Alaska Is No Longer The Last Frontier
Alaska: Vast and Extreme
Alaska is vast, extreme, beautiful, and bountiful. The cultural history is starkly different than the rest of the United States, combining native Alaskan and Russian influences not often seen in the Lower 48 (as Alaskans call the continental United States). Fine restaurants look like trophy rooms of the upper class, with moose, caribou and elk heads hanging on the walls, overseeing your dining experience.
Foods that seem familiar are different. Alaskan blueberries, for example, are nearly twice the size as mainland blueberries and have tougher, chewier skin. In Michigan we eat Chinook salmon from the Great Lakes, it doesn’t compare to eating a fresh Pacific King. It’s even better when you have caught it yourself.
After three visits to Alaska, each visit has brought new discoveries and new places to explore. Before I’ve even departed, I’ve already created a list of where I want to go next time. Before I return, my list is longer than I could possibly accomplish in one trip. My curiosity about Alaska is bottomless.
I spend most of my time in Alaska on the water. My happy place is on a frigid Alaskan river with a fishing pole in my hand. I have no desire to stay in a fancy resort with guests dressed in evening wear; I’m most at home in a fishing lodge with people who don’t blink when I stroll around in my snow pants and long underwear.
In Alaska, I’ve learn survival tactics that becomes a metaphor for enduring the challenges and tediousness of my everyday life. Because I spend so much time on the water, they are usually related to not drowning, which, for many of us, describes how we often feel.
If you spend enough time on a river, eventually you will fall in. When you do, protect what is most important: your head and your heart. Tuck yourself into a ball and let the current take you to shore. Don’t panic; just relax. You will get there.
If you spend enough time on a frozen lake, eventually you will fall through the ice. When you do, your reflex will be to bring your arms in to yourself, but don’t. Reach out – with both arms – as fast as you can to keep yourself from going under.
When on the ocean, you are less likely to go overboard if you maintain three points of contact. Be connected not one, not two, but three different ways at all times. Two feet and a hip. A hip, a hand, and a foot. Two hands and one foot. Whatever the combination is, you are far more likely to stay aboard with three sources of stability.
More Explorer Than Tourist
In Alaska I feel more like an explorer than a tourist. I see mountain passes and icebergs few people travel to because getting there can be difficult and uncomfortable. In high elevations, our lungs sometimes struggle to breathe with less oxygen.
Highways, where they exist, are sometimes closed for hours or days when boulders fall into the road or a moose wanders in front of a vehicle. Where highways don’t go, there are boats, airplanes, and paths that are unreliable because of the harsh Alaskan weather, climate, and terrain.
I never feel lonely in Alaska, even out on an expedition when I am the only human being for miles. I adapt quickly to fewer people and more animals. Less noise and more stillness. Less waiting and more steady, calm progress towards the next fish I catch or eagle’s nest I spot or trail I hike. Going home to my daily reality is the hard part. Re-entry into the atmosphere and environment of my ‘real’ life takes longer than it does for me to acclimate in the first place. I take the lessons I’ve learned, the perspective I’ve gained, and wait, as patiently as I am able, until I can return.