30 October, 2020

Neoteric Hovercraft Adventure on Alaska’s Yukon River

 Approximately 450 miles northwest of Anchorage, you’ll find the Anvik River Lodge, the only lodge on the entire 120+ mile Anvik River. Owner Clifford Hickson and his family are now celebrating the 25th season of the most remote fishing lodge in Alaska – and likely in the world.

But Cliff’s sense of adventure expands beyond owning a lodge in the Alaskan wilderness!

 There’s nothing like a hovercraft to expand an already adventurous life. Cliff Hickson gives you a fine example with the story of his recent 750 mile 3-day trip on the Yukon River from Nenana, Alaska to his lodge – his first experience flying a hovercraft.

Left to right: Cliff Hickson, daughter Alyson, wife Cheryl and son Blair.

Cliff’s hovercraft adventure, in his own words …

“Several years ago, while talking to a close friend that operates a surplus military hovercraft in Bethel, Alaska to deliver freight and mail on the Kuskokwim Delta, I became intrigued with the potential applications for our remote operation in Western Alaska.

My wife and I visited a hovercraft shop in Washington and, after spending weeks studying and watching about every video on YouTube associated with flying and operating the hovercraft I decided to get one. I looked at all the typical sites that list them for sale, and ended up finding a used Neoteric Hovercraft in Alaska that we decided to purchase.

After a month in transit it arrived in Anchorage, where I flew to get it and begin a 750 mile trip down the Yukon River to our Anvik River Lodge. I had never actually been on a hovercraft or ever thought about flying one. But due to the time of season and scheduling it became apparent that it would be necessary to bring it down myself. 

Knowing the reputation of the Neoteric Hovercraft I felt confident that it could be an extraordinary  and safe adventure. After all, it only had 18 hours of use!”

Cliff’s Neoteric Hovercraft is a pre-owned model built from a Neoteric Hovercraft kit.

“After determining the distance between villages and calculating fuel consumption, I made a plan and determined my weight and balance. It was fairly simple: I would carry 52 gallons of fuel (353 lbs.) as backup in the event I couldn't fuel up at villages where I planned to stop, myself (220 lbs.), tools and personal equipment, 2 gallons of drinking water and a bucket of fried chicken. Total weight = approximately 707 lbs. Incidentally, the entire trip took about 160-170 gallons of fuel.

With the help of a friend, I then drove to the town of Nenana (approx. 233 miles north of Anchorage) located on the Nenana River and went to the boat ramp. I still had not yet flown a hovercraft, so I loaded about a third of my gear and fuel and took it for a spin - literally.

After about 10 minutes practicing getting over the hump and maneuvering, I loaded another third of my gear and gave it a go. It was a bit more cumbersome, but doable. I took it once more around the patch and returned to the ramp and loaded the rest of my gear.”

Practice makes perfect: Cliff makes trial runs before he begins his 750 mile trip.

“I thanked my buddy for the ride and embarked on my Yukon River trip about 9:00 a.m. on September 2, 2020 and the day was bright and clear. It took me a while to get over that hump, and luckily I found a flat gravel bar to give me some lift. Once I was up I stayed on it until it was time to refill the 12-gallon fuel tank. I had to run about 6500 rpm as my typical cruise speed, possibly due to the replaced tachometer maybe not calibrated for the engine. That jury is still out.”

Cliff launches his hovercraft on the Yukon River and the adventure begins.

“My first fuel stop was the village of Tanana on the Yukon River. It was late afternoon and I had earlier arranged for fuel in all the villages where I stopped. When I arrived I learned the store owner and his wife also had a hovercraft, so I found camaraderie there along with fuel and conversation on hovercraft operation. That night was a hard freeze and he graciously allowed me to stay in a vacant cabin located by the river.”

Two hovercraft on shore at the village of Tanana.

“The next morning, I fueled up and departed early, around 9:00, due to the cold temps and moisture. Once it started to warm there were numerous fog banks, and because I had a GPS with good detail I pushed on. I went through one particular bank that reduced my visibility significantly, so I was barely hovering and following close to the bank when I came upon a stump. Unable to steer around it I found myself perched up on it and at a very muddy location.”

In the dense fog, Cliff’s hovercraft gets stuck on a tree stump.

“That was when I figured out the great design and importance of the Neoteric Hovercraft’s quick and easy skirt removal and repair. Of course, I had to empty the hovercraft and move it back to a flat spot to gain mobility again. I learned a good lesson there. 

As I continued further down the river towards my next fuel stop, I passed through incredibly beautiful wildlife refuges where moose and wolves could be seen along the river. The wildlife and view were exquisite. During the trip, sunset was 11:30 p.m. and sunrise 4:30 a.m. and it was never totally dark, so there was plenty of time to enjoy the view. I consider myself very fortunate to be one the few people who are lucky enough to experience such wonders.

I finally made it to the Yukon River Lodge where I was able to get more fuel, and visit with the owner who was very helpful. And I met several other villagers who were also headed downriver for a memorial service.

This day was fairly rainy and cold and for parts of the trip I had to deal with wind and 1 ft. waves. I pressed on until just before dark, when I found a gravel bar with a huge pile of accumulated driftwood and I built a pretty sizable fire that I kept going all night. It allowed me to stay warm and dry at least on half my body most of the time.” 

Cliff spends the night on a sandbar in the wilderness along the Yukon River.

“The next day I continued to the village of Nulato where I met an old friend who agreed to get me fuel from the local station. The villages along the river are very careful to allow anyone to enter because of the current Covid-19 pandemic. But I got fuel, and he also gave me some hot coffee, some Pilot Crackers and fish strips - a staple in the villages, and a finer meal can’t be found!”

Cliff’s hovercraft serves as a snack bar for his Pilot Crackers and fish strips!

The riverfront at the village of Nulato, where Cliff was warmly welcomed.

“I then continued on for the last leg of the trip to the Village of Anvik. My son Blair and friend / head guide Nick had been asked to bring fuel to the mouth of the river and meet me for the last 75 miles up the Anvik River to our lodge. We met just upriver of the village of Grayling and they had brought more food and fuel. We decided in the interest of weight that they would carry my personal gear and excess fuel.

Now the real adventure begins. Late in the day when we were all heading to the mouth of the Anvik River, an unfortunate situation happened. I was taking the shallow most direct route and they were not able to follow me. I was dipping behind islands and across mud flats, and just at sunset ran out of fuel on the opposite side of the Yukon.

I called on my sat phone and gave my predicament, but while waiting for the guys to show up, fell asleep while drifting in the middle of the river. I thought for sure I would hear the engine of the boat, but when I finally awoke it was almost midnight, and I had drifted about 18 miles past Anvik  I called again and decided that it was best to just wait until the next day. By the way, it was freezing again and I was very cold. 

The next morning, September 5, 2020, the guys showed up and we made the last 75 mile run to the lodge, arriving around 1:00 p.m.. I was happy to get home for a nap!” 

Cliff was welcomed home by everyone at Anvik River Lodge – including the wildlife!

“I’m interested in the possibility of a larger hovercraft as I’m exploring the potential of a new experience for our guests. I’m experienced in building airplanes and boats, so I can apply these skills to repairing this hovercraft. The last aircraft that I rebuilt made the cover of “Vintage Aircraft Magazine” (June 2002). I would probably be interested in a kit that I could build myself.

 I did get our new skirt and installed it, then my wife and I took about a 80 mile trip up the Anvik River and it was great. This was the day before we got sick. At the end of hunting season the last hunters we had exposed us to the Covid virus and the entire lodge got it. We are all healed now, but there was a period of recovery for a couple of weeks. It’s an ugly virus, and we are glad to put it behind us.”

Adventure is nothing new to Cliff. He’s owned avocado farms in Florida, and owns homes in the Florida Keys and Bahamas, which he’s in the process of repairing after they were damaged in Hurricane Dorian.

He’s an aircraft pilot, a ship captain and owns a 65 ft. trawler. He was an Olympic swimmer and a surfer. He taught himself carpentry and at age 21 he moved to Alaska to experience a frontiersman’s life. There, he built school houses from kits that were transported by ship along the coast. On one of his trips, in the cold Bering Sea, a storm caused 30 ft. waves and his boat sank. The captain drowned, but Cliff and four others managed to get to shore. The incident caused lifelong damage to his feet.

But regardless of his venturesome background, Cliff says his hovercraft trip “was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done – enjoyable beyond words!”

And his wife Cheryl adds, "Not only was this the first time he'd ever been on a hovercraft, he'll be 66 years old this month and he had open heart surgery in late January of 2019. So, holy cow, nothing will slow him down!"

The Anvik River Lodge: Home sweet home for Cliff and his Neoteric Hovercraft.

We at Neoteric congratulate Cliff for his daring undertaking, and we thank him for sending us the details of his adventure. Reading the story of his highly unusual hovercraft delivery was enjoyable and helps us to imagine the experience. We’re quite pleased that you happened upon a Neoteric Hovercraft and were successful in flying it 750 miles home to your lodge!

 Clifford Hickson visited Neoteric Hovercraft on Nov. 6, 2020 and met with the company President Chris Fitzgerald.

Dreaming of an adventure of your own?

 Launch your dream with a Test Flight or Flight Training on a Neoteric hovercraft!

And check out Anvik River Lodge