So we started off quite well - myself taking the co-pilot seat and Gerry, our other travel partner taking the backseat - although not driving from that position as most road travellers usually do.
But as usual - all then begins well ends badly.
We land at Thompson and book into a hotel which I shall not rate as strictly five star - in fact - nearer to one star, but I have become used to the fact that we will have to rough it sometimes on this trip, as there is very little in the way of population and facilities in these northern parts.
The next morning we are off to Fort McMurray, where the Oil Sands are. Gerry feels that it is his turn to sit in front and that I take the back seat which I eagerly do. During the flight I discover that I have more space here, I can photograph left and right of the aircraft - a luxury not afforded me in the front seat. I am also not subjected to as many unnecessary instructions from Paul. During the flight I still have a feeling of Utopia as things seem to unfold in a very democratic fashion.
At Fort McMurray we take the Oil Sands bus tour and are shown around the process of mining bituminous oil out of the sand. This area was once situated on the equator and was an ocean. Fossil remains of krill and other small animals which escaped being food for whales, settled to the bottom of the sea, where it impregnated the sand. Later this area moved up here due to continental drift and being lifted became dry. I also get the feeling that we are not seeing all, as the mining operations are masked from us because the oil companies here are under constant criticism by the public for mining so called ecological sensitive areas. The Oil Companies on the other hand, maintain that they are only cleaning up the oil spill by Mother nature.
But, I will get back at them, for tomorrow we will overfly these Oil Sands and I will photograph the mining operations from the air.
The next morning I give Gerry another opportunity to sit in front and dial the correct code into the GPS - a chore I have now established can be taught to a six year old. I have more time to meditate and contemplate our deteriorating democratic on board system.
It is also on this leg that Gerry unwisely raises the issue of the aircraft flying left wing low again. I have learned over the years that Paul does not tolerate any criticism with regard to his aircraft - a Bonanza V35 which is now in its 47th year of service - I mean - what can be wrong with such a new aircraft !!! But Gerry still has to learn this. I first try to take Gerry's attention away from this trivial detail, telling him that if Paul says it flies straight, it does. I also try and persuade him to discuss this with me alone after the flight, but he does not listen. Paul gets very uptight with this type of banter, and eventually Gerry gets 'wise'.
As we near Normal Wells the weather gets bad, but we slip in visually for lunch - I mean - lunch is much more important than weather.
As we leave Norman Wells after lunch for Inuvik - our most northern destination on the Beaufort sea, the weather has deteriorated to the extent that we will have to make an instrument departure and flight to Inuvik, depriving me of many photographic opportunities.
We however tell him that we are prepared to miss Old Crow on condition that he follows the Yukon River as we asked previously.
As we cross the Alaskan border, the skies clear magically as was forecast
We arrive at Fairbanks in Alaska and I immediately know that I could spend a very enjoyable vacation here, should time and fortune allow me in future.
What happened here in Fairbanks, was a division between the fishes and the loaves. I will however let you in on the secret.
We had to leave for Anchorage, the climax of our trip, the following morning. As expected, the weather was bad again and Paul- the leader of the tour - tells us that we cannot go to Anchorage - the weather is too bad - and if we did succeed in slipping through if the weather gave us a slight chance, we will be stranded in Anchorage for a week as the weather forecast for the ensuing week was very bad. In his opinion, our only and best option was to leave Alaska as soon as we could, and return to Toronto without seeing Alaska, which was also the general consensus amongst most of the guys.
1. I have come from South Africa on this epic journey and it has cost me $ 10 000 (largely overstated), and I was NOT prepared to leave Alaska without seeing it.
2, If they would give me leave (as I think they should on moral grounds), I will leave the group now and do ALASKA ON MY OWN - EVEN IF I HAVE TO BACKPACK.
There is general consensus that I will be allowed to proceed on my own, so that is why I am now, thirty minutes later, on a shuttle van to Anchorage - all on my own. I know where we have been booked to sleep the few nights in Anchorage - so I will be using the five rooms - all by myself. So, I take the high road and you take the low road and I'll be in Scotland afore ye.
However, when I entered the reception of the hotel in Anchorage that night at seven, I hear my name called loudly - which I found funny, not having known that I have progeny in Alaska. It turns out to be four guys whom have I left at Fairbanks. And what are you doing here ? I ask with surprise. Dave replied that after I left the group, they were inspired by my monologue and decided to also complete the trip - and they are here - having taken an airline from Fairbanks.
Naturally I was very pleased and we wined and dined in ecstasy of the opportunity given us to really see this part of Alaska, where the most beautiful views are to be had. We were just sitting down for dinner when we are greeted by another three guys from the group - yes, they sneaked into the airport with their own aircraft during a lull in the weather. So we are complete except for Paul and Gerry, who were now busy with the ungrateful task of extricating themselves from the bad Alaskan weather on their way to Toronto without seeing Alaska - so I say goodbye to them in my mind, conjuring up many images of discoverers in centuries gone by, who aborted their journey a few yards from their destination - and missing glory. I can see from the weather forecast for their trip back to Toronto, that they will have a fight with bad weather being enveloped between two severe weather systems. Their passage will be as fast as these systems move, which turned out to be very slow. They reached Toronto about a week later, while I was enjoying my visit to Nicola in Edmonton, on the pre-arranged time, after having an unforgettable time in Alaska.
You can see my photos here :