A Misty Tale… The Adventures of David "Buck" Wilson
A flightsim story
By Bryan Kirk

February...

David was not sure what woke him up first. The distant sound of a foghorn blowing? The close-by sound of dishes crashing on the floor? Or the very attractive smell of double-smoked belly bacon that was floating in the air?

He slapped on some jeans, a cotton shirt and proceeded downstairs, to find the dining room already quite busy, even if it was only 6:15am.

- "You're lucky Buck, I decided to let you sleep this morning!", yelled out Ms. Misty, who had her hands full with three plates of what seemed to be eggs served with quite a large load of meat!

- "Sorry, I guess I was jet-lagged."

- "It's okay! Just go in the back and put on an apron. You can pick-up the five tables in the back…"

And that's how David Wilson learned that upon his many "and all other duties" were included waiter/busboy duties during the breakfast rush!

And what a rush it was… He never thought a little lost place in Alaska could attract so many patrons. But then again, those plates did look quite appetizing!

While running in and out of the kitchen, he had been puzzled by the loud swearing coming from the cooking plate. Nothing particular about that in a kitchen, but the fact that it was in French was quite surprising!

And so at around 9:00am, once the dining room was almost empty and the tables all cleaned, David Wilson met "Frenchie", Misty's Place infamous cook (although he preferred to be called "chef").

His real name was François Dumais. He had arrived unannounced in the Misty Fjords six years ago, with a bag full of pots and pans. No one really knew where he was from, but his very limited English speaking skills sure hinted he was not from anywhere close!

In fact, he was the ex-owner and chef of a highly acclaimed bistro, in the southwest of France. His "cuisine du terroir nouveau genre" and his well stocked wine cellar had received numerous awards through the years, including a much sought "3 stars" rating in the famous Guide Michelin, the bible of French Restaurants.

In 1997, the review board of the Guide Michelin had surprisingly decided to drop his rating by one star. It may not sound like such a big drama to some, but a few French chefs have killed themselves for such a drop in the rating!

Instead François decided to disappear. He sold the restaurant, and decided to travel the world, with no real purpose. Then one day, he had landed in Ketchikan. Like many Europeans he was attracted by the "great frontier" and the wilderness. And of course, the Ketchikan self-proclaimed title of "Salmon capital of the world" intrigued him.

He had enjoyed himself there, met a local girl that fell in love with him, and he with her, and decided to stay. He had somehow ended up as boss of the kitchen at Misty's Place, and the rest was history.

Or actually, more than history! His first few years at Misty's Place had remained quite uneventful. The locals and the few tourists that either flew in or visited by boat were often amazed by the cooking, but it did remain quite isolated.

But in 2002, totally unannounced, the famous magazine Wine Spectator had rated Misty's Place in the no. 5 spot of their "top 25 most exotic places to dine in North America". That rating had created quite a shock to everyone in the Misty Fjords, and Frenchie was back in the headlines. So much for the quiet remote life!

In 2003, the restaurant had been featured on Food TV and in several trendy magazines. With all the hype, a meal at Misty's was now on the "must do" list of many of the cruise ships tourists, and of the rich and famous from all over North America.

Of course, Misty Fletcher and not missed the occasion. From May to October, she had exclusive deals with a few of the cruise ship operators, and offered different packages. Some of the more wealthy visitors would fly directly from down south to Ketchikan International, and then get an airlift to Misty's and spend the weekend. Even the small community of Thorne, on the other side of the bay, had benefited.

A meal at Misty's was somewhat of an experience. While some customers enjoyed a "saumon tartare with balsamic vinegar glazed scallops" served with a glass of Riesling, right next to them can be two fishermen chewing on a "Misty BLT" and drinking Pepsi. And of course, they were always a few lumberjacks spending their pay checks at the bar, or on a "friendly" game of poker!

***

Frenchie stood tall in the kitchen and was sipping coffee from a small expresso cup. No doubt it, this guy was NOT from around here.

- "You must be the new guy… Welcome to our little piece of heaven!" he said, and then burst out laughing. "Come, it's time for you to meet all the crew. We usually all sit down for a few minutes once the breakfast rush is done."

They walked back together towards the dining room and the large corner table, which overlooked Thorne Bay and the main dock. Misty sat at one end, while members of the kitchen staff were pulling up a few chairs and sitting down as well. Buck and Frenchie poured themselves some fresh coffee, and turned their heads when Hank and his apprentice, Junior, walked in from outside.

- "Okay everyone; here's our new chief pilot. I heard his real name is David, but he mostly goes around as Buck. So Buck it will be!" proclaimed Misty, in between a pull on her cigarette and a sip of coffee.

And Ms. Misty went on.

- "Things are a bit quieter around here in the winter. So you'll have time to get to know everyone and to find your way around the Fjords before the boats start coming in."

- "And not to get lost!" added Frenchie, once again bursting out laughing.

- "From what I've been told, that should not be a problem", quickly added Misty.

Buck just smiled, and was glad she had not, as they had agreed, talked about his military past.

- "So what's the plan for today?" he asked.

- "Well, the weather is pretty good again. I think you should get to know The Frog. Junior, why don't you go show him around? Fly to Hyder by the mountains."

- "The Frog?" Buck said looking puzzled.

- "Ms. Misty has a name for all the planes in her fleet, added Frenchie. The Frog is an amphib Maule we use for almost everything. We also have The Fridge, that's the Commander cargo plane that we use to fly supplies from down south. We call it The Fridge because we mostly use it to go get my fresh supplies in Seattle. And of course, we got The Beaver."

- "That's my father's plane, Misty added. It's not in the best of shape anymore and we haven't used it in a few years. But Hank promised he would bring her back to life this summer."

- "And he will", pointed out Junior, always looking to be in the good graces of his boss.

- "And then there's The Bee!" laughed out Christy, one of the kitchen staff.

- "The Bee?"

- "We'll talk about that one later", said Misty.

While Buck, Junior, Misty and Hank stayed at the table and continued chatting (at least for the first three of them) the rest of the Misty's Place crew went about to continue their daily routines.

- "Junior will be a good guide. He might still be young, but he's a top-notch pilot."

- "And I can get you in an' out of any of those valleys Flyboy."

Flyboy? Had he just called him Flyboy? Buck told himself.

- "Well, I am here to fly so I might as well get started today!" David tried to sound enthusiast, but in his eyes Junior looked a lot more like a "grease monkey" than a skilled pilot.

- "You just be careful with that plane son. Around here, you fix what you break. I am quite busy", mumbled Hank. He then filled his mug again and left to go back to his hangar.

***

While Buck went back upstairs to get his coat, Junior rushed outside to catch up with his mentor.

- "That guy sure looks like a city slicker to me Chief!"

- "I don't like him. He looks way too comfortable if you ask me. Why don't you give him a "nice" ride today?"

- "Count on me. He'll be on the next flight to Vancouver once I am done!"

- "Just make sure you don't crash The Frog. It's our best plane."

***

Walking toward the hangar, Buck took a few seconds to let the surroundings sink in. Misty's Place was well tucked into a small part of Thorne Bay. He had to admit to himself that the place was impressive. And by some of the pictures Ms. Misty had showed him the night before, this place was indeed quite busy in the summer/fall seasons.

Approaching the hangar, he saw Junior and Hank getting The Frog ready. He had heard about Maules in the past, but had yet to fly one. It had quite a reputation and he figured it was probably one of the best suited planes for this area. What he had not expected, was how beat-up the plane actually looked like.

- "Don't let her looks fool you son. She's a great bird. This ain't no fancy air show we have up here in the bush. Our planes get abused", Hank snorted at him.

Ignoring the sarcasm, he started to inspect the plane closely. It was darn dirty, but he had to admit to himself that it was in top shape. He and Junior climbed aboard at the same time, and the apprentice rapidly gave him a description of the instruments.

- "Not much to deal with actually. Nothing fancy here except the GPS. She flies pretty smooth. We use her a lot. Hank fixed the back seats so we can remove them to haul more stuff when we need to. The only tricky thing is that she's a bit tough to trim. You got to play with the wheel a lot to settle her down."

- We'll see about that", Buck replied as he called the "prop" and fired up the Lycoming engine.

While Junior tuned the radio to the Misty Fjords UNICOMM (122.90), he released the parking brake and started taxiing towards the end of runway 12.

- "Let's take her up to 2500' and fly east. We'll cross the Strait and then go towards Behm Canal. I'll show you some of the hot spots, and then we'll cut across the mountains to get to Hyder. Should be great today with the weather", proposed Junior over the intercom.

- "Fine with me, just hold on tight", he said as he pushed in the throttle and got the plane off the ground quick… real quick! Junior just had time to grab the holding bar as the Maule rapidly climbed and Buck started turning towards Thorne Bay.

- "You crazy? I almost broke my neck! I just hope Hank was not watching. He REALLY does not like it when we put extra stress on the planes for nothing.

- "What? Nothing crazy there. You want me to learn about this plane or not? Just a standard wet grass takeoff practice. I need to know what this plane can do when I am gonna' need it for real."

The two of them remained silent for a few minutes. Buck played with the controls and experienced with the trim wheel. They were now well over Clarence Strait, and heading towards Meyers Chuck.

- "That's Rainbow Lake over there in the distance, Junior pointed out as they reached the Cleveland Peninsula. There's a really nice cabin there. We don't fly there much, but it's a really great spot. Good fishing also. That big mountain is Mount Burnett."

- "Where do WE fly to exactly?" Buck asked. That's one thing he had not really figured out yet!

- "Well, we stay pretty busy. We don't do a lot of charters to the cabins or the fishing lodges. There are a lot of guys in Ketchikan who do that, and the BFU bullies have that market nailed down. You should see them hover around the tourists when the boats arrive in the harbour. Real hawks!"

Junior went on to explain that Misty's Place did however fly many "special" flights. "The problem with Ms. Misty is that she just can't say "no." We end up flying all sorts of people and stuff all over the place. And I am not that convinced they all pay her for it. At least, that's what Hank thinks."

- "So we basically are like cab drivers?"

- "We do some good contracts. The biggest one is the 'Fly and Dine'."

- "The what?"

- "That will be your main thing I presume. From Monday to Saturday, we pick-up tourists coming off the boats in Ketchikan Harbour. They actually reserve in advance for this, 'cause it's pretty popular. We do a sightseeing flight. If the weather is good, we bring them to Last Chance Lake and they can go hiking or for a Jeep trip in the glaciers. After that, we bring them to Misty's for one of Frenchie's fancy meal. Sometimes, they sleep over, or you fly them back to PAKT."

- "How long does that last?"

- "Usually from May to October."

- "And we use The Frog for that?"

- "Hell no! We got a bigger plane. Told you, it's a pretty popular thing. Ms. Misty owes 50% of a Twin Otter with Todd Simmons. He's a local who hates the winter. So he and his wife work in a small resort in some island in the Caribbean during winter. They fly back in April and then run Klinkwan Fish Camp until the fall. So we use the Twotter for the tours. We also fly patrons in and out of Klinkwan on Sundays with The Bee."

- "So you fly any of those?" David asked, while the Maule was flying over Spacious Bay towards Behm Canal.

- "Not much. Ms. Misty says I'm short on 'people skills'. Don't see what she means, but I don't complain."

Buck was slowly starting to get a clearer picture of his new job. No doubt about it, he would be flying a lot. And he had to admit this Maule was not a bad plane at all. But what the heck was that "Bee" they all talked about?

- "That's Yes Bay over there. There's a big lodge, quite popular, but we don't do much flying there either. They have charter deals with BFU and with Promech. Right over there is Bell Island Hot Springs. That's another hot spot. Now that's a place for sightseeing when the ladies decide to go outside!" Junior added, with a deep laugh and almost scary look in his eyes.

As the plane reached Whaley Point (the northeast point of Revillagigedo Island), they turned south to follow Behm Canal. Junior kept peeking at his map, while Buck absorbed the scenery.

- "You can start descending a bit; we'll turn west in one of those valleys in a few minutes. From there, we'll reach Hyder through the glaciers. You see those rapids on the right? That leads you to Spotted Lake Retreat. It's a great fishing spot. We got a few contracts with them."

As he slowly descended towards the entrance of the Chickamin River, Buck continued to play with the trim wheel to get a "comfort zone". "You got the sectional close-by? I want to take a peek at the route we are going to follow."

- "Don't worry. I could guide you through those valleys with my eyes closed! Just keep your eyes out for birds…"

Buck didn't like the idea, but decided to thrust the kid. "Okay then. Just make sure we don't slam in a mountain!"

The thought of some "tree top" valley flying reminded Buck of some pretty hairy rides in his Herc not that long ago.

- "Just follow the river and then we'll hug that mountain ahead to the right, following the Chickamin. On the left, it's the Leduc River. We'll slowly get closer to the glaciers and with this weather, it's 'gonna be a real treat", added Junior (who was keeping a close eye on his map, and figuring out where he might take a "wrong" turn).

This guy is good Junior repeated himself. Can't believe how smooth he is with this plane!

Buck was about to turn left, still following the Chickamin, when Junior corrected him. "Just keep going straight, it's the safest way".

- "You sure about that", he asked, noticing that the mountains were getting closer and that the valley looked more and more like a dead-end.

- "Yup. No sweat."

They kept flying for another 5 minutes in silence, while getting closer and closer to what sure looked like a "wall of trees".

- "Buck, I think we have a problem", Junior said, trying his best to sound concerned. "I might have missed a turn back there."

- "I know that kid! I was just wondering how long you would wait until you told me", Buck replied dryly. The tone he used would have frozen the blood of anyone at this moment.

- "WHAT!?"

- "Listen. I don't know what game your playing but next time, make sure you don't leave under the seat this handy 'cheat sheet' I've been following since we left! Now just shut up, hold on tight, and give me those sectional and topo maps!" ordered Buck quite directly.

Junior followed the order without a word and watched in amazement as Buck pushed in the throttles and pitched up the nose of the Maule.

- "We'll fly to the end of Barrier Creek while climbing. I figure we have enough room to clear that mountain ahead and then we'll get 'on top' until we reach the glaciers. Then, I'll decide what I am going to do with you!"

This Maule has some power. We are goin' to make it. Come on… come on…

The airspeed was decreasing as the plane kept creeping up, but Buck figured they'd made it. He reduced the rate of climb, and started to trim the plane back to their new cruise altitude. They were now at 4500', over the Davis River.

God, he didn't even break a sweat doing this. This guy is for real.

As they approached the Soulé Glacier, Buck was astonished by what he was seeing. With all the glaciers now in sight, and well above any dangerous mountain, he settled at 6000' and kept flying north. "We'll turn towards that glacier there. I think it's the Thumb." Pointing at the map, he turned to Junior. "What's that river that goes down the valley?"

- "It's Thumb Creek. That's Last Chance Lake just down there. That's where we stop on the 'Fly & Dine' tours. That valley over there will bring us to the Salmon River and we can just follow it south to Hyder."

- "Okay. We'll stop there for a coffee… and a nice little chat."

They reached the Salmon River in just a few minutes, and Buck started a slow descent towards Portland Canal and Hyder. He tried real hard to look mad, but he was actually having the time of his life.

As the Maule came out of the valley and onto Portland Canal, he turned south to prepare his approach to the Hyder seaplane base. This would his first water landing with the Maule, and he decided it was not the time for fancy stuff.

So he played it safe and gently let the Maule settle on the water and then turned towards the huge dock that reached out in Portland Canal.

***

- "You hungry?" asked Junior as they walked on the dock toward the small town.

- "Not that much. Those Frenchie breakfasts sure can fill a stomach!"

- "We'll go grab a coffee at the Sealaska Inn. It's right up there", replied Junior while pointing at a building just at the end of the dock.

They walked in the hotel and headed for the seating area. Buck picked a small table near the windows, while Junior ordered a coffee and a Coke at the bar.

Buck lost no time to confront him. "Okay boy. Don't know what the heck you tried to pull off back there, but I am not impressed. Like or not, I am the new chief pilot and you better get use to it."

Junior didn't say a word, but kept shaking his left leg and was now sweating like if it was 100 degrees. Okay, this guy is frightened, Buck told himself.

- "If that was Misty's idea of an initiation, it wasn't funny. You don't play games when you are flying. Anything could have gone wrong in that dead-end valley and we could have slammed in the mountain", Buck told him in his most military tone.

Compliments Sealaska Inn- "It wasn't her", Junior whispered. "I… I… "

Okay, time for the kill!

- "Forget about it! Just go in the washroom and freshen up. I think I see some tears rollin' down your cheek. I don't have time for this bull…!"

That should do it!

Junior stood and walked to the back of the room while David sipped on his coffee and observed the locals. Nothing seemed to be in a rush here.

He still had in mind all the scenery he had observed while coming in. He was thinking of Todd Hunter. The ol' fool was right. I have never seen anything like this. That one hour flight was probably the best one of my life!

Junior came back ten minutes later and seemed rejuvenated.

- "I am sorry Buck. I just…"

- "I told you to forget about it. I'll deal with this myself when we get back."

***

They finished their drinks and walked back towards the Hyder dock.

- "This place is great!" said Buck.

- "Oh yes. Very busy in the summer. It's mostly a fishing town. You can eat some darn good halibut here. That's the Canadian border over there, and that's Stewart. We try not to go there too much."

- "Why not?"

- "Hank says those Canadians are all Communists! We have to watch ourselves around them." It became quite obvious to Buck that Misty had REALLY not told anyone about his background.

Oh yes, Hank

- "That might be a bit far fetched!"

- "No no! There just a bunch of tree huggin' pot smokin' pacifists. They have all those environmental freaks watching the glaciers and trying to block the Alaskan pipeline. Heck they don't even want to join the missile shield thing. Go figure that out!"

Calm down big guy!

- "Or maybe they just realized we'd shoot down the missiles anyway, whether they like or not. And so they just saved a bunch of money!" That put an end to the discussion.

They approached the Maule and did a thorough pre-flight inspection. "You sure are meticulous about these things Buck!"

- "I told you. You can't afford to cut corners up there kid. If you learn only one thing from me, I hope it's that. So, where do you want to go now?"

- "Well, Ms. Misty did ask me to show you around. Let's go down Portland Canal. We'll cut across the Peabody Mountains and reach Revillagigedo Canal and stop for lunch somewhere. Frenchie packed up a few sandwiches for us."

- "Okay. Sounds like a plan. Let's get going."

TO BE CONTINUED…


Go to Chapter 3

©2005 Bryan Kirk