No way, José.
Through the rear side window of the hard-banked Aviat Husky, I’m staring goggle-eyed down at a gnat-sized strip of straw and dirt far below. I wonder aloud over the comm: Am I looking at the wrong area? Nope, says pilot Tom Bryant.
That smear of dirt, that yardstick-length hackout of sod on the steep side of a hill, yes, that same strip with the pronounced dogleg to the right, partway up its 1,300-foot length, is indeed our landing destination.
An ominous feeling of doom drops into my stomach like a cannonball. That this disaster-in-waiting landing zone is tucked into a bend of the turbulent Snake River only adds a comic afterthought: Hell, if we blow the landing, we can always crash and drown, and then get run over by one of the superfast jet boats we just saw upriver. I mean, if you gotta go, why not go out as legend?
Firing off a few photos, I begin to wonder whether a sane person would willingly plant a perfectly good airplane onto a hillside. My conclusion: Tom Bryant is not a sane person. It does help, however, to know that he’s just finished a weeklong course on backcountry flying to handle challenges just like this one.
So here I am, helpless in the rear seat, destined to share the same fate as Tom, now silent inside his tensely focused, do-or-die approach.
He slides out of a turn over the river, lowers the Husky’s flaps and drops onto short final for Cache Creek.
That’s Cache. As in, “Cash in your chips, pardner.”
Band Of Brothers (& Sisters)
Perhaps the wackier part of the story is this: Our group of seemingly normal pilots will be doing their unlevel best to fly their assorted bush birds into a whole mixed basket of backcountry airstrips just like this one—as many as they can fit into a day—for the next four days in a row. Hold on there: Who put the loco weed in the drinking water back at the Big Creek Lodge?
Rich Sudgen, our fearless leader, has brought us into a region called...wait for it...Hells Canyon. By the way, Rich is a veteran MD who hails from Jackson Hole, Wyo. Last year, he raced a Navy T-2 Buckeye in the jet class at the Reno Air Races, as a rookie. He won the race, then promptly retired.
“My wife, Sue, is the reason,” he recounts with a laugh. “And I like to do high-risk things once. I do it, I enjoy it, I’m very careful at it. Once I’m done, that’s enough.”
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