A mini tour of the Aleutian Islands

Yesterday was a long travel day to get from Dayton to Dutch Harbor. I had three flights. First, I flew from Dayton to O’Hare, which was a short and pleasant flight. Tortas Frontera, a restaurant in Terminal 3, lets you preorder food online and designate a pickup time. I ordered food the day before so that I would have a meal on my 6.5 hour flight to Anchorage. I picked up a chipotle chicken torta to eat at the gate and a salad for later (I’m trying to enjoy as many leafy greens while I can). The food was absolutely delicious, and I’d recommend it to anyone travelling through O’Hare.

My delicious torta. Pretty dang delicious for airport food.

My delicious torta. Pretty dang tasty for airport food.

The flight to Anchorage was long, but relatively uneventful. I had a window seat, which was wonderful, especially when flying over the mountains. The geomorphology nerd in me came out as I spotted beautiful braided rivers, oxbow and kame kettle lakes, horns, bowls, arêtes, cols, and glaciers from above. They were even better on my following flight to Dutch Harbor, which I’ll come back to in a minute.

During boarding I saw that a GEOTRACES scientist was on my flight, so I was relieved to know someone on my flight to Dutch Harbor. When I deplaned in Anchorage I searched for my departure gate on the list, but didn’t find it. After walking towards the smaller gates, I found two scientists from GEOTRACES, who told me where we had to go. We had to leave the secure area of the airport to go to a tiny gate. We were weighed with all of our carry-ons, and boarded a 30 person plane with propellers. After boarding the plane, our flight attendant passed out ear plugs. When the plane revved up, I could feel the propellers rumbling beneath my feet. We flew an hour to King Salmon, where we landed to refuel. We then flew two hours to Dutch Harbor.

The sky above Dutch Harbor was blanketed with thick, puffy white clouds. As we descended through the clouds for landing, there was no land beneath us, only ocean. The plane pulled back up above the clouds and the flight attendant informed us that we missed our landing and would reattempt landing again in 10 minutes after giving the conditions time to clear. On our second attempt, we descended through the clouds and a mountain was right outside my window. Apparently the plane needs to get close to the mountain to land, but we couldn’t land because the cross winds were too strong. The flight attendant then informed us that we would fly 30 minutes to Cold Bay, where we would refuel and wait for the conditions to clear.

When we landed in Cold Bay, it was drizzling. Cold Bay is a tiny town, with a giant landing strip because it was built for the armed forces during WWII. As you can see in the picture above, the town is not big.  Regardless, I was happy to get off the plane and stretch my legs because the seats on the plane were not comfortable. After 15 minutes, one of the pilots informed us that we would be returning to Anchorage. Everyone was upset, especially the Ukrainian who sat next to me, because he was missing his commercial fishing ship and would be unable to work until the ship returned to port. We grudgingly filed back on the plane for our 2 hour and 45 minute plane ride back to Anchorage. After landing the flight crew informed us we were rebooked for a 3:50 flight the following day.

Arriving in Anchorage at 10:30 PM without hotel reservations turned out to be stressful, because most of the hotels were booked. After a few attempts we found a hotel with two rooms, and they sent a shuttle. The shuttle took a long time to pick us up, because the driver came across an unconscious man in the middle of the road on his way to the airport. After checking in, we walked to Denny’s for some food at 12:30 AM. We were exhausted, but hungry.

At continental breakfast this morning, I ran into a third GEOTRACES scientist. He arrived at 1:30, and got the last hotel room available in Anchorage. Since it is peak travel season, most of the rooms are booked, which puts us at a disadvantage, especially if we cannot land in Dutch Harbor again tonight.

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