Nearly 2 weeks from the time we were loading our gear on to the luggage carousel at Raleigh-Durham airport to start our adventure to Kodiak Island, it was time to reverse directions and head back home. We had had an unbelievable adventure, start to finish, far surpassing any and all expectations, but now it was time to return to reality.

Waking up Friday morning, we grabbed a big breakfast from the Best Western’s restaurant and headed to the dockside store fronts to purchase a few mementos and gifts. We also made it a point to connect to some WiFi to check on chronic wasting disease import regulations between Alaska and North Carolina. Thankfully, Alaska is CWD-negative so far and as long as the tupperware tub were explicitly marked with all sorts of license and harvest ticket information, that part of things was seamless. With that information, it was back to the room to pack all our gear, double check our freezing meat in the hotel walk-in freezer, swing by Kodiak Smoking to grab our fish fillets from the day prior, and ride to the airport to catch our 5 PM departure flight back to Anchorage where we would leap frog to Seattle. Because of flying back into the time zones, we would have an overnight layover in Seattle before grabbing our final flight back to RDU. Simple right.

Well, simple stopped just as soon as heaped all our luggage, gun case, and frozen meat boxes into a pile. Holy cow! We had 6 frozen boxes of meat which we weighed individually and scuttled packages of steak and fillets back and forth to make sure each stayed at or under the 50 pound minimum. Add in a big tupperware container holding our 4 Sitka bucks, 2 more pieces of check luggage, a gun case and our 2 carry-on’s (my Kifaru and Dad’s Badlands pack loaded down), and it was an absurd amount of gear. Thankfully, our payload was nothing novel in the Kodiak airport, and the desk attendants were patient as labeled each item and paid the luggage fees…ouch!

With 2 hours to spare, we were sitting in place waiting for the departing flight to board and we would start our journey home.

False.

Once we boarded the flight, we sat on the runway for over 2 hours before we were told to exit the aircraft because there was a mechanical issue that could not be fixed. We were staring at a likely overnight delay until they mentioned the slight possibility that an aircraft mechanic and needed part had just boarded a plane in Anchorage and was inbound to see what he could do about things. That said, the earliest flight out they could feasibly imagine was 11 PM, meaning even if we did get out of Kodiak, we would miss our connection in Anchorage which would also put us behind schedule to make our final flight into Raleigh-Durham.

Thankfully, the Kodiak Airport is an interesting place to spend 10 extra hours of downtime. Everyone has a story to tell and folks were friendly, so we enjoyed the casual banter back-and-forth. An elderly couple who had just sold their commercial salmon fishing boat after 50 consecutive seasons. They were flying down to San Francisco to retire. A couple on their 40th anniversary trip who traveled to Kodiak Island to see sights that their oldest son had experienced as a 20-something year old working in the commercial fishing fleet. A young lady waiting to tell her husband that she was pregnant and overflowing with many stories to tell about her last 4 months spent as an intern working in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Time went quickly and I even bummed a couple cups of boiling water from the desk attendants to re-constitute a couple freeze-dried meals for dinner right there in the terminal.

Finally, the plane was fixed and the signal was given to board again. Alaskan Air had re-booked our connection in Anchorage, which we BARELY made and then we landed in Seattle. With only a slightly longer layover there, we were soon on a flight pointed to RDU and slated to arrive Saturday evening, over 30 hours since we had first started our journey home. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Raleigh-Durham, only 2 of our bags had transferred in the hasty connection in Anchorage, so we drove the hour back to Dad’s house to start organizing a little gear, get a nap and a square meal, and travel back to the RDU airport 8 hours later at 2 AM to pick up the (hopefully still!!!) frozen meat boxes on a later flight that they had to re-route through Dallas.

It is a darn good thing that our travel did not get delayed anymore, because our meat was well into the thawing process when we picked it up after midnight. We swung by a grocery store to purchase 20 pounds of dry ice on the way back to Dad’s house, and hastily sorted and re-packed over 300 pounds of fresh protein into Dad’s deep freeze and into my coolers. Finally, at 4 AM, I had my truck loaded with gear, venison, salmon, and halibut, and began my drive back to Columbus, OH. By noon on Sunday, I was home, nearly 60 hours from the last decent wink of sleep that I had caught.

What a way to end what had been truly a trip-of-a-lifetime!