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Eventful Christmas Eve flight brings back memories

The flight to visit family in Nashville, Tenn., for Christmas hadn't gone as scheduled -- thanks to Blizzard Alvin, which at that point was in its early stages -- and Christmas Eve was an exercise in delays, cancellations and ultimately, reschedu...

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The flight to visit family in Nashville, Tenn., for Christmas hadn't gone as scheduled -- thanks to Blizzard Alvin, which at that point was in its early stages -- and Christmas Eve was an exercise in delays, cancellations and ultimately, rescheduled and rerouted flights.

Grand Forks. Minneapolis. A four-hour wait in the Minneapolis airport. Detroit. Another wait in the Detroit airport.

By the time I got to Nashville at 6:30 p.m. Christmas Eve -- more than 12 hours after I'd parked my truck at the airport in Grand Forks -- I couldn't help but think of a bumpy floatplane flight I'd taken several years earlier.

I made a few promises with my Maker, all of which I've long since broken, that afternoon somewhere above the bush country of northwestern Ontario. But as the old saying goes, all's well that ends well, and the memory of that long-ago floatplane ride remains one of my favorite flying stories.

It was a Tuesday in the fall of 1991, the final day of a weeklong fly-in fishing trip to a remote lake about 150 miles north of Red Lake, Ont., and the weather had taken a turn for the worse.

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We'd resigned ourselves to the reality that we wouldn't be getting back to civilization that day.

Buffeted by a screaming northwest wind, the rain was coming down in sheets and the clouds appeared low enough to tickle the treetops. South Trout Lake wasn't very big, but we couldn't see the far shoreline through the wall of water as we huddled by the woodstove for warmth.

The lake was filled with lake trout, which had moved into shallow water to spawn, and we'd caught fish nearly every cast even from shore throughout our stay, but going outside on this day wasn't even a consideration.

So, we made the best of it and drank stiff java we brewed in one of those old percolator coffee pots atop the chugging wood stove.

For entertainment, we read, told stories and made bets on which mousetrap would be the next to capture one of the little rodents. The mice, too, seemed to be taking refuge from the storm, and the action was nearly as fast as the fishing we'd enjoyed when the weather was nicer.

Snap. Got one.

Snap. Got one.

Snap. Got one.

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We might have been stranded, but at least we were warm and dry and comfortable.

Noon came and went, and still the rain and wind pounded the cabin. There was no two-way radio, no way to communicate with the outside world, so we had no way of knowing whether the plane that had been scheduled to arrive at 8 a.m. would ever taxi up to the dock.

We thought not, and so we amused ourselves with the coffee and the stories and our admittedly strange mouse game.

The weather improved slightly later in the afternoon, but none of us could believe our ears when we heard the sound of a floatplane somewhere not far from the cabin.

We looked out the cabin window just in time to see the plane touch down on the churning lake.

So began a scramble to assemble our food and gear, most of which had been packed the night before, and shuttle everything to the plane. There'd been a small break in the weather, the pilot said, but we had to move fast if we wanted to get back to civilization that night.

Within minutes, we were on the plane and in the air.

I suppose it took about an hour to make the 150-mile flight back to the floatplane base. I don't remember a lot about that flight, but I clearly recall the teeth-rattling turbulence that occurred every time the plane flew into a squall.

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There were a lot of squalls that day and a lot of turbulence; that's what led me to start making promises.

The clouds were lifting, and the weather had improved noticeably when the pilot landed the plane on Ontario's Red Lake. Still, the whitecap-covered lake looked like a herd of angry sheep.

But we were on the water, and the air service was in sight.

We'd made it.

I'll never forget the pilot's words that day as he taxied to the dock and brought the twin-engine Beechcraft to a stop.

"I'm glad this (expletive) day is over," he said. His colorful language brought a smile to all of our faces.

That's exactly how I felt Christmas Eve when I walked into the Nashville airport.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: FISHING
Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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