Thursday, January 31, 2008


It was with the greatest of good hopes that Claire and I arrived at the airport yesterday morning. I just knew that after four days of delay, we were going to get the weather break we needed to get to Pilot Station. We were even 15 minutes early for check in.

The terminal was full of many of the same faces now familiar to us from our days of sitting there waiting. We nodded to a few folks and they raised their eyebrows back at us, a universal Yupik acknowledgement. The same kids were running around in their stocking feet, or playing cards, or sleeping on the floor on top of parkas and hats. The same air of resignation from the day before permeated the place.

People were pretty much even sitting in the same locations, though they had gone somewhere for the night, as the air charter company locks up the building at 10 pm. Claire and I found our same seats as well on a long wooden bench. We only had one bag each to check in, as most of our stuff had just stayed there since Monday morning. No point in schlepping it back and forth for nothing. We had just over an hour to wait if all went well.

As you can probably guess, it didn’t. At 11:00 the plane for St. Mary’s and Mountain Village left, and I was thrilled. Pilot Station is only about ten miles from St. Mary’s, so we should be the next ones out the door. But no. At 11:30 we went up and spoke to our pilot, who told us we were still on weather hold because the landing strip at Pilot Station was enshrouded in fog. It is on a high bluff overlooking the Yukon River, and is more easily affected by a low ceiling than St. Mary’s, whose landing strip is right next to the river.

So we sat down again with our books to continue waiting. I was beginning to have that sense that this trip was just not meant to be. This was certainly the longest delay I had ever experienced in bush travel.

At 12:30 we checked again, and the pilot said the visibility was improving at Pilot Station, but things were starting to get worse here in Bethel. Sure enough, through the windows we could see the fog thickening over the runway.

“When that last plane that left returns,” he told us, “we’ll see how badly iced up it is. That will determine whether we go or not.”

With that, my last hope for this trip crashed. I looked at Claire with a sigh and said “you know, I think it is time to give it up.” She agreed.

We told the agent of our decision and were escorted out to the luggage sorting area to claim our ten duffles, boxes and coolers. I called Dutch in the hope that he could break away from the city’s business for an hour to come out and get us and deliver us back to the hospital. Fortunately he could, and did. When we got there, I called the health aides to let them know we had finally bagged it and would not be coming; they were every bit as disappointed as we were. The trip will be rescheduled for March.

Weather Permitting is a very real force around here. Just because you want to go somewhere doesn’t mean you’ll get to.

Photo by Claire of framed poem on the wall at the air charter company.



Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

Bummer. Are the weather issues equally precarious in March, or is this just a particularly perilous time of year?

Friday, February 01, 2008 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

Hey, Dino! Yeah, March is just as likely as January to have weather that grounds small planes. I've had more than a few birthdays at the tail end of March with the thermometer at 20 below. Blizzards in mid-April are not uncommon. But even in summer the planes can be grounded from fog. Traveling in the bush can never be taken for granted.

Thanks for commenting! I love knowing you've stopped in.

Friday, February 01, 2008 2:10:00 PM  
Blogger jen said...

it's humbling and relieving all at once, isn't it. shows us how small we are, like it or not.

Friday, February 01, 2008 8:06:00 PM  

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