The next day I go to work is kind of a grand tour of the province, as we do a few lines here and a few lines there, then keep moving on to the next patch, usually without landing in between. It's odd having the feeling of having been to Calgary (more golf courses!) and Lloydminster without landing either place. Fortunately we were "on a company note" which means that company, not Nav Canada is responsible for knowing where we are, so I'm not filing a fully fictional flight plan.
One of the assignments is photographing some really small communities, little groups of six houses next to a lake, here and there. The job refers to these communities as "hamlets." Perhaps they have an association or are administered by one government branch which needs records of their growth, agriculture or nude sunbathing activity. Mine is not to question why. Mine is just to fly in really straight lines. To turn or not to turn. Tis nobler in the airplane to suffer the outrageous fortune of these clouds always being in the wrong place. When you put the word "Hamlet" on a piece of paper in front of me and then have me stare at dots for a few hours, it gives me licence to misquote Shakespeare. (Or Tennyson, for those of you about to protest). I can misquote whomever I please, but I'll quote Shakespeare more often whenever you say "hamlet." I'm actually better with MacBeth than Hamlet, and who could resist addressing the dots like Lady MacBeth. "What will this dot ne'er be green?" You get the idea. The camera operator probably pulled out his headset plugs. He does that sometimes. He claims it's because ATC keeps interrupting his iTunes.
We complete the low level hamlet work and climb for some higher altitude work, but clouds cover the target area and we are forced to abort. "Lloydminster?" I ask, turning to a heading that will allow a descent clear of clouds, and reaching for the GPS "direct-to" button. The operator asks for the chart before he decides. He passes it back to me, asking why it says "private" next to the airport he likes. I look. "It means the nearby NDB is private, not run by Nav Canada, so may not be monitored." Makes no difference to us.
I've never heard of the aerodrome he wants to use. I open the CFS and determine that it has sufficient runway, 100LL fuel and is close to the associated community. I call flight services to check NOTAMs and they have nothing concerning to tell me, so that's our new destination. It's getting a little bumpy with the afternoon, and as I descend towards the destination, so it's a relief when we pass over a lake. It's a very attractive lake, too, with beaches where my operator specifies which drinks with umbrellas in he will be ordering. I determine the wind from ground signs and verify with the windsock as I join downwind. It's quite strong, and pretty much across the runway, but we know from High River that this airplane is good at these. Prelanding checks complete, quite a crab gives way in the flare to quite a slip, and then I put down the wheels, into wind, out of wind, nosewheel, one after another.
I taxi up to the pumps and look at its elaborate key system. I pull out the CFS and see two letters at the end of the services entry that I didn't notice in the air. PN Stands for Prior Notice. I have a moment of "oh shit," but as I read the entry more closely I can see that the fuel pumps are managed by a flying club, and multiple members' phone numbers are given in the entry. We can give prior notice now that we would like some fuel sometime between now and tomorrow morning, and that should be enough. The operator calls the first number in the book, and gets a woman who says, "He just left. I think he went to the airport." Couldn't be better. "He" turns up shortly to mow the grass, and sells us some avgas.
He tells us where we can park for the night and confirms that there are cabs available "but don't call Northern if you can help it." I put the airplane away and secure the controls with a seatbelt. There are three cab companies listed in the little pilot shack at the edge of the apron. One of the numbers is not in service and the second goes to voice mail that says simply "Leave a message" -- no personal or company name. The third is Northern. They answer, with lots of talking in the background, and say they'll be here.
It's not the world's cleanest cab and the cab driver's perhaps daughter, perhaps girlfriend is along for the ride, but the driver is sober and knows his way around. He says it's not a big town, but it serves a big area. It's the biggest place in a long ways so everyone comes here for supplies. He said there were over 14,000' people from various First Nations bands, and he didn't know how many non-natives. I ask if they are mainly Cree people around here. He doesn't answer, but the passenger says she is half-Cree, half-Scottish. That's about as Canadian as it gets.
We ask for the Super-8. In the US, the Super-8 can be pretty sketchy, but in Canada they have a pretty reliable standard. You're rarely wowed by a Super-8, but very rarely have real problems at one either. We drive into town and down the main street. It's one of those places that few chains have hit yet. We pass a Mexican restaurant that looks good, a couple of Chinese restaurants, and then reach the new end of town where the Super-8 and the Boston Pizza are. I unload our gear while the operator pays, and carry it into the lobby. It looks fantastic. But they're full.
Back into the cab, and back uptown to the next place, a motel, not great looking on the outside, but nicer when I go inside. Also full. Back in the cab to the motel next to the Mexican restaurant. They have rooms, and the guy in the check in area is cheerful and friendly. We get big old fashioned keys to open our doors. Do I need to describe the motel room beyond, "The towels are brown"? It's one night. I hope. I check the weather. Should be good for the morning. I e-mail the operator through the wall that I'm going out for a walk. Arbitrarily, I turn right, and wander a block or so up the street. It's 50th Street, of course, at about 53rd Avenue. A few blocks from the centre of town. There's some sort of monument with flags across the street, so I cross over when it's clear. In small towns you have to take your time and savour what entertainment there might be. The first monument I read is to the Cree, who first lived here, who helped shape the prairies through annual fire setting, and who were very helpful to the early European explorers, and of course who still live here. The next monument is to the Winnipeg trail, once an extremely important part of the local culture, partially eclipsed by the railroad and now obliterated by the highway, but still something worth remembering. I'm getting the flavour of the town here.
And then I read the next plaque over. "Republic of St. Paul" it starts. The next bit says, "Stargate Alpha," but I'm partly anesthetized from reading historic plaques and I get a few words further before it sinks in. Wait, what?
Republic of St. Paul~~*~~ Stargate Alpha ~~*~~
The area under the world's first UFO Landing Pad was designated international by the town of St. Paul as a symbol of our faith that mankind will maintain the outer universe free from national wars and strife. That future travel in space will be safe for all intergalactic beings. All visitors from Earth and otherwise are welcome to this territory and to the town of St. Paul.
There's a round, raised concrete platform behind the plaques, with steps going up to it, and ailings all decorated in ultramodern 1960s designs. The effect is like finding the sun while spelunking. Here I am with my capacity-for-amusement circuits tuned to the highest possible sensitivity, seeking to wring entertainment out of small town commemorative plaques. And then BLAM, the world hits me with a UFO landing pad. It's as if I were in a place I expected to be exciting and a UFO landed beside me. There is a sort of UFO beside the landing pad. A bridge connects it to the local tourist information centre, built to look like the stereotypical flying saucer. It's even open, and I buy a dozen postcards, and get a restaurant recommendation.
On the way back to the motel I notice that the landing pad is at the corner of 50th and Galaxy Avenue, and I'm staying in the Galaxy Motel. I wonder if aliens like brown towels.