The Two Alaskas

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Alaska picked an interesting time to put its best foot forward. The temperatures are hovering around 70 degrees, while huge cumulonimbus clouds spend the afternoons going nuclear over the Alaska Range. 

I haven’t seen Denali in weeks. It’s warm enough to sit outside until midnight, if you can stand the northern vampires that descend on you like a 600-Hz mini chainsaw of blood and horror. Slap one, and you’ll leave a memorable blood splatter. 

We’re nearing the Solstice, and as I’ve stated several times on this blog, I’m a bit adverse to the Midnight Sun. I think I’ve traced it back to my childhood in Europe, when parents a little more liberal than mine would allow their children to stay up until the sun set, while my bed time never fluctuated. Regardless of where the sun was on its daily journey, I was in bed at 7 p.m., listening to the sounds of children playing outside my window. 

Today, if I try to lay down and sleep while the sun still is casting a glow into the basement, I’m restless like I was when I was young. 

So I stay up late and write. 

Looking back on a year and a half in Alaska, I find myself having lived out a fine adventure indeed. Even as I admit the many things I did not do, the list of accomplishments I did not…accomplish, I’m flush with memories of remote villages, the smells of diesel and fish in Unalaska, Nome on the day they crowned the youngest-ever winner of the Iditarod, the stillness of an Arctic Circle village at 50 below. 

Journalists get a little deeper than the general tourist experience, and I’ll be forever grateful to the lady who brought me to Alaska, because she understood that I needed to get to know the place more than just the words in the book, “Coming Into the Country.” 

My wife and children had a different experience. They never got to see the two Alaskas. Instead, they spent a year and a half in Anchorage, which is like a cold Seattle. 

They saw moose and bears and spent a memorable few days in Halibut Cove. Cheryl and I spent a sleepless night above the one bar in Cordova, before a day-long salmon-shark fishing expedition. 

We drove to Fairbanks in the spring and saw the Northern Lights during the World Ice Carving Championships, and we soaked in the thermal waters at Chena Hot Springs. 

You can’t live this life and afford it too. That’s the beauty of adventure, of living life to the fullest. My children didn’t get to see all the things I got to see, and if you can imagine what I see on a daily basis as a journalist, well, that’s a good thing for their sake. But I tell them everything else. I relive my experiences for them much the same way my dad relived his adventures for my sisters, my brother and I. 

A year and a half later, Alaska still is a place of mystery. No less intriguing to me than it was before I ever set foot here.

 

There are millions of miles of wilderness, countless villages to see, and a handful of people I still want to meet. 

As someone told me today, “You now have a place to stay whenever you want to come back to Alaska.” 

And while that’s true, when you come to Alaska to visit, you see the Alaska with its best foot forward. The place as it was meant to be. The glistening glaciers and the slap of a big halibut against the decking on a fishing boat, the slow pull of a diesel train leaving for Talkeetna or points beyond. 

This was my chance to see the real Alaska, and from what I can tell, I liked it. 

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