59º09’11” N 161º27’13” W
There is hope for the day.
Up at 7:00 to find broken sky, the wind has backed off and from our vantage point and it looks like a flyable day. Call to Denise at 8:00 and she confirms we are going to get off the river today! A flurry of activity as camp gets broken and the boats loaded.
We launch at 9:00 with fly able weather and only one rod still rigged, Steve’s.
We are only a mile up river from the lodge but by the time we get to the cut off channel just up stream we have lost Chuck. Joe was staying close to Chuck from our launch this morning so we assume they have taken the cut and will meet us at the old take out point.
With only one rod Steve and I take turns hurling the Bubba Bugger into the wind as we float more distraction than fishing, Eric mans the oars and rows down the river. No one at the take out so we wait around for a bit wondering is they have taken a different channel or have they gone on down stream? We float to the next big bend in the river and pull over again to see if we can find them, up or down river? Eventually Eric calls Denise and she says the new take out is a mile below where we are, so back in the raft and down the river we go. And there they are – 59º11’68” N 161º49’20” W – in case you want a more precise there they are point…
Chuck, David and Gretchen have almost completed breaking down and preparing their boat and equipment by the time we arrive. Its a narrow gravel bar with an open tundra bench four feet higher than the river, totally exposed to the weather so not a campable location. Rick chose this site so that he wouldn’t have to jocky with the lodge boats at take off and landing, which he was having to do at the old spot.
We quickly break our boat down and stack our gear for loading into the float planes. With all the work done I cut my last cigar in two and Chuck and I light up, just to insure that the plane will quickly come. No sooner lit than we see landing lights on the 206 to the NE, you just have to know how to call your flight in! The Beaver is close behind, so the frenzy continues.
Steve and I go with Mike in the 206. Chuck, Joe, Gretchen and David are in the Beaver. Eric will have to stay behind with the remaining gear and wait for the second pick up flight. It all happens quickly so goodbys are missed if we don’t connect in Dillingham. I ride front seat with Mike, two bubbas for balance. Steve is crammed in the back with lots of gear. We head for DLG and connecting flights east.
Moderate weather, in and out of rain squalls and wind, past Togiak, the river is still off color but not as bad as when we flew into the Goodnews. Past Manokotak and on to DLG.
Mike does his approach to Shannon Lake from a different angle due to the wind but does a fly by and says, “I going to try something” I ask what and he says that his flaps won’t come down? Well, there is a Beaver on the shore of Shannon Lake that crashed because it came in with no flaps, so I’m all for getting the flaps down! Mike heads back the way we came and starts a landing process on a back water slough not far away. He does a touch and go and the flaps come down, hurray. We fly back to the pond with full flaps and do our approach. With the wind direction the pond doesn’t afford much run out. We come in, landing speed for the 206 is faster than the Beaver and set her down on the water, then Mike quickly hits full throttle, not enough runway, so back into the air we go.
Up we go again and Mike turns the plane north, I ask if we are headed up to Aliknakik and he says yes, there is plenty of room for landing there. Only problem is how do we get back to DLG, 20 miles away and make out flight? Steve is in the back wondering WTF is going on?
As we land on the lake, no problem other than we are starting to run low on fuel, not our problem now. Mike calls his wife, Heidi. They live on the lake, and ask her to come pick us up and take us to DLG. Turns out that she and their two kids are on the same flight we are supposed to be on and are headed for Anchorage too. I don’t know who’s plan this was but I love it when things come together…
Its a goat rodeo for a few minutes while we offload the plane meet his wife and kids and load our stuff and their stuff into the RAV-4, lots of stuff and people, and off to DLG we go! When we arrive at the airport Gretchen and David are outside the terminal building, a typical response to coming back into the indoors. The Beaver was able to land so they have been at the airport for a while getting re- packed and checked in.
We unload everything but lack our gear that was left with Rick. The great news is we are at the airport in time to make our flight. Chuck shows up with the rest of our gear so we repack and check in, only to find that our flight has been delayed in Anchorage with a mechanical. Hurry, hurry, hurry and WAIT. The clock ticks
We gather at the baggage claim, it too warm and claustrophobic in the waiting area. After a few delayed flight announcements the gate agent announces that everyone on the connecting Seattle must be re-booked due to our delay out of DLG. 12 people line up, including Joe and me.
They can put me on a 1:05 am flight. I tell her that in fact, “No, she cannot” and ask what civilized flight times might she have tomorrow? She finds a flight 8:30 am. Much better! I ask Steve the current name of the hotel at the float plane lake by the airport. He offered a much better option, a bed for the night at his house.
Our plane finally lands and after a quick boarding process we are ready to head to Anchorage. Steve and I are in 1st and Joe gets upgraded to a seat next to Steve. David and Gretchen are in the back of the bus. Joe, Gretchen and David all chose a redeye to get home as soon as possible.
Other than a cold beer the flight was uneventful…
In Anchorage we say good by to Joe, Gretchen and David and head for baggage claim. Brianna, Steve’s friend picks us up and we go turn in his sat phone and then she takes charge on where we go for dinner, Steve and I can’t decide, her call is Bear Tooth Grill, great decision. We talk about the trip, eat, learn about each other. She’s full of energy, bright and really cute; don’t mess this up Steve!
After dinner we head to Steve’s just east of the Seward Highway. Steve goes to get Aubrey. On their return we quickly meet and I head to bed, one tired puppy. After all, it is 10:30 and the last leg the trip will launch early tomorrow..