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Charlie posing by the Super Cub in Bush Pilot gear

Northern Exposures: Flying Floats in Alaska
June 21 - 28, 2007

Charlie Jackson

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Floatplanes and Seaplanes

A seaplane is an aircraft than can take off from and land on the water. A floatplane is a type of seaplane that is supported by two pontoons, or (more accurately) floats.

Several months ago, after watching a PBS special about Canadian bush pilots in the Yukon, I decided to add a seaplane rating to my pilot's license. After quite a bit of research, I found Alaska Float Ratings in Moose Pass, Alaska. Alaska Float Ratings is a part of Scenic Mountain Air, an on-demand air charter service ran by working bush pilots. If I wanted to learn from working bush pilots, this would certainly be the place to do it!

Piper Super Cub on Floats. (This was my trainer.)

What follows are photos and recollections from the trip. (You may click any photo to see a larger version.)

Super Cubs at Moose Pass
The Two Super Cub Trainers

Midnight Sunset

My flight touched-down in Anchorage at midnight, in the middle of a beautiful sunset. After claiming my luggage, arguing with the inept Avis rent-a-car people, and getting directions, I headed to the B&B where I would spend the first night. And the Sun was still setting.

That time of year, the Sun sets shortly after midnight and rises about three hours later. It never gets dark, though, because there is a two-hour twilight on either side!

The B&B provided complimentary blindfolds (called sleep masks) to help visitors get to sleep in the daylight-bleached rooms. The masks were made of padded satin, and fastened around your head with a piece of black elastic that cut into your ears. (I noticed that most of the gift shops in Anchorage also sold these.)

Luckily, my cabin in Moose Pass had some very effective blackout blinds. Once they were down, you needed a flashlight to get around. It only took a day or so to adapt to this mode of perpetual daylight. But I would often find myself sitting on the porch and reading until looking at my watch and realizing that it was late, late at night.


"So, where is downtown Moose Pass?"

Outside of bush pilots, the majority of Alaskans I met have no idea where Moose Pass is. I'm sure most people driving through Moose Pass don't even know they've been there -- it is a wide spot in the road surrounded by a few small buildings. When I arrived, I got Big Laughs from the locals when I asked, So, where is downtown Moose Pass?
On the map, the town is about 100 miles south of Anchorage, on the Seward Highway (see Map).
But it is one of the top places to charter (or learn to fly) floatplanes.

"Anchorage is a small city located about 30 minutes outside of Alaska."

Folks in Moose Pass have their own opinions about Anchorage, as well. Anchorage could pass for any small American city (that is, any American city where the Sun is up 23 hours a day.) It has its share of McDonalds, Starbucks, traffic lights, and traffic. Travel 30 minutes in any direction, however, and all that is left behind.

I also learned that there were good ways of introducing yourself, and bad ways.

So, where you from?

Me? I'm from Mountain View, California. It's a town just south of San Francisco -- right in the middle of Silicon Valley.

(Very, very looooong pause) . . . Unh-huh. A city-boy. (frown)

Take Two: Revised method

So, where you from?

Me? I'm from Mountain View. It's a small town in Northern California -- I'm afraid not many people have heard of it.

Oh, I've heard of that place. Great fishin' spot. It's way up in the hills by Why-Reeka. C'mon and sit down and have a beer with us! (big smile, handshake, and pat on the back!)

Take Two seemed much more effective. (And I decided then and there that I would never mention that I was born in New York City until I was back in Anchorage!)

Moose Pass Panorama
Downtown Moose Pass. Trail Lake is to the left, behind the trees.

Looking back towards the dock from 900 feet.
Aerial view of Moose Pass, taken from about 400 feet.
The Flight Ops building (right)

Summer hail storm. The movie was taken
from the porch of my cabin.

The Cabin

The cabin was small and clean. On the first day, the instructors told us that we would be doing one of four things during our stay -- eating, sleeping, flying, or studying. As you can tell, they were right on the money!

Cabins by Trail Lake
The cabins are on the right.
Follow the trail to the docks.
My cabin.
Inside the cabin.
Study materials all over!
(Did you notice the cool coat rack?)

Reindeer Sausage and Caribou Stew

Of these four activities, eating deserves some special mention here. On my first morning in Alaska, the breakfast menu listed something called Reindeer Sausage. I immediately thought, Hmmm... I've had Log Cabin Syrup and Black Forest Cake. So Reindeer Sausage must be some special and delicious Alaskan way of preparing sausage. So I ordered the pancakes and reindeer sausage, fully expecting to get a sausage patty trimmed in the shape of a reindeer; sausage links pulling Santa's Sleigh and adorned with a red jellybean for a nose; or even ground sausage humorously molded to look like reindeer poo.

The pizza-sized pancakes arrived first, (everything in Alaska is big), followed by a plate of very-plain-looking link sausages that bore absolutely no resemblance to anything remotely reindeer-like.

Enjoy your breakfast, sir!

Ack!!! I'm Eating Rudolph!

(Actually, it was quite tasty!)

John C. working on the Cessna 206
Pilot's Lounge and Groundschool Classroom
Charles and Mark in the Classroom
Carnivore's Delight
Restaurant in Seward
that serves Caribou.
(See the Cook Wanted sign
in the large version.)

John C. is the dock boy. He is a friendly, young man from Texas who takes care of the docks in exchange for flying lessons. (Interestingly, most of the Alaskans I met were originally from Texas.) Later that week, while studying in the classroom, I noticed John cooking some beef stew in a crock pot. He had just added some taters, and was looking for some bowls.

Charlie, have some stew with me. I made it with a lot of meat in it, and there's plenty!
Here, have some! It's good for you!

He handed me a bowl of stew, brimming with large chunks of meat and generous amounts of potatoes. It tasted a little bland, but he passed a bottle of hot sauce to spice it up a notch.

This is nice beef stew, John. You do a lot of cooking here?

It's not beef -- it's Moose.

Moose??? Are you pulling my leg? This isn't moose.

It's Moose with a bit of Caribou. Moose meat doesn't have a lot of fat, so you have to add some Caribou to make the recipe work. They shot it yesterday, out by the lake. Haven't you ever had Moose before?

(This is just great. My first week in Alaska, and already I've eaten Rudolph and Bullwinkle!)

Throughout the afternoon, everyone sampled John's stew. I still wasn't completely convinced it was moose, until one of the women who helps run the school remarked:

That John needs to learn how to cook. If you're going to make a good Moose Stew, you've got to
flour and brown the meat first. This is way too bland!

Well here, have some hot sauce!

The next day, we had Mooseburgers.

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