Alaska 2012 - Our 50th State!!

We've just completed our biggest trip EVER with the RV-10, and boy was it a doozy!  This trip snuck up on us as a big surprise.  We actually had planned to do Alaska in 2011 at one point, but Alaska isn't the kind of trip you do alone, and in 2011 there were many different situations going on with all of our planned RV-10 trip partners, so it just didn't work out.  We took our Hawaii trip in April, after we basically gave up on Alaska for 2012, for many reasons, and Hawaii was our 49th state that our family had now been to....all of them we actually FLEW to in our RV-10, except Hawaii!

Once 2012 got underway, we tried to start planning an RV-10 trip to Alaska.  As I was to find out, Alaska is a very hard trip to plan.  It is very complicated for many reason.  First is weather.  You really only get 2 real good months to go to Alaska...from about June 15 thru maybe August 15, so that means that you and everyone else will be trying to get there during the same 8 week period or so.

Then there's preferred route can read online from many other people's Alaska trips and see that there are many different ways to go, but which way is the BEST way.  After all, Alaska is the kind of trip you want to make be all it can be, because it's not going to be one you'll do very often.  Taking a lame route will just mean you'll be droning along at 8500', watching the un-interesting ground go by.  Taking a good route can give you sights that you will NEVER forget!

Then there's a real tough one...arranging hotels.  I never did get an exact route pinned down, but had something kind of worked up.  But then I started to think about where we were going to stay and I knew right away I wasn't qualified for this plan.  You can NEVER count on the weather on a trip to Alaska, and if I were to guess at my nightly stops, I'd have to make reservations that I would likely miss, causing me to lose money and have to scramble and find arrangements in some other town.  That wasn't appealing at ALL!
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(Here's our trip track via SPOT Connect)

Then there is the ground transportation.  One thing about Canada and many many cases, especially in Alaska, there isn't a big FBO, or rental car agency at the airport.  Many airports have nothing but fuel for you.  So, not only do you have to figure out how you're going to arrange for transportation to a hotel, but if you miss your planned daily destination, you have to figure all of that out on a moment's notice.

Then there is getting other committed flying partners to go with.  Alaska isn't a trip you want to take alone.  Sure, you can, but #1 it won't be nearly as fun, and #2, if something does go wrong, it can put you in harm's way very easily.  My goal was to have at least 3 airplanes go, if I were going to go with a group of people, and I wasn't able to gather my favorite flying buddies for the trip in 2012, just as it was in 2011.

Then there the variety of international rules, flying into Canada, that makes things complicated.  You can get SOME charts on iPad for Canada flying, but you can't currently get all of the VFR sectionals other than on paper.  The list of required charts for a trip to Alaska is pretty large.  Luckily by using Foreflight and WingX, you can get most of the things that you'll need for the U.S. part of the fact, I think WingX was actually a step ahead of Foreflight for the last day's trip, in that they included the IFR enroute charts to get us from Ketchikan to Washington.  You can pay something around $100 to get Canada IFR charts on Foreflight, but you're still left figuring out what VFR charts and suppliments you need.  Then there are the emergency kit requirements...and those are dictated by laws too.  One real sad thing is Canada's ban on Handguns.  I had purchased a 44 mag that was PERFECT for bear protection and it was light and easy to pack in the RV-10, but you can't bring those into Canada.  I don't know how many times someone told me "Just ship it to Alaska and pick it up there."...but they miss the point...having a good gun for bear protection or food gathering, should you have to put down while enroute to Alaska.  So, then I started to think about bringing a shotgun.  They're legal...unfortunately, if you bring one, not only will you have to declare it, fill out paperwork, and PAY to bring it in to Canada, but you have to figure out if you can spare the space and weight to haul it. Oh, and as someone found out on our trip, if you even START informing Canada that you MAY bring a gun, you can expect an extra thorough inspection of your plane when you cross into Canada. Then there are many many many other things that are required to bring for emergency survival, such as a certain amount of food per person, a fishing kit, an axe with a handle no less than 28" in length, a GILL NET!?!?, a saw, and the list goes on and on and on.  Anyway, it was really tough because if you do go alone, you really WANT many of those required things.
Now, throw in the NavCanada system, where you have to pay to use their airpace and follow their procedures.  You get the point, it is quite involved just figuring out how you're going to get thru Canada.  Luckily it really isn't all that bad once you experience it, but it is a lot to think about.

So here I was, coming up on April, and I hadn't booked our hotels yet.  As I talked to people, I found out that basically that means I was screwed, because if you want to book for June and July, the hotels fill up very fast, and the prices get you really want it all booked like in January or February if you want to guarantee better rates and availability.

So after April, I decided I'd contact Vic, who went last year with the "Let's Fly Alaska" group, and pick his brain.  I knew he was totally thrilled with his trip, and I had already purchased his Video which was very inspiring, so he'd know better than anyone if going with such a group was a good idea.  It didn't take much time talking to him to realize that it was going to be the best way to go.  He explained that due to icing, most flights are in valley and at 500-1500' AGL, because you can't go into the clouds very easily.  Add to that, you're in these valley's sometimes for HUNDREDS of miles, so it isn't like you can just climb out and land at some airport, you really can use some local knowledge to help you know what to expect of the weather, and where to go if it isn't good.  Then there was the biggest thing....I really wanted MY trip to be just as good as HIS trip.  That means taking routes that see great sights, and knowing which VALLEYS to fly, and which MOUNTAINS to circle, and which GLACIERS are the best, and which TOWNS are the most fun, and which HOTELS are the best...the list goes on and on.  After talking to him, the answer was clear...I needed to go with the "Let's Fly Alaska" group too.

So Ed Hayden and I were disenchanted that we couldn't make Alaska in 2012 with our RV-10's.  We called "Let's Fly Alaska" and of course for 2012 they were already fully booked.  Besides that, I only COULD go in June, because I'm NOT going to miss OSH, even for Alaska.  They said that I could get on 2013's waiting list, but that even 2013 was either booked or almost booked already, but if we wanted to go, we could fill in the paperwork and if we were able to go, we could send money in about August 2012 to hold our spot.  We decided that was to be our plan.  We would go in 2013.  There WAS one other option though.  We could get on a dropout replacement list for 2012, and Dale from Let's Fly Alaska told us that if he had even ONE person drop out, he would find a way to fill BOTH of us for 2012 and bring us along.

As we got into June, I had lost faith that we would be able to go in 2012.  I had told Andrea that I would not make other plans until at least the 10th, because if something opened for the June 22nd trip, I would still jump on it.  Then soon we were near June 10th and I started to give up and get ready to make plans for a boat trip in June.  I had the time scheduled off from work, so I may as well enjoy a vacation.  Then one day after emailing Dale and hearing that "no, sorry, nobody dropped yet" in reply, I got ANOTHER email from him on the way home from work saying to "call me a.s.a.p."   Sure enough, he had someone drop!  It didn't take but 5 minutes on the phone and I gave him my credit card number to pay in full the $2100 per person fee to get on the trip, and then I called Ed and told him to expect a phone call too.  We were now GOING!

Regarding the fee, yes, $2100 is a lot of money to get a guide to fly with.  It does, however, give you some good things that really change the entire game for the trip.  First, you have a fully planned internary, with all fuel stops, ground transportation, many meals, hotels, and rental cars all figured out.  All you have to do is call the hotels and give them your card number to pay for them, and the same with the rental cars.  It made my entire phone time for the trip take me only about an hour to get everything set up, rather than DAYS AND DAYS of planning.  Not only that, but he arranges blocks of rooms with special contracts giving NO CHARGE cancellations due to weather, and arranges all of the ground transportation to get to the hotels. Then there were the charts...included with the trip is a flight bag with ALL of the charts that you will need, for the entire trip, for each plane!  He also covers a few different meals at nice places, and a glacier cruise fee for a big glacier cruse with prime rib and salmon.  Then the icing on the cake is is "Cockpit Companion" guide.  He provides you with a proprietary guide that takes you step by step through each day, giving you all of the frequencies, flight plans, distances, common and local procedures to use, along with a ful description of everything that you will do, or can CHOOSE to do each day, and how to make it all work, including contact phone numbers.  There is also a 2nd companion guide for the Co-Pilot to use that has all of the information for the ground stops that they may be concerned about.  These guides add a TON of value to the trip.  It really takes all of the pressure off you.  You can pack more minimal survival gear, because you're with a group of 10 airplanes, and as Dale himself found out, there WILL BE NO SEARCH AND RESCUE if you go down....there will only be a RESCUE.  Traveling en-masse means that if there is a problem, you will within an hour or two, find yourself airlifted out of your crash site.  This means it isn't even WORTH bringing a gun, because you won't be hunting for food.  I didn't bring the axe, because I wasn't going to be chopping any trees down. (I did buy a Leatherman Wave for the trip which gives you a ton of way cool tools!)  I brought aerial flares, handheld flares, handheld smoke sticks, and a few other common survival things. I also bought a nice first-aid kit, and a medicine kit with some common meds.  I got a real good emergency space blanket, and 2 Bivvy sack sleeping bags made out of space blanket material and packed 2 very light fleece sleeping bags to use should we need a blanket.  Each day, Dale already had been on the phone and internet getting our weather before each flight, so not only was the pre-planning of the trip simple, but the pre-planning of each day was simple too.  You could wake up, learn what you needed, and then go fly, without any of the added stresses that would cause you to miss all of the things that are right outside your window.

Needless to say, after the first day or two of flying with the group, we realized that there was NO WAY we would have been able to do this trip and have things go as well, if we had tried to do it alone.  It really was well worth the cost.

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