Saturday, June 11, 2011

On The Road Again

Well, I finally arrived in my new summer home. I left Vancouver on Monday morning at 0700 and arrived in the north around suppertime on Tuesday.

The first day actually started a few days ago with packing, sorting, cleaning and taking care of all manner of tasks before flying the coop for the summer.

This morning came early with my little girl deciding to get up a full hour before her usual rousing time. Perhaps she was as nervous as me. Unfortunately drinking a bottle of milk worked for her, but not me.

I switched cars with the wife and packed most of my stuff last night, to save ten trips to the parkade at 0600. I usually drive the nicer of our two cars, as I spend considerably more time on the road with my daily commute. For this trip , I took the "other" car. I want to call it our Beater, but it is actually the same year as the "good" car and was almost given to us by a relative, so don't want to risk offending anyone....

The 500 of the 1000 kilometres I drove today were very nice. Other than some fuzziness out the windshield due to what I suspect were my " allergies " acting up on departing my wife and daughter this morning, things were very pleasant. Some early clouds at 0700 leaving home turned to sunshine by 1000.

Just before Jasper, the Check Engine light came on in the car.


Quick pit stop to check things out and everything that could be checked was normal. Engine wasn’t running hot or anything, all fluids were good and no performance change in the engine. I’m chalking it up to some weird better-get-a-dealer-to-do-an-oil-change timer that needed resetting or a sensor issue. The car lived all of its life down on the coast, so maybe it didn’t like the altitudes I was driving at…who knows. We got the car from a relative for 500 bucks, so it was pretty much a gift. If it had to end its days behind some garage in Blue River while I carried on the trip on the greyhound, so be it.

I also noticed the windshield wipers were pretty badly worn so I picked up a new one in Jasper. Yup, ONE new one. I’m that cheap.

Google maps had me turning off the yellow head highway just before Hinton, but I was considering stopping for the night and figured Hinton would have a little more to choose from in the way of cheap motels then the alternatives up the road. I disobeyed Mssrs. Brin and Page and carried on into Hinton. After fuelling up the car and my belly, I noticed I had a wifi signal in the parking lot of the gas station so took a few minutes to check out the interweb. I was actually getting a little road-weary and was hoping to download an audio-book to keep me entertained for a few hours. I checked the app store and it was mostly Christian audio books and a few old classics, like Tom Sawyer and Sherlock Holmes. The wifi signal wasn’t that great and they were fairly large files, so I skipped it. While rechecking the route on google, it now had me going an altogether different route now that I had gone 20 miles past the original turnoff it had commanded.

The new route had a few more sizable towns and frankly looked a little more direct. Interesting. I also noted that I wasn’t nearly as far into the trip as I thought. I figured Hinton would be at least half-way, but no such luck. If I stopped there, after twelve hours of driving, the next day would be at minimum 14 hours more. There was plenty of daylight left, so I pressed on for Whitecourt.

Whitecourt had me in a cheap motel, The Ritz. I was a little skeptical as there was a pub attached to the Motel, but luckily Monday night wasn’t party time in Whitecourt, so I got a quiet night.

I did have a few concerns about finding a room on the way up. I’ve been through Alberta before and have come across towns that are booked solid with oil workers. Every motel is booked up by 2 pm and any rooms available are double what you would expect to pay.

While I was checking in at the Ritz, another fellow was also checking in and the clerk read him out a 400 dollar-plus bill. My turn came and I asked if there were any rooms available, he replied “ yes, fill this out please :, handing me a check in slip and quickly moving on to the next customer waiting in line before I could ask the rate. I filled out the slip waiting for the other shoe to drop and me having to hand it back over and go sleep in the car. 75 Bucks. Sweet!

Next morning it was greasy spoon breakfast and back on the road. From Jasper on, the highways got progressively smaller and smaller.

At Peace River, I called up to my new employer and checked in so they would know when to expect me in town. A last minute stop to pick up a few things and then the final stretch.

From Peace River north, the highway got quite a bit smaller, but also a lot straighter as well. In fact, there wasn’t much for turns from that point on till the NWT border. Those turns that were there were the same diameter and radius. If you looked at them from an aerial view, I’m pretty sure they made up the two 90 degree corners on a full-section of land, where the highway had to bend around developed farmland.

At the NWT border, I was awaiting the giant sign to take some pictures of my first foray North of 60 since I was a baby. Pulling into the little pull out, I noticed two cars pulling in behind me. As I rooted around in my bag for my camera and a drink, I caught a glimpse of the two guys getting out of the cars and noticed they looked young, white and excited. In the back of my mind I thought, I bet these guys are doing the same thing up here as me.

Sure enough, they were two recent flight college grads moving up North to take ramp jobs with two large air carriers up here. We chatted for awhile and took each others pictures under the big sign. They mentioned they were going to be looking for a place to stay in the town where I was headed, but I was still a little unsure about my accommodations to offer a place to crash. Plus, showing up to my new employers with guests in tow, probably wouldn’t have made the best first impression.

I stopped at a waterfall for a quick peek and they passed me by. I decided if I saw them in town, I’d get a phone number from them and give them a quick call after checking in, to see if it was OK to offer them a place to crash. I didn’t see them again and ended up visiting for awhile anyways, so it was a moot point. I felt bad turning down an opportunity to help these guys out, you never know when connections like these can come in handy…

I gave my new Co. a call when I got into town and was directed out to the hangar at the airport to come and meet everybody. Very nice people, and a nice little setup. I got the tour of the operation and of my new home for the summer.

Voila. Casa Mia.

Its actually quite a nice little setup. I have a great big double bed, a couch and a kitchen table. A microwave, and Oven, a Stove and a fridge/freezer. I was worried that the fridge/freezer would be beer-fridge sized and necessitating buying food in tiny little batches, but it is actually quite ample.
Everything had been cleaned out for me and stocked with all the basics, dishes, linens, cutlery, towels, bedding, toaster, pots and pans.

They took me out for dinner that first night, so I forwent grocery shopping till the next day. Day after that was actually a hockey-game night, so I went over to a coworkers place to watch the game and ended up eating there as well. The night after that, it was over to the bosses place for dinner. So, havent actually done much in the way of cooking. In fact, I think the only supper I’ve actually cooked so far was a soup and sandwich affair.

Didn’t realize it, but we actually have 24 hour daylight up here right now. I kind of thought you had to be a little further north to get this, but I was wrong. Technically, the sun sets, but its more of a twilight, with the sun just below the horizon for an hour or two from like 0130 till 0330. During that time it just looks like a really long sunset, turning to a sunrise. It threw me for a little loop the first few nights, as I’d wake up in the middle of the night and check my watch, thinking it was 6 or 7 by the light, and it turned out to be 3 or 4 in the morning. Hasn’t bothered me so far, but everyone keeps saying that it will. We’ll see.

This is about as dark as it gets.

First few days were a flurry of studying company and aircraft documents and writing all the exams to satisfy my training. In between, I went out with them on a few runs and got to get acquainted with the aircraft. Day one had me “flying” the kingair on a little two hour-return flight and later that afternoon the Caravan.

As I’m not formally trained (yet) on these aircraft, it’s not really “flying” in the legal, loggable, sense or even training, but it was quite a nice surprise to get a couple takeoffs and landings along with the usual straight-and-level orientation flying.

A couple days later it was wrapping up my ground training on the aircraft I will be doing my ride on and the one I will be doing most of my flying in, the Cessna 337 Skymaster.

Behold, “Snoopy”.

The skymaster or 337, is a little bit of an odd aircraft. Its one of very few push-pull configuration twin-engine aircraft in existence that I know of. In fact, there is a special class of Instrument Rating that you get that is pretty much specific to this aircraft only.

You can get a Group 3 IFR, which covers all single-engine airplanes and a Group 1 which covers all ( conventional ) twin-engine airplanes and a Group 2 for this bad boy, specific to this aircraft only. Technically its good for all “ Centre Line Thrust Multi Engine Aircraft “. Of which, I only know of this one.

Technically, the Group 2 also allows me to fly any Group 3 aircraft as well.

In order to carry passengers for hire, I also have to do a Transport Canada flight test or “ ride “ to get what is called a PPC, a Pilot Proficiency Check. Coincidentally, the PPC will also act as an IFR flight test, renewing an existing rating or giving me initial qualification, provided all other requirements are met. I have all the other requirements done, so hopefully over the next few weeks, I will have a fresh instrument rating on my license. There is still the possibility that they will only be doing a VFR PPC for me, as that is 99% of the flying I will be doing, but they said they will try and arrange for me to do an IFR one if they feel I have a reasonable chance of success at challenging it.

So, after finishing off the ground stuff on this aircraft, it was flight training time. Me and the Chief Pilot went out for an hour of my mandated flight training and did a little instrument work, some steep turns, stalls clean and dirty and then back to the airport for some circuits. I got some good feedback from the Chief, who had bucket loads of experience flying up here and in taking in new guys like myself for their first jobs. It’s a different world out here than the one you get introduced to in the flight school universe.

The Caravan and King air flights were also my first time flying a turbine powered aircraft. The Caravan being a single engine and the King air having two turbine engines hanging off the wings.

A few major differences, but the basics are still the same. Set Engine power output, match prop RPM to give you the desired performance. Monitor key temperatures and pressures and don’t exceed key limits.

The KingAir is a pretty sweet machine. Lots of technology and a lot faster than anything I’ve flown before. Very responsive as well and quite a treat to handle.

Got to go to a local fishing lodge as well to run in supplies for them. This is very familiar to me…drums of fuel, groceries and propane.

We were also told that on one run we would picking up two girls who were coming out of the camp. Since they hadn’t even had their first guest yet and these workers were just up there doing all the season-opening chores of opening up a lodge, it’s a bit unusual to be bringing people out.

The story we got when we were loading back up to leave, was that one of them had a family member in the hospital and the other simply didn’t want to stay for the rest of the season without her friend. I wasn’t buying the hospital story for a minute. I think the truth was that they had no idea what they had gotten themselves into and were bailing.

Back at base we phoned a cab for them to go back into town. Getting into the cab one of the girls asked us, “ where’s a good place to stay for the night in town, where we can drink? “.

Hmm. Yeah, or go to the hospital to visit your dying great-uncle.

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