Essays: The Trip

Written October 1992

by Kenneth Lea Barbalace

Waiting, that's the way traveling in Alaska tends to be, waiting. Flying is the primary mode of traveling in this land of remoteness and isolation. In this land where the weather is cruelly fickle, depending on something as susceptible to weather as flight requires patient waiting.

My plane was delayed getting out of Seattle this morning because of air traffic control problems, then was double whammed by nature. First the plane was forced to land for inspection and repairs after flying into a flock of birds, and now it is fogged in. They say it may be running three hours late if things go well.

Seconds are ticking away at an ever slowing pace. It seems as if the clock is going to stop. They say that the plane is continuing on its way, but I'm still waiting. Tick...tick....tick.... Cloud formations come and go. I have nothing to do but watch clouds drift by. Anticipation grows when it is announced that the flight will be arriving shortly.

A Coast Guard Jayhawk Helicopter makes a slow smooth landing on the runway then taxies to its hanger. Clouds slowly move their shadows across the rocky seascape.

At long last the plane lands and taxies to the small terminal. Eager to get underway, passengers board the 737 and quickly find their seats. As soon as cargo is loaded, the plane with a big blue face on its tail is backed away from the terminal. It taxis to the end of runway which is surrounded almost entirely by water. It seems as if it isn't an airport at al, but just a large aircraft carrier.

All of the available runway is used in take off. The airport slowly falls away from the plane as the world and mountains around become smaller. Finally I have begun my first trip off the island which I moved to some time ago.

A question now exists, will I be able to catch my next flight or will I have to spend the night in Juneau? I am tired of waiting, I have places to be, meetings to attend. Alas it doesn't matter. If I don't make it on time all will understand, this is the way of travel in this vast land.

They held my next flight for me, thank goodness. My luggage however will have to catch a later flight. The travel agent must have been joking when she asked me if I wanted a window or an isle seat. This plane is only has four seats, and one of those seats is removed for cargo.

The tiny Piper Archie II is almost airborne before it reaches the runway. It is a cold but beautiful flight. never do we fly above the mountains, instead swooping between them following the water way of the Inside Passage. Glaciers carve their way down the sides of mountains we pass. After nearly an hour of flight we arrive in Haines, its runway half under construction, and there is barely enough room to land.

There isn't a terminal here just a gas pump and a few small hangers. A van meets the plane to pick up the only other passenger and exchange some cargo. Never before have I helped unload a plane. After a quick refueling we are underway once again.

In no time at all the town of Skagway comes into sight. Like most places in Alaska it is tiny. Sandwiched between two mountains and the Inside Passage, Skagway's airport appears to run the entire length of town. After collecting my belongings I depart the plane and head on my way, thankful to have completed my trip.

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