THE HIGH ARCTIC
DAY THREE - INTO THE VOID
In view of the early start that we had to make this morning, I'd arranged an alarm call for 04:00.
But it wasn't really necessary because with having yet more sleep issues these days I was wide awake at 02:35. Not that I was likely to leave my bed at that moment, but when I finally left my stinking pit I had a few things that needed doing.
But not a coffee right now because I'm not quite sure how things are going to pan out. Instead, I had a beautiful, warm shower. And not having unpacked my suitcase last night, I was ready in moments.
We walked outside the hotel just as the shuttle bus was pulling in. And a brief moment of hilarity ensued when the shuttle bus collided with the canopy supports outside the hotel and knocked the brick fascia flying.
But we didn't loiter around too long. We were soon loaded and heading off back to the airport.
At the airport, the first thing that I noticed in the departure lounge was a sign saying "First Aid Station". And underneath it was a large flask of coffee with a collection of paper cups.
"How very appropriate" I mused. But as regular readers of this rubbish might be well expecting knowing just how things usually turn out, it was empty.
My spirits were aroused somewhat when someone came to take it away, so I grabbed a paper cup in eager anticipation. However my spirits were dashed when the flask never returned.
And if this goes to prove anything, which it probably doesn't, it merely ilustrates the fact that where I am sitting is only 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle and even the basic necessities of life here are luxuries
We'd been told last night that the earlier we arrived at the airport, the earlier we would leave for the North, and so we made a special effort to arrive earlier. We were out of the bus and in the terminal by 05:15.
Our flight was due to depart at 06:15 but that was clearly a Spanish 06:15 because even though we had arrived good and early it was much more like 07:00 when we went out to board our aeroplane.
This exciting machine that is going to take us off on our travels is a De Havilland DHC-7-103 Dash 7.
And never mind the Spirit of St Louis - I christened it Spirit of St Elsewhere because I could imagine many thousands of elsewheres to where we might be sent before we could say goodbye to our aeroplane.
I remember thinking last night, wondering where we might end up tonight.
"Back in Yellowknife" was certainly one of the options that I had seriously considered. But we eventually took to the air in our creaking prehistoric aeroplane
We did a couple of laps around the airport and then set off. We had a good view of the Mackenzie Highway underneath us as we flew off north-eastwards. - probably the nearest that I'll ever come to it - and then much to everyone's surprise the aeroplane turned round and headed back the way we came.
As we approached the airport and the undercarriage came down, it looked very much as if it was all going to come to pass and we'd be stranded in Yellowknife yet again.
Apparently we were having a "maintenance issue". And I could certainly smell the exhaust fumes coming into the cabin. I was reminded of the old chestnut about
"she was only the pilot's daughter but she never got off the ground."
However, after five minutes or so of being back on the ground, we took off again. Apparently there was something that needed a visual check, although we were not told exactly what the issue might have been.
I did subsequently contact Air Tindi for an explanation, but they never did reply.
It would come as no surprise to anyone to learn that the interior of our aeroplane is quite primitive.
We are told that it was originally owned by Air Greenland and the exterior colour scheme would bear that out. It's more-than-likely been outfitted for hunters, trappers, Inuit and komatik teams rather than commercial passengers.
Huskies, muskoxen and courreurs de bois would certainly be much more at home in here than the likes of those of us currently on board.
It's not a good idea to sit still for too long on an aeroplane, and certainly not on an aeroplane like this. I always ike to go for a walk around every couple of hours or so to stretch the legs.
And while I was wandering around in the aeroplane I also had a good look at the controls in the passenger cabin that the flight attendant would use. We do actually have a flight attendant on board by the way.
One of the things that I noticed on board were rocker switches of the kind that you might have found in an up-market car of the early 1960s.
A second exciting piece of equipment was a bakelite telephone that looked as if it dated from the 1950s. That was a surprise to me. I was half-expecting two baked bean tins and a piece of string.
While I was up there I asked about the red switch on the control panel.
The flight attendant told me that was an emergency switch. If there's some kind of serious emergency on board in the passenger compartment, the flight attendant flicks the switch.
"What does it do?" asked Our Hero
"It works the pilot's ejector seat" was the reply.
Given that remark I asked about the passengers.
"Are there any parachutes on board?"
"Oh yes" he replied. "There is only one, so we have to take it in turns. Bags I first!"
Another exciting discovery on board the aeroplane was that the toilet in the lavatory is an Elsan chemical toilet.
I haven't seen one of these fitted on board an aeroplane for centuries, and it brought back many happy memories of the talk given by a former neighbour of mine to the Pan-American Jewish Society in Manchester.
And as we flew over the barren tundra wasteland, I made the rather dismal discovery that there was no special meal on board the aeroplane for me.
It is not so much the fact that I didn't have my meal that annoyed me particularly. This fllight has been arranged on a very ad-hoc arrangement at the last moment from a town close to the Arctic Circle.
You can't always get what you want in a place like that and I'm the first to realise it.
It's not the first time that it's happened and for this reason that I'm prepared for this kind of thing.
In my suitcase are some supplies that I could have eaten .But it's no good in my suitcase. That's in the baggage hold.
What annoyed me about all of this was that no-one had said anything to me about it. Had they done so, I could have raided my suitcase before we took off and put some supplies in my rucksack.
The good news, because there is some, is that after we had been flying for an hour or so, the exhaust fumes in the cabin seemed to clear. Either that or I had become accustomed to them.
One thing that was quite surprising was that we were given a visit to the controls. You wouldn't get that these days on a scheduled flight of course, with the paranoia that is circulating around the Western world right now.
The captain was in there sitting at the controls, nonchalantly looking at a video of some kind on his phone while the autopilot was doing the work. I've no idea where the co-pilot was.
"Probably having a ride on the Elsan" I thought to myself.
I also thought to myself that this would have been an ideal moment for Strawberry Moose to have had a photo opportunity by taking over the controls. He would have done well too because there is nothing at all hi-tech about this machine.
But he's down in the hold with his bottle of whisky, and you can hear the sea shanties from here.
After all of this, I needed a coffee.
And I wasn't the only one either, with one of my fellow-passengers making frantic coffee-like gesticulations.
So I approached the Flight Attendant but, quite unsurprisingly, we had run out. No more coffee at all and that filled me with even more dismay, gloom and foreboding.
No special meal for me, and now no coffee either. I was already expecting this to be a very long flight, and it's going to be even longer if we aren't going to have any coffee to keep us going.
I settled down for a snooze instead, and I can't say that I didn't need it after all of my nocturnal ramblings.