Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Post Trip Interview

Jack Dekens is a 60 year old retired father of 5 (girls!) with a heart for adventure.  In July of 2014 he circumnavigated Canada solo in his Cessna 172 covering 16,300 km in about 30 days.  He is a man who loves a good adventure and is not afraid to dream big and just go for it.  He is also my father.  Here is an interview that I had with him.

{Between Cambridge Bay and Resolute Bay}

Why did you decide to fly around Canada?

There are three reasons really.  As a kid, I loved learning about the history of the Northwest Passage and the Franklin Expedition so I wanted to see it in person.  Secondly,  I love adventure.  It started with a 13' Zodiac trip around Vancouver Island in 1990 and then in 2010 I took a jet ski from Vancouver to Skagway, Alaska solo.  I enjoyed it so much I ended by circumnavigating Vancouver Island which was about 4300 km total.  The third reason is that I wanted to see if it would be possible to eventually use a jet ski to do the Northwest Passage so I would first do it from the sky.

{You can see the route he took clockwise around Canada starting in Vancouver}

What sort of preparation did you need?

There were many different steps that needed to be taken to prepare for a trip like this.  First, I had to get my private pilot's license through Principal Air.  Their inclusion of grass and gravel landing strips was invaluable.  Then, once I knew the trip up north was in the plans I had to take `over the top training' which is above the clouds, instrument and night training.  I also did underwater egress training at the pool because I would have to fly above a large body of water.  Due to the polar bears up north, a friend who had already lost a researcher friend,  insisted I accept his gift of a 12 gauge Defender shotgun.  Therefore, I had to get my hunting and gun safety license.

{Masset, Haidi Gwaii}

When I bought my plane I had to find one that had a long range tank.  There is no aviation gas for non turbine planes in the arctic circle which is a huge area.   With help from others, including Kenn Borek Air,  I made a connection to a private stash in Resolute Bay.  I also had to order a special funnel to remove impurities and plan to have oil sent up to Iqaluit.  The plane needed some updates on it to make it safe for a trip like this.  I had a new factory motor, propeller and batteries put in.  A new exhaust system increased power and cruise range.  I upgraded my electrical system to facilitate running the iPhone, iPad, and charge the cameras. 

My wife, Joanne, made bright yellow wing covers for the low temperatures up north.  This colour would also be easier for Search and Rescue to find me in the event that I was forced down.

{Pond Inlet}

I had to call each airport that was supposed to have gas available and confirmed that with them.  I ordered maps to work alongside my ForeFlight program and rented a satellite phone (a necessity along with my SPOT device)  for filing flight plans as the arctic is a military zone.  

Finally, I needed to decide what to take along.  The plane had to be as light as possible so I removed all of the seats except for one.  I had 5 Jerry cans of gas, two sheepskin rugs (for comfort during the flights and then to sleep on at night),  freeze dried food, canned fish and a stove.  Instead of a sleeping bag, I just brought a very warm down jacket.   By the way, freeze dried breakfasts are better than the dinners.

What are a few of the most interesting things you learned along the way?

I learned about the Canadian Rangers program which is part of the Canadian Armed Forces and is a volunteer force made up of Inuit, First Nations and Metis.  They work as Search and Rescue and are very proud of what they do including teaching the Armed Forces personal survival and stealth skills, and in turn, the Armed Forces provide them with weapons and electronics like GPS's.  

The term `Flow Edge' now conjures up images of narwhals, seals, and bears rather than just a bit of water between the shore and the ice.

I found it interesting that the government invested a lot of money to install an underground water line up in Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, for it to just freeze the first winter.  Water and septic are delivered by truck weekly and also removed the same way (separate trucks!).  Nothing underground. 

{Pond Inlet}

I realized that the aviation world is small,  not only up north, but throughout Canada.  They all know and help each other.  Borek Air and Nunavut Air engineers assisted with information and helping to 'dress up' the propeller which was pitted by the 20 or more gravel runways.  Pilots invited me into their homes.  Airport managers in Nova Scotia knew my aviation friends back home from their days of early arctic aviation's Bradley Airlines. The stories flowed.

Finally, I was very surprised to see that new cell phones don't work up north.  No 3G or LTE.  The compass does swing wildly the further north you go so reliance on GPS becomes the primary navigational tool.

{Cumberland Sound near Baffin Island}

What was the scariest moment?

There were a few moments that made me nervous.  First, I had a notification that they ran out of fuel in Frobisher Bay. It was my next stop and I needed to top up all of my tanks there in order to make it to Quebec.  I didn't want to wait several weeks for the ice breakers to bring in the gas.  I ordered a barrel of gas ($1300!) to be flown in.  Once I arrived, I found out that the regular fueler, whom I had been speaking with prior to my starting my trip, had set one tank aside for me.  I didn't need to pay for that expensive barrel of fuel and it was just $350.00 instead.

{Resolute Bay where the Franklin Expedition spent their winter}

Another moment, gas related, was that I had punched in the wrong airport code before taking off and so my GPS showed that I was heading in the wrong direction.  You can't waste gas going in the wrong direction so I'm glad I figured it out relatively fast.

Weather is obviously a big concern up there and as I was coming into Resolute Bay, and past the point of no return (not enough gas to return!), I was notified that the weather deteriorated and the cloud dropped to 400 feet.  It was recommended not to land but I had no choice.  I had to land using technical skills and not on sight as it was almost all white (the clouds and ice).

{Cambridge Bay}

What would you do differently if you did it over again?

If I did it again, I would plan to have more fuel caches up north so that I could do a little bit more exploring.  Once I was up in Resolute Bay there were many recommendations of where to go which included further north.  

Also, some smaller changes would be; go in August as it's warmer, bring an older cell phone,  try out the opposite direction, use a shelf rather than a hammock to store things in the back of the plane, and find something other than Garmin for tracking. 

{Northern BC area}
6.  What was your favourite place?

I can't choose one but I especially loved; Northwestern BC (Atlin),  Whitehorse, Alaska, Pond Inlet/Baffin Island and the Maritimes.  I sure love Canada and we are so blessed.

{West coast of BC}

7. How much does someone spend on gas for a trip like this?

About $6,000.

8.  What is next for you?

I would like to volunteer for Hope Air. They provide flights to those in tough financial situations in order to get the health care they need. Another organization would be Angel Flight. They provide free of charge transportation for cancer patients in areas from Port McNeil to Hope, B.C.  If anyone needs a break from cancer treatment, let me know.  Nothing takes your mind off of reality like a flight through the mountains.
Other thoughts include snowmobiling from Cambridge Bay near where Franklin's Ships are to Resolute and Iqaluit.  Or, maybe a trip around South America.  Or...I just want to remain healthy enough to continue to fly.  If anyone has any other ideas, I look forward to hearing them.

And now, after all of those miles, gravel strip landings, fuel burn calculations and flight plan filings, maybe my kids will fly with me!  I want them to see what I saw and maybe catch the flying bug.

9.  What advice would you give to others?

Dream. Plan. Plan some more. Ask around.  Listen. Do it.  We're not getting any younger or healthier with age.  Just make sure that you don't put anyone else at an unnecessary risk like Search and Rescue having to go get you.

{Atlin, BC}

If anyone is interested, Jack is preparing a Power Point presentation for ground school classes and any other interested groups.  You can also see some blog posts from his trip here.  You can also reach him at   I should mention that I have finally flown with him and although I felt safe, I definitely did not catch that flying bug. For now, keep dreaming and doing! 

Written by: Louise Chapman

Monday, July 7, 2014

Day 36: The Eagle Has Landed

Captain Jack touched down at CYCW at 3 pm today. Thanks to the Angels and God above for keeping him safe.

On his last day of flight he put on his most official looking pilots shirt ( old airforce shirt from the thrift store) to make his grand return. He also used it in the hopes that he would get a hitched ride back to his plane which was tied down at the Flying U Ranch near his cabin on Green Lake. He thinks he looks more professional with it on, not like any ordinary hitchhiker =)
We all know how special you are Captain Jack.

Leaving Green lake

Followed the Fraser Canyon for awhile, this is near Lilloette

Then up and over the top towards Pemberton.

Pemberton valley

And there it is, the mighty Fraser and lovely Fraser Valley. I am home.

He is happy to be home to welcome his newest grandaughter Lucy Elizabeth into the family. She makes 13 grandchildren from his 5 daughters.

He has flown 9,176 miles and 84 hours of airtime. So many good and interesting memories. He will take a couple of days to tidy up his plane, put his seats back in and then fly back to Lethbridge on Thurs for a family wedding.
There won't be any more posts until sometime next week when I hope to be able to relay some more of his stories and pictures.

GEJG signing off.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Day 35 Green Lake - getting closer to home.

Today Jack left his family in Lethbridge behind, after a short stop. Next weekend he will be back there again for a nieces wedding.
Another family coffee stop and visit in Sparwood BC then carried on up to near 100 Mile House and to his favourite get away place, Green Lake.
He did pass through some bad weather near Golden /Revelstoke but with so many miles under his belt he just "went for it" . When he sends a text " that was not a nice storm, its behind me now" I know it was a white knuckler.
Jack will spend the night at the cabin and get the lawn mowed there, back to reality !! Eagles are often seen around where the cabin is at Green lake, as Jack said when he arrived it is a beautiful place.!.

Almost home Captain Jack. One more sleep!

Posted by Jo

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Day 34 Lethbridge AB - sort of home

Today Jack left Selkirk Manitoba heading across Saskatchewan to Lethbridge Alberta. 
Landing in Regina he sees someone waving at him as he approaches the fuel pumps.  "No one knows me here in Regina thinks Jack, am I in trouble"  Turns out it is one of Jacks fellow hanger mates from  Chilliwak. The notorious crop Duster Dan dropping off the plane in the picture. Dan recognized GEJG and its pilot.  They then met later in Swift Current for coffee. 

Very late in the trip Jack finally figures out how to use his "auto pilot". Jack says "More elastics more pull.  Tray moves back forth for pitch control. Now I figure it out :)! " See the picture

As of yesterday In Manitoba, you can see on the map how far he has travelled. Thats allot of miles. 

Tonight he has stopped in Lethbridge where most of his family lives, Mother, 2 brothers and a sister. Good dutiful son checking in w Mom after a long trip =)
Back to reality very soon for Jack. Time to mow the lawns at the cabin and then home to see the wife and kids.  I am thinking he will be ready to get back out on a trip in a few weeks. So much nicer just flying around where there are no cops, no chores ( or nothing that feels like a chore when it is about the plane) lots of peaceful uninterrupted me time.  But oh the stories he will be able to tell. 

Have fun with the sibs tonight....not too many night caps Captain Jack. 
Look forward to seeing you back on this side of the Rockies soon. 

posted by Jo

Friday, July 4, 2014

Day 33 St Andrews /Selkirk Manitoba

This morning Jack left Red Lake to fly over the crash site  and take a few  pictures for Braydon.  Jack said seeing Braydon and the plane were sobering but won't change anything except appreciate everything just tad more - Braydon feels same way. 

Jack used Braydon's car, a late model Volvo sedan, that Braydon  bought here in Mission to take him across country to his job. Price was the motivator and the car has done well. Slight problem with the speedometer but nothing serious. Well, nothing that is until Jack got pulled over for speeding on his way to the airport =) Now, if you know Jack well you know he has a "huge aversion" to cops pulling him over for speeding. ( he had not had a ticket for speeding in 25 years until he got pulled over by a very serious new constable a couple of years ago, the cop just said well this will break the record, Jack has not forgiven him =) He continually claims flying is way better!!.... no police up there. Thankfully today Constable Y was much more understanding, first he was interested that the Volvo had made it all the way from the west coast  and then he was even more interested to hear why Jack was there. Jack just has to start to tell his story and there is an immediate interest. They had quite the conversation and in the end Jack passed him a business card with the blog site on it. Thank you Constable Y for renewing Jack's respect for road patrol.

After flying around the area Jack went to St Andrews for some fun flying stunts. He spent an hour with an instructor learning to do roll overs, dives etc. You just have to see the look of excitement on his face to know he had a blast.
He is spending the night at a B&B in Selkirk. Good thing he is indoors because the mosquitos are thick out there. Tomorrow is a bit up in the air, ( no pun intended!) will probably head for Alberta but not sure if he will stop in Saskatchewan for the night. "what its there to do in Saskatchewan" he says.

I know his thoughts are with Braydon and his amazing survival story. He is truly like the son he did not have.
Sleep well GEJG.

Posted by Jo

Red Lake pictures

1. A beautiful place.
2. Ice huts waiting for ice.
3. The one that did not get away...a big fish!
4. Ahhh morning coffee, can it get any better =)

Day 32 Addendum

Technical update;

To the blog followers and those that leave a message but it does not appear on the blog, my apologies. I am not the author of the blog, it is Louise, Jack's daughter. It was set up by her for his Jetski adventure ( that was before I was "the wife" =) and well worth a review). Due to a technical glitch the blog remains under Louise's editorial skills. I can post something via an email and hopefully it all appears but if not I ask Louise to do her magic. So there may be comments that you have left that have been lost in the transition. For those of you who wish to contact either Braydon or Jack you can always leave a text  or ph message on Jack's cell.  He may not get it right away but as soon as he is in WiFi territory he opens his phone. 

Braydon update;

Jack says "Braydon doesn't want this incident to be a big part of his identity , realizes and appreciates it will be something he won't forget but wants to move on in reaching his goal and passion of being a  float plane pilot. He is  loving and appreciating the people, places  challenges and adventures  he's given opportunity to meet everyday." He is off to get some tests done to rule out any other overlooked injuries. He has some stitches in his ear which was badly cut, outwardly that is the most telling he even had an accident.  He was fortunate he landed in a bog not open water. He is certainly establishing himself as an even better pilot as he has demonstrated his capability in times of huge stress!! He is doing better everyday. Braydon you rock!!

A big THANK YOU  to the owners and hosts of Whitewing Resort. They  have opened their doors to Jack as if he was part of Braydon's family. Jack says they have been wonderful, fed him (big plus!!) and everything =) Here is the inside of the lovely cabin he stayed in while there. Looks like a place I would like to see =) 
Jack is off to take some pictures of the area then on to St Andrews, Manitoba later this pm. Fun times waiting for him there. Stay tuned for tonights post for a few good "Jack" stories.

posted by Jo