We woke at the chipper hour of 7am in our tent, which was pitched by our plane at the Oliver airport, a quiet, scenic spot with a friendly pilot community.
David regaled me with a tale of woe about how, during a 3am trip to the bathroom, he’d been caught by the sprinklers turning on for the well-tended lawn encircling the flying club. We’d been advised to not pitch our tent on the green for that very reason, and the chances of David being caught at the precise moment the sprinklers turned on in the wee hours were the type of odds that make him a bit of a dark horse candidate.
We lazily exited our tent, looking forward to campstove-cooked fried eggs and toast, only to discover that smoke was rapidly filling the sky. While I hastily packed, David gathered info from Pacific Radio & checked firesmoke.ca.
Fires were raging throughout the interior of BC and the smoke was bad and spreading. Grand Forks (CZGF) was forecast to be free of smoke, and Pacific Radio reported the area as having severe clear skies. By the time we were airborne and flying south over Osoyoos, visibility was closing down. We were relieved to be heading east from Osoyoos, out of the murk! We had some difficulty finding the valley pass to Grand Forks, but after circling a time or two in the decreasing visibility, we located it.
Within ten minutes of entering the pass, we glumly realized that contrary to forecasts and Pacific Radio, the smoke had already penetrated the valley pass in a menacing pincer-like ambush. With the smoke too dense to safely execute a turn back in the unfamiliar valley, and with the unexpected challenge of visibility closing down in front of us as well as behind, we grimly flew along the pass, navigating by following the glints of vehicles on the Crowsnest road in the orange-brown murk below us. It required the intense concentration of the two of us, and we readily admitted that we were scared silly. David called Pacific Radio and gave a Pirep so no other pilot would suffer the same fate. By the time we were downwind right for Rwy 25 at Grand Forks, we were grounding ourselves for the day due to nil visibility and shattered nerves. We found a handful of harried folks at Grand Forks dismally regarding the smoke-choked sky—they had an airshow planned in 2 days’ time.
Regardless of the many last minute preparations they were scrambling with, the Grand Forks Flying Association provided us with a map & a complimentary car, on the promise that we return it the next morning for the Snowbirds who were flying in. We were extremely grateful for the loan of the old vehicle, and because we had points with a certain hotel chain, we booked a room at the pet-friendly Ramada Inn, in what turned out to be a somewhat dank little room located across from an Extra Foods and beside a Japanese restaurant.
Grand Forks has a population comprised of about 4,000 people… and what appeared to be about 2,000 wild deer! The deer wander freely everywhere in the heart of this little town. We walked several picturesque trails alongside the Granby River, waded in the water, and chatted with the locals as their kids snorkeled and exclaimed over the size of the fish they could apparently see on the riverbed. As we visited the town’s plethora of parks, trails, and paved bicycle paths along the Kettle River, occasionally the skies briefly lightened, only for the smoke to quickly thicken again. On the Kettle River, we visited what is known locally as “The Black Bridge”, a post-card pretty spot where youth jump from the trestles to the river below and couples lazily float in inner tubes downstream.
Built around 1897, this Canadian Pacific Rail bridge was discontinued in the 1960’s and has been incorporated into the wonderful network of Grand Forks’ walking/biking trails within the city.
Although we had recommendations from locals to try out the Borscht Bowl restaurant (advertised as a startling combination of Russian/Mexican/Western Canadian food), it was closed by the time we wanted dinner, so we ended up having take-out Japanese at our hotel as we talked to Pacific Radio (1-866-wx-brief) and studied www.firesmoke.ca. Things did not look good visibility-wise throughout the interior for the morrow. As we’d come prepared with passports for such a contingency, we planned a route south down the Colombia River to the United States, to escape the smoke. That evening, we stocked up on camping food supplies & set the alarm for a 5:00a.m. wake-up, to beat the forecast thickening smoke.
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