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Day 11: Fire!

Today I once again realized the emptiness and isolation was once again getting closer and closer. The lines on the map were not crossing any road or cities anymore. The next destination, Churchill (CYYQ), was only connected to civilization by one railroad, a harbor, and of course my favorite: the airport.

For breakfast I went back to the same (and only?) restaurant as the night before. It was a beautiful day today, and the weather forecasts looked good. Some towering cumulus were expected during the late afternoon in Churchill. Just to be on the safe side, I filed an IFR flight plan again. Filing the plan by phone was similar to what I’d done before. What was new today, was activating the flight plan. There was no ATC present in Nakina, and there was no guaranteed reception of an ATC frequency, so I had to call ATC by phone 10 minutes before my departure. The clearance I got was “Contact Churchill Center 70 NM from your destination”. This was for a 573 NM long flight ! I did get an extra list of frequencies I might or might not receive at my altitude.

With a little help from the colleague of the friendly employee the day before, I managed to pull the airplane back on the apron (the plane was place a few centimeters behind to secure it). A thorough preflight check later (no bear damage) the engine was once again started. One track direct to Churchill.
It was during this flight that the scenery changed enormously. The vast woods made room for lower vegetation, grass, rivers and a lot of swamps. Every now and then, I tried to make contact on a frequency without any success. The international emergency frequency (121.5) was always active, just in case. 5 hours later, I crossed the magic 70 NM border and started to enjoy the chitchat with Churchill Center. The weather was apparently changing a bit faster than expected. There were isolated thunderstorms in the vicinity, and the clouds were moving in over Churchill.

With this weather report in mind, I thought a strange phenomenon in the distance was a huge cloud or heap of fog. When I was approaching, and about 15 NM away from Churchill, I saw some orange glow in the fog. Turned out this fog was a forest fire, eating its way through the landscape. The naïve side of me informed ATC about this, but of course they already knew, and were quite relaxed about it. It wasn’t threatening the city yet, so why not let it burn ?
The closer I got to Churchill, the more rainy clouds were visible at the horizon. For the moment, I was only flying through some very light drizzle, and was hoping to keep it that way. I spotted the airport and, as was written in the notams, the main concrete runway was under repair. This would be my first gravel runway landing ! Not really sure what to expect, I saw a rectangular piece of brown dirt, positioned in such a way that it should be the runway. While turning final, lots of rain started to pour down. Once on final, I saw some lights through the rainy windshield (wipers, my kingdom for windshield wipers!) and figured it were the runway centerline. At 300 ft, I suddenly saw another line of lights appear through the rain. There should only be one runway… A few seconds later it looked as if the lights were floating above the runway, and were in fact the runway edge lights. Floating over the threshold, I noticed the edge lights were about half a meter high. It would not have been healthy to land on that. By now the raindrops had thickened even more, and although the visibility was quite good, the windshield became unusable. In the distance you could see some lightning strikes. Using the view from only the side windows, I managed to make a rather smooth landing.

At the moment I left the runway and entered the taxi way, the heavy rain was replaced by the light drizzle again. I tried to locate a living soul on the airport. This took a bit longer than expected, but eventually someone showed up. Some heavy concrete boulders were moved so I could tie down the airplane. The guy moved the first boulder and told me to move the second one myself. What a service!

I got picked up by 2 lovely ladies I got to know via www.couchsurfing.com . A must-visit website for any traveler! They drove me around in their corner of the world. Once of the local attractions was ‘Miss Piggy’, an airplane wreck just lying around there, a few meters from the airport. Another source of amusement were the new polar bear warning signs that were put up all around town. This got me optimistic to actually see a polar bear. So far, no luck…

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