Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Greetings from Fort Simpson where spring has finally sprung and where we are experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures of 24 degrees (75 for those of you still in the dark ages of scientific units) for the past couple of days.

More correctly I suppose I should say, greetings from Nahanni Butte, where I have flown to today and will be earning good money to sit on my butt all day and wait for my passengers to complete their work.

To pass the time today, I will be writing this blog for you.

Anyway….this great warm weather. It has been a long time coming and it signals many changes for life up here, surprisingly, most of them unpleasant. Oh sure, not having to endure bitter cold is all well and good, but it comes at a price. First, the warm temperatures mean melting snow…lots of it. And in a town where there are more dirt streets than paved ones, lots of melting snow means lots of sloppy mud. It also means lots of sloppy mud on and around our runway and aircraft parking ramp which are also unpaved.

This in turn leads to a great deal of ‘fun’ while trying to taxi and park the airplanes. Basically it turns normal flying into something of a hybrid of flying and off-roading. The result…..airplanes get messy and inevitably, stuck.

Oh mud, how I loathe thee. Thank god for rubber boots.
Another unfortunate side effect of all this muck and mire is cast upon responsible dog owners, such as myself. It would seem that my best pal Buddy, has a deep affinity for being as absolutely and thoroughly dirty as possible during this time of year. Until yesterday, I had done an admirable job of keeping him on a relatively short leash and quite clean. However, he’s an extremely energetic sort, and still does need plenty of off-leash exercise. Yesterday evening he just would not be denied his rite of passage into spring. You see, the lovely girlfriend and I went over to the crew house to enjoy the nice weather out on the deck with good friends and a frosty malted beverage or two. We decided we would bring the dogs (or, ‘the babies’, as she likes to call them) so that they too could enjoy the beautiful weather. Buddy was thoroughly enjoying his time, and engaging in his usual stick-obsessed, neurotic behaviour by running to the woodpile and returning with whole logs of firewood and laying them at people’s feet, hoping that someone would take the bait. Someone did. Despite my protests, someone grabbed that log and threw it as far as a normal person can throw a ten-pound log. It was game over. Buddy spent the next twenty minutes chasing and retrieving this mammoth hunk of wood, making unnecessary detours through the mud, just to piss me off, I’m sure. And finally, when he was too hot from all the running and heavy lifting, he located the biggest, deepest, most foul, mosquito larvae-infested puddle of standing water and laid right down in it to cool off while he slurped it up in big, panting gulps. If I wasn’t so sure he was in heaven and experiencing the most pure joy he possibly could at that very moment, I would have been mad. But all I could do was chuckle as everyone howled in laughter at the dejected look on my face, knowing that I was going to have to add ‘Bathe Dog’ to my list of things to do before bed.
Speaking of Buddy, he was able to spend some time with his son Brodie recently, as his master is out of town, leaving me with the opportunity to steal him away occasionally so he and his pops can enjoy some father-son time. Of course that consists mostly of the younger, bigger and faster Brodie running circles and taunting his older slower dad until Buddy gets cranky enough to put him in his place.

Then they come inside for a nap.
Brodie is a funny dog, and despite coming across like a big dumb oaf, I think he’s smarter than he lets on. For instance, when he’s hungry or thirsty, he doesn’t bark or whine like some other dogs might. He just picks up the appropriate doggie bowl and brings it to you.
The only one who doesn’t like Brodie is Rocky. She is definitely not a fan. I think it’s because of his size (he’s more like a cross between a dog and a moose) and the fact that he has no concept of personal space. Little ten-pound Rocky does not appreciate big six-foot-tall-when-he-stands-on-his-hind-legs Brodie getting right up in her face.
Another little unpleasant harbinger of spring reared it’s ugly head yesterday…
Yes, the dreaded mosquitoes are back. Not quite in full force yet, but the first few big bloodsuckers were out yesterday doing their best to make life miserable. Hopefully the weather gods will be kind to us and help us eradicate this pestilence early. We are forecast to enjoy this nice warm weather until the weekend at which time a little cold snap is supposed to occur. With any luck, the warmth will hatch most of the bugs just in time for a nice crisp cold couple of days to kill them all off, hopefully leaving us with a relatively mosquito-free couple of months. Fingers crossed; here’s hoping.
Perhaps the biggest change that the warm weather brings is that, as of yesterday at noon, all of us residents of Fort Simpson are somewhat trapped here on the island. Our ice-crossing has closed, limiting access to the outside world to strictly fly-in/out.
Good news for my paycheque, as now we will be getting very busy at work. Bad news for my wallet when I go to the store to buy a ten-dollar jug of milk thanks to the additional cost of having to sling all groceries across the river by helicopter. We all just have to grin and bear it now as we wait for the river to finally let go and (hopefully) start moving so the ferry boats can be put in the water.
Speaking of helicopters, I got to go for my very first helicopter ride recently. My friend Roger is a pilot for Canadian Helicopters here in town, and when he learned that I had never been in one before he arranged to take Susie and I for a ride around town.
Now I had always bugged Roger about being a helicopter pilot. You know, the usual jokes about preferring to trust the safety of an aircraft where the wings are attached to and moving at the same speed as the fuselage as opposed to whirling and gyrating wildly above. But really that was all just a front because I’ve always secretly thought that it would be super-cool to fly a helicopter. Well, the ride confirmed it. It was awesome. For me at least. Susie….well…..she’s a bit less brave and was hanging on for dear life with her eyes closed most of the time, despite Roger keeping the flying very tame, much to my dismay.
It was just a quick little ride, but Roger showed a bit of what the chopper can do, took it into a tight little snowy spot in the trees out of town and all that good stuff. For me, I don’t think anything will ever top flying the Beaver on floats, but if I couldn’t do that, flying a chopper would be a pretty cool and pretty close second.
Much free time lately has been split between watching play off hockey (GO PENGUINS!) and time at the shooting range. My friend Brett, who is a former Wolverine Air pilot, has come back after two years of flying on the west coast. He is an avid skeet-shooter so we have been out, throwing pop cans and whatever else we can downrange and blasting them out of the sky with the shotguns. It also gives me some time to enjoy my two new rifle additions to the arsenal, my Savage .22 and my Marlin .45-70.
I also spent some time recently going through some old pictures from a couple months ago that had been sitting on my camera’s data card, waiting to make it onto the laptop. I’ll leave you with a couple shots from a wintery scene in Nahanni Butte and my very beautiful and talented athlete of a girlfriend kicking butt at a hockey tournament.
Ah! I see a fly! I’m going to go kill it!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Extra-terrestrials attempt first contact with Fort Simpson....

Greetings from Fort Simpson, where a warm front has brought us this glorious weather this morning..........

Where do I start? So much has happened since my last post. Truly another bustling couple of weeks in the North.

Probably the single biggest piece of news was the return of the owners/operators of the Sub-Arctic Kitchen. "The Sub" as it is known locally, is the only real restaurant in Simpson (there is The Nahanni Inn.....but it's just plain gross) and it is primarily a Chinese food joint. The owners are real-deal Chinese and every year they spend a month back home in China. The fact that they essentially have a monopoly on the food biz in town combined with the fact that they actually serve up some decent grub means that Fort Simpson seems to go into a state of quasi-panic when they leave for the month. And then, when they do return, you can almost hear the entire town breathe a collective sigh of relief before everyone stampedes to be the first in line for some Sub Grub. Alas, the girlfriend and I succumbed to this herd mentality.....and it was delicious.

Yet another big happening, or should I say two big happenings combined to produce what I like to call an Uber-Happening. Last weekend was the NWT Dart Society Championships and yes, the event was held right here in Fort Simpson. And as luck would have it, the dart players would be brought in from Yellowknife by major television celebrities...The Ice Pilots. That's right, the coolest guys on the History Channel since the Ice Road Truckers. Buffalo Airways came in with one of their DC-3's full of the north's finest small, pointed projectile throwing athletes. As you can well imagine, it made for another crazy weekend in Fort Simpson. Friday night activities included a social for the dart players. Not being a dart player or a TV celebrity, I did not attend these festivities, but the girlfriend had volunteered to work the bar that evening. I almost feel like I was there, however, vicariously through her, and as a result, I pretty much had an indirect brush with celebrity. You see, being the beautiful girl that she is, it seems that one of these "Ice Pilots" was trying to pick her up. Wow, my girlfriend. Hit on by a celebrity. I've arrived.

As it would turn out, the next day the dart showdown began and saw 4 players forced to withdraw from the competition in true Northern style. Unfortunately they tested positive for performance de-hancing drugs....they were too drunk/hungover from the evening before to play.

On Sunday before the dart teams and TV stars left, I had a flight that was to stop in at the main airport here in Simpson where I was able to snap this shot of my little taildragger C-185 and the now famous big DC-3 taildragger.

The last couple weeks have seen the number of flights start to pick up. I had a huge trip from Fort Simpson to Trout Lake to Hay River to Yelloknife back to Fort Simpson in the 185. Even though the ice bridges are still in, it seems this particular passenger didn't want to drive this long lonely highway to Yellowknife.

There was also a particularly interesting trip to Nahanni Butte. Below is a short video clip of a herd of bison on Swan Point near Nahanni Butte.

Now, while seeing wildlife is always interesting, it was not the most interesting part of this trip. Actually it's quite the norm to see herds of bison in or very near Nahanni Butte. In fact, in the summer you usually have to shoo them off the runway before you can land. No, the truly interesting part of the trip was what I saw on a frozen portion of the river called "The Snye" right beside the golf course in town. I'm sure you're all familiar with the phenomenon of crop circles; well, I spotted a series of perfect Slats' Snye Snow Circles! (Being the discoverer of this 8th wonder of the modern world, I feel I should get to coin the new term to describe them.) I'm not sure just yet what these circles signify, but undoubtedly it is an attempt at first contact by alien life forms who have a message for Fort Simpson. I will be keeping my eyes to the night sky henceforth, you can be sure.

The warmer temperature we had for the Beavertail Jamboree gave way to the more usual cold and snow which in turns gives way to hibernation, at which Rocky is an expert.

Buddy is not quite as good at hibernating as his step-sister; his under-the-covers burrowing technique is non-existant. He is too busy with the orange, bouncy object of his obsession, anyway.

Lately, I have been mulling over the idea of adopting another sibling for Buddy. This is me weighing pros and cons:

Actually it's me after waking up from hibernating as well......
Anyway, lately there has been a semi-stray hanging around doing his best to look pathetic. His name is TJ and his owner has all but abandoned him. He is all skin and bones (and a lot of fur) but he is a beautiful, friendly dog.

He has managed to scam a few free meals out of us. I'd love to take him in and give him a home, especially when I think of the fate that awaits him out at the local dump if he ever gets caught by the bylaw officer. But the problem is that there are so many nice dogs in the same situation as TJ. If I bring one in, where does it end? Before I know it, I'll end up with a dog ranch and I'll never be able to leave.
Anyway, Buddy and I have taking full advantage of the empty field across the street which is perfect for fetch, now that his hip is recovered enough that he can run without too much trouble.

Every now and then some of his stray friends stop by to join the festivities........
Even his girlfriend and mother of his puppies showed up........

Stay tuned for dog adoption updates and alien message interpretations.............

Friday, March 12, 2010

The latest exciting happenings from the Deh Cho.....

Oh, exciting times in Fort Simpson recently folks, exciting times indeed! A couple trips to the big city, a concert by professional musicians (which included a Doppelganger sighting) and a good old fashioned jamboree!

The fun times began with a maintenance trip in the Navajo. It had developed a healthy (or unhealthy I suppose) oil leak. We would come to find out that the culprits were a leaky prop governor and a leaky turbocharger wastegate.
The destination of my maintenance run was Fort Nelson, my nemesis. Fort Nelson is a small town in the oil patch of northern BC. When most people hear mention of BC, they almost always think of beautiful unspoiled wilderness scenery. The problem with Fort Nelson is that it's an oil patch town, and looks exactly like most every other oil patch town I've ever been through which is something along the lines of this:
Ah, glorious semi's as far as the eye can see! Tankers and rig trucks and wireline trucks and frac trucks abound on dirty streets, unhindered by any signs of natural beauty. I suppose I shouldn't be so hard on Fort Nelson and oil patch towns in general, after all, they are a major engine driving our economy. It's just that after seeing so many of them when I worked on the rigs, the old "oil patch town layout" is a little stale: highway runs through the middle of a bunch of gas stations, hotels and fast-food joints and with all the money pumping through there, no one gives any thought to aesthetics or beautifying the town.
But I digress. Instead, I should be looking at the silver lining, the inevitable bright side that comes with the opportunity to make this trip to the big city. First and foremost...the sweet company ride!
Yes, that is a 1980's vintage Chevy Caprice Classic, or as I like to call it, "The Blue Boat." It reminds me of my grandmother's old 80 Cadillac Sedan DeVille. Has that same unmistakable ride. And while it looks like a piece of junk, it runs great. Sits for long stretches of time, often in minus 30 temperatures without the block heater being plugged in, and it fires right up every time with just a little pump of the gas pedal. Strangely, a cool old car.
Another upside to making the trip is the chance to get to real stores and the opportunity to buy things that you just can't find in Fort Simpson like fresh fruit and vegetables that are NOT on the verge of rotting, milk that will last in your fridge for longer than 24 hours without going sour, personal hygeine items and other variety of groceries and items at a much more reasonable price than in Fort Simpson. Oh, and ammunition for my new .45-70 shoulder cannon:
So, while Fort Nelson may not be the most beautiful or exciting spot in BC, or the north, I suppose it is not without it's advantages for someone like myself, visiting from a place like Fort Simpson.
Oh, I almost forgot...the "piece de resistance"...the glorious view from my hotel room:
Stunning, I know.
Fortuntately I made my escape from Fort Nelson just in time to make it back for one of the single biggest entertainment events I've had the chance to enjoy in Fort Simpson: "The Double D BFN Tour." My friend and co-worker Tim (also sometimes referred to as Peter-it's another story) who is himself a very talented singer/songwriter/musician has an older brother who is a professional musician from Kelowna. His brother, Dan, is the lead singer, songwriter, guitar player for his band, The Malibu Knights. Dan wanted to take a trip up to Fort Simpson to visit Tim and their other brother Tony who is a helicopter engineer in town here. Dan has an adventurous musician friend named Devon (who also has his own band) who decided to take the trip with him, in true starving artist his van. En route they would play shows together at bars in the various small northern towns until they reached their goal of Fort Simpson, hence the "Double D (Dan and Devon) BFN (butt .....I'll let you figure that one out) Tour."
The show was excellent. Needless to say, Fort Simpson doesn't see too many professional musicians pass through to put on shows. There are a few good local musicians here in town, but these two guys really were excellent and very talented and played to a very happy and excited crowd that seemed to really really enjoy the show, enough to hoot and holler and yell for an encore late in the evening just when they thought they were done, and had exhausted their repetoire.
The most remarkable moment of the evening for me happened as soon as I walked in. I witnessed a phenomenon which I had previously only heard and read about....The Doppelganger. I walked into the bar and thought for sure my eyes were playing tricks on me because I could have sworn I was looking at my good friend and former Wolverine Air pilot, Cayce. Devon is a dead ringer for Cayce. And everyone there who knew Cayce couldn't help but comment on it. I had to get a photo for proof so that you could all see what I was talking about. Below is a photo of Devon followed by a photo of Cayce. You can clearly see what I'm talking about:
Remarkable isn't it. As I understand the Doppelganger is usually a bad omen, I was happy to find out the next day that Cayce was alive and well. Strangely, he informed me he had seen my Doppelganger...a baggage handler at an airport in Alberta. Maybe 2 Doppelgangers cancel each other out and that's why we both survived the bad luck.
As you may know, me and the girlfriend moved to a new place in town. Our old place was much nicer in the looks department than our new digs. But hey, at least it's easy to explain to people where we live: "We're the second unit in the 'Remember this...Get crunk' building." "Oh, OK, I know that place."
Despite the many-year-old graffitti, the place isn't actually as bad as it seems from the outside. The convenience of living in town and being able to walk everwhere definitely has it's advantages.
But, to make the place feel a little more "homey" we decided (meaning "she decided and I didn't care either way") we should do a little decorating. So, we (meaning "she") found these crazy wall decals. Apparently we were bringing the outdoors into the kitchen. Unbeknown to me, this was to be a relationship-building event, or at least I'm reasonable certain that was an ulterior motive. But it was successful on both fronts. Not only did the decals go up well and add some much-needed feng shui to the place, but we got to practice compromise. Compromise between her approach of "We HAVE to take our time and follow the instructions TO THE LETTER!!" and my approach of "It's putting stickers on a wall for god sake we don't need instructions for that!"
Not only does the kitchen look smashing now, but it had the unintended benefit of adding a source of unexpected and unplanned entertainment.........KITCHEN HUNTING!

This weekend was the next big happening in Simpson....The Beavertail Jamboree. Just in case you HAVEN'T been living under a rock and are asking, "What in the name of all that is holy is the Beavertail Jamboree?"......well, it's ONLY the COOLEST celebration in the Deh Cho!
Obviously at the Beavertail Jamboree you can enjoy such events as a feast and drum dance and my personal favourite, one of the most exciting competitions known to modern man, the tea boiling competition. I know, I know, and you'll be even more jealous to learn that I was able to observe this pinnacle of sport from my bedroom window!

Yes, as you can imagine I am still winding down from the excitement.

Well that just about has us up to date. Obviously it has been a wild and crazy week and I know you will all be booking your trip to The Beavertail Jamboree for this time next year.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Yeah....could you NOT stab your buddy before a big hockey game please!?

Some of the interesting things about flying in the north are the reasons for which you occasionally get called out to go flying. Most often it’s pretty simple: Jonny Mosquito needs to get from Point A to Point B. Sometimes it’s a little more interesting. “There are canoeists overdue. They were canoeing from Leftrook Lake to Nelson House. Go up and see if you can find them.” Or, “Yeah….we’re gonna have to get you to go and pick up a dead body from Thicket Portage. It’s OK though, it’s in a body bag.” Creepy. Sunday was one such interesting trip. No, my passenger wasn’t deceased. No small thanks to his drinking buddy though. I was thoroughly enjoying my Sunday, watching the Olympics and looking forward to the Canada/USA round robin game. You remember: the one we lost despite generally out-shooting and out-playing them entirely because our goalie was playing well below his usual level and theirs was playing well above his usual level. Anyway, I got a call from the boss telling me I had to go flying to Nahanni Butte to take a passenger back there. As you can well imagine I was less than pleased to have my general Sunday sloth interrupted for the purpose of flying to the Butte for roughly the 4,763rd time in my life. Especially because if the passenger was late, I might miss the puck drop. When I got to work I discovered the reason for the trip; it made me even more mad. Apparently, the day prior, my passenger (let’s call him Jonny Chestwound) had been stabbed by his supposed buddy (let’s call him Tommy Stabsalot) and he had come in to town to get patched up and now needed to get back home. The catalyst for this event was? Any guesses? If you said alcohol, you are correct. How surprising. The reason is a mystery, probably even to the two parties involved, because I imagine they were both too drunk to remember. But I imagine it went something like this:

THE SCENE: Tommy Stabsalot sitting inebriated in his 1970’s era tweed and duct tape Barcalounger, drinking straight from his bottle of Smirnoff vodka. Jonny Chestwound enters through door on stage left and plants himself in the white plastic patio chair next to Tommy.
JONNY: “Hey, Tommy, what you got there?”
TOMMY: “Have a drink.”
Glug glug glug…cough…glug.
TOMMY: “Hey, give it back.”
JONNY: “Hold on, one more swig.”
TOMMY: “Give me the *expletive* bottle.”
JONNY: “Hold on, one more swig.”
TOMMY: “You *expletive**expletive*!!”

Ok, so I took some artistic liberties in my interpretation of what may or may not have occurred. It just strikes me that the only thing that could possibly spark such a stupid alcohol-fueled happening would just have to be something equally stupid and quite likely, totally insignificant. These sorts of violent happenings are much more rare in this part of the north than in other areas I have worked. In northern Ontario and Manitoba it’s a daily occurrence; a way of life practically. In the NWT people seem to be a little more mellow, but it still does not surprise me in the least. I just shake my head. At least he was on time and I made it back in time for the game.

The rest of the week was much more straightforward, albeit unexpectedly busy. Environment and Natural Resources was doing a week of caribou collaring, that is, putting radio transmitter collars on local woodland caribou. At the last minute, they decided that to save money they would have me go out in the 185 (much cheaper to operate than a helicopter) to go out ahead of the chopper and locate caribou for them so all they would have to do is go directly to the locations I gave them. Then they use a specialized gun that shoots a weighted net over the caribou, trapping it. They then land, take blood samples, strap on the collar and move on to the next location. Needless to say it was a fun way to break up what would have otherwise been a slow, boring week.

And of course there was the Olympics which I watched, thanks to a “borrowed” television and satellite receiver. I’m too cheap to pay for satellite, not that it would matter since I don’t own a TV. But thankfully my friend Tim was away for the month of February. And thankfully he doesn’t bolt his belongings down to the floor, if ya know what I mean. I could go on and on about the Olympics but suffice to say that it was spectacular, in my opinion. Those that know me well, know that I’m a very proud Canadian, so it felt so great to see millions of Canadians coming together and expressing those same feelings of national pride. It was a really special time in this country and my only regret is that I didn’t have the time and available finances to go and be a part of it at ground zero in Vancouver. But hey, thanks to a goal from Sidney Crosby that will go down in history as one the biggest this country has ever witnessed, it pushed us not only to the top of the hockey world, but also to the top of the pile of Olympic gold and even more impressively made 30 million Canadians (who normally couldn’t agree on the correct pronunciation of poutine) all jump and shout in unison.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Olympic Musings...

I can hear you all now as you read that title, "Oh good god, 3 days of having a blog and it's already gone to his head;he's already coming at us with his high-and-mighty 'opinions' and 'thoughts'......god help us, we've created a monster!" Well you know what? You're absolutely right! I'm positively drunk on the power that comes from the thought of being able to cram my opinions down the throats of my faithful devotees. That's right, all 3 of you! I have you right where I want you now! Muah ha ha ha haaaa!

Anyway, on to my Olympic musings......

Hey, Great Britain.....yeah you there on your tiny little island......EFF YOU YA BUNCH OF TEA-SWILLING CRUMPET MUNCHERS! Yeah, didn't expect such an impolite outburst from a Canadian did ya? Well you and your seething feelings of superiority have ticked off the wrong Canadian, and now you're gonna hear about it! Ok, so it isn't all you Brits really so much as it is your sensationalist media, in particular the Daily Mail and even more particularly, one Martin Samuel. He is the writer who came up with the most offensively anti-Canadian piece of work I've ever read, and his newspaper seems to be getting a real kick out of, as the Brits say, "taking the piss" on our Olympics.


With this diatribe he very openly lays the blame for the death of Georgian luge athlete, Nodar Kumaritashvili, sqaurely at the feet of all Canadians. Essentially, he says that in our desire to win, we knowingly built an unsafe sliding track and then goes on to accuse Canadian athletes of cheating. How, you might ask? According to him, by not allowing other athletes ample opportunity to practice on the track.

Wow, a nation of murderous cheaters. What has the Olympic spirit done to us?

However, there are a few interesting points about this article. This writer is, at worst, putting forth some outright lies, or at best, is very uninformed. Either way, you would think that 400,000 pounds, which is upwards of $656,000 Canadian dollars (and Mr. Samuel's reported salary) would get you some more factual and less biased pieces of writing. Samuel says that the athlete did not have sufficient access to train on the track, but admits that the fatal training run occurred on ONLY his 26TH run. That means he had seen that track and that turn 25 times already. He accuses Canada of cheating, by denying other teams and athletes access to train at the track. What he fails to mention is that not only did Canada allow all foreign teams the full amount of training as required by the IOC, but according to information I came across, offered athletes ranked lower than 30 in the world, extra training time above and beyond what regulations call for. This offer of extra training was apparently not taken advantage of by Nodar. What a convenient little tidbit of information to overlook in his article.

But Martin Samuel is not alone in the British media. There are other articles with all manner of outlandish and harsh criticisms. They compare the success of our women's hockey team, to "the slaughter of innocents." ( Wow. Who knew that not only did we win the game, but afterwards we took the opponents out back and shot them too. We'll show you for sucking at hockey! BLAM! Apparently, because we refuse to disrespect our opponents by treating them with kid gloves, we are bad for the sport. The fact that Hockey Canada regularly invites foreign teams and coaches to our country to observe our systems and learn how we go about developing the best hockey players in the world, was also overlooked.

There has even been criticism of Team Canada's slogan for these games: "Own the Podium." To us, it's a motivation tool to inspire our athletes to excel; to the British media, apparently it is just plain rude. Lawrence Donegan of the Guardian said that we are too concerned with winning and not concerned enough with being polite, like good Canadians should. Well gee whiz, you mean, that us Canadians, while the biggest sporting event in the universe is being hosted on our home soil, are displaying a sense of national pride and healthy competitiveness? Oh my! For shame Canada! For shame!

While the negative press does touch a bit of a nerve with me, really I just feel sorry for the dimwits who write this stuff. They're really just making themselves look bad. They've exposed themselves as members of that small segment of the human population who only find their existence bearable when they are "taking a piss" on everyone else's good time. Sure, there have been lots of problems associated with these Olympics, but 99% of them are beyond anyone's control. And besides, problems are to be expected in an operation of this size and scope. The opinions that really matter aren't those of the press anyway. They are those of the athletes and the people who are observing the Olympics, both at home and in person. Fortunately, those seem to be overwhelmingly positive. For proof of that, look no further than the bottom of Martin Samuel's article online. Scores of comments from all over England, Canada and the US, the vast majority of them strongly supporting Team Canada. I would imagine at this point that Mr. Samuel is really, really hoping that 2 years from now, the summer Olympics in London goes absolutely perfectly. But even if they don't, I'm sure most of us Canadians will be too polite to make him eat crow.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Catching Up

Wow, first day at this and I already have serious writer's block. I guess I should start by getting everyone caught up, and for that I'll go back to October of last year. That's when I started the job I'm currently at now, with Wolverine Air.

Fortunately for me, this job is in the same town I've been living in for the past 2 and a half years (Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories) so I didn't have to pick up and move somewhere new, not that I don't enjoy that. The job also has me flying 5 different types of airplanes, 3 of which I already have significant experience with, and has me working with a great group of guys that I have gotten to know and become really good friends with since moving to Fort Simpson. All in all, it has been a very easy, seamless transition to the new circumstances. I do really miss flying the Beaver (airplane I was flying at my previous job); it is the most enjoyable airplane to fly, but for right now, this job is in my best interest.

Before I could take this job, however, I had to do some further flight training. Over my 10 years of flying (it doesn't really seem like it has been that long), I had only flown single engine airplanes prior to October. Wolverine Air operates 2 different types of multi-engine airplanes, and they were hiring me to fly every airplane they have in the fleet. So, I had to go back to school, so to speak, to learn how to handle a multi-engine airplane. Of course, it's really not all that different than a single engine airplane: pull back, go up; push forward, go down. Basically it just teaches you the proper way to handle an engine failure, as it could be a very dangerous situation if not handled correctly. So, after a few days of training in beautiful Vancouver, it was back to Fort Simpson to do yet more training, this time, specifically on the Piper Navajo. It was quite a change for me to switch to flying the Navajo, coming from flying a Beaver on floats. The Beaver is a simple, big, old rugged bush plane; the Navajo is a refined, fast and comparitively complicated airplane. To give you an idea of the difference, the speed at which the Navajo approaches to land is faster than the speed at which the Beaver cruises in straight and level flight!

Shortly after my Navajo training, I got re-acquainted with my old friend the Cessna 185. It is the airplane that I essentially started my bush flying career on, and it is the one aircraft that I have the more time on than any other. In November, I spent two weeks flying the 185 on a wildlife survey doing randomly computer selected survey grid blocks within about a 150 mile radius of here. Our primary objective was to count moose, of which we found nearly 100, and we also counted a couple small herds of woodland caribou totalling about 40, as well as about 25 wovles split between 3 separate packs. I must say, that is one of the types of flying I live for: flying around just a couple hundred feet off the ground, no worries about being on time, just enjoying nature. There is nothing like circling over a herd of caribou running through the snow on a crisp winter late afternoon, or watching a pack of huge wolves watching you, completely and totally fearless, just curiously observing this noisy little plane circling over them as they guard a fresh kill. I tried to get some pictures of the critters we saw, but unfortunately none of them turned out well. Apparently maneuvering an airplane around at treetop level and taking pictures at the same time, is too much multi-tasking for me to handle. One or the other is bound to be poor quality. But at least I can take a picture while not flying; this is a shot of the 185 in Nahanni Butte, a little Native community of about 90 people, one of the locations that we did surveying out of.

After the wildlife survey, things at work settled down to what I would call the "pre-ice-road" normal. The village of Fort Simpson is located on an island in the Mackenzie River, west of the confluence of the Liard and Mackenzie Rivers. While there is a highway into town, there is no bridge across the Liard River. In the summer, a small ferry boat shuttles cars and trucks across the river and in the winter, once the river freezes sufficiently, cars and trucks drive over the frozen river to reach the town or the highway, depending on whether they are headed into or out of town. Of course there is a period of time both in the spring and fall, when the ferry cannot operate because of the amount of ice on the river, but the river is unsafe to drive on. At that point, airplanes and helicopters are the only way in and out of town. The fall freeze-up period is our last big push before a slow winter. In addition to our ice bridge across the Liard river, all the surrounding communities that don't have regular road access usually have ice roads established by mid to late December. So, the locals who normally rely on air transportation for everything 8 or 9 months of the year, have a brief window of road access, and business gets pretty slow for us in aviation.

But, it's just in time for Christmas and New Years! And who wants to be working hard over the holidays anyway? During my first couple New Years in Simpson, there were big bashes held, but this year was pretty uneventful. Lots of people were out of town, leaving just a few of us to celebrate Fort Simpson style: a poker party instead of a new years party and firearms instead of fireworks.

Susie was the eventual winner but while Tim was dealing, I was busy trying to use my powers to get a good hand all while Morgan officially officiated. This was, of course, before Tim and Morgan led the New Years parade outside for the "fireworks." Talk about something you could never get away with in a more civilized place.

Well that brings us up to New Years, which is enough for me for one day. In the coming days I'll get some more pictures lined up and ready to go, and hopefully get a better handle on the formatting so I can get things to look and flow a little better.