Warmups: Kenai, Homer, Kachemak Bay

Trip Start Jun 15, 2008
Trip End Jun 24, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Monday was the orientation flight. Alaska flying is different than East Coast flying (we learned): cloud cover keeps you low in the valleys with mountains around you, wilderness causes you to follow roads, rivers, bays... someplace you might have a chance to land should anything go awry. So, we departed Anchorage International (PANC) where Herb and Leo had left the plane, for Homer down on the southern coast of the Kenai peninsula, as a warmup. Dave flew the leg down.

The Kenai is home to the Russian River and June is the beginning of salmon season. Something like 4 different species of salmon begin their spawning journey. This attracts a bit of a crowd. Campers and tents line the good spots along the Cook Inlet coast. Inland, campsites dot the rivers and lakes.

Probably due to the isolation (and not pissing off too many people), the air forces have a huge presence in Alaska. En route we encountered a large transport doing touch and goes, first at Kenai and then Homer. No, it's not firing at us. A Homer local entertained us at Homer airport with a fairly energetic, gesture filled, rant at the C135 but I missed the shot (I think Dave caught him though). A few days later outside Fairbanks, the MOAs (Military Operations Areas) were hot with an exercise and we had to stay low for reasons other than cloud cover. We encountered more activity in Montana and South Dakota, too.

Before landing at Homer, we flew across Kachemak Bay up to the entrance of the Grewingk Glacier. Several glaciers cut across the southern branch of the Kenai. One of the dudes in the FBO at the Homer airport actually suggested we fly up the Grewingk, to the Gulf of Alaska, and back to Homer via another glacier that dumps into Kachemak west of Halibut Cove. With 5,000 foot ceilings and no sight of the mountain tops, no thank you, not this time.

At the southern coast of the Kenai is Homer. A very cool mix of artists, halibut fisherman, bars, restaurants, and businesses to support the tourists. The town is fairly well developed, leading out to "the spit," a 5-mile breakwater housing hundreds of boats, a handful of expiditionists, and not a few bars & restaurants. You can halibut fish for a half, whole or two days for a reasonably small fee. The catches we saw seemed to range from 25 to 75 pounds per fish. The limit is two per day per person. You can have your catch dressed, flash frozen and fedexed home all right there within a few hours.

A handful of tour operators run flightseeing tours up to Katmai from Homer. The attraction is bear watching and hiking. Apparently the bear watching is serious - not uncommon to see 30 or 40. But, later up in Beaver Creek, we had brew with a couple pilots ferrying a plane down to Seattle. Both had piloted with the air services out of Homer. One was fairly emphatic: "You're taking your life in your hands on one of those flights, those planes are so poorly maintained, in fact, XXX AIR lost one last year... I flew them for three years and I'd never recommend that!" Good thing we were in the well-maintained 5JH!

Our last stop in Homer was the Bear Creek Winery. The grape juice is imported and blended with berries of various kinds. I can't tell you how good it is, I was designated pilot. But, Dave and his daughter (who hosted us in Anchorage) could - must have a kick. Bear Creek also serves as a B&B with a couple of guest rooms at East Coast prices. Cool views of Grewlingk from their front yard.

Wish I had a week to explore the Kenai. (Thanks for suggesting it, Lee!)
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