A gamble after Gambell

I stepped off the plane, more tired than I should have been for a travel day. My hypnotic, trance-like state of travel was instantly broken by the ringing noise as my ears adjusted to the cacophony that was the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage. Sirens blared, lights flashed, and the engines of the Boeing 737-400 Combi aircraft idled at a dull roar, as we deplaned outside onto the tarmac. I wasn't in Gambell anymore.


The inside of the airport was slightly less assaulting, but just as busy. I wove around passengers in the gate area and walked briskly to the nearest men's room, where every urinal was taken. Minutes later I checked the monitors for departing Seattle flights, the closest one had left a half hour ago. I was sure there'd be more. Walking further down the hall I found an empty row of seats across from a gate where people were lazily sitting around waiting for the aircraft to arrive. I dumped my backpack, laptop bag, and carry on, greedily taking up half the row of seats.  A quick check on my phone showed the flight loads looked oversold all day to Seattle, so I knew I wasn't going anywhere soon. Facebook notifications began lighting up my phone, so I logged on and looked at my news feed. The first item on my news feed was from the ABA Rare Bird Alert:


The accompanying photo was clearly a Eurasian Sparrowhawk, which would be the second time one had been seen in Adak, and this time the photos were not questionable at first (or second) glance. I scanned through the comments discussing the ID and I wondered how long it would stay on Adak. My train of thought was interrupted as a voice came over the speaker: "We apologize for the short delay, and are currently waiting for our plane to arrive before we begin boarding for Adak..."


I couldn't believe it. My stomach did a somersault. Could I... Wait a second, this wasn't the plan. I needed to get home to Seattle, and then to Texas for Kevin's wedding. If I could... What if...


I picked up the phone to make a few phone calls, and to check the weather on Adak for Sunday. If I could switch my standby ticket I was using for my Seattle flight and go to Adak instead, I would be the only person to be able to chase this bird. Something inside me pushed me forward, calling me to go to Adak. Part of it was the possibility of re-finding this bird, and some of it was making a split-second decision I knew I would regret at the end of the year, if I didn't try. I knew that re-finding a migratory raptor would be hard, but my wanderlust burned within and I couldn't sit at the airport all day. I had to get to Adak. Phone calls complete, it cost me $.38 to change my ticket- I put it on my credit card.


To be continued...


This excerpt from Christian Hagenlocher's upcoming book My Life in Birds is a brief preview of the full account of his trip to Adak, birthplace of the winds. Stay tuned for another excerpt, photos, and blog posts from Alaska! 

Christian HagenlocherComment