flew during WW2 and still hauls loads today. 

Funny story, I was digging around and found old climbing gear, so we're out flying and my boss starts telling me that he started climbing near Denali when he got snowed in with some climbers he was dropping off and lo' and behold they were Alex Lowe and Conrad Anker, who promptly outfitted him with some gear and showed him the ropes. In his words that's what he did in Talkeetna everyday: woke up, flew some climbers out onto the glaciers to basecamp, would fly back, grab his climbing gear, fly back out, climb till it grew dark, fly back to town, get drunk at the bars and crash in the aviation office (he didn't have his own place) till morning to start all over again.

Anyway, I digress.
My climbing wall for the summer.

This DC-3 engine would catch fire every time it took off, so we decided to see what was up
This is 'Beamer'---one of the guys that picked me up while I was hitching to go backpacking
Obligatory caribou antler photo

I'm getting tired of taking photos with self-timers. Time for a tripod or someone else interested in what I do.
I know I'll get my pilot's license some day. It's just a matter of time. Flying is like driving down an empty 50 lane highway at 200 mph in an E-Class Cabriolet without brakes. It's addicting, and whenever you hit some serious weather the adrenaline kicks in.

I've never had more than three vehicles pass by without picking me up on the haul road. Alaska = Hitchhiker's haven 
the two Canada goslings Olaf and I rescued

The shed that went up in about 5 days
So about the anaphylaxis situation. I was painting the shed when Dan starting yelling my name. I ran over with red paint dripping down my coveralls, and Dan was in rapid-fire mode, "He's fetching a kid from the river. He's in anaphylactic shock. Three epi-pens didn't help. He's passed out in the back of the plane. ETA 15 minutes. He might be dying. Fetch the defibrillator and the oxygen tank. I called for a med-evac, but their ETA is 1 hour. Run."

Long story short, the kid had spontaneously developed a cashew allergy and almost died on us, but the med-evac came in time and we managed to flag down two Pakistani doctors from the Mayo clinic that were on vacation to help us out. Lucky break. Four days later there was a plane crash up on the North Slope (one of the passengers shattered his pelvis), and then yesterday someone else flipped a Beaver while landing on a gravel bar in the Gates of the Arctic. Bush flying is dangerous.
Freddie the therapist trucker sneaking me through Prudhoe Bay's security
Troubleshooting the plumbing again. Welcome to my life.

Arctic Ocean and oil rigs 
Caribou and the Arctic Ocean with some spring ice breakup  

Hitching a ride in a semitruck after taking a nap in the back.
 There's nothing quite like the bumping-rolling motion of a truck speeding 75 mph down the Haul Road with scratchy Johnny Cash songs blaring from the radio. You sleep like a newborn kitten.

customary solstice bonfire jam session with the coldfoot crew

dragging a tree to the bonfire
Like a boss 

Watching the DC-3 barely make it off the runway is always nerve-wracking. 
BTW, riding in a DC-3 during take-off (even with earmuffs on) will make your ears ring for a good 10 min 

 This is about 8 miles up a drainage and about the time when I realized I left the subaru's lights on.

I feel like this is what being on the moon might be like.  
Sukakpak mtn. 
Grizzly tracks. What else is new?
 I left my cabin to use the outhouse in the middle of the night and saw a grizz with a cub standing by the chickens. I decided my bathroom break could wait till morning.

The Trooper pouring me a cold one for the 4th of July celebration

I love this truck. I've hauled everything from sled dogs to aviation fuel and propellers on it.

1 comment:

  1. Класс! Пиши еще, привет из Бостона.