Friday, October 28, 2011

Adak Island

Two weeks ago I spent four days in the town of Adak on Adak Island. The island is one of the more easterly islands in the Aleutian Chain. At one time there was a naval base operating here and a population of 6000 people. Now there's a lot of abandoned buildings and a population of 109.

Caribou hunting is popular and there is a national forest on the island -- it consists of one tree.  During WWII Adak was hopping. The naval base was eventually closed in 1997. Adak isn't known for snow, but for wind and rain and the nearby volcano that occasionally lets loose. Oh, and earthquakes.

Since the base closure most of the town has been abandoned. Many empty houses and military buildings. I was given a tour of one of the empty buildings that in its glory days housed a pizza joint, swimming pool, theatre, library, offices, restaurant and many other. It was amazing to walk through and imagine not only "what was" but also to marvel at what was left behind. It was so interesting to me to see the library that was mostly empty but for a few random books here and there.

There was even a night club!
Looking out from hole in the night club wall.

The town of Adak is small and it's easy enough to cover the town by walking.

From the beach... the burned down warehouse... the school.
Looking at school from the house I stayed at.

The school is a two minute walk from the house. Now that it's dark at 8am and you can't see your hand in front of your face, the walk feels a bit longer. Entire wings of the school are closed off since the student body population no longer merits using all that space. There are two classes in the school: one for the lower elementary grades and one for upper elementary, jr high and high school.

Empty houses

Empty, empty, empty.

Adak topography is tundra and craggy mountains.

Lots of beaches and bald eagles.

The island is pretty in a barren, desolate, King Lear shouting on the heath, kind of way. It's a different Alaska -- not the cruise brochure of lush rainforests, calving glaciers and snow capped mountain grandeur. But it is beautiful.

There are only two flights a week to the island: Sunday and Thursday. On plane days just about everyone on the island shows up at the airport regardless if they're leaving or picking up someone. If you're grounded because of weather, better hope you packed enough food to get you through to the next flight! There is a store on the island but the prices are exorbitant. I packed all my food for four days and brought it with me in a cooler. TSA apparently likes to check coolers full of food.

The TSA agents fly in with each flight to search bags and people leaving on the flight out. They fly down, do their search thing (which this time included giving me a full pat down. In front of the entire town. It was great.) and then fly back to Anchorage with the rest of us. There were only 14 people on my return flight.

In Adak, you have time to check-in to your flight and then go for a walk on the beach before having to board the plane. We even watched our plane fly in while beach combing.

Headed back to town to catch our plane.
My friend Gail, a fellow SERRC employee who was traveling with me this visit, has gold member status on Alaska Airlines. When we boarded the plane the gate agent announced,"We'd like to invite all gold and MVP members to board. Uh, Gail, that's you."
Gail and "her" plane.
Safety seems to be of great concern at the airport. With every flight this vehicle is on stand-by.

It meets the plane upon arrival and follows it down the runway for take off.

Before I left the island I made a new friend in Adak... Margaret Thatcher.

Margaret is 8 months old and weighs 75 pounds. She loves chocolate and shredding bedsheets and riding in the van -- I love her.