It’s not the average Mother’s Day weekend, I’ll admit. Peering into the guts of an Alaskan bush airplane and schmoozing with Carhartt-clad pilots while noshing on a cheeseburger at tarmac’s edge. But I’ll be a monkey’s mother if it wasn’t one of the best three days I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing with my two men.
The Valdez May Day Fly In, now in it’s fifth year of amusing bush pilots and the town of Valdez with skill and bravery was a festival atmosphere of the Alaskan kind, and anyone seeking a bit of 49th state authenticity would be nuts to bypass the charm.
Always the second weekend in May (according to those in the know), the Fly In is part community-festival, part motorhead convention, and all Alaska family. Kids mingle with dogs who mingle with their owners who mingle with FAA and NOAA personnel, all bent on one agenda; flying low and slow over the little community of Valdez. Add some local foodies, an original Moonwalk for the kiddies, a little big of music, and gosh golly, we have a party.
In the true spirit of the event, AK Fam chose to fly to the event (well, okay, not really, but sometimes I just hate driving all day, especially with AK Dad still unable to manage the stick shift of AK Jetta), courtesy of our pals at Era Alaska. Our spiffy Dash 8 ferried us from Anchorage to Valdez in a mere 35 minutes of smooth and scenic flying over stunning mountain vistas still blanketed with snow. Promptly deciding upon arrival that the Era Fly Away Rewards program was just the ticket to future family harmony, I signed up using their easy-peasy internet instructions and viola! I’m part of the team.
Lodging at the Fly In is relatively easy to obtain; most pilots stay with their planes like cowboys sleep next to their trusty steeds, so making reservations is a snap. Try the Best Western/Valdez Harbor Inn right on the harbor; with a 2 for 1 coupon in the Alaska TourSaver book, its a weekend’s lodging for the price of an overnight. Sweet. The Totem Inn is another lovely option, especially for their big old breakfast guaranteed to fuel up the kids until lunch, or at least 10 a.m. We like the friendly staff, the comforting vittles, and the kid menu/coloring page provided promptly upon seating. Yessss! Totem is located at East Egan Drive, just around the corner from the boat yard.
Admission to the Fly In is FREE, and so are shuttles to/from downtown Valdez. Drivers are all local volunteers who will take a family wherever they need to go, a lovely bonus with tired kiddos. We packed some snacks, drinks, and the warm clothing (yes, early spring can be chilly, and it was) for AK Kid, along with some small toys for the brief period he grew tired of watching planes take off and land.
Helicopter tours of the community and Mineral Creek and Valdez Glacier areas were offered for a paltry $25/15 min, $50/30 min. I say paltry because a trip in a whirly-bird is so incredibly worth the dough. I mean it. Nothing except perhaps hang gliding will bring one as close to the curve of Earth than a ride up and over a ridge line mixed with a roller-coaster turnaround.
The true value of attending a May Day Fly In is the immersion into Alaska bush pilots’ lives; scattered here and there around the state, these men and women perform maneuvers that rival cropdusting cohorts in the lower 48. We saw short take-off and landing contests, flour-bombing, and wandered endlessly among the hundreds of small planes neatly lined up along the airstrip. The Coast Guard Kodiak station flew in their enormous C-130 and a helicopter, too, and they made an impressive presence at the end of the runway.
We ended our stay with the flight home, somehow smarter about airplanes and with a healthy respect for this hybrid job/lifestyle that brings man (or woman) and machine to their highest form of compatibility. Can’t argue with that, and I can’t think of a more interesting, experiential, and truly amazing way to spend a Mother’s Day. Nice work, AK Dad and Kid. Nice work, indeed.
OH, almost forgot. Miss our show last week? Catch the podcast here, where we talk about another lovely little seaside charmer of a town, Seward! See you all tomorrow on the Travelgram Show, KOAN AM 1020/FM 95.5 and streamed live HERE.