Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The drippy end of the hose

Back at the FBO, life is returning to normal. I don't have any real adventures to share like I did this summer, and I think thats probably the biggest thing that will drive me back there if I don't find something equally as challenging or interesting.

Part of that though, is familiarity, I think. The other part is the fact that its a relatively menial job. I say relatively as although the physical parts of what I do on a daily basis don't require a whole lot in the way of advanced intelligence or physical prowess. They do however, require a fair bit of safety-awareness and some technical knowledge.

Safety is the biggest one. One of my coworkers pointed out that in a lot of cases, when an aircraft is on the ground and awaiting fueling, theres a lot of action going on around the plane. Ramp guys are loading, grooming staff are buzzing around inside, catering trucks are hooked up to the plane and refilling its coffers. Mechanics are swearing at various bits and hoping that if they poke at it, it will stop doing whatever its doing, or start doing what its supposed to be doing. But, when I show up, the level of " danger " moves up a few factors.

Till I got there, it was mostly banging your head, falling off a jetway, being run over by a rampee's tug. Now, its explosion, fire and being run over by a 50 ton truck.

A little dramatic, I think, but he has a point.

A lot of our job revolves around safety. If we were pumping water into the tanks, instead of jet fuel, I could do easily three times the amount of fuelings in a day that I do now.

I was thinking about the familiarity part of it the other day as well. A lot of what I found fascinating about the job has become a little routine to me, and not worthy of story-telling. On the other hand, I don't have much else to write about these days and I want to keep up the habit.

So, I thought I'd write a post about my job, my apologies if you feel the same sense of anti-climax that I do, after some of the escapades this summer.

Easily 50% of my job is fueling planes. Operating the truck and the fueling bits on different types of aircraft. I had a chance to get a couple pics of the truck parts, so I thought I'd start there.

Here is where it all begins, the Tank Farm.

We usually just call it The Farm. Most major airports in Canada have at least two or three major fuel suppliers to General Aviation aircraft, and one or two more for the big scheduled airline types as well. Here, we pretty much have one supplier, contracted by the airport authority, to supply fuel to the big guys parked at the main terminal. Over on our side of the field, there are three major-brand suppliers and one independant local supplier.

The three major-brand guys have representation at every major airport in Canada, most likely worldwide as well. As all of the fuel must get stored somewhere in bulk form ( The Tank Farm ), this would mean at least three major fuel depots, just for our side of the field. The local municipality, and pretty much anyone who can see the inherent risk involved in large quantities of petroluem product storage, dont like tank farms.

Its also cheaper to build a soviet-style One-Big-Tank instead of four smaller ones.

So, in Canada anyway, the major-brand guys got together and agreed that they would split the responsibility and cost of running a single farm at each airport and having reciprocal agreements to use each others depots.

Here in my corner of the world, the Tank Farm belongs to us. We "sell" fuel to the other guys, and in other cities, we "buy" fuel from their farms and are relieved of having to build and operate one ourselves. Pretty good little arrangement.

The Tank Farm here has two loading bays and one unloading bay.

The Loading bays are where I park the truck and hook up to the pumps and have the fuel loaded into my truck. This is also called back-loading, or bulking. The bay itself is a concrete pad, that is drained off into a special underground tank with a fuel/water seperator so that any spills are contained. One of the things we have to watch for, is when parking the truck, to make sure that all the various draining points where over-flow fuel would come pouring out of, are parked over the pad. How embarassing if you overfilled our truck and the fuel all went running over the catchment basin and into the ditch.

Did I mention our airport is in a major bird migration area and sensitive river estuary?

The unloading bay is where we get all of our fuel delivered to. Great big tanker trucks come in, sometimes six or seven a day, to deliver the fuel into the tanks.

The tanks hold enough fuel that the new batch is allowed to settle for a period of time before we use it. When it is delivered, each batch also has to be quality control tested for a lot of different things and then filtered before being put into the tank. The mixed batch in the tank then has to be checked to make sure that the resulting fuel hasn't changed its properties significantly with the addition of new fuel.

Whenever we hook up to the loading bay, we have to first "bond" the truck to the loading pump assembly. We do this when we hook up to an airplane to fuel it as well. The Bonding allows the electrical charge between the truck and the airplane/pump assembly to equalize and minimize the chance of any sparks caused by static. Trucks and airplanes move around on rubber tires and the electrical charge built up in them doesn't have many options to go to ground, so potential for static is very real. Helicopters are worse apparently. We bond the truck with a simple metal clamp onto an exposed metal part of our truck, the clamp has a wire that runs back to a metal bit on the pump.

Once the truck is bonded, the nozzle can be hooked up. The nozzle is the same one we use for high-pressure fueling into planes. A " Single-Point " nozzle. Single point nozzles were developed to speed up fueling into large aircraft. Instead of fueling through a hose / free-stream nozzle like a gas station nozzle, spraying fuel directly into each tank individually from above, we plug into a fueling manifold in the plane and supply fuel at high pressure ( around 50PSI ) to a single point. The plane then directs the flow to each tank by computer-controlled valves, or in some cases, by valves on the fueling panel that we open or close manually.

The gas station ones are called " Over-Wing " nozzles. Overwing nozzles come in two different shapes. One is the J-Spout, designed to only fit into fueling openings on an aircradft that takes jet-fuel. The openings on a AvGas powered aircraft shouldnt accept this type of nozzle, as the nozzle is too big. The other type of nozzle is the AvGas nozzle, or as we call it, by its technical name, The Little Skinny Nozzle. In theory, you could fit a Skinny Nozzle into a jet fuel opening and load the incorrect fuel. But, you cant fit a Jet Fuel nozzle into an Avgas opening. This is important, as putting Avgas in a jet engine will cause engine damage over time, putting jet fuel in an AvGas engine, will kill it. Not only will it not run, the worst part is that with the residual fuel in the lines and carburettor on these types of engines, it will run just long enough to get you a couple hundred feet above ground, where the engine will stop and at pretty much the worst possible time, limited altitude, slow speed and limited options.

A lot of Jet Engines will actually be certified to run on AvGas in an emergency, but you usually get a time limit, like 30 hours or so, before you have to rebuild the engine. Considering a lot of jet engines are certified for thousands of hours of use before rebuild is required, and rebuilding costs are in the six figure range, even for smaller ones, this is definitely an emergency-only thing.

The only problem is that a lot of helicopters, which take jet fuel, also have small openings which will only accept a skinny nozzle. So misfueling is possible, AND, you have to manually change the nozzle on the truck, removing a layer of safety if someone were to forget to change it back afterwards. Not a big deal, not a complicated procedure, but its just one of those things that makes your spider sense tingle, like walking on a cliff-top... you know you're not going to fall, but one wrong step....

Once you're all hooked up to the pump, the flow of fuel is started by entering in a bunch of info on a bank-machine like kiosk. Driver number, truck number, password, fuel type, amount required, and start. The pump also has a dead-man control where you hold a switch in your hand to keep it running. If you were to fall asleep or put it down to go to the washroom, the flow of fuel would stop.

We manually calculate the amount of fuel we put into the truck based on a running tally on our little clipboards. Procedure dictates that we only fill the truck to 95% capacity, to allow for fuel expansion with heat. The fuel also expands inside and airplanes tanks as well. Something we have to keep in mind if someone asks for full tanks and we know the plane will be sitting on the ground long enough for the temperature to change. If we topped it up on arrival at night and then it sat there in the summer sun, there'd be quite a puddle underneath the fuel overflow vents.

The truck also has a high-level shutoff right around the 99% mark as well that is supposed to shut down the loading valve as well. As soon as we are hooked up and pumping, we test this shut-off.

The pump generally does around 1000 Liters a minute. One of our bigger trucks hold upwards of 30,000 Liters. From dead empty, that can mean 30 minutes standing there and watching the numbers on the dial click over.

The tank farm has a nice view of the airfield though, so its not the worst place in the world to have to hang around for a half hour.

Once the truck is full, we do some more quality control testing on the fuel in various parts of the truck. We drain the sump, the lowest part of the tank, and make sure it is free of water and/or sediment. We also check the fuel in the pump/filter assembly as well, to make sure that the dregs of the last tank are still up to spec as well. If the truck was run close to dry, AND there was crap that had settled to the bottom, this might now be hiding in the pump or filter and not be detected when you check the newly filled tanks low point.

I've personally never seen contaminated jet fuel. Only once have I seen contaminated Avgas. AvGas is also a little more susceptible to water contamination as well.

Back in the truck, call in to Base that we are clear the farm and on our way back and thats it, we're ready to go again.

If you look closely, on the tail of this Falcon 7X, is a couple of falcons.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Back in the Left Seat

Well, back at the airport, back fueling for the FBO.

Its amazing how quickly you fall back into old routines and how your life can just pick right back up where you left off. This summer's little adventure is already fading fast. The crappy parts slowly getting less crappy in my memory and nostalgia for the good times taking over.

As much as I finished the season hesitant to do it again, I can see recidivism creeping in already.

I definitely miss the flying. I can see already I'm going to have to do something about that. As much as plan A was to spend the winter hunkering down and working at gainful employment and not really worrying too much about a flying gig till spring, I can see that I will need to do something to get back in the air, even if its just recreational. Theres just no way I can go six months without flying...

Its nice however to get back to doing a job that I have a lot of confidence in. Its nice to know what you're doing most of the time, instead of feeling like a tool and waiting for someone to show you how to do something.

Its also nice to get back to the airport and be a part of the bustle of a busy outfit. We've got a couple guys down from injuries and a couple through summer attrition, so I am looking forward to clocking in some good overtime over the next couple of months. God knows, I need the money after this summer!

Came back to see a picture I had emailed back posted on the linecrew room wall and everyone asking about my summer. It was tough admitting that my enthusiasm in the spring for the upcoming flight time was nothing more than a pipe dream... Luckily, I had enough of a positive experience from the rest of the experience I got that I'm not really all that bitter. A few people I've talked to seem to think I should be, but I'll save that for later. Lots of time to be jaded and bitter once I've been kicked a few times. Doing it after the first kick just seems kind of ....weak.

Our outfit is a Union shop and it looks like we are in the process of starting contract negotiations with management. Luckily, I have little involvement, as this is the first union place I've ever worked and frankly, some of the attitudes seem really bass-ackwards to me. Oh well.

Still looking for some part-time work around the airport. I'm working afternoon shifts, from 1400 till 2200. My mornings are pretty relaxed, so it would be nice to spend that time a little more productively as long as I'm going to spend it on the ground. At the same time, its hard to really get motivated to do anything that is non-aviation related and low paying. I think I could spend my time better making myself available for overtime shifts than blocking off all my spare time working for 10 bucks an hour. If I could find something that had an aviation slant to it, and I was getting some valuable experience or knowledge, I'd be ok making crap money.

A lot of my shift is now in darkness, seeing as sunset is around 730 these days, and getting earlier by the day. Since theres not too many people around at those hours, I'm a little freer with my camera, unfortunately, my night pics suck with my old camera. My newer camera is a little better, but it wont fit in my pocket, so I find myself wishing I had it with me a lot of times.

The Lovely Wife and I talked about the whole seasonal-flying thing and although its a pretty good option for me right now, considering the experience and contacts I made this summer. Unfortunately, it also seems like a bit of a slow road to something more year-round. I met quite a few guys this summer that even though they were flying full time, they were only clocking 150-200 hours over the whole summer. As of right now, I don't think I'd go back unless I was assured of at least 400-500 hours, which seems like it might be a bit on the high end for a low-timer, even one who knows how to wield a chainsaw or a weedwhacker.

My dream job right now would be a 206 or a Cherokee, VFR. If we had a chance at some year-round flying I think we'd seriously look at uprooting for a year or two to get that kind of experience. Getting 200 hours a year and spending 5-6 months of the year apart for 5 years in a row is not looking very appealing to us right now. Check back in four months or so when I've worn out my welcome with my Wife ;)

One thing I like getting back to is the food and tips we get as linecrew. When a bizjet or sports charter comes in, they clean out the plane and need to get rid of any catering that they've stocked and their customers haven't eaten. These are folks who think nothing of dropping 10-50,000 on travelling in better comfort and convenience than the scheduled airlines. Another couple thousand dollars on food isn't really a concern for them.

Lots of flights come in with whole trays of cheese, fruit, sandwiches, seafood, etc, that hasn't even been unwrapped. I've seen the price tags for these platters as well. These aren't your 50 dollar costco party platters, a 600 dollar cheese tray is not at all an oddity. We had a nice seafood tray the other day, shrimp as big as bananas, lobster tails and crab claws that were pre-peeled. MMMmmm.

Saw the Dalai Lama land the other day, in a Private, VIP configured 757-200. Wow, the monk business must be pretty good these days! So much for sandals, a robe and a bowl for offerings....

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Whistle Stop

Spent most of last night sleeping on the doorstep of a CN Rail maintenance hack out in the middle of nowhere. My room mate from base was nice enough to drive me down to the siding where the train stopped in order for me catch the train, my first leg of the trip home. As he had to work early the next mornng and my train wasn't due in til 0315, he had to drop me off around 9pm in order to make the 2 hour drive back and still get a decent nights sleep.

I arrived just after 9pm and promptly discovered that I forgot my cellphone back at base. That sucks. I probably had service there and could have killed an hour or two talking to the wife and surfing the net. My room mate promised to mail it to me and I'm almost positive its on the kitchen table, so at least its not lost.

One other guy was sitting there waiting for the train as well. He was a little scruffy, but turned out to be a young fire fighter going home after a not-so-busy season out east, where we had very little dry weather all summer. We chatted for about a minute and then settled in for the wait, he was definitely not too talkative.

I tried reading for about an hour before the temperature started to drop and swatting the mosquitoes started to tire me out. My fellow traveler had already taken refuge in his sleeping bag so I decided to do the same.

First I put on a nice coating of Deet ( Off ), my repellant of choice, and then donned my head net. Into the sleeping bag on the open wooden porch of the shack and then my hood pulled over. I was warm, safe from bug bites but definitely not too comfortable on the hard wood floor... Better than the dirt I suppose, but a nice moss layer would have been an improvement. The whine of the mosquitoes has me trained to swat at them, even though I know I'm safe, so that was a distraction for awhile too, as they buzzed around my head net. Eventually, I managed to start nodding off.

One thing that kept me awake was the fact that my cell phone is my alarm clock and the only other device I had with an alarm was my MP3 player. Its batteries are horrific, and I was worried that it would run out of juice before being able to perform one last task for me. kind of important task too since if I missed the train my next transportation option was hitch hiking. I used to do a lot of hitch hiking in my younger days, but I wasn't really feeling up to it tonight. The alarm on the mp3 player was also just some stupid little tiny beeping. I presume because it had no real speaker, just some electronic component inside that made a little bit of noise on command.

It got pretty chilly and a pretty thick dew formed, but I actually managed a couple hours sleep. I was awake already around 0300 so I didn't need to depend on the alarm in any case. Gathered up most of my stuff, but left my sleeping bag out as it was doing a pretty good job of keeping me warm while I waited. I figured I would hear the train coming from fairly far out and that would give me enough time to roll it up and strap it to my pack before the train pulled in.

I didn't count however, on the train needing to slow down well before my little siding so it kind of snuck up on me, strange as that sounds. I kind of frantically packed it away and had to walk a little ways down to the train to where they had opened up the baggage car.

Their wasn't even a real siding per se, so the train just sort of stopped, straddling the road. My camera takes crappy night shots in any case, so I didnt bother trying to get a picture. I doint think even the best camera could have captured the sight of this giant train sitting their making so much noise in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. It actually stopped about 50 yards back from the little porch where I was holed up, so once I had my sleeping bag packed up, I felt a little self conscious stumbling through the dark towards the train, blinded by its headlights. The bag car door was open, so I heaved my gear on up to the guy inside. He suggested that I could take my huge pack and duffel inside with me if I wanted to. I imagined smashing my way through a train car full of people trying to sleep and then struggling to find a place to stow it, so said no thanks. I think he just didnt really feel like dealing with my stuff. Maybe I interrupted his sleep...

Two cars down I got to the open passenger car door, where the conductor fellow was waiting for me. I was the only one getting on the train at this stop, so he had my name. " Are you X? " he asked me. I told him I was and aksed if he needed to see any ID or my ticket. He told me not to worry about it and he would get everything from me on the train once we got going.

Once on the train, I was a little surprised to find it almost empty. The ticket guy said they were running around 30% capacity. I had my pick of seats and settled in to resume sleeping. Ticket guy came around and checked my papers and offered me a pillow and blanket. He went over the composition of the train, pointing me towards the dining and observation cars, letting me know when they opened and encouraging me to use them. Bathrooms and water fountain pointed out and a copy of the emergency procedures card in the seat back in front of me.

I hadn't been on a train in Canada since I was probably 12 or 13 years old, having taken it from Edmonton to Halifax. The cars and seats were exactly as I remembered them, with the exception of the removal of the ashtrays. I'm sure they have been overhauled and re-upholstered and whatnot more than once since the late 80's, but it was weird seeing it exactly as I remembered it.

I promptly went to sleep and slept for a good three hours, before the sun came up and we were getting close to the city.

We actually arrived into the city an hour earlier than scheduled. Now I know how the trains manage to run on time, they simply run early all the time and then if there are problems, the time is there for them to use. Its funny, because thats how most people run their own time schedules as well. You arrive to work 15 minutes early, just in case there is traffic or construction on the way in, or you forget your phone and have to double back or something.

I remember taking a commercial flight once and I had to make a tight connection at one stop. I ran through the terminal and made it to my gate a full ten minutes before before the " must-be-there-by " time and the gate agent told me, " that was close, we were just about to leave....we're early! ". She smiled as she told me they were going to leave the gate .....early..... Late, I get.... Early??...What if I missed that flight, how would they justify it that they left someone behind in order to leave early?? But then again, I bet their on-time-performance numbers are great, even if the captain forgot to grab a coffee before pushing back, he could always double back..haha.

So, we arrived in the city an hour early, but they announced that they couldn't let us off the train as the station staff hadn't arrived yet. No worries, I had six hours or so to kill and wasn't in a rush to go anywhere. I wandered over to the dome car and reads for awhile.

A couple times the car attendant ( Steward? Porter? Conductor? ) came in and let me know it would be a bit yet and they would announce it when we were free to get off the train. I kept one eye out the window and figured if I saw people walking by, that would be my cue. A good hour and a half went by before I got bored of my book and wanted to go on the hunt for some food. I wandered around the train for a bit and settled back in my seat to wait. A Steward came by and asked me if I was just going to stay on the train... apparently, they had authorized de-training a good half hour ago and no announcement...haha. Oh well.

I had been emailing with a guy who ran a parachute outfit in a nearby town. ( known as a Drop Zone ) and he had invited me to pop in and see him on my way home. He had mentioned he would be in the office a couple days after my planned trip and would I be able to see him then?

I replied that I wouldn't be able to, unless I laid over in the city for a few days or otherwise made significant changes to my travel schedule. Would he be able to see me on XX date, instead??

By the time I packed up and left, he hadn't replied, so I kind of wrote it off. My connection in the city would have been tight to grab a rental car, drive out to see him and make it back in time for my flight that afternoon. By the time I got off the train and got my bags in order and found a place to stow them for the day and got some much needed food, I decided that even if he was there, it was just going to be too much stress and potential for problems to go running around on the off-chance that there might be an opportunity for me for next summer. ( I'm still holding onto the faint hope that I can find something year-round if I keep at the hunt all winter... )

I got back home to find an email from him, he was sorry we weren't able to connect, but he had just hired a guy, who was being trained right now, and would help him cover off the rest of his season ( maybe another month or so ).

Another lesson for me I suppose... When it all comes down to it, I got kind of lazy and let this one slip by... Had I got my poop in a group and gone out there, it might have been a neat addition to the summer.

He did invite me to keep in touch over the winter and that he anticipated needing another pilot for next season as well.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Last day in the North(ish)

So, here I am on my last day in South Northtown. Season is finished for me, last trip up to the camps yesterday for one more work trip. That was my last flight in the Otter, for awhile anyways.

We had a nice dinner with the CP and his Ops Mgr wife. One of the old dockhands from years past popped in and it was funny trading stories about some of things that go on here.

Seems like they had at least one “ character “ every year here. We had one guy here at the beginning of the season who only last a month and a half or so. He had a hard time keeping up with the physical side of the work and frankly, he was pretty lazy. He did a lot of other stuff to draw the ire and laughter of pretty much everyone who met him, so I think he is pretty much the leading contender for this years wall of shame.

The other dockhand who came by went onto a flying gig during the latter portion of his stint here, and has flown for a few other local outfits since,

Its nice to hear the success stories of guys who went before us, and most of them had varying degrees of success in finding flying work after working here.

There is no question that I'm coming out of this season a much more valuable employee to a float operation. When I got here, I knew ( and wasn't very proficient ) at a few knots and knew some very aircraft ground handling nuggets. Things like, don't put your hand in the spinning prop and try no to hit your head on the wings as you under them.

Now, I can tie a bowline with my eyes closed, I know what a “ screen “ is and how to catch, tie up and launch a float plane from the dock. I can tell a Norseman from a Standard Otter from a Beech by the engine sound.

I can cook up a mean fish dinner, and have even figured out how to catch the damn things.

Kindly ignore the faux-hawk. It wasn't intentional. You go up in the bush for a few days and you tend to forget to look in a mirror once in awhile...

I've been over this before, but the one thing that has left a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth was the way that I was “ lured “ out here.

Had I been offered a dockhand job with no possibility of loggable flight time, but the opportunity to learn all the things I've learned this year, I probably would have still taken it.

The fact that I was hired explicitly as a “pilot/dockhand “ and told I would get “ 150-200 hours, left seat in the otter “ has turned out to be more than just a casual misinterpretation of the offer of employment. The owner has stretched the truth about this part of the job beyond any reasonable limit.

I can laugh now at my own naivete about getting that kind of PIC time on an large aircraft like an Otter, straight out of flight school, but its hard to laugh at the kind of attitude and moral integrity that would shamelessly dangle half-truths and outright lies in front of someone as wide-eyed and vulnerable as a fresh pilot, scratching around for that first big chance. Another lesson learned I guess.

I've also seen a lot of aspects of Bush Flying, Float flying in particular, that I didn't know about before coming out here, that don't appeal to me as much as I thought they would.

It was an invaluable opportunity to learn these things, but I'm thinking I might try and open my mind up to other flying paths before I go too far down one particular path.

Luckily, at this stage in the game, I pretty have to take what I can get. Hopefully that means I can try out a few other types of flying before I get so settled into one niche that I am trapped there.

This winter will be nice in that ( so far ) the plan has me back out west doing my 9-5 and having a fair bit of free time.

I've been tossing around ideas in my head as to what to do with that time this winter that might help me in the future.

I might spend some time studying in my off-time at work and re-write the Flight Dispatcher Exams. I wrote them two years ago and the studying was pretty intense ( it was overkill, once I saw the exam questions ) but it was good cranial exercise. The exams are a pre-requisite for certain types of flight dispatch operations and are only valid for one year after writing. Not that the exams alone would open a lot of doors for me in flight dispatch employment, but its something.

I don't really have the funds to do a MIFR this winter, but I thought I might take a stab at studying for and writing the INRAT, the Instrument Flight Rating written exam. Again, probably a bit of a cranial exercise alone, but you never know, if I won the 6/49, it would be nice to be ready to go. Knowledge for its own sake is never a waste anyways.

I will probably keep looking a for a part-time job to complement my full time job and try to get a little ahead of the game financially. Particularly if an opportunity came along that ( will most likely ) necessitates a reduced salary again. As my 9-5 is out at the airport, I will probably focus my efforts at finding something out there that I could hop straight over to and put in an extra 3-4 hours a day. I did this a while back when I worked graveyards at the FBO. I worked for four hours a day in the afternoon / evening on the ramp for a courier outfit loading their planes and then went straight over to the FBO to fuel all night, sleeping during the day. Long days, but I got to spend all “day “ at the airport and the extra cash came in handily.

I interviewed for a de-ice job this summer, for the coming winter season. Iit sounded like I was a shoe-in based on my qualifications and what the interviewer said, but I never did hear back from them. I'll probably give them a call and see if anything has changed.

I also talked to an outfit that does Ultralight Flight Training and they said they were always looking for instructors for their summer season. The UL FI rating is relatively inexpensive and the employer mentioned they would pay the costs, allowing you to pay it back while working for them afterwards.

I have turned my nose up at Instructing before, mostly as I always doubted I had the theoretical knowledge and confidence to actually try and teach it to someone else, but my own opinion of that has changed a little over the last year. Perhaps this is something I should be opening my mind up to a little bit. My wife and I spent some time overseas teaching English and I didn't find the teaching aspect all that bad. I might even enjoy it, given my interest in the subject...something that was missing while teaching conversational English. It might even be a good test to see if I liked it enough to try and get my Flight Instructor rating and spend a year or two doing that.

And of course, we're still looking 18 months or two years down the road to getting out of the country again. Africa is still on the radar. Some hours, some money, a rating or two, all things that would dovetail nicely into that if it ever came to be...

Today will be spent hanging around the base and packing up my things for the trip home. Luckily, most of the clothes I brought out here have been pretty thoroughly used up....covered in tree sap, aviation oil, barrel rust and smelling vaguely of fish and beer, that I think I'll be leaving most of them in the dumpster and not have to worry about packing them all home.

My coworker has very graciously offered to drive me down south to the nearest Train station, which is about a 3 hour round trip for him. The “Station “ is actually a spot in the bush where the train crosses the highway. Its a “ Whistle Stop “, which means the train only stops there if there is someone booked to board or get off there, otherwise they just fly by in the middle of the night. And I do mean the middle of the night. I am booked to get on the train at 0315AM. My coworker has to wrk the next morning, so he will probably drop me off around 11PM or so, so he can get back up to base and in bed for a decent nights rest.

Me, I'll be sitting out there in the bush, beside the train tracks...for four hours....god, I hope the bugs are down by then....ack.

The train gets me into Nearest Big Cityville around 10 AM and its a public transit trip out to the airport for my flight out around 1400.

Once I get back, its an hour or two kicking around the airport till the Lovely Wife gets off work and can pick me up.

I imagine I'll be pretty tired, so I'm thinking next stop will be my bed.....MY bed!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Closing Up

Well, had a pretty busy couple of weeks. Barely had time to sit still back at base for a day or two and then we're off again on another trip up north to close up camps for the season and do some more project jobs.

We went on two 4-day trips, based out of one camp and flew day trips out to neighboring camps to winterize them. We also spent a few days building docks and boat ramps as well. Truly hard work, and long days to boot.

It would be nice if we could just tear up the old boat ramps and throw the pieces in the fire, pop in to Home Depot and grab some lumber and hammer up a new one. Since we're a couple hours flying time from the nearest home depot, and at least an hour from even a decent source of basic carpentry materials, everything has to be re-used whenever possible. Boat ramps are carefully disassembled, nails pounded out and wood saved for the new one. New logs are cut, hauled and skinned, for the old boards to be nailed back on, sometimes with the old nails. All carefully pulled out and straightened.

The cabins have to be boarded up for thew winter as well. Theres not much for people around in these parts during the winter, but people do come through on occasion. A lot of the lakes are linked, by portages and winter roads over the lakes. Hunters and Natives are around and can sometimes take advantage of a perfectly good cabin sitting there and no-one around for a few hundred miles. You also don't want mice or other creatures deciding to make it their winter home and wreaking all kinds of damage over the winter. All the windows and doors are boarded up and moth balls and rat poison spread around inside. Linens are removed, boats flipped over and chained up, BBQ's put inside, propane disconnected and water lines drained so the freezing temperatures doesn't split the lines.

A couple of the cabins have had trouble with frost heaves and general shifting on their basic foundations as well. Since you cant really just bring in a back hoe and dig a proper hole for the concrete truck to pour you a nice stable foundation, most of the cabins sit on wood posts, driven through the dirt to rock, whenever possible. We spent a few days underneath different cabins jacking up the building off the old posts, ripping them out and building log cribs to set them back down on. One cabin, we even ended up mixing fifty bags of concrete to pour into holes we had dug down to the rock. If you've ever mixed concrete, it sucks.

Fifty bags worth, in the sun, being swarmed by Black Flies and my new favorite, Deer Flies, is interminable unrelenting sucking. It felt good to get it done though. Similarly I guess to how a bank robber feels upon parole.

We've had a nice stretch of good weather though, which has been really nice. Sometimes I caught myself wishing for a little cooler temperatures as we were out there doing something in the sun all day. Luckily we had one more day of rain to give me a little perspective on how much worse an unpleasant task is in unpleasant weather.

Fall is definitely closing in on us up here though. Saw our first flocks of Canada Geese heading south for the winter. I was amazed at the size of the flocks! I'm used to seeing their distinctive " Vee's " consisting of a couple of dozen birds at best. These flocks had to have a couple of hundred birds in them. They make quite the racket too.

Our first trip we'd put in a full days work and then go out fishing on the lake in the evening, to catch our suppers. That was a nice way to finish off a hard days work, out in the boat, catching fish ( not hard to do up here! ) and having a few beers.

Second trip we only got out fishing once, so it was a bit more of a slog... Putting your feet up after a long day is uniquely satisfying.

One night we were out in the boat and we spotted an Elk ( I think it was an Elk, possibly a Caribou? ) out swimming across the lake.

We booted over there and got pretty close to him for a few pictures and a little video. We were told that some people would simply keep circling them with the boat till they ran out of steam and drowned. I guess hunting is hunting, but it seems like a hard way to go. They do get quite panicked when you get up close and we backed off pretty quick so as not to overly distress it. It was cool to see though.

Lots of bald eagles up here too. In fact, most of the lakes have a few "pet " bald eagles that have been kind of trained by the summer-long presence of our fishermen guests. Theres actually a fair bit of buzzards around as well, great big black birds with a stubbly little red head.

Its hard to make out, I know, but this is a bald eagle in flight that I tried to get a shot of as he took off from a dock where some guests had left some fish guts.

Some of them even have a seagull or two. Two of them in particular have seagulls that have learned that all they have to do is sit out on the end of the dock all day and eventually dinner will come to them. We've named all these pet birds with the same name. Guts. Guts the seagull, Guts the eagle.

Once the days fishing is done and the fish are cleaned, the guts are usually put in a bucket and run across to a large rock on the other side of the lake or bay, and dumped there for the birds to eat. You don't really want a big old pile of smelly fish guts by your cabin, and you really don't want the bears finding out that you are offering up a free meal every night.

The eagles will even follow you around while you are fishing, usually just perching on top of a tree near you and watching your every move. On a couple of occasions, we've had a small fish hooked and by the time you get it to the boat and the hook pulled out, particularly if its lodged in a hard-to-release spot, the fish is barely conscious when you throw him back in the lake. The eagles are watching for this and if it drifts a little ways away from the boat they will dive down and snatch it out of the water. Its quite a sight to see, but a little hard to catch with a camera that has dead batteries...sigh.

This is a picture of a dock crib we built. The skinned logs are measured and cut, notched in the corners like a log cabin, and then steel spiked to keep them together. Later this year, it will be towed by boat over to the boat dock and "sunk" with rocks inside, to form a new section of dock. This took us a good four hours to build.

Most nights we had a nice fire as well. It is surprising how mant of the guests that come up here never had fires. All the cabins have firepits and deadfall wood is close at hand and pretty easy to get. We had some fun piling fresh pine branches on the fire for the fireworks show that you get as they burn. I can only imagine what a forest fire would look like in full swing with the way these things burn.

My time here is quickly running down. In fact, I only have a few days left to go before I head out back westward for home. I have to admit, I am anxious for the summer to be over. Its been quite an experience, and hopefully one that will help me get a leg up in trying to find flying work. However, there have been a few things that we've had to do, that are frankly, not much use to me. I really do hope that I can find flying work that doesn't involve mixing concrete. Its a good thing to know how to do I guess, but its not what I had in mind when I got started on this. As much as I love the bush and the type of flying up here, I really would like to get going on the flying end of things. A lot of guys who are just getting started up here are in their early twenties, and don't have a lot of experience doing stuff like that. Not that I'm a handy-man or anything, but I have worked a chainsaw before, I can troubleshoot basic mechanical stuff and have painted houses, shingled roofs and operated a shovel before. I can imagine if I was twenty years old, that learning these things for the first time would be a fairly necessary step towards a bush flying job.

As much as I love the bush, my main passion is for flying.

I did get a couple replies to the mountain of resumes I've emailed out and a couple good leads for next season, some of them out west even, which is nice for a change. We were out flying one day with the chief pilot and he actually had a guy call him up on the radio to check my reference. I had emailed him a resume a while back and I guess he spotted the CP's name and thought he'd ask about me. I don't know if they actually have an opening they are trying to fill, or if he was just making conversation on the radio ( some of these guys up here loooove to talk... ) , but I thought that was kind of neat. For things like that, and some of the other job leads I've come across just be being out here, it makes this summer a bit more worthwhile.

Still, my old job waits patiently for me, and I'm looking forward to an eight-hour workday again. Not sure what I'm going to do with all that extra time, especially since I wont be able to fish off the dock anymore! haha.

Most of all though, I'm anxious to get back to my wife. We've both learned a lot this summer about being apart. Its the first time we've ever tried something like this and its not something I thing we will soon repeat. Once you're apart you realize all the little stuff doesn't really matter. Living in a crap town, having crap entertainment options, crap housing, crap jobs, is all stuff you can deal with, as long as you're together.