Out of the Office: Planes, trains, automobiles and helicopters

Every new Alaskan has a bucket listing of issues they wish to examine whereas dwelling right here (hopefully, a very long time). One subset can be “modes of transporation.” We’re not simply speaking planes, trains and vehicles, however kayaks, canoes, bicycles, skis, snowshoes, canine groups, sailboats, water taxis, fishing boats, ferries, floatplanes, Bush planes and helicopters.

Whew. I can examine off all of them.

Watercraft alone can be an essay in itself. I’ll briefly point out that I’ve taken the Alaska Marine Highway, canoed on Big Lake, kayaked to Gull Island, canoed on a quiet summer season night amongst loons and beavers on Never Never Lake, traveled on a fishing tender to assist recuperate a grey whale skeleton, taken a touchdown craft to recuperate a sperm whale skeleton, taken dozens of water taxis, sailed in a Seward Yacht Club race, and endured a white-knuckle journey in tough seas by means of the Chugach Passage.

And, sure, I’ve taken a number of journeys over snow: up and down mountains, alongside great ski trails, and have run a canine group on the Iditarod Trail (about 5 miles and accidentally after I obtained misplaced).

But on the subject of touring round Alaska, I’ve had essentially the most enjoyable and journey flying.

In my first summer season in Alaska, I obtained a job engaged on an archaeological dig on the Turner River within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That expedition of a crew of seven and all our gear concerned flights on ever smaller and slower plane.

From Anchorage to Fairbanks, we took a jet. In Fairbanks flying to Kaktovik, we transferred to a DC-3 with an airline everybody referred to as “Scare North.” They pulled out the seats on the proper and strapped in our provides there.

In Kaktovik we had a two-day layover whereas the climate cleared as a result of that occurs loads within the Arctic, and our crew stayed within the previous refuge headquarters. From Kaktovik we flew with Audi Air in a four-seater Cessna 206 to a tough touchdown strip on the Kongakut River referred to as Caribou Pass. There we loaded one-by-one within the again seat of a Cessna Supercub, and the flight obtained actually fascinating.

The archaeological website, Lorenz’s Overlook, lined a broad terrace overlooking the Turner River. If you’ve ever been to the coastal Arctic plain, you understand that what’s not hills seems like one huge par-10,000 golf course, solely as an alternative of fairways you may have tussocks, miles and miles of tussocks.

You can’t land a aircraft on tussocks. Our pilot, Walt Audi, picked the closest hill to the location, what we referred to as “Walt’s Knoll,” and he took us there in brief hops. Landing on Walt’s Knoll was a bit like touchdown on an plane service, I believe, besides that the knoll didn’t transfer.

One time my good friend Greg and I flew out of Utqiagvik to work on an archaeological dig on Peard Bay. There we landed on a seashore — a pleasant, flat, broad seashore.

To be certain that he had a secure touchdown, first the pilot did a low go to examine for obstructions. Then he set his wheels down gently to examine that the sand can be agency sufficient. He made one other low go to have a look at his tracks to ensure they hadn’t stuffed with water. Finally, he landed.

Greg obtained air sick simply, and whereas I believe he might need held out for the primary flyover, by the point we coasted to a cease he was performed for.

I’ve had essentially the most enjoyable — and never enjoyable — flying in helicopters. On one other archaeological dig with Greg, we labored at a website close to Point Lay, a proposed coal mining prospect. My brother-in-law Charlie labored out of the identical camp doing geological exploration.

One day Charlie invited me alongside on a helicopter experience — my first helo flight ever. I didn’t know fairly what to anticipate, so when the helicopter took off virtually straight up, sure, my abdomen took just a few seconds to catch up, and I believed, “This is cool as heck.”

Years later, I took one other helicopter tour courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the place I obtained invited alongside as a reporter with an assistant secretary to tour websites round Kachemak Bay. I needed to go well with up in fire-resistant coveralls. We checked out snow measuring stations on the base of glaciers and cattle grazing leases within the Fox River. Often this job will be tedious and hard, however junkets like that greater than make up for these lengthy hours watching a pc display screen.

Not all helo journeys will be enjoyable, as I discovered 9 years in the past after I had a little bit cardiac occasion on Memorial Day. After passing out two instances for some bizarre purpose, I went to the emergency room at South Peninsula Hospital. I obtained wired as much as an EKG machine, and after I handed out another time and, uh, flatlined, after I got here to Dr. Hal Smith mentioned to me, “Michael, you just got yourself a helicopter ride.”

You know the way you typically hear the helicopters take off from the roof of the hospital and fly off to Anchorage, pondering, “Oh boy, I hope that person is OK?” I used to be a type of sufferers.

In a medevac helicopter, you fly with a pilot, a flight nurse and a medic, normally in your again. We had a type of bluebird spring days, however all I might see was blue sky and the occasional mountain high because the helo flipped.

That journey I didn’t get totally free — $1,000 a minute for 38 minutes, a hefty invoice that fortuitously my insurance coverage lined. I had been in atrial fibrillation, and after I landed, I flipped again into regular rhythm. Also, I didn’t die. As a memento for that journey, I obtained a brand new pacemaker.

Planes, trains, vehicles and helicopters. Live right here lengthy sufficient and also you’ll fill all of the squares in your bucket listing bingo card. Here’s hoping it doesn’t contain any medevacs.

Reach Michael Armstrong at

Michael Armstrong, left, wears a flight suit while doing a helicopter tour of agricultural sites in Kachemak Bay in 2008. At right is cattle rancher Chris Rainwater. (Photo provided, U.S. Department of Agrculture)

Michael Armstrong, left, wears a flight go well with whereas doing a helicopter tour of agricultural websites in Kachemak Bay in 2008. At proper is cattle rancher Chris Rainwater. (Photo supplied, U.S. Department of Agrculture)

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