The Traveling Polosons
Explorers of the Yukon for three decades
In 1978, Bert and Grace Poloson, both licensed pilots, flew a wheeled Cessna 182 from their Montana home into northern Canada. From the air, they surveyed the expansive scenery and the myriad remote lakes, and they pondered what it would be like if they brought a floatplane on their next trip.
And, yes, improvisation is often required. From Grace’s handwritten diary comes an example: “We decided to travel to Little Doctor Lake to visit Gus and Mary Kraus. We didn’t have a map of that area with us. We planned to pick one up at Watson Lake Seaplane Base. We landed there, and asked if they had a map of the Fort Simpson area. No map! I asked the woman if she had a large piece of paper or grocery bag I could have. With that in hand we headed to the wall map. Bert held the paper while I sketched out our flight route to Seaplane Lake, where we spent the night. Nothing exciting except a young bear standing by the cabin window, clicking its teeth.”
Bert is particularly cautious when landing on lakes that are glassy and surrounded closely by mountains. He suggests, “Because of the reflections, you can’t tell where the lake begins and ends. It’s really important to make a couple of passes before you land, to make sure you can land and then get back out. There are wrecked airplanes out there, testimony to the fact that you can’t always get out of places you can get into.”
Among the many stories that evolve from twenty-six years of flying in the north, one is often retold. “We were in the Yukon when 9/11 happened,” Bert relates. “We didn’t know anything about it for nearly two weeks. When we stopped at Porthill on the way home, we learned all about the attack and that we couldn’t fly across the border. We were about to abandon the airplane and hitchhike home. Then one of the men from customs said, ‘You know, that’s a pretty nice boat you have there. Why don’t you just float it across the border and then when you’re in the United States, see if you can make that boat fly?’ So that’s how we got home.”
Dry clothes, hip boots, a satellite phone, a lightweight wood stove and a propane stove for camping above the tree line—all of these items from Grace’s list will once again be loaded into the 185 this year, and the extended wingtips that increase the plane’s useful load by 200 pounds will be much appreciated. The journey to Canada begins in early September (“We like to get there after most of the bugs are gone.”) and extends into October, depending on the weather.
Bert’s eyes glisten as he anticipates the trip, and he has a message: “People are always saying they’d like to learn to fly. Well, I was 50 years old when I got my license. So it’s never too late; you just have to make it a reality.”
And now, almost thirty years after soloing, Bert and Grace Poloson will embark on another ambitious flight to the wilderness of northern Canada. What seems like a pilot’s dream of a lifetime is this couple’s annual reality.