And weren't we reminded of that this month. Collin received the long-awaited confirmation that he will be switching jobs to fly for AeroFlite, the Spokane-based company which operates all things tanker-related in the world of aerial fire suppression. While he's enjoyed the two years as a jump pilot in the CASA 212, he looks forward to this new opportunity because a) he'll be flying a sleek and sexy Pilatus in a single-pilot cockpit, b) the benefits far outweigh what he was getting with his previous gig, and c) he will be flying a support aircraft, and therefore not anxiously awaiting the fire bell to ring.
Then, the unexpected THIS: we need you to be based in Spokane from May thru November.
To which Cat Herder replied: Say what???
Needless to say, we've got a LOT to sort out in the coming week. Collin leaves in 8 days for sim training in Arizona, then will make his way to Spokane. Cat Herder is heading to the "Mother of all National Parks" in Peru next month and upon my return, I guess Luna and I will be hitting the road to join our man.
But I'm looking on the bright side: it will be a "mere" 2200-mile trip this time! Here's a shot from the original, northward epic journey.
Tis the season of new life and regeneration and all that jazz, and Parkwest is no exception. Among other news:
Nothing to complain about here; life is good.
Parkwest pilot and pal Dan Kruse just sent this article to me about his high school chum, Jim Lanier. Coincidentally, Collin and I helped launch Jim and his team in last year's Iditarod. Read on for an honest look at the life, aches and pains of a competitive musher.
MUSHING INJURIES: A CASE STUDY::Mushing.com - The Online Magazine of Dog-Powered Sports
Much has been written about preventing and treating sled dog injuries. Less is written about injuries to mushers. This article is a slightly graphic, and perhaps somewhat jocular, look at the mushing injuries of a perennial Iditarod racer, Jim Lanier (pictured).
Jim is 66-years-old. He began mushing in 1977 and ran his first race of any kind, the Iditarod, in 1979. Since then Jim has run and completed ten more Iditarods, the Hope Race in Russia, and numerous other mid-distance races. Underlying all of Jim’s mushing accomplishments is the fact that in his early 20s, he was diagnosed and has been treated ever since for ankylosing spondylitis, an arthritic condition commonly know as “poker spine.”
Agony of De Feet
In the 1999 Iditarod Jim left the Rohn checkpoint after dark setting out on the 90 mile trek to Nikolai. Though Jim did not know it, the temperature had plunged to -40° F that night. “We crossed an open creek. It was almost knee deep,” recalls Lanier. “After wading through the creek, I was going to stop to change my boot liners, but my feet didn’t feel cold so I just kept going.”
The next morning, about ten hours later, Jim and his team arrived in Nikolai. He fed his dogs and went about his customary dog chores. Inside the checkpoint, Jim pulled off his boots to put on fresh socks. “Oh my God!” Jim exclaimed. His feet looked burnt, horribly blistered and red. The big toe on his right foot was in particularly bad shape. “As soon as I saw that foot, I knew that big toe was no longer a part of me,” recalls Jim. Despite his frostbitten feet, Jim pressed on and completed the Iditarod in just over 13 days. Continued...click READ MORE below.
I'm still unpacking and filing receipts from the Mexico trip (see photos here). The fall Desert Safari already has me back in the hot seat, signing contracts, confirming head counts, etc. Meanwhile, the Arctic Quest trip from January lingers on, as it's getting close to time to start monitoring "the tripod."
Every year, people in Alaska and beyond try to guess the exact date and time of the breakup of the Tanana River. One ticket/guess costs $2.50 and the pot is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The tiny village of Nenana places a tripod on the river which is connected electrically to a digital clock. When the ice breaks up, the tripod tips over, moves downstream, and yanks the cord thereby determining the official date and time.
Admittedly, this is one example of how Alaskans' creative minds survive the cold, dark winter months: inventing stuff like this! But there are two important things to note:
1) There was originally a practical reason to know when breakup would occur. Before the bridge was built over the raging Tanana, the railroad laid tracks over the ice during winter months. It became prudent to know just when they needed to stop driving trains over the ice.
2) Half the jackpot goes to local charity, the other gets split amongst the winning ticket holders.
Since Cat Herder made everyone get out snowshoeing on the Tanana River, she felt it was only fair to let them all participate in the opportunity to win big. We made a pact to pool our tickets, and the winnings, should any of us guess correctly. You can watch the status of the tripod by clicking on this link. Scroll down to see the webcam, updated every 30 seconds.
More photos and details to come, but we're safely back in the USA after a great trip. The weather was perfect for flying, whale watching and enjoying the Copper Canyon. The pilots behaved, and we had no intestinal bugs. Okay, there were some BITING bugs in El Fuerte, but other than that, no complaints!!
Our last night in Tucson included the tour movie set to great Latino music, and special guests Rick and Pam Kelty joined in on the fun.
An unexpected day of rain and cool temps did little to damper the spirit of our Parkwest travelers today. The food, drink and camaraderie of this Pilot Reunion (not to mention the exquisite accommodations) have elicited many promises of "I'll be back!" In fact, Mike wants to keep us here an extra night, or an extra month! It might just be Cat Herder and Collin at the finale dinner and slideshow on Friday in Tucson. Stay tuned...
Had a great ride on the Chepe from El Fuerte, Sinaloa to Divisadero, Chihuahua. It's amazing that a few hours' train ride will take you from a hotel room where air conditioning was absolutely required to the next where we had to flip on our heat. We are currently enjoying wine time, compliments of Richard, as we watch the late afternoon sun light up the Copper Canyon.
Tonight's celebration? Having survived the world's longest zipline. I can't even describe the experience: beautiful, frightening, crazy, fun. More photos and commentary to follow, but here's a You Tube link that got us all prepped...
The Tarahumara are out, as always, selling their beautiful baskets, blankets, native violins, etc. What's amazing is that the price of these beautifully woven crafts have not changed at all since we first came in the early 2000's. And with today's exchange rate of 1 $USD = 18 MXN pesos, things are a real bargain.
Heading back south to El Fuerte tomorrow, then we'll get to overfly this beautiful country the day after.
Once I have more time and better internet, I'll post some good photos for all to see.
So, every once in awhile I forget that I'm actually working when I'm leading a Parkwest trip. Take yesterday for example. While the rest of the group enjoyed a leisurely, 90-minute breakfast on the hotel balcony, watching whales in the Sea of Cortez and enjoying the Baja sunshine, Collin and I went down to the boat docks to hitch a panga ride with Blacky, the jovial captain of a simple skiff for hire. He took us out to sea, around the island of Coronado where we saw still more whales, one shark, a bunch of dolphins, then got to swim with the sea lions. They call them sea "wolves" in Spanish, and when you're that up close and personal with them, and they're diving overhead into the same pool of water where you are doing the doggie paddle, "wolf" seems pretty apt. Afterwards, we beached for some snorkeling and a short hike on groomed desert trails. We were back in Loreto in plenty of time for a rest and a stroll about town before our briefing and group dinner: chicken mole all around!
A one-hour flight across the Sea of Cortez delivered us to the town of El Fuerte, a Magical Pueblo that we love and have missed since our last visit in 2009. This time we are lodged at the charming Hotel El Fuerte, which will shortly fill up with a bunch of American doctors with LIGA International, who come on a regular basis to this area to provide medical care. (The airport guys said they were expecting as many as 15 planes this weekend.)
Cat Herder is posting while sitting in a shady alcove on the second floor, with a birds-eye view of the palm trees and cascading bougainvillea which are soaking up the 92-degree sunshine and making the courtyard oh so beautiful.
Hope to catch up you readers with some fine photos soon. Stay tuned!
Yesterday was a beautiful drive through the Sierra la Giganta mountains to the Pacific. The gray whales seemed a little stressed at the boats, but we still got some good lovin' with those magical creatures. Other sightings included frisky frigate birds (note the puffed up neck) and a lone coyote cruising the coast of a sandy island eating shark entrails. Nobody quite knows how he got there. A seafood lunch, a humpback whale sighting on the return, and a delicious dinner at La Mita Gourmet topped off the day.
Cat Herder (aka Marisa) has been guiding pilot tours in the American West for over a dozen years. Keep tabs on your Parkwest pilot friends, National Park news and other tidbits here!