McGrath Travel Blog› entry 12 of 38 › view all entries
After the last load was slung out to Omar our job at Kiana was completed and we packed the helicopter. Gray and I lucked out with another tailwind - pushing us south this time back along the Kotzebue Basin, over some hills, and across the Koyukuk River where it joins the mighty Yukon. Galena was just 14 miles to the east but with the favorable winds we carried plenty of fuel.
Ten miles from Colorado Creek we experienced a sudden, violent jolt as though our magic carpet was shaken then snapped for dusting before being hung out on a backyard clothesline. The invisible, jarring nudge prompted Gray to tighten his white-knuckled grip on the flight controls and me to grab the hand strap on my doorframe. We sustained a pretty good jolt - the wind had shifted 180 degrees.
A helicopter tends to easily 'chop' through turbulence where as a light airplane has more the feel of being repeatedly drop-kicked into zero-gravity in rapid-fire succession; like being strapped to a basketball dribbled down court then hurled through several rim-shot misses. Aviation in general can be like that; long hours of calm and peaceful flight interrupted by moments of sheer terror.
The weather changed dramatically with the wind shift. Our calm and sunny skies ended and the air cooled. By the time we landed at Colorado Creek, it was overcast and drizzling. Amazing what a ten mile difference can make in the wide-open vastness of Alaska.
After unloading our stuff once again, I gave the helicopter a closer than normal look-over then headed to the creek with a gold pan. I panned until midnight with the same sparkling results as last week's efforts. Like the small flakes and nuggets scattered in my gold pan, the north horizon captured my attention with brilliant bands of yellow, red, blue, and gray sky drifting slowly eastward. This was Alaska at its finest.