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Go remote: 48 hours in far-flung Adak

  • Author:
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published October 4, 2014

ADAK -- This Aleutian island is 1,200 miles from Anchorage, and it might as well be in a different country, but a mileage ticket on Alaska Airlines makes a trip affordable. There's more than enough to explore in the island's abandoned military infrastructure -- which once housed 6,000 troops -- and thousands of acres of tundra to keep visitors entertained for a long weekend.

Thursday

Captain Pat Kelly Air Terminal, 5 p.m.: Walk off your Alaska Airlines jet onto a rusty ramp and into the dimly lit terminal. Inside is the police chief, who pitches in with bag inspection, plus the guy who rents cars, the city manager and former state legislator and Adak booster Clem Tillion, who is waiting to fly out on the jet you flew in on. Give 89-year-old Tillion a few minutes to warm up and he'll tell you the story about that time he cut off a Japanese soldier's head in World War II and brought it back to the U.S. as a trophy.

Sweeper Cove, 7 p.m.: Take a walk down the street through one of Adak's largely abandoned clusters of homes to one of the island's pristine sand beaches. Take a dip in the chilly Bering Sea and enjoy some of the Pendleton whiskey, a favored beverage of Adak residents, that you brought with you.

Amchitka Circle, 9 p.m.: Fire up the diesel heater in the vacation home that belongs to a couple from Texas, who are friends with one of your friends, then cook your dinner of pasta and sausage on a fully functioning electric stove. Forgot that the water was already shut off for the winter? That's fine: Walk a few doors down to the rental unit where the guy who exports crab to Dubai is staying. His water works.

Friday

Bay Five, 10 a.m.: Just 100 people live in Adak year-round, but that's still enough to keep a Mexican restaurant afloat. Thank God, especially if you're still feeling the Pendleton from the night before. Bay Five may not have Taco King's salsa bar, but it does have large portions and a great hot sauce selection. Buy a breakfast burrito or the enchiladas and top off with the Unexploded Ordnance, which is a Snickers bar fried in something like an egg roll wrapper.

Finger Bay, 12 p.m.: Rent a Chevy truck from Elliot, the guy who apparently rents trucks. It's $150 a day and gas is $6.81 a gallon, but do it anyway because you just flew 1,200 miles to Adak. Drive the dirt road that winds along scenic Finger Bay, which ends in a creek packed with so many pink salmon that you can't see the bottom. Then hike up alongside a waterfall to Betty Lake, where a trail winds above the water's edge.

North barracks, 3 p.m.: Drive your truck to an abandoned military complex at the north end of the island and wander through the empty buildings. There's no power and most windows are boarded up, so bring a flashlight so you can see the dusty furniture in the living quarters, the names and bawdy sayings scrawled on what appears to be the wall of a bar -- "life is a virgin because a bitch is too easy" -- and the stamp requisition forms in the post office. Try to remember to bring a respirator, too, given the piles of insulation lying around and signs with warnings about asbestos.

Adak pet cemetery and national forest, 6 p.m.: On your way back to town, stop by the Adak National Forest, which is actually a cluster of about a dozen spruce trees notable only because there's a sign and because trees are few and far between on the rest of the island. The adjacent pet cemetery features adorable tributes to the deceased cats and dogs of Adak. (The inscription on one: "Forever running on the tundra.") If you have time, visit the nearby bunker with the "seven doors of doom," which is said to have held nuclear weapons.

The Blue Bird, 8:30 p.m.: The famous Aleutian Sports Bar and Grill, or ASBAG, has closed, but if you're lucky -- or friendly -- you'll score an invite to the Blue Bird restaurant after it's officially closed. That's where locals gather for a glass -- or glasses -- of wine, and fresh salmon roe on crackers. You'll hear stories about small-town politics and the teacher who moved to Adak and got lost skiing on 4,000-foot Mount Moffett before finding his way back to town with the help of searchers who turned on the runway lights to lead him home.

Saturday

The Blue Bird, 9:30 a.m.: Return to get breakfast at the Blue Bird, which is run by Imelda, who used to run a club called the Blue Parrot in the Philippines and now lives in Adak with her husband, who's retired from the military. Breakfast burritos are contingent on the owners' supply of tortillas, but if none are available, the breakfast sandwich or Denver omelet should suffice. And you can get a blueberry milkshake before noon.

Port of Adak, 11:30 a.m.: Take your fishing pole to the pier, where one can look into the clear green water to see if any fish are around. Or, score a tour of the M/V Bluefin, a 150-foot craft used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to service tsunami warning buoys.

Clam Lagoon, 2 p.m.: If you've still got energy, hop on a bicycle for a tour around Clam Lagoon, which boasts a population of several dozen basking seals, as well as a section of dirt road sloping down to a rocky beach pounded by waves from the Bering Sea. Stop at one of the large bunkers dug into the side of the hills overlooking the lagoon and pick through the remnants inside, including copies of the Anchorage Daily News from the 1990s and a poster from the hit 1993 film "Gettysburg." It's unlikely anyone will notice if you take one of the soggy sheets from the floor, but if you do, leave something there so the next visitor will have something to find.

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