Thursday, December 22, 2016

Bringing the SNJ back from Fairbanks AK to Lincoln CA: Part Two

...continued from part one.

Dease Lake BC to Smithers BC

Getting above the clouds at Dease Lake
We slept well and in the morning had breakfast at the Super A across the street.  We picked up yet another discouraging weather report and headed over to the airport anyway.

At the airport we are met by low gray clouds blanketing the surrounding hills.  We file a flight plan in hopes it breaks up enough to depart.  Around noon a commuter flight arrives with a load of passengers.  "PIREPS" or Pilot Reports!  Fresh from the cockpit.  I jog from the SNJ down to the commuter plane and locate the pilots.  They tell me of open sky just north east over the lake at the end of the valley.  Andy and I waste no time firing up the plane and taking off in that direction.  Sure enough the sky opened up and we climbed above the broken layer.  South we went, following the wide valley and highway below.

We skipped along at 10,500 feet above the clouds, it felt good to be making progress south towards warmer climates.  Already I was wearing the gloves less and the neck cowl fleece was no longer pulled over my ears.

About 20 miles out of Smithers, the clouds below opened up and gave a nice clearing to circle down.  We flew below the clouds along the valley floor the rest of the way to Smithers.  It was fun flight below the valley walls over the wide floor below.  We came around the valley, lined up on the airport, and landed.

Smithers is in a beautiful setting, a wide flat green valley floor extending north-south for miles.  It is known for steelhead fishing, while we were there the ramp had several helicopters and business jets delivering and awaiting passengers.  I could enjoy hanging out in this kind of peacefulness for several days.

We were greeted by friendly airport line crew and the airport staff came out to see the airplane.  I helped one of the airport staff climb into the cockpit and have her picture taken. They were very nice.  The airport manager came out and chatted with us for a while, making sure we were aware of the services they had to offer, assuring us they would be an excellent place to stay if we got weathered in.  At the time I wondered if he was really nice, or trying to say we should not be departing into the current conditions.  Either way, I really liked the experience.  Those Canadians really are nice.

Smithers BC to Williams Lake BC 

We took off pressing further south and were treated to a double rainbow as we climbed up over the weather, I wish the cellphone camera did it justice.  It was quite beautiful.

We were chasing a cold front, which also meant we are getting a fair tail-wind push.  The front was marked by stacked up clouds that required us to do some zig-zagging to progress around them until we passed the front.  There the mountains finally fell away as the clouds rose high above and the terrain spread wide around us.  The oil belching radial engine pulled us faithfully over the beauty of central British Columbia.

Again the miles were rapidly sliding behind us in 20 second increments, and in just under two hours I was lining back up on a runway.  This time at Williams Lake BC.  We refueled the plane, and called ahead to see where we could clear customs.  I wanted to clear at Paine Field, my home airport, but customs would not be available there,  So we checked Bellingham instead.  They would be open, but we had little margin of error to get there on time.

We filed our flight plan and completed the online forms for clearing customs a Bellingham.

Back into the sky we went.

Williams BC to Kamloops BC

We headed south by southwest toward the US border as golden hour lit up the sky around us.  The cold front that had been our helper on the southeast leg became our punisher on our flight southwest.  We pressed forward towards Bellingham in to headwinds spilling off of the mountains ahead.  Between fighting the headwinds for ground speed, and the rotors for altitude, our forward progress was slow and agonizing.  We tried lower, we tried higher, we tried tweaking the power.  We watched the GPS's estimated arrival time in Bellingham move further away.  Our ETA reached, and then passed the time limit customs had given us.  It was certain we could not push the plane any harder for an on-time arrival.

We turned left headed to Kamloops BC, and started sliding down hill.  The time passed quickly as the sun set behind us and and darkness enveloped the sky, we set the plane down for a straight in landing on runway 08 at Kamloops, just over one hour from when we left Williams lake.

We enjoyed an excellent dinner and a cold adult beverage at the Holiday Inn & Suites before drifting off to sleep for the night.

To be continued...

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