Adak, Alaska: day 5
Thursday, September 10, 2015
My last day on Adak. Our flight leaves tonight at 6 p.m. I eat my last bagel (brought from Anchorage) and then pack my suitcase. Usually I’m ready to go home at the end of a trip. This time, though, I would gladly stay a few more days. Until Sunday, for example, when the next plane leaves. But that’s not in the cards.
Since Shannon has the car, I decide to walk through the two housing subdivisions that are completely abandoned. The Navy spent a lot of money here; money ultimately wasted.
The first subdivision I want to show you was built in the early 1970s. We dubbed it “the Flintstones houses.” On this site maintained by a former soldier stationed on Adak in 1970-1971, I found a photo of these houses arriving by ship.
The houses in this subdivision look to be in good shape. I saw none of the damage evident elsewhere. Rumor has it that they could be made ready for occupancy with relatively little effort. If that’s true, the city of Adak definitely has options should a large employer come to town.
These houses sure are funny-looking. Retro-futuristic. I can’t help but think of Stepford Wives on the tundra.
Just beyond the Flintstones houses is the last subdivision to be built by the Navy.
Oddly enough, it’s in worse shape than any of the others. Some units look like they had major fires. Others have siding missing, no doubt ripped off by a storm.
Slowly the tundra is reclaiming the land. Take at look at the next photo: The moss has already engulfed more than half of the driveway.
Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) is widespread:
As is sorrel (Rumex sp.):
This subdivision has enormous potential as a location for a horror movie. Apparently a movie company was serious about coming to Adak but for some reason it didn’t work out. The logistics are difficult and expensive.
The aftermath of the zombie apocalypse is all around me.
However, I see great beauty amid this desolation, especially as the sun lights up the yellow houses against the backdrop of dark storm clouds.
Check out this short video I made of the “zombie apocalypse” subdivision:
At noon Elaine picks me up for one last outing: rat hunting! She brings along her dog and Imelda’s dogs, and as we drive slowly on the roads on the far side of the airport, they go chasing after rats, real or imagined. With no natural predators other than birds of prey, rats are a problem on Adak. I never see any, but Elaine assures me there are plenty. I do see the holes in the ground: entrances to their burrows. Every now and then the dogs go crazy—a sign that a rat is in the hole. In spite of their best efforts, though, they never catch one.
(Unfortunately, during our rat hunt I inadvertently set the file size on my camera to the lowest setting so all the photos I took are at the lowest resolution, 720 px.)
Elaine then takes me to a cabin she’s leasing for $100 a year. In the Navy days, it was used for recreation—it still has the original sauna. Unfortunately, the structure itself hasn’t stood the test of time very well. The floor is rotten and the walls look too far gone to rescue. Elaine thinks she might be better off tearing it down and building something new. The location of the cabin is stunning, with panoramic views of the mountains, the town, the airport, and the ocean.
It’s hard to say goodbye to Adak when you see a view like this:
Back in town, Elaine takes me to a parking lot near the McDonald’s to show me these bears. They came from a playground that was demolished a while ago They’ve been in this spot for 10 or 15 years now, and the paint is peeling off. Another poignant metaphor of Adak’s past and present.
Elaine drops me off at our house (I’ll see her again at the airport), and Shannon and I finish packing. We take our checked luggage to the airport three hours early to give the TSA folks enough time to process it. Since there are only two flights a week to and from Adak, the airport isn’t staffed full-time. On each flight, there are an Alaska Airlines aircraft mechanic and two TSA agents. The TSA agents set up a portable scanner for passengers, but they don’t have an x-ray machine for luggage so they have to hand-search each checked item as well as all the cargo leaving Adak.
Afterwards, Shannon and I drop off our garbage at the dump, gas the car, and then hang out by the breakwater for a while, watching the sun light up the hills across the water.
The rocks around us are covered with the most amazing lichens. What strange life forms, neither plants nor animals but rather a composite organism of algae or bacteria living symbiotically among the filaments of a fungus. (No, I didn’t know that off the top of my head; I had to look it up.)
After a half hour among the rocks and lichens it’s time to head to the airport. While the Navy-built airfield is large and sophisticated (two runways perpendicular to each allow for allow takeoff and landing no matter what the wind direction is), the terminal building is small and compact.
The rubber rug inside the terminal dates back to the Navy days, “NAS” meaning “Navy Air Station.”
I’m glad Elaine is there so I can say goodbye. She truly made my trip unforgettable. Without her, I wouldn’t have seen half of what I saw. I can’t thank her enough. Elaine, you’ve got a friend for life.
It’s a bumpy takeoff because of the wind, and I have to set my camera to a high ISO to allow for a fast shutter speed and prevent camera shake. For this reason, the photos below are fairly grainy. But it was that or not have photos at all. And I’m glad I have these images because they circle right back to where I started on Sunday: that first photo of Adak emerging from the clouds.
The island on the left is Kagalaska, separated from Adak by the Kagalaska Strait
As we get to the Alaska mainland we gain an hour and dusk comes quickly. Here’s the last photo I take from the plane:
I won’t repeat what a fantastic time I’ve had on Adak. That is abundantly clear from my photos and descriptions. But I do want to thank the wonderful people I met on the island; they made me feel welcome even though I was an outsider.
Elaine: I can’t thank you enough.
And finally Shannon: You’ve made it all possible. Thank you for sharing your love of Adak with me. I hope my photos capture the island the way you’ve wanted it to be captured for so long. I look forward to many more adventures together.