A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

September 2008

North to Alaska, Almost...(Part 1)

I’ve been flying on a contract for the Forest Health branch this summer.   We’re flying specialists around the north half of the province assessing the damage done by the mountain pine beetle and other pests.   The following is an excerpt from a journal I sometimes write in.

MOVING BASE CAMP:

From 8,500 feet the view to the south validated the weather briefing of one hour ago.   The towering cumulus cloud and thunderstorms formed along a line from Prince George running north-east, leaving the promise of a relatively uneventful flight to the south-west.  My destination leaving Chetwynd was Vanderhoof and the route would easily skirt the systems.  

Bennett Dam

MacKenzie slid by off my right wingtip, and I made a mental note that I’d possibly be sent back there in a few days.   Another thirty miles clicked off on the GPS before the first signs of trouble came up under me.  A shallow layer of cloud was forming directly ahead, but appeared harmless enough.   I flew on over top of it into a darkening sky, and soon more towering cumulus cloud boiled up from the gloom, turning the entire sky into thick soup.  

Weather closing in

 I attempted to get down under it all, but even at about 500 feet above ground, I could see darkness toward my destination, now less than 30 miles to the southwest.   Time for a 180 degree turn, and get the heck out of there.   This wasn’t supposed to be here.   MacKenzie, here I come!  

 The company I’m working for has a facility in MacKenzie, consisting of an old terminal building with pilots’ quarters upstairs.   It’s not been used since the previous air service abandoned it a few years back. Still in pretty decent repair, it appears the staff simply got up and walked out one day, leaving everything behind.   The desks, computers, fax machines, weigh scale, passenger waiting room, baggage tags …. Everything in place to come to work for the next day.   But, they never came back.   It’s a totally eerie place.   The magazines in the waiting room are all at least three years old, and the calendars on the wall are dated May, 2006.  

The ramp at Mackenzie

The TWILIGHT ZONE.  

There’s not much else going on at this airport.   A small charter company runs a Grand Caravan up Williston Lake transporting groceries and passengers in and out of Fort Ware and a couple of other villages and reserves up there.   They also serve the dwindling number of mining camps.   With all the logging abandoned, this airline may not be long for it’s existence.  

N.T. Air's Grand Caravan

So, here I sit, in solitude with my computer.   Yes, there is still electricity and running water in this building, but no internet.   There’s an old Chevy Van parked outside, with some keys hanging on the wall. I found a battery charger and managed to start it for a run into the town for some food.   There are canned beans, soups and old boxes of cereal in the kitchen upstairs, but who knows how old that stuff is. It’s quite an experience.  

The feeling of isolation and loneliness is made worse by the steady downpour and thick, black cloud overhead for the past two days.   There’s a radio here, but CBC and the local “best rock, 101.9, the RIVER” just don’t seem to appeal to my needs.   And of course, there’s no TV.  

The Forestry crews we fly around are not working until Monday.   And we still don’t know where they want to fly from.   So I might be working from right here, or from Prince George or from back in Smithers again.   It’s all uncertain, but I’m OK with that.   In fact, it’s all good.   No sense complaining since I’m here for the duration of this work.   I’ll take it as it comes.

It’s not even 21:00 hrs. yet, and I can’t believe that even way up north here, around 56 degrees latitude, the days are so short already.   Summer is almost over.   In fact one would think it was a severe autumn day today with this wind and cold.   I have worn shorts/t-shirts exactly three days this entire summer.  

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