how 25000 frequent flyer miles bought me an adventure

adak, ak

in august 2006 my friend tprophet and i went to adak island, alaska. this place is located in the western aleutian islands, and it's so remote that google maps can't find it: ask it for adak and it shows you something completely wrong ( gets it right, though.). here is a link to the right place, if you're looking for a map -- but there isn't much to see.

until 1997, this 280-square-mile island used to house a full us navy airbase (NAF Adak), supporting around 5000 people at one point. in addition to the airport, there were also facilities dedicated to ocean signal processing. (more history here.) housing wasn't just standard barracks, either: they also built hundreds of houses in large, suburban-style subdivisions; schools; rec centers; even a mcdonald's.

and then the navy left, abandoning most of the buildings, cars, and one of the largest airports in the aleutians. now, around a hundred people live there, and the town is located on land now owned entirely by an alaska regional native corporation named the aleut corporation. recently, it's been designated as the location for the $1 billion SBX-1 radar platform, part of the DoD's ballistic missile defense system. in fact, the SBX itself was supposed to be off the coast of adak by the time we were there; but it's apparently still in hawaii.

needless to say, the exploration opportunities presented were numerous.

even though it's in alaska, adak is pretty far south, so the weather is mild. when we were there, it was around 45-55F 24 hours a day. however, one weather feature is fairly notable: the wind. during the winter, it's not uncommon for adak to see winds in excess of 110 mph; when we were there, there was almost always a steady to strong breeze. it's also quite wet and foggy.

getting on or off of adak is not easy. it's a three-hour flight from anchorage; alaska airlines flies there twice a week, half-filled with cargo. (incidentally, this means everything there is incredibly expensive: we spent $32 for an 18 pack of rainier beer.) on "plane days", it's normal for over half of the current population of the island to be at the airport -- working at the airport/airline, waiting for cargo, meeting people, or getting on or off the plane. on days when the plane can't land due to weather, it fucks up everyone's life. we had the opportunity to experience this firsthand: our first plane out got cancelled, and we were stuck there for an extra two days.

so here are the photos. warning: there are many.

"adak outside": what it looks like when you're not crawling around moldy old buildings

general outside: mostly outdoor photos; beautiful landscapes against grey skies; abandoned streets

adak wildlife: eagles, seals, plants

the house: we rented a duplex in one of the former officer-housing subdivisions

"adak inside": what it looks like when navy buildings die

building 10501, naval ocean processing/surveillance: two layers of rusting barbed wire fence didn't keep us out

adak high school: housing many of adak's existing services, but still largely empty

hangouts: off-the-beaten path cabins, small clubs, party areas

building 42449, navy barracks: fairly modern; totally ruined, toxic due to mold

explosives storage facility: three layers of barbed wire and a guard tower

the radio shack: so dangerous, they closed it well before they left adak

building 10404: "through these portals walk the finest communicators"

the heat shop: now-closed bar/restaurant

bowling alley/rec center: under construction

the storage hangar: a cool-looking airplane hangar filled with unexpected goodies

radome control building: that's all i know about this place

house 257: we went inside one of the abandoned, older houses

building 10641: one of the most recently built buildings

south central/anchorage/whittier

we stopped in anchorage on the way back. from there, we drove to whittier, ak, for more exploration and silliness.

whittier buckner building: fucked-up destruction, immature graffiti, dangerous things falling on your head

anchorage: a few shots here and there

whittier general: a tourist trap and port


on the way to alaska, i stopped in seattle and hung out for a few hours.