Amazingly we awoke from our fun night at the Bearfoot Bar (/Hotel/Liquor Store/Restaurant/Grocery) feeling great. We knew we didn't have too long to fly today and the weather was pretty decent for the area (read: broken clounds at a few thousand feet) so we weren’t in too big a hurry to leave. Plus, we had to wait until 11am for the Bearfoot Grocery to open.
In the meantime, finding someone at Frosty Fuels to bother to pick up their phone and show up to refuel us made the time go quickly
In one of the many conversations we had last night, we spoke with a pilot from the small airline serving Cold Bay (Penn Air). This guy, although young, was a true "typical" Alaskan pilot. He was telling us stories about how low they fly and the risks they take, even with passengers aboard. Just that day they ended up fogged in on an approach in a bay and had to make a steep turn to get out of there
We hadn’t flown VFR or without a flight plan since the coast of California, and to do so along the Aleutians over the cold water of the Pacific and Bering Sea wasn’t exactly typical for me. But then again, neither was the weather. And when would I find myself again with the opportunity to fly these islands. So off we went.
It was amazing. The volcanoes jut out so abruptly from the shore
The cloud bottoms were getting progressively lower as we neared Adak. Still, we were confident that we’d have no problem staying comfortably VFR. We’d been studying the approach into the airport and watching and re-watching videos about how to fly it
The winds were strong and the surrounding area hilly, but we decided to make the necessary pass in the pattern and land into the wind. This put us over the desolate town of Adak and we saw first hand how expansive it was. To think almost all the buildings were vacant and only 300 or so people lived in this sprawling complex was quite bizarre. Johannes put Maggie down perfectly and we taxied in the strong winds passed the abandoned control tower to where we saw a couple other planes of the group parked. It was ridiculously windy as tied Maggie down and unpacked
Next thing we knew up rolled a Suburban driven by the Swiss guys in the Pilatus to pick us up. We were also only about 15 minutes ahead of our friends, the Brüning family, in the King Air. We went from being isolated to needing two trips to get everyone to the “hotel”. The “hotel” in Adak is run by the “real estate company” and they serve up entire old homes instead of hotel rooms. We were set up in town homes, which was quite a bizarre concept. We were staying in what the home of a military family. It was a bit odd. All around us were vacant homes. The real estate company said the town homes were selling for all of $15,000 - $20,000, and that for the entire two to four units. Crazy.
There was one general store and a restaurant near us that served as “reception” for the “hotel”. It was so weird to see an old Navy basketball court converted into a general store, the abandoned telephone booths, the playground toys littered about
It was fun to see others in the group and exchange a few more ideas. We ran by our thoughts on how we were going to tackle the upcoming days and they were met with reluctant approval. Contrary to what these turboprops had to fly, we wanted to fly low. This would keep us away from the dreaded typical strong jet streams and keep us below icing levels. The last thing we needed was to pick up ice climbing to a high altitude and not able to lose it in the sub-zero temperatures. That’d slow us down and make a tricky situation even hairier. Everyone thought we were crazy by even taking this on, but in considering the winds and the freezing levels with concerns for icing, folks agreed that flying low was the best way to go
It’s difficult to accurately describe my mix of emotions. On the one hand the next day and the day after were going to be the culmination of months of thought, lots of preparation, and to see if my distress was warranted. We would be flying in unforgiving territory and pushing the endurance limits of the plane if we battled too strong headwinds or ice. On the other hand, it was important to concentrate on the present. It was so interesting to be in such a unique place. I mean, who goes to Adak, Alaska?! We were on the last civilian populated island in the US. We’d come all the way up from the southern tip of Alaska and were near the end of the archipelago. In doing so we’d again traversed the same width of the continental 48 States. It was cold, windy, desolate, and extremely intriguing.
There were so many questions and uncertainties. I was very anxious, to say the least. But the weather was great. Dietmar and Veronika, the South African couple flying the Silver Eagle, took a head start and were already camping that night on Attu before flying onward to Vladivostok to refuel
What a crazy day. Leaving the Bearfoot Inn. Seeing Whales. Flying low and with good visibility in what is almost always a foggy & misty devil’s kitchen. Enjoying dinner with some of the others to trade stories. And Adak! Such a unique place. We decided that if possible we’d go exploring tomorrow before leaving for Attu. Although Attu was tops on our mind, Adak was too interesting to pass up without digging a little deeper.
Adak: Whales en route to a modern ghost town
Saturday, September 07, 2013
Adak, Alaska, United States