This past week I spent a day in the Native village of Tyonek for a Child Find event (we are legally required to seek out and provide services to all of the children with special needs in our area…AKA: Child Find) with one of my co-workers, a school district representative, and a speech-language pathologist. On the map below you can see Kenai, where I live, and Tyonek, where I worked (for the day). My first official “bush flight”.
Talk about a mid-week adventure. My boss came to my office the day before our trip and asked, “do you know where you’re heading tomorrow morning?” I replied, “the airport” (duh?!). When she responded with hysterical laughter, I knew I was in for an adventure. Apparently bush planes don’t leave from the airport. In fact, the one below, that I flew on, is considered large for a trip to Tyonek.
Instead of an airport, we met in a small building where we checked in by stating our name and weight (well, they have to keep that little plane balanced…weight matters!). No ID check, metal detectors, or baggage check. Simply grab your belongings and walk out to the plane. On a morning when it was –5 degrees, no less.
So, my co-worker and I grabbed our 80 pounds worth of vision, hearing, and developmental screening equipment and shuffled out to the plane. By the time I got to the plane everyone else had decided I was privy to the co-pilot seat! Clearly the one person who was excited enough to take pictures of the boarding process at 7:50am was the most excited about this little trip. They all agreed that I would derive the most joy from sitting up front. And I was not going to argue!
So, I shuffled past the other four seats up toward the front. The interior of the plane was about as narrow as a mini van. If you ever had to shuffle past all your friends when the car pool mom picked you up after school in her van, this was about as narrow and clumsy as that, but I was so excited! You can even see the steering mechanism that was in front of my seat in the picture below (bottom right).
We were in the air after a total of 15 minutes to check in, load luggage, and board the plane. Seamless procedure. Try showing up to O’hare 15 minutes before your flight and see how far you get in that process! It was a gorgeous morning. We watched the sun rise as we flew over the Cook Inlet.
Gorgeous! That is a morning commute I think I could get used to! We sighted Tyonek after approximately 20 minutes in the air. See that small white clearing in the bottom left of the picture below? That’s Tyonek.
We flew by and made a quick turn to head for the Tyonek landing strip. This is it…
…notice any buildings or lights or control towers there? Not quite. As we landed at the end of this snowy path I began to realize, rather quickly, why my boss suggested I wear warm socks. We got off the plane. We were handed our luggage. And the plane left. After about 5 minutes of standing on the frozen runway, our ride showed up…a 2-seater pick up truck. Hmm…kind of a problem for 4 women, a driver, and 80 pounds of expensive equipment. The driver instructed us to put all of our luggage in the bed of the truck. She explained that the passenger van at the school could not be found, so she would take one person and come back for us. Negative five degrees was really settling in my bones. My co-worker looked at me and said, “you’re a runner, right? Let’s go for it.” So we did. We walked for 15 fruitless minutes in search of the school. How difficult can it be to find a school in a town the size of Tyonek? Well, difficult enough that my fingers probably would have frozen off if our ride did not show up with a larger truck right at that moment. She was not too happy with us wandering around either! Eventually though, we settled in, warmed up, and spent the day in the teeny tiny library visiting with families and screening their children. It was a slow, relaxing day. The Native lifestyle moves at a pace that is nothing like my typical hyper-speed office environment. Such a beautiful way to re-charge my batteries. The everyday chaos seemed so far away. By 3:00 pm we were told to pack up if we wanted to make last flight. By then, the school van had shown up and we were ushered back to the runway.
The return flight was beautifully sunny from my co-pilot seat. I picked just a few of the photos that I liked from the return trip to share below.
You can see some of the oil platforms in the picture below.
If I had the chance, I would make this trip again tomorrow. There is something renewing about making your morning commute on a bush plane across the ocean amidst endless mountains and wilderness.