September 11, 2011

Travel: Scammon to Anchorage...Bush Style

Traveling in the bush is something that I think every person should experience, if for no other reason than it just teaches you to calm down, roll with it, and accept the fact that you will get there eventually.

The whole experience starts with getting to the airstrip in time for your plan. This usually involves a call in to the local flight rep. since bush planes run kind of on a schedule, if you can accept "in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening" as a schedule. Once you call and get the ETA of your pilot (usually a down to the minute time that is never quite right) you need to get to the airstrip, which is about a quarter mile or so away from teacher housing. If you're lucky, someone is heading down with their 4-wheeler and will let you jump on the back, but most often it's a walk through the village with your stuff (usually a backpack and maybe some Rubbermaid totes if you plan to bring back food from a larger town or a village with a more stocked AC than yours).

The airstrip is that thing that looks like a road behind the houses on the right. 
Once the bush plane (usually a Cessna caravan in our village) lands, you have to almost rush the pilot and let him know that you had reservations on the flight because there are usually locals rushing up to get on to another village in our area to go hunting, see family, go to a festival, go to Bethel for medical, etc. It's first come, first serve... if they have weight for you. Not room, weight. The pilot will nod as he unloads all of cargo he flew in, and you mentally take stock of some of the new deliveries in case you need to text another teacher that eggs have arrived.

Once on the plane it is a quick hop, skip and a jump from village to village as the pilot picks up and unloads passengers in Scammon, Chevak and Hooper. These little 10 minute flights cost about $60 one way, but are just about the only travel option during the spring and summer before the freeze allows for snow machining across the tundra.

The flight from Scammon to Bethel is a cold and bumpy 55 minutes. It's during this stretch that you start to notice things about the caravan, like the fact that the crack in the ceiling has been patched with packaging tape, the missing piece of the casing by the window has been filled in with something that smells suspiciously like super glue and the back right side of your seat has not been snapped into the track on the floor. The flight itself is only about an hour, but with all of the stops, unloading and loading, adding and removing of seats, and the pilot calling in all of the changes in flight path it can take closer to two hours. During these two hours you start to find yourself watching the sky for weather changes and praying that it stays good so that you don't get stranded in a village that isn't your own.

The view on the way to Chevak
Once in Bethel the pilot will walk you from the runway into the hanger to get your bag, which doesn't come out on a conveyer belt but is more chucked down a slide in the wall. Once it lands on the floor, it's usually time to walk out the back door of the hanger to take a quick van ride from the Hagland hanger to the Alaska Airlines hanger. This hanger actually has TSA security in it, so you get to take off your boots and stand on the cold floor while you walk through one lane of security to get back out onto the runway and walk up the stairs to your Boeing 737.

No little boarding tunnels here.
I never thought I would be so thankful to see a fully paved runway, but setting down in Anchorage was just short of blissful... no fish tailing, feeling the wind trying to push you off the runway sideways, and no worrying whether or not the high surf warning has put your runway under water. We made it in to Anchorage and the visibility in the villages looks good so far. Should be back home tonight to lesson plan =)

Travel safely this September 11th!


  1. Love your description of how you start noticing packing tape, super glue, and other hazards of bush flying. So true!

  2. Just stopping by to let you know I'm reading all of your posts diligently. Miss you! :D