4:42 AM Andrew’s first alarm startles us both out of la la land.
4:50 AM After 3 more alarms go off, Andrew starts looking up the weather on his phone, while I try to keep dreaming.
5:00 AM I force myself to get out of bed, throw on some clothes, go into the kitchen where Andrew’s instant oatmeal water is already boiling, while he takes a 2 minute shower and gathers everything set out the night before
5:10 AM Andrew pops a piece of chocolate into his mouth and mine (to fortify us for our journey?) as we zip up our jackets. and, careful to be quiet closing the screen door, juggle oatmeal and tea and flightbags and all my stuff without enough cold hands as we walk in the dark to our already warming car. Andrew passes me his oatmeal every time he needs to change gears as we speed out of Didsbury. I look out at the starry night and sip my tea, holding Andrew’s warm hand, but trying not to talk too much as he concentrates on the job ahead.
5:55 AM Andrew files a flight plan by phone while driving on the highway just inside of Calgary, firing off numbers like nobody’s business as we take the exit to the airport.
6:00 AM We grab everything from the car and run to the heated hangar, where we greet the other pilots. There’s an air of camaraderie born out of lack of sleep, being cold, and flying old airplanes with weird quirks. I try to act cool to maintain Andrew’s reputation by extension.
6:10 AM We walk out into the frigid air where the airplane is waiting for us in the dark, like a frozen whale with a bad paint job. Andrew and his co-pilot wonder if the heater will work this time, if not, “we’re turning around”. Apparently it’s -25 in Edson, our first destination. The duffel bags of bank mail are already waiting in the shell of the aircraft, loaded earlier by the copilot. Mysterious bags, we’ll never know exactly what was in there. We all crawl over the bags to get to the front. Sometimes I worry about crushing the precious paperwork, but I guess it doesn’t matter too much. There’s one mismatched seat behind the pilots for me. I settle in with my blanket over my legs. After a run up and warm up and whatever they do (although my frozen feet seemed to miss the warm up part), we taxi out and take off. I faintly hear Andrew muttering under his breath on the radio before I find some earplugs in my pocket to block out the deafening roar of the double engines. After racing over the sprawling yellow glow that is Calgary, I follow the clustered lights of Airdrie and Crossfield and Carstairs and Didsbury and Olds and Sundre as we retrace our steps in the car an hour earlier – except this time much faster.
6:30 AM As we leave the communities near Calgary the lights below become more sparse, I imagine farms and acreages with a yard light, sometimes a car shining down a road. Soon the dark night turns grey as the sun shows sign of arising.
7:15 AM Land in Edson in the morning dusk. Andrew instructs us to file out of the airplane as fast as possible, all together, in order to not lose any warm air inside the airplane. What warm air? I ask. The heater is working, but not well. True to the forecast, it is -25 outside. I wave to the bag guy driving up in his SUV as I run across the ramp to the little pilot lounge building, entering the code to get in by memory. The bag guy here gave Andrew chocolates once, so he’s a legend somehow. I always wish he’d give Andrew chocolates when I come along. Andrew quickly sends some pertinent emails to dispatch on his phone, and after a quick bathroom break, we run back out to the plane. Andrew runs around the plane in a fast version of a ‘walkaround’ – a safe routine he never disregards, practiced from his trucker days. Today its the ‘runaround.’
7:30 AM As we fly out of Edson I borrow Andrew’s phone to text my parents for pick up in the next destination: Grande Prairie. I do it quickly before we lose cell service. There’s a beautiful sunrise happening outside my window. Andrew and his copilot are laughing at some joke I can’t hear, but I smile along.
8:30 AM I pay close attention to Grande Prairie in the early daylight as we fly over it, picking out landmarks from the air. Landing, I see the familiar hangars of my childhood as we taxi past them, and I see my mom in her big coat waiting at the gate outside the ramp to welcome us. The airplane gets fuel here, so Andrew and his copilot have time to greet my mom in the pilot’s lounge and have a little conversation as the bag drivers lug the bags out to their cars. The copilot makes some free hot chocolate for himself as Andrew and I hug goodbye for the day. They will continue on to Peace River, while I drive out for a nice day spent with my mom.
5:10 PM My mom drives me to Tim Hortons to pick up some treats, then on to the airport to meet up with Andrew on his flight back. My Dad, who was also just flying an airplane with his friend, walks over from a different hangar to see us all. After Andrew and his copilot fly in from Peace River, park the airplane, and shut down the engines, I peak through the window blinds as Andrew runs from the cold to the heated pilot’s lounge where we all wait. It’s a regular old party when they come inside, complete with donuts. The men talk airplanes while my mom asks the copilot about his family. Soon its time to leave, and after hugs all around, I accompany Andrew out to the freshly fueled plane. Back through Edson and on to Calgary. As it gets dark Andrew tells me he see spectacular Northern Lights sometimes. I keep and eye out. But no luck this time.
7:30 PM All is quiet on the flight deck as the copilot flies and Andrew does paperwork and fills out the log book. This will save time when we land. I pass out chocolate before the beginning of the approach in to Calgary, sometimes a slightly stressful time as we need to land at an exact time.
8:30 PM Land in Calgary. This time Andrew and I can just walk away while the co-pilot does Andrew’s normal duties – fueling the plane, entering paperwork in the computer, etc.
8:45 PM We stop at a fast food place for a little calorie intake to keep us going on the drive home.
9:40 PM HOME!! To sleep as quickly as possible so that Andrew can do the same thing tomorrow!