Tales from the Iditarod…

The first time I met Larry was at the McGrath airport.  His plane, a Cessna 185 on wheel skis, was sitting in front of McGuires bar.  I hauled my backpack, a case with the radio gear, and some food the trail committee provided to take along. I asked about the holes in the fuselage and he told me that some hunters had taken a few shots at him.  All of the seats were removed to make room for cargo and dropped dogs.  We packed everything we could in the back then loaded the front.  The last thing in was me, strapped to two cases of Blazo,Chevron’s version Colman Fuel.  Larry was a small wiry man and had to grab the interior braces and raise himself up to look over the nose of the tail-dragger to taxi. The take-off was uneventful, the sky was blue, the weather clear and we headed off to the Alaska Range on the northwest side of Rainy Pass.

I had never been there before, so I really didn’t know what to expect.  We approached a river delta and Larry banked to follow the left branch.  He took a quick look around and then reversed course and started an approach.  We climbed a few hundred feet then turned to start our approach, again.  The river was solid ice but not without theatrical embellishment.  We came down on a smooth piece of ice that went straight into a solidified ice jam complete with frozen logs and other things that seem really resistive to movement from a Cessna hell-bent on self-destruction.   The plane launched another 20 feet into the air then came back down to the ice…  HARD!

Larry taxied back to the trail-head that led to trappers cabin, and shut off the motor.  I began unloading the gear on my side as Larry ran an inventory of broken ski cables from the impact  with logjam.  As I was unloading from the passenger side, my foot slipped off of the wheel and hit the ski on the outside of the wheel mount.  The 1 inch shaft had been severed at impact and fell to the ground. We unloaded the plane into a waiting sled and hauled everything to the cabin.

Larry used bungee cord to tie the skies up and out of the way.  I quickly set up my radio and let Anchorage and McGrath know that Larry was headed back with a damaged plane and his approximate ETA.

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