(Author’s note: a few years ago I went to Alaska with my son Jesse and we attended a Bear Defense Class taught by Alaskan friends Sam Naramore and Steve Nelson)
“Historically Alaska is a place that has attracted those who are fed up with conventionality” Bill O’Reilly
I’m telling you don’t do it. If you do you are probably going to be sorry. So you are in the hunting and fishing, hiking, and I love the wilderness crowd and you think you want to go to Alaska. Maybe like me you have spent much of your life thinking about, reading about, and wondering what it is like in Alaska. As a kid I poured over hunting and fishing magazines showing big bears, big salmon and big mountains, and I read anything I could find about the last frontier.
So like I told you last time we met here, I got invited up to the 49th state by some dudes in the Alaska Department of NaturalResources. By the way, for those that noticed my absence, I hope someone told your local editors that I was up there, those of you that follow me on Facebook or Instagram would have known where I was. Don’t follow me? Your humble outdoor scribe? For shame, look for Larry Case on Facebook, and Guns and Cornbread on Instagram, OK, I forgive you.
So after attending a bear defense class with Alaska DNR and several other agencies, (you will be hearing more on this later) my son Jesse and I set out to discover as much of Alaska as time would allow. Here is a news flash for you, there ain’t enough time. The first thing I will tell you that you are not going to believe about Alaska is that it is big.
Now pilgrims, there is big down here in the lower 48, and then there is Alaska big. How big? Alaska is 663,267 square miles, twice as big as Texas (sorry Texans), one fifth the size of the lower 48 states. If you are there for one week or two, what you can see of it is a drop in the bucket. So here are some of the things you didn’t know about Alaska and were afraid to ask.
Big mountains are everywhere you look. As soon as you get off the airplane you will immediately be entranced, spellbound, and captivated by the sight of large, looming peaks all around you. For those of us in the east, I mean way bigger than the Appalachians. The mountains appear dark and all have snow on them, snow, in June. It dawned on me while I was there that this where Bob Ross, the painting show guy on PBS, this is where he learned to paint mountains. They look exactly like the ones in his paintings.
These mountains cause all kinds of problems for the first time visitor. For the first three or four days you are almost in a hypnotic state as you continually do what I came to call the “Alaskan Spin”. You stand in one place and slowly pivot around gazing at the mountains with your mouth open. Everywhere you look you are seeing a postcard or maybe a picture in National Geographic. It’s hypnotic and frankly dangerous; you are just not able to keep your eyes on the road while driving. Driving in Alaska, there is another thing to tell you about.
Everyone drives crazy in Alaska. This is a common theme we heard while there. In truth I don’t think it was that bad. Sure, the locals call Route 1 south of Anchorage the “highway of death” but I didn’t see that. The tourists, like me, may say the locals drive crazy and all the locals definitely think the tourists drive crazy. I think what causes most of the trouble goes back to the mountains.
Tourists get on Route 1 and head down the Kenai Peninsula. They are immediately confronted with the aforementioned mountains. The head swivel mouth open thing starts, they are not driving very fast, they are afraid of missing something like the odd Dall sheep or moose. Meanwhile behind them is a guy from Eagle River that just wants to get down on the Kenai River and salmon fish, so now the fun begins.
In summer it never gets dark! Maybe you have heard of this, and I am not making this up. We were there at the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Due to Alaska’s location on the earth, in the summer months the amount of daylight hours is long. The sun is going to come up around three thirty or four o’clock in the morning and at eleven at night it will look like it is four in the afternoon down here in lower 48. Even when it gets dark, it’s not really dark, more like twilight.
Unaccustomed tourists like me, used to going to bed with the chickens, are in big trouble. I don’t think I got used to it the whole time we were there.
Me: “Man! I am bushed! What time is it? Must be 11 pm!
Alaskan local: 4:30……
The official Alaskan tennis shoe is the Xtra Tuff rubber boot. If you are going to get off the sidewalk while you are in Alaska, get a pair of these boots. Everyone wears these boots in Alaskaat least in the summer, fishermen, fisherwomen, construction workers and hunters. I think these boots originated for fishermen but everyone seems to wear them. If you want to not look like a tourist and fit into the local crowd buy a pair of Xtra Tuf’s as soon as you get there. (I did)
So, again, don’t go to Alaska. Why? Because you might end up staying. Alaska is big, beautiful, wild and unlike anywhere else in the world. Get on a plane, get you some Xtra Tuf’s and see for yourself.