Friday, August 28, 2009

Its foggy, but its a dry fog...

The next day we had a trip up north to drop off some guests and pick up a few more coming out. Everything started out nicely, but we didn't get much more than thirty or so miles from base when it became painfully obvious that the morning fog was not dissipating to the north and was actually pretty thick.

We put down on a lake and taxied through the fog over to another lodge outfit and tied up to their dock to wait it out.

This happens a fair bit and no one seems to mind a competitors plane pulling up and disgorging its passengers onto their dock. The guests do get to talking and comparing notes though, especially when you end up sitting their for three or four hours, and that can be awkward. Particularly when our guests are bragging about how great the fishing is in the far northern lakes to the guests of the lodge who is accommodating us.

Sometimes you don't get a lodge, sometimes its an outpost cabin, like one of ours. Other times its an Indian camp where things can be a little....rustic. Still other times, you don't get to pick a nice lake you know has a cabin on it and you just end up floating back and forth on some unknown lake. This sucks, as everyone is piled into the plane and there isn't much to do except stare at each other in the dead quiet.

Its nicer when the weather is obviously crap and we get delayed at base with all the comforts of home.

Once the fog lifted a little, we set out again to make another go of it, now that the sun was poking through and starting to lift all the fog up from the lake. We didn't get far though on our trip northward before we had to land again and wait some more. This time it was just some lake and we floated for another hour before we finally got off again.

Made it through this time, but by the time we got back to base a three-hour round trip had turned into an seven hour escapade.

Lots more project trips in store over the next two weeks. We've got a few more docks to rebuild, boat ramps to repair and we've started the process of shutting down and winterizing the cabins as well. I think next week we're going north for five days or so to base out of one of the northern camps and close down a half dozen or so by doing day trips instead of flying all the way up each time from our base in the south.

I've got a little over two more weeks to go and then its back home!! I'm really looking forward to seeing the wife every night and being able to have some semblance of a normal life again.

Oh, I had to share this as well. Compared to the weather we've been having this summer, and I use the term "summer" loosely, this was a welcome sight this morning.

Usually, there is at least one weather system on the move, looming towards us. We've had a day or two of a nice quasi-stationary high pressure system. Gives us a bit of fog in the morning ( that and the cold night air over the relatively warm lake water ), but very pleasant afternoons.

That night we decided to try and deep fry something other than fish. Love the fish, but we had some chicken in the freezer and decided it coudlnt really be all that hard to make fried chicken could it??

Unfortunately, the chicken takes a lot longer to cook on the inside than does the fish. The outside however seems to cook very quickly.

We ended up with deep fried chicken pucks.

Found this guy lurking in a nearby campground. I swear those are inflatable air mattresses strapped to the float struts. The fact that this thing is missing wings make me fell just a little bit safer.


I'm also hard on the trail for my next job as well. I've revamped my resume into a new and improved aviation-single-page style and am making the rounds of companies I've been pestering to hire me.

My odds of landing a flying job in the off-season are markedly lower, even lower still are my odds of picking anything up on the west coast. I'm ok with working on the ground for the winter, I've waited thirty some odd years to realize this dream, another year or two wont kill me, if thats what it takes.

3rd Period

Definitely getting down towards the end of summer here. The leaves are even starting to change, We turned the heat back on in the bunkhouse last night, and this morning was definitely jacket weather.

Afternoons can still be quite nice when the sun decides to show up, which isn't all that often, Not scorching sun-screen hot, but hot enough to want to retreat inside once in a while to find some shade.

The fall is bringing us a lot of time between flights where there isn't much to do other than the big project jobs that have been held off all summer as they would take a day or more to complete. Dock repairs, boat ramp re-building, trail making, that kind of thing.

We went out the other day for an overnight trip as the job we had planned, a new dock section at one of the cabins, was estimated to take us the better part of two days.

We packed up all our overnight gear and sleeping bags, a cooler full of beer and our fishing rods. This time of the season we don't have to pack too much food as the cabins are pretty well stocked with leftover dry goods from all the guests over the summer. All we had to do was catch the fish and that was it. Not too hard to do in these lakes either.

This particular dock had been a big problem for us early on in the year, as it was too low and the high water in the spring gave us trouble in docking the plane to a dock that was well under a foot or two of water.

The water took its time going down as well, so the first months worth of guests had to contend with all kinds of difficulty in tying up their boats and negotiating their gear back and forth to the plane on arrival and departure.

The worst part was that once wood is submerged in these lakes for any period of time, they tend to get quite the coating of lake slime on them. A nice film of dirt, algae and who knows what else that is as slick as, well, goose shit. In fact, perhaps thats what it was. Carrying an armload of tackle boxes, coolers, sleeping bags and whatnot over what is essentially a greased board with ankle-deep water over top isn't pleasant.

The first step was to strip off all the old boards on the top deck of the dock. Then hammer out all the old nails so we could re use the boards themselves. Out comes the chainsaw and we knock down a few trees to be cut up and stripped of their bark to use as supports for the dock cribs.

The dock cribs are essentially wooden boxes made by stacking the logs log-cabin style and then nailing them together with foot-long metal spikes. Since wood tends to float, and the cribs are meant to be the supports for the dock, a layer of thin sticks is inserted between one of the layers in the cribbing and rocks piled on top of the floor made of the thin sticks.

For further support, wire cable is wrapped underneath the floor inside the cribbing and wrapped around the top layer of the crib itself. The rocks hold the whole contraption down, resting on the lake floor. Eventually, the thin sticks that the rocks are piled on will snap once they start to rot out underwater, and the rocks will settle against the sticks and the sides of the cribbing itself. The sticks are now forced into the lake bottom, as well as the crib sides by the weight of the rocks anchoring it down pretty solidly. The cable, being underneath all this stuff before it breaks, is now held taut by the weight of the rocks and this pulls the loop that goes around the top, holding the whole thing solidly together.

We peel the bark off the logs so that the insects don't have a place to live and the rot doesn't have anything to work on. The smooth, sap-coated logs will last much longer.

To peel the logs, we use a midevil torture device known as a draw-knife.

The draw knife is a knife lade that is laid horizontally, with a handle on each end, Straddling the fallen log, you “draw” the knife towards you on the bark and peel off great strips of bark. The tree had to be live so you get a nice wet layer of sap under the bark to make peeling it relatively easy.

You only need to peel alternating strips of bare tree down the length of the log, the strips left on the tree will peel and fall off one their own now that you've stripped off half the bark. This is fortunate as it really is hard work and peeling the entire tree would be a bit of a chore.

The bark strips as they come off and the logs themselves underneath are really coated in sap. Your hands, arms and clothes gets coated with the stuff. The only real thing that will wash it off is gasoline, which actually works pretty good. Scrubbing down with gas is not too pleasant, but it beats being coated with sap. I still have little patches of sap that I missed that are like bits of bubble-gum stuck to the hairs of my arms and legs.

We also had to cut some long logs to act as the stringers, resting on top of the finished cribs, that the deck boards could get nailed to. These were tough as we had to fall them near the shore so that once peeled, we could float them over to the dock and then heave them up top to be fastened down with more spikes.

You need a fairly level surface so that the deck boards aren't all wonky as well, so the chainsaw gets used to shave down the high spots. Luckily we picked some really straight logs and it turned out quite good with minimal fuss.

We went full throttle on this job the first day in camp and actually managed to get the whole thing done by 16:00 on the first day.

Its wasn't raining ( very much ) so went out fishing for a few hours after that to get ourselves some dinner.

The mosquitoes were ruthless while we were cleaning the fish and frying them up in the outdoor fish cooker. After dinner though and with a decent little bonfire going and they went away.

Nice clear night and I got a decent view of the starts from the camp. I finally realized that after being up here so long, this was the first real chance I had to take a look at a clear night sky. Its far enough away from the brights lights ( ok, ANY lights ) that you get a nice view. You know you're in the sticks when the milky way is so obvious.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Heading back

I don't know what all the fuss about on-stop flights is about. You take a flight of any length over an hour and a half and a chance to get out, use a civilized washroom and stretch your legs is usually pretty welcome to me.

Maybe I should look into buying a small plane and doing trans-pacific service to Asia with stops every hour and a half along the coast, Alaska, Russia and China. Stops would be to airports where thery would be equipped with pre-manufactured lounge facilities for the guest. a couple of ATCO trailers done up inside with some brass, glass, mirrors and a bar. Air We'll-Get-There...Eventually

You also don't get as many take offs or landings on a direct flight as in a milk run, and frankly thats half the fun of flying..

Sitting on my Westjet flight, I managed to get myself an exit row seat. The window seat in the exit row is even better, as they have removed the seat in front f you altogether.

When I was checking in online last night I noticed the seat was open so I selected it and waited to see what they were charging for the privilege of exit row seating these days. I don't know if they've changed things, but I didn't have to pay anything... maybe they only charge you if you pick exit row as part of advance seat selection. I used to always give them my ten bucks to advance select , just to make sure I get a window, as its a pretty big deal for me. I finally realized that if you just wait till you check in, particularly if you take advantage of checking in online 24 hours in advance, that there is almost always window seat open. Someone told me the other day that a lot of people avoid window seats to make he bathroom trip a little more convenient, being closer to the aisle. I think I'd rather look outside the window and hold it, than spend anytime in the lav.

I'm due to land in about an hour or so, having stopped in Calgary briefly on the way.

I'm pretty sure this is the rocky mountain trench.

Then it'll be a quick trip over to the Hilton, where I stashed my coworkers car for the week. After the debacle last time of paying 75 bucks to park the car at the airport for a week, I had little better plan worked out this time.

It all kind of depended on what time I hit the road and made it into the city. If I had two hours or more before my flight, I was going to park in a parkade downtown, where I hoped I could get a spot for 25 bucks or so for the week. I would then take city transit out to the airport. Having taken this bus route on my way out, I was familiar with the time and route, it would work out pretty good.

If I had less than an hour before my flight, then I had called a few of the airport hotels and found one where they would let me park for a week for 50 bucks, and they had a quick shuttle service to the airport.

Less than half an hour and it would be airport parking at full price.

I only made the hotel option and waited for their shuttle driver. Turns out it was on-demand, and I was the only one there, so ended up getting a private ride over to the airport. My plan quickly fell apart when it came time to tip her, and I didn't have any change. I felt bad and couldn't stomach stiffing her for the tip, so I ended up tipping her twenty bucks. I saved a total of 5 bucks on parking, but I just realized I am going to have to give something to the return shuttle driver to get me back to the hotel...probably a more reasonable amount...say 5 bucks??.

50 parking + 20 tip + 5 tip = 75 bucks.


After I grab the car, its off to find a Mr. Lube or something and get my coworkers car an oil change. I promised him I would and its only fair, he's lent it to me twice for over 2000 kilometres of driving. Hopefully I can get that taken care of quickly and be back in South NorthTown by 9 pm or so tonight.

We're scheduled to go up north again tomorrow and start closing down camps. Boats need to be cleaned and engines, seats, tanks taken out and returned to base for winter maintenance, Windows need to be boarded up for the winter and generally “ mouse-proofed “ so they don't chew the things down by spring. Outdoor stuff, BBQ's, picnic tables, fish cookers, etc, will need to be brought inside the cabins as well.

We'll also be doing some dock repair at some of the lakes over the next week or two, hopefully the waters have receded enough that this can be done in waist-deep waters instead of neck-deep! I'm hoping to get some sunshine for this part as well, but the water is warm enough these days that its not that big of a deal.

First week of September, we are supposed to go back up north for a few days and base out of one of our northern cabins for four or five days and do day trips out to the surrounding cabins and close them down as well.

I can t believe this summer is already starting to wrap up. I've learned so much about operating out here, not just the flying, but all the other parts that go into the outpost business. I remember a guy telling me once that the airplane is just a tool, like a plumbers truck. You don't become a plumber just to drive the truck. Most of the real “bush pilots “ I've met up here that are involved in this business seem to fit that bill. They like to fly, are skilled at it, but thats the least of their worries on most days.

I'm hoping that this summers experience and references will get me something by next spring. Perhaps away again, now that the Lovely Wife and I know it can be done, but hopefully something closer to home.

We've also started looking ahead for the next year and a half and things are starting to gel in the form of plans and timelines that would take us overseas again for a couple years. So far, we are both very excited at the prospects of moving somewhere like Africa.

If we went in a year and a half or so, maybe the economy will have started picking up again,as from what I read on internet forums, thing are pretty slow over there right now. Perhaps I'd have another season in over here, along with the flight hours that that would give me.

Maybe we'd both make a trip out sometime between January – March of 2011 and spend a few weeks out there hitting up the local operators in places like Botswana and Tanzania. If we're lucky, I'd get hired on as a pilot and she'd pick up something as well, maybe at a lodge or other tourist type job as well. Its a long way away and depends on a lot of things coming together, but its nice to have a carrot again.

While I was home in Vancouver, TLW and I went on a hike up on Cypress Mountain. Up was very much the direction that the hike was in, but the views and little lakes at the top made it all worthwhile.

We came across a couple of characters up there, the french family on vacation, the loud obnoxious Raven that came right up to us, yelling and squawking away, and also, nailed to a tree, Spaceman Spiff.

When we were almost to the top, I pontificated how something worked hardest for was worth so much more in the end. That the view and rest at the top was all that much sweeter because it was a 45 minute uphill hike to get there. Now I consider, perhaps thats just something we tell ourselves to feel better about the amount of energy we put into something when it could have been had for a lot less. Its nice to feel like you earned something sometimes, but I'm going to hedge my bets and keep my eyes peeled for downhill routes at the same time I think.

The hike did remind me why I love BC so much. It truly is spectacular.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

In Transit

Had a great visit out west with The Lovely Wife an now I'm sitting in YVR waiting for my flight back East. It was great to see her, and we both are pretty jazzed that this summer away is quickly wrapping up. Its only a few more weeks and I'll be home for good!

Had a job interview actually while I was here, not a flying job unfortunately. This will most likely be a winter spent buckling down and paying the bills. Particularly if next summer holds pay cut like this one did.

The job is a part-time one, as a de-icing truck operator. I have a lot of the things that they were looking for, Radio License, Airside pass, Class 3 drivers license and experiene working, driving and comunicating around and with large aircraft. The pay isn't too bad either and it would dove tail nicely with my full time fueling gig. they seemed suitably impressed with my experiene and said they dont think it would be a problem getting me a regular part-time shift. Calls for training dates go out over the next couple days, so I'll be eagerly awaiting the call.

Long days, working two jobs, but the extra cash to pay down my flight training debt is more than welcome. After this summer and its fourteen hour days a twelve hour shift will seem positively luxurious. especially if it means I get to spend my nights at home with The Lovely Wife.

Tried to take the new skytrain ie to the airport this morning, as we live right beside a skytrain line. Turns out the first train isn't until 0620.. with its hour transit time and my flight boarding at 0730, it was too tight. I didn't find out til I was standing outside the closed gate with my bag in hand. Had to call TLW and wake her back up again to jump in the car and drive me in. Oh well, it was nice to see her again!

Enjoying the free wifi here at YVR as well. Can't believe that some airports still make you pay-to-play on their wifi setups, seems so cheesy and cheap considering how many places give it away...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rain on the windshield, heading West

We seem to go from dead stop, to dead run these days. From cold as hell to cooking hot, bored stiff to overwhelmed.

The weather has been pretty much crap, as usual.

A couple of days of sunshine thrown in just so no one ends up in the garage swinging on an extension cord, but for the most part, its been cold and rainy. The Jetstream, I'm told, in these parts isn't behaving as it usually does. Apparently, it would normally move well north of us this late in summer.

I believe that theory, as the cold arctic air over most of extreme northern Canada shrinks in the summer due to being slowly heated by the longer summer days and more direct sunlight. Looking at the weather map though, it looks like it comes across the prairies nicely, keeping the cold air well north and the hotter air and milder weather below it. Right around the Saskatchewan border though, the jetstream takes a hard right and heads well south into the USA. Once its safely past me, ensuring I get stuck with the cold arctic air and whatever moist weather systems it kicks up along the border between these air masses, it decides to head back into Canada, right around Toronto.

We did have a couple days of sun though, as I mentioned. My co-worker was off on vacation and we had little or no flying to do as well. So, long days on the deck with the shorts on and shirt off. Tore through a few books as well.

I read one book in particular that I found quite interesting. Its called “ My Jihad “ by Aukai Collins. I won't turn this into a book review, but I do recommend this book if you are interested in seeing things from a different point of view. Just so you know, it doesn't try to justify or glorify terrorism in any way, although the writer is a Mujahadeen and a devout muslim, taking up arms in Eastern Europe. We've heard what CNN has to say about the matter, there's precious few other voices out there that aren't equally as shrill or laughably “un-partially “ reporting the news these days, on more than just one side of the issues...

The rest of the time was odd jobs around base, including sand-bagging...ugh.

It could have been worse actually. We had been watching the lake level since over the last few weeks the unceasing rain had finally completely saturated what little overburden we get out here, over the hard impermeable pan of the underlying rock of he Canadian Shield.

Since we basically sit on top of a solid sheet or rock thousands of kilometres in diameter, the only soil on top is that which has been created since the last ice age retreated from the area and let the vegetation get started on turning air, water and minerals into ....dirt. I don't know the numbers in years ( read: arg. I'm not looking it up, have the do it... ) but it hasn't been all that long. Unlike our prairies, which sat at the bottom of an ocean during that time, collecting all manner of organic material to get the dirt pile started, we just have rocks and maybe a couple of feet of dirt. That's part of the reason we have all these lakes the sportsmen flock to as well. The water really has nowhere to go. The land isn't tilted dramatically enough to move it in any hurry, nor is it able to soak it up and send it hundreds of feet underground.

I digress.... all of the rain we had had finally saturated the ground. It couldn't hold anymore...since the rains haven't stopped, its been steadily raising the level of the lakes. In particular the lake in front of our base has been getting very close to its banks. Last week, it finally started lapping at the tops of the shoring we have along our shore and securing our floating dock to the shoreline.

We've also got AvGas storage tanks and fuel lines and pumps to worry about.

The boss saw how close it was to all this stuff, and the fact that it was slowly starting to wash some gravel away from parts of the shoreline that we use...and decided it was time to bite the bullet and start sandbagging so we weren't caught totally off guard if it kept going.

I was dreading this, as sandbagging, in a word, sucks. Two people have to work in tandem, one holding the bag open and the other scooping sand in. We didn't have very many bags, so after burning through them, the boss called the local city works yard to see where they were getting theirs as he had seen them putting up a few sandbag barriers in town.

“ oh, we're filling them here and have them available to pick up. “

“ oh.... how much per bag? We need quite a few. “

“ they're free. '

“ we're on our way. “ click.

That was so sweet. I don't care how many loads of them we have to pick up or stack, as long as I don't have to fill anymore. Seems the local works yard had put a troop of Ministry Forest Firefighters to work filling bags as all the rain had made them temporarily redundant.

Thanks guys! and girls too, I saw more then one female out there doing the heavy work with the guys.

Work successfully dodged, we carried on with the tanning and reading drills till my coworker returned from his holiday.

Once he got back, the sky clouded over again, signalling that it was time to go back to work.

This time, we were booked to go up on one of the flights and get dropped off at a camp, do some end-of-season work and start getting it ready to winterize and shut down. After that, we would get picked up by the plane on its last run of the day, relocated to another camp, and do the same thing there. After we were done, we could take the rest of the day and do some fishing and then spend the night at the cabin, to be picked up the next day.

The only wrinkle in this plan, which otherwise, would have been a nice break from the usual routine, was that my holiday was due to start the morning we were to be picked up and in fact, I had to hit the highway that morning to make my afternoon flight out of nearest-big-city-ville which was a six hour drive away.

We got all the work done as quickly as possible and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves finally getting a chance to do some of the world-class fishing that our guests keep raving about.

A nice fish-fry dinner ( which, I am happy to say I am starting to kick ass at. ), a few beers and a great sleep in the quiet of the wilderness.

Unfortunately, the next day brought low clouds, drizzle and even a bit of mist.

The pickup time of 0730 came and went without the sound of a radial on the horizon. I think I might have sprained an eardrum listening for it.

I counted down towards my drop-dead time, after which, I wouldn't be able to make the drive in time to catch my flight and get home for my holiday time off. That time came and went.

Broke out the satellite phone and called the base for an update. Hard as hell to get decent service on our sat phones, you get enough time to shout a sentence off and wait for the reply, if you're lucky, before the call drops. Took me three or four calls to find out the weather was crap at their end too and they were just waiting for the first break to send the plane.

We spent most of the day just being ready to go and sitting on our thumbs, ready to race out and get the hell out of camp if the plane showed up. Finally, around four o'clock in the afternoon it looked like there was no chance, so we went out fishing again. Partly for something to do, partly to get something for dinner.

Being end of season, most of our cabins are actually pretty well stocked with food. As guests come and go during the year, they bring all kinds of food that they end up leaving behind. Mostly non-perishable staple stuff. Boxes of pancake mix, canned foods of all varieties, pasta, condiments, spices, you name it. Occasionally a half-bottle of booze or a couple beers can be found as well. We weren't going to starve, but with a lake full of delicious walleye, who wants to eat a neglected can of spaghetti-o's?

Out we went in the boat and sure enough, we get set up and our lines in the water, turn our heads and theres the plane, already touching down on the water. We didn't even hear him come in over the sound of our own boat motor. In a mad panic, we raced for the dock, to beat him there. Jumping out of the boat and running out to the end of dock to catch the plane, just in time, and we get the bad news.

Sorry boys, get her tied up and covered up, we're not going anywhere in this weather.

They had picked up a load of guys that were due to be brought out of camp that day and taken back to base, but hadn't got very far before the weather that had hindered departures from base all day, had finally moved north and precluded their ( and our ) trip south.

We offloaded the disappointed guests and their gear and then went back out to resume the fishing. We had a few extra mouths to feed now.

A phone call was made out to the base and everyones wives, employers, etc, would have to be contacted and notified of the delay so no one would panic. In my case, my plans were pretty much shot to hell.

To make matters worse, my family had a memorial service planned for my father, who passed away last year, for all of us to be together for the ashes-scattering. I wasn't going to make it, and my family is so scattered that it was probably not going to be an option to reschedule the ceremony. I was more than a little disappointed in the fact that I wasn't going to be able to make it. Its frustrating when you know, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it either.

In hindsight, I think the decision to send us up north, particularly overnight and in the face of approaching weather, was a poor one on my employers part. I'll take my share of the blame as I didn't see the incoming weather as being nearly as bad as it was, or perhaps I would have protested the decision. However, they knew I had to be back or else. The risk was all mine and the reward was all theirs.

It wasn't a life or death decision, but it was a decision that was made for me, by someone else. I think it was a poor decision, either through a lack of foresight or a lack of consideration for the consequences to me. Either way, its not one that makes me feel confidence in how I might be treated in other situations.

They always talk about multiple causes and the " swiss-cheese " model of accident causes. Its not one thing that takes down an airplane or causes any other such disasters, but a " lining up " of a lot of different factors or causes, all adding up to the end result.

This particular incident has set off a little bit of an alarm bell for me. Just a quick momentary whiff of something burning. Something in the back of mind sits up and takes notice that there are people on whom I depend on making good decisions for my life and my livelihood, and they are only human.

Its not like I've condemned them over this one incident, but you can be sure I will be watching closely to see if it was simply a misjudgment or if there is something I need to be concerned about. I haven't spoken with anyone since it happened, so perhaps there is some form of acknowledgment forthcoming.

In any case, there we were. Luckily, these guests had over-packed on food as well, so there was tons of fresh food and meat for us to make a nice dinner out of. They even had a case of beer left over. Very important if your stranded in the bush for a night.

Fish caught and cleaned, beer chilled and rationed out, we had a nice supper with these guys and turned in for the night.

The next morning, the ceiling had come down even further and we could hardly see the other side of the lake through the mist. Those that woke up as early as I did, around 0500, simply took one look outside, groaned and went back to bed.

I ended up staying up with one of the " dudes " ( as guests invariably get called )and we chatted for awhile.

He was from the midwest and bemoaned the fact that his life was relatively boring for him. Living from one paycheque to the next, house, kids, clothes ,vacation, repeat. I told him the wife and I had lived overseas before and were considering ways to make it happen again. He was jealous and said he wished he had my life.

We talked about this for awhile, and I pointed out that there is always a price for living like that. We went away before and came back to seeing our friends and family moving into their new house, popping out kids left and right and generally proceeding along an orderly path, forward, with their life. We picked up right where we left off, or even slightly behind. The time away was time spent not " progressing ". I'm okay with that, but you have to know that you are making that choice.

I've met lots of folks who wanted to do something out of the norm, and found themselves knee deep in a place they did not want to be.

Plane finally arrived and we made it back to base. The Lovely Wife had been dancing with the airline for the last two days, so she picked up the hot-line they had installed for her and once again booked me on a flight home. This time I was able to jump in the car and book it for six hours to make the flight.

Went through a lot of rain on the drive over as well, so all that weather is heading towards base. I'm thinking they will be making a few more trips for sandbags before I get home in a weeks time.

So, now I'm out on the gloriously sunny west coast. Enjoying some time with The Lovely Wife, but unfoirtunately, no time with my family, there having been scattered back to the four corners of the earth from whence they came.

I knew it was too good to be true that we would all be in one place at one time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Night Danger

I always found the wording on these signs just a little off. I guess it gets the point across in the least possible amount of words, but I have to admit, it makes it sound like the night is more the problem, not the moose.

Sun finally decided to show up around here. Got all the way up to the mid twenties yesterday, that was a nice treat. The lake has really warmed up too, so it was nice to spend some time swimming yesterday in the nice cool water. Usually I'm running up to the shower, just to warm up.

Myself and the other dockhand are alternating some time off right now. He left this morning to go off to the nearest big city and visit with his folks for a couple days. Once he gets back, I'm off to Vancouver to see The Lovely Wife for a whole week!

We're also having a little get together on my side of the family to have a little memorial service for my father, who passed away last year. We had the official memorial last summer, but this is more of a private ceremony and we're planning to spread his ashes at sea.

One thing I always remember growing up was his insistence that whatever I do, I be happy doing it. I suppose the flying is me finally taking his advice and doing something I love, even if it makes absolutely no sense on so many other levels..haha.

Had another pilot party this a week. After going to three or four of these now, I can really tell that how small the local scene is. Before I came out here, I thought there were a couple hundred pilots in town, not a chance, more like thirty or forty, tops.

We took the boat, normally verboten, but the boss-man was driving. No flying was planned for the next AM, so we knew in advance we were going to get our drink on.

We did however, have a full day of flights and camp checks prior to going out there, so we didn't actually get back to base till almost 7PM, when we had started at 0400.

The day seemed like it just kept going and going and going. We went to eight camps in total I think. Dropping guests, picking up guests, weed whacking, fixing docks, loading fuel drums, unloading fuel drums, pumping gas, checking propane supplies, dropping off full tanks, picking up empties and cutting firewood. The last three camps or so was just a death march. We were all dog tired and just slogging through. You get to that point where you have no more hustle, but you have lots of work to do, all you can do is put your head down and put one foot in front of the other.

Surprisingly enough, we get back, changed, cold beer in hand and we were ready to go.

The trip out by boat to the party was slooow. We had put the wrong prop on the engine and it didn't make for very good speed. We had a choice of two props, one big, one small. Bigger is better right?

Not. Not if the engine doesn't have enough power to turn it fast enough. We would have been better off with the smaller prop, developing higher RPM, and more speed. Oh well. Sun was setting as we went out there and was almost down by the time we got in. We were almost the last to show and it was already in full swing. Some people more fully swung then others.

Once it got dark, a fire was started. Someone thought it would be a good idea to throw a tirew on the fire to really get things going. Luckily, someone else kicked it off the fire before it got going. We joked about the camp fire lacking the true ambiance of a good tire fire.

I was drinking beer most of the evening, but later on, as a few people started to leave, out came the Jager. A round of Jager-bombs for the surviving partiers ( Red Bull and a shot of Jagermeister ). That convinced most of the saner folk that it was definitely time to split. Those of us that remained starting passing around bottles of booze...not good.

Eventually, we made our way home by moonlight in the boat.

The ride home was fun, there was a few of us going out at the same time, so a little bumping and racing was in order. A 9-Horse outboard motor can only go so fast, not to worry.

Felt pretty good the next day. I think drinking straight spirits really helped avoid a bad hangover, less sugar to deal with along with the usual dehydration.

Cant believe this summer is starting to wind up already. It looks like I will be cut loose from here right around the middle of September, still waiting on an exact date. The other fellow working here with me is probably going to hang around till mid October to help out with moose hunting season, but there isn't really a need for both of us. I'll be glad to get home as well. Really looking forward to being able to spend time with the wife, even just watching TV or walking the dog.

It'll be nice to get back to my old job as well. Radial engines and props are great, but I'm overdo for a little dose of jet-A.

Once I'm back from my little holiday here next week, I'll do one more round of resumes before I leave the area. I'd still like to make a little road trip out of the last couple days here and visit all the locals and semi-local operators to put my face out there for next year. It'd sure be nice to find something in Vancouver, or anywhere in BC for that matter, but being out here and able to pop in and see the operators here is a big advantage to just firing out resumes by email.

I've been thinking of maybe doing my multi-engine rating this winter if finances allow. I know my finances wont allow me to do my IFR, which I'm looking forward to doing eventually, but the multi might help a little bit.

Someone was telling me the other day, that it was rumored that EI was coming around to the idea of funding people to get their instructors rating. Makes sense, its a job skill and might be able to land someone employment in the end. Thats the point of EI, skills upgrading to help those with unemployment issues. Seasonal workers or workers in struggling industries.

From my understanding though, in order to qualify for any type of EI skill upgrade monies, you have to be unemployed. Seeing as I am going back to my old job, I don't really qualify.

Its funny, back when I was doing my flight training, I read so many times and heard from so many people; " enjoy your time during training, make it fun ". I always did to some degree or other, but I guess I never realized till now why its such good advice. I remember going up on flights to the local training area and slogging out a dozen steep turns, or practice forced approaches. I would get so intent on " nailing it " that I forgot sometimes where I was. I was in an airplane, on a sunny day, calling the shots and free to do whatever I wanted..kind of.

What I wouldn't do now for a couple hours in a 172 and a sunny day!!!

Oh, a while back I wrote about my search for a new beer for the summer... since the beer I previously enjoyed at home ( Sleemans Honey-Brown ) was waaay too expensive out here.

For awhile, I was drinking Labatts Blue. Very popular in these parts, very available.

However, that only lasted for about a month. I was turned onto a smaller label, available at the beer store in town, called James Ready, or JR.

They're a fairly new, smaller brewery and the beer is quite good. They've got a couple little marketing gimmicks that are fun as well. For instance, underneath all the caps is printed a little saying. Some of them made by the folks at JR and some of them were sent into their website by drinkers of the beer, and posted under the caps. Some of them are really funny, others just a little...weird. The theme of the website, where you submit the suggestions, was " How Can JR Help You? ", so you would send in your plea for money for some cause or other, or a little tip to put under the cap on how JR could help the world in general.

Reading through the website and peoples submissions was actually a little depressing. I lost my job, JR please buy me groceries. JR, please help me pay for my kids kidney surgery. JR, please poison my exhusband who ran off on our family.

The caps are a little funnier though. We've been collecting them. Heres a little sample of what you can find;

If you get this cap, buy another case, its the rules, man.

If you run out of fresh water, drink JR.

Name your dog James Ready

We dont drink Cranberry Juice, but we understand if you do.

The next bottle contains the antidote.

Do not drink with bra.

And then the " How Can We Help You? " caps;

Landscape your garden?

Lobby Ottawa to create a James Ready day and make it a national Holiday?

Give you the answer to a skill-testing question?

I don't think they sell JR in BC. I don't think I can afford beer in BC though, so its a moot point.

Out here, a " case " in a 24-pack. Back in BC, That would be called a " two-four " or occasionally a " box " of beer.

Out here, the sale of alcohol is still heavily regulated by the government liquor control board. The good thing about that is that beer prices are pretty much standard across the province, you'll pay the same price next door to the brewery as you do 1000 miles away. A caswe / 24 of beer out here is 28 bucks. Back home, its closer to 42. argh.

Thats alright though ,all the weight I lost at the beginning of the season has come back now that I drink beer every day. If I'm going to cut out the heavy manual labour, I better cut out the beer to balance things out a little.

A good old tractor pull.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hey brother, can you spare an Ark?

Holy rainballs batman.

Will this rain never end?? Everyone back out West must be wondering the same thing with the sun and heat, but out in the middle here, its getting pretty freaking soggy.

The sad thing is, when I was out west, and I looked at the weather map you could only see a little ways into what was coming your way. Most of our weather in Canada moves from West to East, and Environment Canada only publishes weather data ( that I know of ) out a few hundred miles into the Pacific. So, when you look up your weather and see a low pressure system moving in off the coast, you know what the next day or two has in store for you.

Low ceilings, rain, maybe some wind and in the winter, maybe some ice. Out here, I can look at the weather all across the prairies and see what is coming my way for like the next week. Unfortunately, lately, that has just been depressing. I'd almost rather not know.

I can see the next low pressure system moving in and over us ( where it will indubitably decide to cease forward motion and die a slow lingering, wet and soggy death over top of me ), and I can see the next one a day or two behind it.


I left Vancouver at the end of a long, typically soggy winter and came out here to the tail end of a cold, soggy spring. I'm anticipating going home next month, just in time to catch the beginning of the West Coast's long, soggy winter. I better go dry out my rubber boots. Maybe in the oven, I think thats the only place around here thats not wet.

Anyhow, enough complaining about the weather, it is what it is.

We did actually have a decent day yesterday, with a little bit of the sun in the afternoon, of all things, to make an appearance.

We finally got the go-ahead from the owner to rig up a boat and motor for us to use around the lake, which is super-cool. We had previously been strictly banned from getting our boat on out here, due to previous dockhands poor decision making. We never got the specifics of the incident that lead to the suspension of boat privileges around the base, but it must have been fun if they wont even tell us what it was. If it was something dumb and unpleasant, they'd just tell us, as a deterrant. If it was something fun and ingenious, then they might clam up, so as not to give us any ideas.

My guess, is that they used the boat to run into town and partake in liquid festivities and avoid the OPP checkstop on the only highway leading from town back to our base. The river that runs in front of us, leads under the bridge on the highway and will take you into town. Tie up on the dock and your within stumbling distance of a bar.

The proviso of the new boat freedoms, was that we were NOT to go under the bridge. We can go as far as we want in the other direction, and you can go REALLY far, but not under the bridge. I think you can actually get to town by going the other direction, it would just take you the better part of an hour to wind through the lakes and channels that would lead you back around from the other side.

The boat announcement actually came at the tail end of another little episode we had out here. There was some mechanical issues with the aircraft that had to be dealt with at the dock, and the " crash-boat " had to be moved from its spot on the ramp, to be tied up on the side of one of the docks. I'm pretty sure I was the one who moved it and subsequently tied it up, which you can imagine my dismay when it was noticed missing the next day...haha.

The mechanical issue was interesting, I got to see a large radial engine almost completely tore down and rebuilt. Without getting into specifics, the mechanics had to take apart half the engine to get at the part that needed replacing. This is known as " splitting " an engine. It was neat to see all the bits and pieces you knew were in there, but had never seen up close and personal. Also interesting to see the procedures that seem to be specific to aircraft mechanics, in the safetying and lock wiring of everything.

In a large radial engine, in particular, there is a lot of vibration when the engine is run. If your car vibrated and shook like this, all of the nuts, bolts and screws that hold it together would simply rattle themselves loose and parts would start falling off. Bad enough for that to happen on the freeway on the way to work, at 5000' in the air, its a whole nother story. So, all the bits and pieces, after being tightened down to the specific pressure, get a little piece of lockwire run through a hole in the nut and bolt ends and twisted up. The little bit of wire serves to keep the nut/bolt/screw from rattling off. A lot of times, a big gob of sealant is then applied over the top of the whole thing too, to serve as a seal and tamper-indicator. Sometimes its just a little line of the stuff, running from the top of the nut, down onto the bolt, so you can visually see if it is vibrating loose ( the lines no longer line up ) and sometimes its completely coated with the stuff, like a big blob of used gum.

Almost all the fasteners in the engine get the same treatment, its pretty impressive. Time consuming too, trust me.

Out there on the dock, under makeshift two-by-four and tarp home-made hangar, running tools back and forth to the mechanics and helping out.. ie..." hold this, don't let go, its heavy. ". or my favourite... " Shit, I dropped a screw. Did you see if it fell in the lake? "

But, all in all, it was a fantastic opportunity to take part in and get to see and do stuff that is actually fairly rare.

The particular engine we run on our plane is made in Poland. Its a PZL ( Pezetel ), 9 cylinder, 1000HP, radial engine. It was actually invented by the Wright Aircraft Company and designated as a Wright Cyclone. Wright designed the engine originally to put out 700 and change horsepower, but the Polish company licensed to build them added a supercharger and other modifications over the years and brought it up to 1000 HP.

I found out that the name " Pezetel " is actually a bastardization of the pronunciation ( think polish accent ) of the initals P - Z - L. The Polish name of the company is something else entirely, but they go by the PZL name.

Anyhow, after the engine work was complete, the pilot and the mechanic jumped in and taxied out into the lake for a run-up and flight if everything went well. Everything went fine, which was impressive for a mechanical undertaking of that size, and under trying conditions. But as they were taxiing around, I mentally ran through what I would do if something untoward were to happen during takeoff. First thing I noticed was the absence of the crash-boat. My next two options were,

A. Jump in a kayak and paddle out there, in order nothing once I got there, since the kayak only seats one.

B. Run around screaming like a little girl.

We figured it out the next day that it had actually come undone at some point during the night ( we had a few storms with high winds, to accompany the ever present rains ) and was most likely downstream somewhere.

On a flight the next day we did a few circuits around the lake and spotted it up in the weeds at the end of a bay.

We got one of the old spare boats all set up with a motor and gas tank and went on a little rescue mission.

Once we got to the boat, we found it filled with water. duh, its been raining for-EVER!. Found out how to " power-drain " a boat. On the back of these boats, at the bottom, is actually a little plug. When you pull the boat up onto land, you pull the plug so that any rain water that gets in simply drains out. Remember to put the plug back in before you push it into the water though. To power-drain it, you simply get it up to speed, or as much speed as you can manage, considering the boat is pushing around and extra thousand pounds or so of water... pull the plug out and the the suction at the back of the boat sucks the water out the drain hole. If you slow down though, the suction stops and water starts coming back in, so you've got to be quick on getting the plug back in.

We tied the runaway boat to the rescue boat and dragged it back to base, draining it along the way. Bailing them out by hand sucks.

Ended up going out fishing for an hour or two as we've had such crappy luck off the dock the past few weeks. No luch though. Truth to tell, we weren't very patient though, so anxious to get around to all the little spots we had seen people fishing ( and catching ) from their boats that we just rushed around from spot to sport without any serious fishing-style patience.

Most of the fish we catch up here are Walleye.

Walleye are awesome for eating, which is handy, because I don't think theyre good for much else. They're not terrific fighters on the hook, nor are they immense fish that you can hang off a scale or mount on a wall. None of these things interest me much, I'm more into eating them.

Two more weeks till I get to go home for a few days to see The Lovely Wife!!!

Oh, and this....this is a dock spider. Yeah. Oh Yeah.