A Family Adventure

in the mountains, ocean, and air

For the rest of the trip, see 2022 Flying to Alaska.

The Formation of the Trip

I’ve wanted to fly Alaska for quite some time. This is something many pilots desire. A couple years ago, the Marines stationed a cousin of mine near Anchorage. I wanted to get there while he still was. 2020 and 2021 didn’t work out, so 2022 was the year.

This trip was originally planned for June. May is the driest month to fly in Alaska. June, when Isaac’s summer vacation starts, is almost as good. As spring marched by we realized we needed to push the trip back. I wasn’t done upgrading the Bearhawk panel. We still needed to research and plan. Work needed more attention before a long absence. And parts of Alaska had snow so deep it might not be clear by June. We rescheduled for August, fitting it around the family’s existing summer schedule.

The new plan was that I would fly the Bearhawk to Alaska while Emilie got more done at work and Isaac completed the 2nd week of a 2 week sleep away camp. They would then fly up by airline to meet me in Anchorage. I invited my father to fly up with me. He would return by airline after we reached Anchorage.

A great uncle of mine died on a dream trip to Alaska with two other friends when I was two years old. They were flying a 235 Apache with a route that started by going north and then crossing Canada not far from the arctic circle. An unfortunate mistake involving IFR clearances and uncontrolled airspace ended their trip on the side of a mountain less than an hour from entering Alaska. It happens that our trip is, to the month, 50 years later, making this a bit of a memorial trip.

Day 1 : Friday, July 29, New Hampshire to Michigan

We were supposed to leave on July 28th, but by mid afternoon on the 27th it was clear that I needed the 28th for final preparation and grooming of packing lists. My father and I had a phone call and it seemed he also wasn’t quite ready to depart the next morning. The decision was to have the plane packed by the end of the day on the 28th and depart early on the 29th.

Well… On the morning of the 29th, I was still furiously packing and weighing boxes and bags to check the weight and balance of the airplane. The last box of food was too heavy, so I left it for Emilie to ship. Finally, by 9:15 I had the plane loaded and headed over to Jaffrey (KAFN) to top off the tanks and pick up my father.

Well… he wasn’t quite ready either. We managed wheels up before the crack of noon.

Our route was to Niagara Falls, then across Canada north of Erie and back into the US in Michigan. When flying across the US/Canada border, you are required to be on a flight plan and to have flight following with air traffic control (ATC). We stopped at Niagara Falls International (KIAG) for a very late lunch and as our launch point for the international flight with a flight plan and tracking by ATC.

Departing Niagara Falls

Departing KIAG, our route took us over Niagara Falls. This is the first time I had seen the falls. While our view was probably not as good as those getting wet on the Maid of the Mist, it was stunning.

We ended our day at James Clements Municipal Airport (3CM) in Bay City, Michigan. Here began our trials and tribulations on lodging and ground transportation. A couple landed behind us in a C-172. On their way out, after putting their plane away, they drove by and asked if we needed anything. We were just starting to try to find a hotel. It turned out that an available room was very hard to find because of a BBQ festival. They helped us find a room and then kindly provided a ride.

  • KAFN-KIAG: 355 miles, 3:27 hrs, 102 mph
  • KIAG-3CM: 265 miles, 2:28 hrs, 107 mph

All Day 1 pictures

Day 2 : Saturday, July 30th, Michigan to Minnesota

Harvey cleaning bugs

We had intended to correct the late start of day 1 and get a good start in the morning. Unfortunately, in addition to a bit of a slow start from getting in late the previous night, when it came time for transportation back to the airport, the cab wasn’t going to get to us for 2 hours. After we finally found our way to the airport, fueled and preflighted the airplane, and removed the previous day’s bugs, we had another “crack of noon” departure.

North Fox Island airstrip

Our first stop for the day was North Fox Island (6Y3). North Fox Island has a beautifully maintained grass runway with a fire ring, pit toilet, a path to the water and a couple of recreational kayaks that can be borrowed.

Flying the Wisconsin/Michigan border.

We made a short stop at Land O’Lakes (KLNL) for fuel, then our route took us right along a straight section of the border of Wisconsin and Michigan which made for an entertaining image from my navigation app.

We took a short detour to the southern shore of Lake Superior to see the Apostle Islands and caves that are popular with kayakers.

Day 2 ended at Sky Harbor Airport (KDYT) in Superior, WI which is directly adjacent to Duluth, MN. In Duluth, our difficulty finding a room to stay in cranked up a few notches. After numerous phone calls, we were unable to find any rooms. I asked Emilie, who was back at home, to see if she could help us using her big screen on a full computer instead of working with just a phone. The only room she could find was an 8 person room at a hostel which could not be rented by the bed. This made the hostel very expensive, but the only solution we could find. We were also unable to find any transportation. None. No cabs. No Uber. No Lyft. We later learned that there was a beer festival in town. A gentleman who landed behind us provided a ride to town with his family who had picked him up at the airport.

Then things went from bad to worse. The room at the hostel, in addition to being over priced, was not at all desirable. It was in a back building with poor lighting, a wet rug with a large fan blowing to dry it, and it was occupied. Somehow the computer was out of sync with reality. Given the “quality” and price of the hostel, we weren’t entirely sorry that the room wasn’t available, but now we had to figure out how to not sleep on the street. KDYT has a spot for camping and we had all the camping gear we needed, but all of that was back at the airport and the only ride we had been able to find had left.

Camped at airport outside Duluth MN

We found a pizza to deal with the hungry. While eating the pizza I tried for a cab again. No cabs available until at least 1 AM. When we were done eating pizza, I tried Uber again and this time found a pleasant ride back to the airport where we set up our tent for the night.

  • 3CM-6Y3: 168 miles, 1:30 hrs, 112 mph
  • 6Y3-KLNL: 189 miles, 1:41 hrs, 112 mph
  • KLNL-KDYT: 172 miles, 1:31 hrs, 113 mph

All Day 2 pictures

Day 3 : Sunday, July 31st, Minnesota to North Dakota

Airplanes at Sky Harbor

On day 3 we finally got a good start. Breakfast was leftover pizza and we were already at the airport. We packed the tent, washed up in the office restrooms, checked the weather, made a plan and were off. Our destination was Minot, ND (KMOT). From there, we could reach Canada and customs the next morning. There was some weather to the west that we could pass north of and then some weather further west that we could pass south of. After a short detour north to Eveleth, MN for fuel and to go around the north end of the rain storms, we headed for Barnes County (KBAC) in North Dakota.

KBAC has 3 grass runways in addition to their primary paved runway. KBAC also has strong winds that are unimpeded by the surrounding flat plains. I presume they have so many runways to help smaller, lighter airplanes deal with winds that may not be aligned with the primary runway. We chose to use one of the grass runways in spite of the strong crosswind component involved.

After KBAC, enroute to KMOT, we adjusted course slightly so my father could get pictures of Harvey Municipal (5H4). For any readers who don’t know, my father’s name is Harvey.

On approach to KMOT, tower was talking to an Embraer commuter jet that was hot on our heels and asked them to slow down so they wouldn’t run us over. I offered tower that I could either land long to get to the other end and clear the runway quickly or land short and clear at the first taxiway. The tower controller eagerly accepted the land short and clear at the first taxiway option. Not long after we cleared the runway, the commuter jet went sailing by down the runway. The controllers thanked us for the help.
MUCH better luck with hotels and transportation. Hampton Inn provided a shuttle ride from the airport, another one to dinner in town, another one back to the hotel and then a ride to the airport in the morning. The room was nice and clean and the price was better than many.

The next day I would be passing customs for the first time ever and flying into Canada.

  • KDYT-KEVM: 54 miles, 25 min, 128 mph
  • KEVM-KBAC: 267 mies, 2:34 hrs, 104 mph
  • KBAC-KMOT: 180 miles, 1:53 hrs, 95 mph

All Day 3 Pictures

Continue reading: Alaska Trip Days 4-7 : North Through Canada