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The Lisburne Traverse—waiting and wondering

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The low throttle and dropped flaps of the 737 told me it was landing time, but looking out the window I couldn’t see anything but white cloud. Land suddenly burst into view at three-hundred-feet. I saw airplanes anchored along an airstrip and immediately thought, “we’re not gonna make THAT runway.” Seconds later the engines gunned to full and we again entered the cloud. The pilot explained the obvious—it was too foggy to see the airstrip. We would go around for another try. You could feel the tension throughout the plane, entangling each of us strangers into a web of shared wire-tight nerves. The second go-round was a repeat of the first, and this time the pilot said we were leaving Nome behind and heading for Kotzebue, the next runway northbound, my destination. I tried to keep my fist-pumps concealed from the Nome-bound passengers.
Even if it was 48-degrees and raining, I was plenty happy to be on the ground. Govi, who came in on the earlier flight, walked me over to Golden Eagle Aviation, where pilots Jared and Eric stood beside a giant topo map that hung on the wall. I explained our route in the type of detail that can only be conveyed with a map before you, and they gave us options. “This is all iced up,” Eric pointed, “and that gravel bar is still flooded.” Our best option looked to be a grass bench near the Kelly River. It was several miles upstream and east of our intended drop-off, but it would work. In any case, we weren’t going anywhere for a while. The rain continued, and the clouds remained glued to the mountains.
We passed the evening at the flight service, gobbling up leftover spaghetti from an Arctic Wild canoe trip who waited on the weather with us, and hanging with our new guide friends, Greg and Cynthia. I ran Grand Canyon with Cynthia fourteen years ago, and hadn’t seen her since. We caught up while stirring the pasta. Such is the life of a guide.

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