Further North

My brother and his son Abel were visiting my parents up on Lake Wah Wash Kesh so I decided to head north and see all of them for a couple nights. The weather for the Monday morning flight I had planned shift so that it looked difficult to get out of Norwood (fog, LIFR), so I bumped things up a little and ran around like a headless chicken to get out on Sunday evening. First, the flight I was doing with some frequency up to Ottawa.

The Usual KOWD to CYOW

I was on a little bit of a tight schedule, because I wasn’t really comfortable with landing at Parry Sound’s little airport at night. I’d never done it, it’s an uncontrolled field (so no help from a tower), and I hadn’t landed there in the past two summers. The runway was long enough (four thousand feet), but it was in pretty poor shape (in part because they are building a new runway 5,000 feet long).

Sunset was 8:21pm. I made the decision at 11:00am that I needed to get up there on Sunday, but we were in New Hampshire. So the drive to Cambridge, pack up the rest of my things, a quick lunch, the drive to Norwood, and pack up the plane. I had to make all the usual calls and filings with Canadian Border Patrol. When I landed in Ottawa I waited on hold for 17 minutes before they cleared me in. Sometimes I think it would be faster if I just taxied over to the main terminal and clear customs physically. (I’m not allowed to do that, I asked this time.)

And then I was back in the air. But the winds against me were worse than forecast. I had sent Adam a text for my ETA and he and Abel were in Parry Sound shopping and grabbing dinner. I pressed on as the thunderstorms started to close in. The ATC services north of the border are not quite as all-encompassing as we are used to at home, but even when they said they could no longer supply radar services, they let me keep the squawk code and just talk to them. Eventually I was talking to London Radio, who didn’t have a radar screen at all, but they confirmed the weather ahead, and the news that they were not talking to any other little aircraft between me and Parry Sound.

I had Muskoka airport (CYQA) in as my alternate in case the storm made it impossible to reach Parry Sound (CNK4), since it was just twelve miles south and seemed like a fine place to wait out the storm. Instead, the reverse happened and Parry Sound was clear while a huge cell sate on Muskoka. The yellow plus signs are lightning and I try to stay way clear of those.

The Storm Over Northern Ontario

Coming out from under the heavy clouds, over Lake Joseph, I could see all the way to the airport and to the sunset beyond. I had cell coverage so I texted Adam to see which runway looked best from the ground. He said the winds were calm and asked how far out I was. “7.7nm”

N972RD landing CNK4 Photo credit: Abel Lehman

Abel got a shot of me landing. Note the patchwork of asphalt-sealed cracks on the concrete runway. As darkness fell we buzzed up Highway 400, part of the TransCanada Highway, which replaced the old Route 69 (the old bumper sticker people had said, “Pray for me and mine, I drive Highway 69”). We hopped off and skittered through deep woods on the Bunny Trail until the dirt road to Lake Wah Wash Kesh itself.

It was a dark, moonless night on arrival, but Abel drove us across with confidence, the fifteen minute ride navigated by the dim silhouette of the trees against the starry sky. I had left Cambridge at 3pm and we stepped into the boat at 9:30pm. It is a twelve hour drive otherwise (longer in the Tesla since I would be charging a few times).

Three nights later it was time to head south. Adam and Abel had to return to Friday Harbor, Washington, so I would drop them in Toronto to save my parents six hours of driving.

Pilots discussing the weather, which looks good
Abel steers us away from The Point, headed to the Government Landing
Folding the cover tightly as we take it off means I can get it into the nose compartment
Pretty full plane, warm afternoon, 4,000 foot runway with 50 foot obstacles
I was very happy to get the first takeoff of the day completed safely, it was all easy after that

Although they were flying out of Pearson International, we landed at Billy Bishop, the airport closest to downtown Toronto. It is on a little island, and was originally called City Centre airport. You come in around the tall buildings, descending over the little harbor, and land amongst some Dash-8 commuter planes that are taking people down to Boston, New York, and DC. The airport is on an island and there is a ferry (now fully electric) which takes you to the mainland and downtown.

Five minutes on a ferry. We were in an elevator longer to get to lunch.
Lunch is up there.
Adam and Abel discuss the menu and the view
N972RD is down there, but blocked by a hangar
The electric ferry making the crossing

One of my saddest moments in Toronto was when I was probably a little older than Abel and my parents took me to this same, revolving restaurant. I had two die-cast metal Cessna planes with me and as an experiment placed one on a window sill to see how long it took to get around to it again. When we made it back to the same window it was gone. While we were eating lunch a crayon box showed up with Maggie’s name on it, so Adam added, “Hi Maggie!” to it and we hoped her experience would be better than mine.

Around it goes

You can take the ferry to the Billy Bishop airport, but there is also a tunnel ten stories underground (and under the channel), and you can use that instead. It’s a good backup when the weather is too bad to run the ferry.

Great Icon for the walk back to the island
Arthritic feet means Adam and Abel got a little bit ahead on the tunnel route

Adam and Abel gathered their bags from the plane. There was a luggage cart which they would be able to use to get all the way back to the downtown, over the ferry and all that. They would get a Lyft or something to Pearson and get into one of the nicer lounges to relax before their flight home to Seattle (and another Lyft and another little plane out to San Juan Island).

Meanwhile, I would fly south to Buffalo, where I would clear customs and add a little fuel. While over the Great Lake I noted that my glide-distance ring on ForeFlight told me I would be swimming in the event of a double engine failure. Amazingly, the engines sounded okay even over the water. On descent, however, one ECU (right engine ECU A) threw a fault and I’ll have to get that figured out in the coming week.

Crossing the water and the border

Once I made it back to Cambridge I checked in on Adam and Abel. They still had a ways to go before being home in their beds. And it looked like the Air Canada captain was going to be dodging some storms, just like I did at the start of my journey.

Air Canada bringing them West

About Colin Summers

I am an architect, programmer, private pilot, husband and father. A couple of those I am good at.
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4 Responses to Further North

  1. Peter Wears says:

    New today to your blogs….they are fabulous!
    Peter 329DS da-40 KBUY and a good friend of Glenn Lawler down at RUQ

  2. Dick Filby was the ferry pilot to bring N972RD from Glenn (where it had a fresh annual and inspection) to me in California when I first bought it. I think he made it across with one overnight, which I have not managed very often. He showed me how to do the pre-flight inspection, but I wish I had filmed it because it was an efficient little dance and really thorough. So I imagine you are getting a great deal.

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