We wake early, as we do every day. Usually we crawl into our sleeping bags by nine to get out of the wind that comes up after dinner. This leaves us awake in our tents at first light, dozing and reading for some hours as we hope for the morning sun to burn off the mist.
Like most of the other mornings, it’s misty but not really raining. The inside of my rainfly is beaded with moisture from the night. I’m laying on my crinkly Therm-a-Rest listening for the rustle of Ryan’s Tyvek tent footprint to let me know he’s awake.
Our charter flight is set to arrive at noon, so we have six hours to break camp and pack. But the project doesn’t take nearly that long, so we’re moving slowly, deliberately.
We’ve eaten all of our oatmeal and granola, and even finished the instant rice approximating rice pudding with powdered milk and raisins, so breakfast today is the last of our ramen.
We dawdle, stuffing sleeping bags but leaving the tents to air dry.
As a farewell rite, we circumnavigate the island one more time. The mountains are caught in wisps of cloud that drift and reveal one sharp peak at a time. The gulls and gannets wheel from their cliffs in an impressive convoy that reaches down to the east beach, where they pick seaweed for nests.
We pull the shrimp pot, hauling in our daily three pounds of shrimp and prawns: today’s live catch is a present for Bonnie.
Ashore, we detach the motor, deflate the boat, dissassemble.
It’s surreal to break camp in expectation of a plane. Nothing is different from any other day but our preparations. The weather is decent, so we have no reason to expect a delay. But we’re out here on the same beach where we’ve lived for days, gradually gathering our gear back to its original six totes and three packs, lined up on the pebbles by the rising tide.
Ready an hour early, I stretch out against a rock and read, ebook on my phone, USB cable running to my fold-out solar panel, harvesting the weak daylight. The marine radio is on; the pilot should hail us on channel 16 when he gets close.
Right on time, the radio squawks, a motor hums, wing lights flash over a mountain pass. The Beaver circles once, descending, and skims on its pontoons to where Rick is waiting in the tideline to catch and steady it.
The pilot balances the weight of our gear into the plane’s tiny tail: outboard motor, extra gas, deflated dinghy, totes, fishing poles. We board last, glancing back at the beach to verify there’s nothing forgotten. And we’re off, doors closed, earplugs in, no change in sensation as we transition from water to air.
We look down on the two hills of our island, the muskegs by Fish Lake, the length of Solomon Railroad. Our pilot circles over the glaciers at the head of the bay. Then we fly south, over fields and rivers of glacier, staring down at cerulean pools, crevasses, rotting icebergs melting into other bays.
Glaciers give way to rivers, ocean, steep hills in coniferous green, rock islands with crashing waves. And then familiar sights: column point at the mouth of Lisianski Inlet, Bear Creek, our cabin at Sunnyside, Pelican’s harbor with its float plane dock.
Where morning found us in tents on a beach hundreds of miles from anywhere, by evening I’m teaching my little cousins the basic positions of ballet, which devolves quickly to jumping and twirling around in socks on the boardwalk. Inside, Bonnie plies us with food and lets us take real hot showers.
We’re not all the way home for a while yet, but we’re back to the warm and familiar, family around, and a cabin with a fireplace tonight.