It was back to just the two of us: me and Johannes. We knew John wouldn't be in to his shop until late in the morning so for the 3rd day we went to our same quaint breakfast diner. It had that lovely US backcountry town feel with magnetic letters making up the menu and a nice old lady bringing free refills on the bottomless cup of coffee. From there we changed big bills into singles (something that in Germany would be a pain but here was aged up with a smile) and ran our most important errand: grabbing a tent.
The idea of camping in Attu sounded great
Day 1) Head to Cold Bay. This is the last airport westward with Avgas, the type of fuel that our piston-engine aircraft takes. The other 8 aircraft on the trip are turbines taking jet fuel, which is available much more prevalently worldwide outside the US, Europe, and Asia since this is the same fuel of the airline jets. We know we'll often have issues with fuel, so topping off in Cold Bay was a must. Cold Bay is also still on the mainland, so we anticipated being able to get some food supplies there.
Day 2) Fly to Adak. This is the last civilian inhabited island in the Ale
Aleutians. It used to be a US military base with more than 10,000 troops, a
McDonalds, high schools, etc
Day 3) Fly to Attu and ferry fuel over. Attu is literally at the end of the world. It's the western most island in the US, completely uninhabited, and has a runway that hasn't been maintained since the Coast Guard pulled out of there in 2010. We'd be ferrying fuel to there that we'd pre-ordered to Adak. We had 150 gallons shipped to Adak from Seattle in drums. The idea was to take out Maggie's seat and make room for fuel canisters that I'd ferry over to Attu before returning for an overnight again in Adak.
Day 4) This day should have us waking up early, flying to Attu, refueling, and then making the long jump to Japan. The problem is, normally the fog doesn't lift from Attu until after the morning. With it being uncontrolled and I maintained, there are no longer instrument approaches into Attu
Jan, the editor of the magazine organizing this trip, said that they were now also going to fly from Attu to Japan so they could ferry over some of the fuel for us. This eliminated the need for us to ferry the fuel over ourselves, which I was extremely grateful for. I wasn't looking forward to flying over the Atlantic alone in a plane filled with fuel canisters! That thought had been causing considerable stress on me for months. Jan also informed us that one of the other planes in the group, a Cessna 210 Silver Eagle, was going to fly to Attu and then camp there before flying to Vladivostok the following morning. And so the idea of camping was born!
A brief note: This was also going to be our first experience of what I'm sure would be many instances of how our trip was going to be a completely different adventure from the others traveling in the "group"
Knowing all of this yet very excited by the adventurous way we were going about this whole trip, we were happy to find ourselves in an outdoor supply shop picking up a tent, sleeping bag, and mats
Meeting up with John and picking up Maggie went without a hitch. It was reassuring to have ensured Maggie was in top shape for this most ambitious part of our entire trip. After topping off the tanks with what was the cheapest fuel of the entire trip ($5.71 per gal) we set off on this next portion of the adventure. I felt that after Anchorage we were really setting off on our own and that we were now getting seriously adventurous. Up to now I felt in my comfort zone flying in the comfortable environs of radar controlled airspace, friendly controllers I could understand, and weather that wasn't too predictable. From now on though, each of those elements would stop dropping off
As if on cue for those thoughts, the weather in Anchorage wasn't sunny and balmy. We were in the clouds shortly after takeoff and icing became a possibility. Fortunately we largely avoided it and it wasn't the most strenuous cruise. The weather in Cold Bay though was going to be overcast until 600' above ground, so I'd be earning my beer tonight with an instrument approach. Everything went without a hitch. Cold Bay airport is an interesting facility in that it doesn't have a control tower, but it does have a remote communications station so you communicate with folks tucked hundreds of miles away in Anchorage and Kenai as though they were next door.
Cold Bay instantly reminded us of Iqaluit. It doesn't have paved roads, the buildings leave lots to be desired, and you could tell it'd seen better days
After a call to the number on the door we were met by Chris, a bear of a man with a killer handshake and a warm smile. He and his wife showed us the small rooms and they would do perfectly. What blew us away though is when they opened the door to their grocery store. This was one of the biggest surprises of my life, let alone the trip. In this nondescript double-wide trailer of a building was a legit small-town grocery store complete with walk-in refrigerator and freezer rooms! We were blown away by the selection
Chris told us to wait 30 more minutes until he would open the bar and then we'd be even more surprised. Hands down this was the most fun night of the trip. The beers were flowing and with about 25 folks there it had a healthy percentage of the town under one roof. There was pool, a Wii, foosball, music, ambience and plenty of drunk folks. Hilarious. We made plenty of friends as the night wore on. It was such an interesting mix of vacationers, hunters, white & blue collar folks, indigenous, you name it. It was seemingly a perfect slice of Alaska. To add to the stereotype, they only had meat on the menu so I had chicken on my pizza. That was about the only downer to the night.
As we made a habit of doing, Johannes and I had to laugh about all that we were experiencing on this trip.
Routing from Merrill (PAMR) to Cold Bay (PACD):
ENA V46 CDB at 14,000' with a flight time of just under 4h20m.
Cold Bay: The Best Surprise So Far
Friday, September 06, 2013
Cold Bay, Alaska, United States