Anchorage at Last
ANCHORAGE AT LAST
The flights were calm, and they had eaten twice, on different flights. They transferred three times before finally reaching Anchorage. After all the layovers between flights, it was evening when they arrived. Because Dave had shorted Sam on the motorcycle deal, they weren’t sure that they had enough money for a hotel for the night. They hadn’t really considered where to stay, so they considered sleeping in the airport. That way, they would be there in the morning to find a bush pilot. But looking around the place while they waited for their packs to come to baggage claim, they decided to risk spending the money on a nearby hotel.
Eventually, their packs came down the conveyor. They were undamaged, although Genie’s skydiving helmet had come loose. Sam retrieved it and strapped it back on. A quick look around for hotel information had led them to find a place, but they also saw the booth from which they might find a bush pilot. The booth was closed for the evening, so there was nothing to do but take a shuttle to the hotel.
Genie was glad they had chosen to get a room, because it might be the last luxury they would get to indulge in for a long time. Sam was glad they had free breakfast. The guy at the front desk eyed their gear and asked what they were up to. Sam had gladly explained their plan with some enthusiasm, but instead of an interested response, the mustachioed attendant merely said, “Hope you packed some warm clothes.”
The room was pretty standard, if not a little Spartan, but the two of them were able to relax and shower. “Funny,” Genie said as she combed out her wet hair, “but that guy didn’t even bat an eye at what we’re doing.”
“Yeah, I noticed that.”
“Do you think that these guys are locals and have seen it all, or that a lot of them came up here in expectation of finding adventure for themselves and just settled to do stuff like they would have been doing back home?” Genie pondered.
“No doubt, a lot of people come up here to fulfill some kind of fantasy, but reality beats them down. Maybe they realized their fantasies, but the realization ruins the fantasy.”
“Is that what we’re doing? Trying to fulfill some fantasy?”
“I guess so,” Sam said. “But let’s hope ours turns out better. There’s no way we came up here to get stuck in another urban rut.”
“I think a lot of who we are is fantasy,” Genie remarked.
“Well, first, we are theatre folk. I fantasize about acting, and you wanted to be a stunt man.”
“Hey, I was a stunt man,” Sam retorted. “And my clip as the third Indian biting the dust made the cut.”
“You were almost run over by the stage coach, and you were in a sling for three weeks.”
“True. It wasn’t as satisfying an experience as I had ‘fantasized’ about, but it was fun,” Sam answered. “And what about you? That director who saw your commercial didn’t cast you, because he just wanted to sleep with you.”
“He didn’t want to sleep with me; he wanted to boink me.”
“Well, I want to sleep with you,” Sam baited.
“Is that all?” Genie asked.
“Well, you know, after the boinking,” Sam said with a grin.
“Your wish is my command,” Genie said, “but let me dry my hair first. Then you can rub my lamp, and I shall fulfill your fantasy.”
“Now, that’s a plan.”
After breakfast, they shuttled back to the airport with all their gear and went in search of a bush pilot. At the booth they had located the night before, they were happy to see that it was open. There were two people there. A young woman who was nicely dressed in a sweater with Alaska Air Taxi embroidered on it, and a thirty-something hairy dude in a lumberjack shirt.
Sam made the inquiries and learned that they would need to get to the sea-plane base at Lake Hood to charter the flight. As it happened, the hairy dude, Ben, was on his way there and could give them a lift. They loaded up the back of his truck and snuggled into the cab of the well-worn Ford. It smelled like dog, but it could have been the dude. He was pleasant enough, though, and chatted the entire way.
It wasn’t long before they had arrived at the sea-plane base. They thanked Ben for the ride, and he helped them get the gear into the office. After that he disappeared somewhere outside in the hangar. The lady in the office was very helpful and made a call to get the pilot, whom she matched to their needs. She told them they’d just have to wait a half hour or so. The price had been established, and Sam dug deep to get the cash. As it happened, he got a pretty fair deal. Relieved, he and Genie sat in the office on a bench to wait.
There was a Coke machine in the office, and Sam pulled out some quarters for a drink. He put in the correct number of coins, but nothing happened. He banged on it once, and the lady told him it was out of order.
“Go figure,” Sam said under his breath.
Genie had found the brochure rack and pulled a map out. She was looking at it, with Sam looking over her shoulder, when a crusty old guy in an Izod shirt came in.
“You must be waitin’ on me,” he said with a smile.
“If you’re the pilot,” Sam replied.
“I am. I’m JW.”
“Sam, and this is Genie.”
“Good to meet you. Now, where you headed?” JW asked.
Sam pulled out a piece of paper and unfolded it. “It’s just south of Seward. Follow the ridge southwest from Lowell Point about 9.8 miles. That’s where the cabin is.”
JW looked over the page. “Let me see your map, young lady.”
Genie handed it to him. He pulled out a pair of bifocals. Using his finger, he followed the mountain ridge. “No place to land around there.” He paused. “’Less you got a parachute.” He laughed.
Sam and Genie just looked at him and he at them. Sam led his gaze to the packs next to the bench. He saw that they did, indeed, have parachutes.
“Well, I’ll be damned. You’re serious, ain’t you?” JW exclaimed as a youthful exuberance covered his gray-whiskered face.
“How long of a flight do you think it’ll be?” Genie asked.
“’Bout half hour, forty minutes,” JW answered. “As the crow flies, but I ain’t no crow.” He cracked himself up. “More of an old buzzard.”
“Okay, then?” Sam queried. “We good?”
“I don’t know about that, but I’m game if you are.”
“When can we..?” Genie began.
“Hell, let me gas up the Cessna, and we’ll get in the air and figure out where to drop you,” JW said, turning briskly for the hangar door out of the office. He stopped at the door. “Well, grab your gear. I’m a pilot, not a bellman.”
Sam and Genie grabbed up the packs and followed along. JW stopped aside a tired-looking single engine Cessna and cracked open the gas tank to look inside. He shined a little flashlight in and smiled.
“Hot damn! Good to go,” he said.
“Isn’t there a gauge for that?” Sam asked.
“Busted,” JW replied. Well, since this ain’t no sight-seein’ tour, you best get your gear on now. Not a lot of room for that in this little guy.” He slapped the side of the plane and walked around to the door. They followed and set the packs down. Sam pulled out the jumpsuits, and they quickly zipped them up. Next the parachute harnesses were clipped and cinched.
“We can put the packs on when we’re closer, okay?” Sam asked.
“Fine by me,” JW said. He helped Genie up into the plane, but Sam was on his own. He then picked up the backpacks as if they weighed nothing and handed them in to Sam. The packs were heavy. Sam had spent quite a bit to outfit the two packs for a year in the wilderness. He had bought the best backpacking gear available, stove, water purifier and filters, a variety of lightweight tools, first aid supplies, sleeping bags, high tech clothes for layering and food. Not that it would be enough food for a year, but freeze dried meals and lots of dried fruit to fill in the gaps in the food they could hunt or find. He had also procured two fine knock-down recurve bows, extra bowstrings and had a machinist friend fabricate two dozen arrows that screwed together from five pieces each. So, yes, the packs were heavy, and Sam was amazed at JW’s strength as he simply handed them into the plane.
JW leaned inside the plane and said, “Well, scoot over and let me in, or we ain’t goin’ far.”
They did, and he climbed in and wriggled his way into the pilot’s seat. He started the engine and turned to them. “Fasten your seat belts now,” he said, laughing. There were no seat belts. There were no seats. This plane was obviously only used for cargo, and not much it either.
It was no surprise to Sam and Genie. In fact, it was very similar to the planes they had at their drop zone back home on the Northshore. As the motor rpm’s increased, so did their excitement. Familiar butterflies filled their stomachs, and the plane eased forward and turned to the little runway. A typical bumpy start, but the little plane sprang off of the runway and began to climb.
The air got cooler, and that was nice since Sam and Genie had on their street clothes and jumpsuits. They looked out the window at the scenery below. It truly was a beautiful state. America’s last frontier. JW hollered a few things at them, but it was a little too loud in there to make it out. He was very familiar with the area, so Sam wasn’t worried about him. He was actually the kind of guy Sam felt could be a good friend, given the opportunity.
The air was getting much cooler as they went, and after a half hour, Sam worked his way up onto his knees behind JW.
“Gettin’ close,” JW shouted. “How high you wanna go?”
“How high can you go?” Sam shouted back.
“Well this little Cessna might get to about nine grand, maybe a skosh higher,” JW replied. “We’ll come in low to look for a place to aim for, then I’ll take you up.”
“Sounds good,” Sam nodded.
JW circled around over the ridge. “Sure you know where you’re going? This is just about 9.8 miles from Lowell Point. Not much down there.”
Sam and Genie looked down, searching for a clearing. Genie spotted one. “How about there?”
Sam looked where she was pointing. There was a clearing, and out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of what looked like a cabin roof. Even if it wasn’t the right cabin, at least it would be something. They could use it as a base camp while they explored to find the cabin they were looking for.
“You see that, JW?” Sam shouted and pointed.
“It’s your party!” he replied and pulled back on the wheel to begin the circular climb.
Sam and Genie struggled to get the backpacks strapped on to their front sides. When they had them secure, they inspected the parachute rigs one more time. All of the bungies were in place, ripcords ready, and goggles were on. Ready.
It was only a couple of minutes more after all that, and JW turned around. “Well, this is as high as I can get you. About ninety-three hundred. Genie checked her altimeter, and it agreed with JW. 9300’.
Sam popped open the door, and it swung up to the wing. The wind was icy, and it roared into the cabin all at once. Sam swung around and had his feet out of the door and held on to the strut. “Thanks, JW!” he shouted with a thumbs up. JW returned the gesture and watched as Sam climbed out to actually hang from the strut while Genie got into position with one foot still on the step, but essentially hanging from the strut next to Sam.
“Ready?” she shouted. Sam nodded. “Three, two, one, go!”
And just like that, they were gone. JW watched from the plane as they fell away. He heeled the plane over to shut the door and circled around them to see that they would be okay. He liked them, two young, good-looking kids off on the adventure of a lifetime. He saw fly together as the descended, and he smiled at their union. Continuing to watch, he saw them hit a cloud. He kept on in his own descent, expecting them to emerge from the bottom of the cloud and open their chutes, but he could not catch sight of them at all. He continued to circle the landing area, but still there were no canopies open in the sky, and not on the ground. Nothing. The jolly old pilot’s face became grim as he could only figure that they had fallen to their deaths.
Sam and Genie let go of the strut together, and there it was, freefall. The familiar rush of their stomachs was always amazing to them. But they got into their arches and stabilized in about ten seconds, reaching terminal velocity. The sound of the air blasting them at a hundred miles an hour plus was huge, and the wind distorted their faces like horror-movie special effects. Looking up, they could see JW growing small in the sky as the fell away. They slowly tracked together for their customary kiss, holding each others’ sleeves tightly in the two-man formation. They had come together quickly. Genie glanced at her altimeter. Seven thousand feet.
Sam glanced down and smiled as he noticed they were about to fall through a cloud. He had clipped clouds before and enjoyed the momentary blindness and the condensation of moisture all over him. It was generally frowned upon by the Jumpmasters, however, because it was inherently dangerous. But, if one happens to cross your path on the way down, there isn’t much you can do about it.
As they hit the cloud, instead of cool moisture and blinding white, there was nothing. Nothing in the sense that the wind stopped buffeting them and was silent, and all was dark except an apparent hole above them as they fell deeper into this new nothing. And they were not only falling, but the feeling in their stomachs meant that they were accelerating.
“Sam!” Genie yelled suddenly, her voice echoing eerily.
“What?” said Sam trying to remain calm. He looked up in his apparent weightlessness to the opening diminishing in the darkness above them. They were definitely still descending! And fast. Where the hell were they? They tried to say more out loud, but no sound came.
A spot of light below them appeared and grew large as they fell towards it. As quickly as the darkness and quiet had enveloped them when they hit the cloud, they hit air again. Hard. They couldn’t figure how fast they had accelerated in that void, but when they came out, the force of hitting a wall of air broke their holds on each other and sent them into unstable tumbling in the cacophony of rushing air, dazed.
Instinctively, the stabilized themselves and pulled their ripcords. They hung there under the canopies for a few moments. Now all was quiet, but a gentle breeze. Sam shook his head to clear it. He glanced up to try to see that—cloud? But it was hidden by other puffy clouds, and his canopy was also blocking a good portion of the sky above.
“What happened to us?” Genie yelled down at Sam.
“I have no idea, Gen,” Sam answered and looked down. Genie saw it too. That was not Alaska below them. Actually, the land looked pretty strange. It was swarming with people around a large stone building directly under them. Where on earth…?
“What’s our altitude?” he shouted up to her.
She looked at the altimeter, but shook her head. “I don’t think this is working,” she answered. “It reads 7500’, and it was seven grand before we went through that whatever-it-was.”
Sam knew they had opened high, after the whatever-it-was, and he could tell that they were still about three thousand feet up. Sam let go of his guiding toggles and reached into the jumpsuit for a little smoke bomb. He lit it and let it fall. It was just a little trick to know which way the wind was blowing at the ground so that they could orient their parachutes correctly for landing.
Genie spiraled down closer to Sam so they could talk more easily. “There seems to be a lot of people down there. Where do you think we should land?”
Sam pointed over to an open space about a hundred yards from the…castle? Sam was actually a little freaked out. A castle?
“That doesn’t look like our cabin, Sammy.”
“Yeah, I get that.”