Flying To Alaska, Day One, Coastal Route
After a quick stop in Siskiyou airport for a 10:00 conference call (its kind of a working vacation) I flew up California, Oregon and through the Olympic mountains of Washington (a preview of the mountain flying to come) in order to pick up a used folding kayak I bought off of Craig’s List. After handing over an envelope of cash and stuffing a big black 50 pound backpack into my plane, I refueled, activated my international flight plan and within minutes I was over Canadian airspace over a layer of clouds.
I wanted to start out VFR under the ample ceiling of about 5,000 feet, but I knew the ceiling was lower later and I didn’t know how easy it would be to convert VFR to IFR in the air in Canada, so I just filed IFR and started on top straight away, above a layer flying at 10,000 then later 12,000.
Hours later, I heard the words, “Cross Annette at or above 6,000 feet, cleared for the Ketchikan RNAV Runway 11 Approach, contact Ketchikan Radio 20 miles out”. No vectors to final, no gradual step downs. Cleared for the approach, buddy, you are on your own. Yee haw.
I dropped into the clouds while the cockpit became darker as drizzle, then rain hit the windscreen. My new Avidyne 540 GPS took me through two 90 degree turns then on final the glide slope needle came alive to lead me down the final approach into Ketchican – through a fjord. Man, I love the new (new for me) WAAS approaches! I had installed a GPSS system and could have had the auto pilot fly the approach, but, well, I wanted to. A dark shape loomed out my right window and with a glance I saw trees and rocks whizzing by, but shortly the bright approach lights at the end of the runway came into view. Gear down, flaps down, and just like that, I’m in Alaska.
The instrument approach was exhilarating. A clear mind without distractions, being present in the moment with a singular focus on one thing. Many people participate in sports or meditate to get this same feeling. It was a great way to start the trip.
But then, 10 minutes later, the adrenaline was gone and I was sitting on the ramp in the rain in Ketchikan after a very long day of flying. Exhausted. I almost just slept in the plane but knew if the weather held I’ve have big day of flying the next day and I’d better get a good nights rest. So I took the ferry over to town and got a room.
Next: Alaska, Day Two