Bellingham Wa. to Montrose Co.

16 Nov

6/16/2011- Thursday night, working the fuel line, Bellingham International Airport. 8 pm it is time to close up shop, and for some reason I leave the FBO door propped open to let some air in.  I start hearing something, and go outside to see if its a helicopter.  Sure enough I can hear the blades flapping.  It was impossible to see, so I ran inside to grab my sunglasses, and then I spot an A-star decending to the airport from the north.  At this time I’m watching to see if its border patrol since they are always flying in an out, and to my surprise it wasn’t white.

PJ Hunt and 350SB

So now I run out and park him in the US customs box.  It was a pilot named PJ Hunt, who ends up being a very experienced pilot from Alaska. This was the end of his second day flying south from Fairbanks Alaska solo.  He had one more day of flying to get to Montrose Colorado, ferrying the helicopter there for power line work for the summer.  Now this is a heavier helicopter than the one’s I have flown. Its a turbine aircraft, and is worth close to a million dollars.  The A-star is leased by H2O Heli-Ski in Valdez Alaska in the winters, and still has the snowboard basket attached.  So we get to talking, and I tell him I am a heli pilot building hours, paying my dues. We connect, and he suggests that if I could get work off, he would stay in a hotel for the night, and let me fly the chopper to Colorado with him in the morning. I couldn’t believe it really, and I totally needed to take this opportunity NO MATTER WHAT!! We are talking priceless amounts of flight training in the one of the sickest helicopters ever! Flying over the sickest mountains on the west coast!! It was all loggable hours, so I said fuck it, lets go.  Didnt have a penny in my bank account, but knew my paycheck would be deposited the next day.  Luckily I called my friend Alex Lopez, and he hooked me with a one way buddy pass on Alaska Airlines, thanks to his mom working for them.  He said he would send me an email with the directions, and it would be cheap. Packed up enough gear for a few days, I barely slept I was so excited.

N350SB, and Tareks Sierra

In the morning we loaded up the chopper, and he immediately had me pick it up into a hover.  It was quite squirrely!  It is a very hard helicopter to control, but after a few moments got the hang of it, and got us flying south.  During the flight I flew the whole way in the pilot seat, but PJ was showing me so many technical maneuvers in the big mountains, and beautiful terrain, from the instructor seat.

PJ Hunt in the classically cloudy N. Cascades.

Tarek getting used to the A-star


We flew through the Washington North Cascades, Idaho Mountains, Utah Mountains, Colorado Rockies, and so much in between. Craters of the Moon National Monument was mind-blowing. I captured some really good pictures, and GPS tracks to show.

Popping up through the clouds in the North Cascades

PJ successfully demonstrating how to climb through clouds safely.

PJ successfully demonstrating how to climb through clouds safely.

One of the many Calderas in Craters of the Moon National Monument

Craters of the Moon National Monument Lava Flow

Idaho Mountain

PJ right at home.

Idaho Mountains

Epic Idaho Peak

Fueling up in Logan Utah

Random Dam in Utah

Long Flight, Late Arrival!

When we landed in Montrose Colorado, after flying 3 hours at night, I had enough control to maneuver the helicopter all the way to the ground, which was a huge accomplishment.  We flew 9 hours, over 4 states, with 3 stops for fuel.  Now its past midnight, and we see nothing is open, everyone is gone. We tie down the rotors, walk to a hotel to find out all hotels in town are full, and we are low on fuel in the helicopter.  So we decide to fly to another tiny town thats close enough, in the middle of nowhere, which had one hotel with rooms.  We were lucky, and it was crazy!!  Landed in Delta Colorado at 1am, everything closed of course, find a courtesy car with keys in it, load it up, leave a note, and drive to town to find our hotel!!  Put my entry in my logbook, PJ signs it, money in the bank! Time to pass the fuck out!

Unexpected, beautiful morning view. Delta Co.

Tarek and 350SB, Delta Colorado

Saturday Morning. So now its time for me to find out how im going to get Denver Colorado airport.  I want to get to Sardis Raptor center on sunday, but REALLY need to make it to work at 7am monday at Bellingham airport.  Denver is 7 hours away, and there isn’t much in Delta thats for sure! There is one rental car company that would cost $400 to get to Denver!!
I decide to call my really close friend Zack Giffin who is from Colorado, and I am very close with his whole family.

This is when it got really crazy.

Turns out he is randomly 1 hour away from me, in some town called Ouray, and its his brother Jeffs wedding THAT NIGHT!!  The whole family and a ton of my friends are down there celebrating, including Sam Giffin my old roommate.  I cant believe it, I even got an invitation, but of course wasn’t planning on flying to Colorado for it. So i decide to rent a car, and head on down!!  I say farewell to my new wizard, pilot, badass, friend PJ, and hit the road.  Zack calls and asks me to grab the kegs for the reception, which is on my way, and offers pays for the rental car. Score.  When I showed up the surprise was unbelievable.  Sam had no clue, even though I had called, and the rumor had started spreading that Tarek randomly flew a helicopter to Colorado, and was bringing the beer. His face was priceless! The wedding was located in the most beautiful green mountain setting with snow covered peaks, and a river raging next to the huge farm they rented.  Unbelievable wedding, and really fun party.  We partied our asses off, all night, and I slept in a small tent in the woods.

The Giffins. Brian, Holly, Sam, Zack, Jeff and Max.

Jeff and Max's reception setting. Ouray Colorado.

These guys know how to party! Jeff and Max getting heaved in chairs.

I really tried hard to find a ride to Denver, which was now 8 hours away, and needed to get to the airport early enough to catch the last flight on Sunday night.  Luckily a new friend was driving up early in the morning, and would give me ride! So I peeled myself up after 2 hours of sleep, and Chrissy followed me to return my rental car.  When I returned the car, I jumped online and booked a ticket to Seattle from Denver at 8pm, and reserved a bus ride to Bellingham airport. The plane ticket ended up costing next to nothing! The drive across Colorado was soooo spectacular, through deep canyons, and up in the mountains where the famous ski areas are.  I was revisiting a place I had been 12 years ago, before I moved to Washington, and was pretty much what influenced me to move to the mountains.  It was so great!

Drive to Denver

Drive to Denver, and Krissy's Tiarra.

Epic Drive

So I make it to the DEN at 6pm, which is right on schedule.  I’m flying standby, which means I can only board if there is an extra seat.  When it comes time to board, the flight fills up due to another flight cancellation, bumping me off my flight.  No flight to Seattle.  So im stuck in Denver for the night it seems,  but the CSA says there is a flight to Anchorage, AK that lands at 2am.  Then a flight to Seattle at 2:40am from Anchorage that will get me to Seattle at 7am…..sign me up!!  I say fuck yeah, and return to the airport bar to prepare for my trip to Alaska, because its never guaranteed I will get on the flight back. I call work, and switch shifts with my friend who was starting at noon. I switch my bus ticket to 8am (luckily) so that I will get to Bellingham airport an hour before work.  When its time to board the plane, it looks full, but I prayyyyyed so hard, and was the LAST person to get on!! Im willing to be stuck in AK if need be, not Denver.  Turns out its summer solstice, so the sun was up most of the night and I had a clear view of mountain peaks poking through the cloud layers.  Spectacular!!  It was cool to land in Alaska, because it makes it the third time I set foot there, even though this was just for a couple minutes, and flying over.  I love flying in general so why the hell not!!

2:00am in Alaska

The views were worth taking the long detour

Sea of Clouds

San Juan Islands from around 40,000 ft.

Amazing San Juan Islands

The flight home was mellow, I had the whole row of seats to lay down on.  Got two hours of sleep, not much, but it helped a bit.  I definitely havent eaten much this whole time, so I was getting pretty famished.
Landed in Seattle on time, and straight to my bus. The bus ride was smooth, and made it to Belingham airport at 10:30am.  Perfect timing. Then it was right to work for 8 hours, and it was really rough, I was tired.  But the adrenaline from this whole trip was definitely keeping me going.  I had just got back from a VERY valuable helicopter flight (with a Wizard pilot), one of my best friends family festival in Colorado, and a quick trip to Alaska, Life is GOOD!!!!!!!!


Good to be home....Mt. Baker and Shuksan saying Hello.

GPS Track of trip on Google Earth

33 Responses to “Bellingham Wa. to Montrose Co.”

  1. Hundewanderer December 22, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    What a great opportunity and great photos Tarek!


  2. Danny Lockwood January 3, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    Awesome adventure, priceless experience, and rad story Tarek! I’m so stoked for you!

  3. Sana January 16, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    Love your pic, so professional! Freestyle in a red tshirt and with no hat we see your handsome face and beautiful smile! Really!!

  4. Tim February 8, 2012 at 6:32 pm #


  5. Elliot L. February 16, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    This is so awesome! What an amazing experience and an incredible chance to log some free hours! Cheers my friend!

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