Tuesday, August 16, 2011

If you've got the money, I've got the time

The federal government classifies what I do as an "on-demand air taxi." In practice, this means that someone can walk in the door, say, "I want to go here, now." and, we take their money and take them there. Usually, people don't want to go very far, as we charge $450/hr to carry them around by small aircraft. However, we are clear that our "on demand" service will go 'anywhere in the state of Alaska.' Because of this flexible policy, last week, Steller Air was the chariot for the world's most ridiculous beer run.
A guy came into the office, dressed all in motorcycle leathers, and introduced himself as "Radar." He claimed his brother was a seismologist working remotely in Alaska and he pulled up a map on his iPhone to ask how much it would cost to bring his little brother beer. Mark and I debated whether the islands he pointed at, way out near the end of the Alaska Peninsula, were a three-, or four- hour flight away. We quoted him the price to charter the aircraft. He didn't flinch. We said we would have to leave early. He said, "I'm not afraid of getting up."
So, with the main fuel tanks and the tip tanks loaded, along with additional gasoline in jerry jugs in the floats, Radar and I met on the dock at 7am and launched southwest. We stopped in Kodiak because even 134 gallons of fuel would not be enough for me to make the round trip, and because Radar needed to pick up 2 cases of Rolling Rock, as the liquor stores in Homer had not been open early.
The only thing stranger than someone from a California biker gang wanting to charter a small float plane for a distance of almost 400 miles, was the weather being good enough to go that far. We cruised along over miles of cold water and along the dramatic desolate coastline alternating between conversation and napping (well, I wasn't napping... ). Radar taught me what different patches mean on motorcycle jackets (or "cuts") and which ones people get killed over. He also regaled me with tales of all the bar fights he's won.
When we arrived at Simeonof Island, the weather was sunny and warm. The winds were fairly calm. We found a group of five tents, the only sign of human life for hundreds of miles. After judging the bay was deep enough and obstacle-free, I touched down and taxied as close to shore as possible. Due to a shallow beach and fast moving tides, I couldn't get the plane all the way in, and we would have to wade. Radar had refused our first offer of rubber boots at the Steller dock, as he had his biker boots, but we insisted. So, he was able to wade to shore with his beer while I anchored the plane to float in the bay.
Once she was secured at anchor, I opened up the floats and started hoisting fuel jugs up onto the wings and funneling fuel into the tanks.  I saw heads popping up in the water around me, and every time I looked down at the fuel tank and then back up, a ring of fur seals moved creepily closer. Seals are sneaky and curious, and these ones probably don't see many humans, let alone float planes. By the time I emptied the last jug in the wing, they were close enough that I could look into their eyes. When I jumped down and started to wade back to shore, they spooked and disappeared.
Radar was standing at the tents when I caught up with him. No one else was around. Apparently the brother was out in the field. Agreeing that they must have heard us come in, we decided to wait for them to come to the tents. Meanwhile, I waded back out to check the anchor. Halfway to the plane, I noticed a bill floating by. I reached into the water and pulled out a fifty dollar bill. Wow. Much more exciting than finding the twenty bucks you left in the pocket of your winter coat. A few steps later, another bill: another fifty.  I figured they must be Radar's, we are miles away from any form of civilization, and the seismologists don't have any kind of boat. I re-tied the plane and waded back to shore. Radar said the money wasn't his, and I offered to split the treasure with him, after all, he was the reason I was there.
We watched salmon struggling up a spawning stream, ate lunch on the beach, and waited for scientists that never appeared. Radar drank a Rolling Rock. I waded back out to the plane, and as soon as I stepped in the water, saw another bill. Picked it up. Another fifty! I found two more fifties, and then, when I saw another bill float by, I was actually annoyed that it was a twenty. Imagine my dismay when the next bill out of this remote stretch of ocean was only a ten! I tried to split the whole $280 haul with Radar, but he said the rest was mine because of my good karma for sharing the first fifty.
I was two-hundred-thirty dollars richer, no brother was showing to accept his beer, and the tide was going out. Radar tucked the beer under a rock in the creek for it to cool, and we waded back out to the plane. As we climbed away from this seal-and-money-infested island, we took a few more turns, but caught no sight of the seismology crew. Radar seemed only mildly disappointed. He slept most of the way back, and I made the straight shot to Homer in less than four hours.
Back at Steller Air, Radar paid his bill for an eight hour aircraft charter, changed back into his biker boots, and walked out the door. I made a note in my logbook. This was the most expensive beer I've ever delivered, the first sunken treasure I've ever found, and the only time I've ever tipped a customer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One great story.

Write about your trip with Mark, for a change of pace.