When I was younger I loved roller coasters. Spin me, twirl me turn me upside down–the scarier the better! Now that I am older than 20, my brain and body continue to spin, twirl and turn upside down long after the ride is over, and for some reason, it is not as enjoyable as it used to be.
So last Saturday when we awoke to blue skies and sunshine over Homer, I wasn’t the least bit concerned about our 1:00 p.m. flight to Port Graham. The four of us (accompanied by our dog Riley and Maddie’s beloved rat Ethel) piled into the Alaskan bush plane (aka, coffin with wings), and politely listened to the pilot’s instructions: “Seat cushions can be used as flotation devices; exit the same way you entered.” Got it.
The engine sputtered to life and the pilot placed his Yogi Bear bobble head on the dash “for good luck”. Within minutes we were flying high above Kachemak Bay, enjoying the beautiful scenery below.
About five minutes into our peaceful flight the weather suddenly changed and we entered Alaska’s version of Space Mountain. Fog, clouds, sudden altitude changes, sideways jerks and loud rattling noises left us wide-eyed and more than a little queasy.
Pray. Breathe. Pray some more. I’m sure this is routine for the pilot.
By the time the gravel runway of Port Graham appeared below us, Klaira was white as a sheet, Maddie was worried Ethel was going to die from fright, I was focusing on not regurgitating my breakfast, Riley took the opportunity to clean her glands, Yogi Bear had nearly lost his bobble head, and Steve was trying without success to calm our nerves, “This is just like Disney World!” Not. But the ground was just yards away and we were ecstatic.
Our relief was short-lived. There is something about an experienced pilot grabbing the plane’s roll bar with one white-knuckled fist while straining to pull up on the stick with his other white-knuckled fist that initiates a mental “this is your life” flashback movie. We banked hard to the left and I nearly fell into the pilot’s lap as the plane turned on its side and shook violently. Now, instead of feeling the gravel runway beneath the plane, I was studying the intricate details of pine cones in the tree tops! Apparently, brushing the tree tops was preferable to landing in the current conditions.
Twenty teeth-rattling minutes later our plane touched down under the sunny blue skies of Homer and we began to breathe again. The plane came to a stop and the pilot turned off the engine. We jumped out of the plane and practically kissed the ground. Thank you, Jesus!
Later we found out that our friend in Port Graham was concerned when our plane didn’t arrive so she called the airport. The attendant told her we were running late due to bad weather and suggested that saying a prayer for us would be a mighty fine idea. Clearly Alaskan bush pilots have learned the power of prayer!
So, whose up for a visit to Port Graham? 🙂 Perhaps we will invest in a boat…
UPDATE: We were able to reschedule another flight the next day. The pilot noticed the looks of fear still lingering on our faces from the previous flight. He confidently looked us in the in eye and said, “Don’t worry I’ll get you there safely–I have a hot date tonight and I don’t plan on missing it!” Alaska bush country’s form of reassurance…