Birders went to Attu at the pleasure of the U.S. government. You needed permission to land there. You needed permission to land and refuel at the halfway point, at the military base on the island of Adak. Putting some rush to an Attu visit in those years was imminent closure of Aleutian military bases. No bases: no fuel, no runway maintenance, no weather information. No trip. The Coast Guard station at Attu eventually was dismantled. People were replaced by technology, satellite navigational aids.
The man who conceived these trips and ran them each year was Larry Balch, a birder from Illinois. I was on his mailing list, receiving a menu of the 1996 trips. Offered were the usual three-week and four-week visits. Of immediate interest to me was the blue-plate special: one week on Attu for two thousand dollars. This was attractive. The three-week package was a five-thousand-dollar buy. Both three weeks and five grand gave me pause. Four weeks? That would have been a sentence, not a trip. I travel poorly at times, developing rough edges when rubbed too often too closely with other travelers. Like another famous island, Alcatraz, there was no escape from Attu. One week sounded just right.
Once signed up, participants received a list of things to bring or not. Proper clothes were important. There was a day on the island when I wore: underwear, long underwear, jeans, wool socks, t-shirt, turtleneck sweater, fleece pullover, parka, rain suit, waterproof mittens with glove liners inside, and a wool cap under a waterproof cap. I controlled my temperature, my notes say, by removing mittens and uncovering my ears.
To be continued