This is part III of 49 reasons I love Alaska, the 49th state. If you aren’t exhausted after reading the first 32 reasons, thank you for your loyalty. If you are new, you may want to read part I or part II first.
Bears are flippin’ awesome-sauce. Seeing a bear in the wild is one of the most thrilling experiences you can have in nature, and in Alaska there is always a chance of spotting bears. From the safety of a bus or car, I have seen bears fight wolves, chase squirrels, and roll down a snow bank with childlike glee.
Once, Kristi and I came face-to-face with a black bear on a hiking trail and we did exactly what they tell you to do: we took off running.
34. Bear Spray
If it weren’t for bears, there would be no bear spray. And without bear spray, there’d be no hilarious mishaps – like the guy who peppered sprayed his gonads or the guy who tear gassed a busload of elderly tourists – that provide inspiration to my blog.
35. You can wear whatever the heck you want, or a lack of materialism
Alaska is not a capital of high fashion. Camo and Xtra Tuffs are acceptable attire for church, or a wedding. My wife, when she had an office job, would wear nice jeans and a sweater and people would say, “Why are you so dressed up?”
Alaskans are not materialistic, at least not like those in other places. We don’t wash our cars (see #16) and we consider a Subaru a luxury vehicle. We don’t wear flashy clothes or expensive jewelry. You don’t see a lot of fake boobs or plastic surgery up here. It is a laid back place of friendly, down-to-Earth people.
36. The Locals
The locals are…how do I put this politely…are a bit strange. Many year-round, long-term residents actually prefer winter and having a Grizzly Adams beard is de rigour. Most locals live in this remote area to get away from society and many are eccentric. I like eccentric people.
I don’t have the hard data in front of me, but it is proven that Alaska has the best rainbows in the world. Rainy summer evenings and hours of low-angle light will do that.
It isn’t something I do on purpose, although when my car broke down once I was forced to (see #14). Hitchhiking is safe and common in Alaska and I know people who hitch to work each day.
Once I saw this guy who had piles of bags, camping gear and boxes piled on the side of the road. He looked like he hadn’t bathed since the Carter administration and had dedicated his adult life to growing a massive beard. He held a piece of cardboard with the word ANCHORAGE scrawled across it. For three straight days, through rain, sun, sleet and wind, he raised a thumb at each passing car, and for three days he waited. One day, he was suddenly gone, only to be replaced by two girls standing in the same spot, thumbs up. One girl was a hot Asian with a white tank-top and little shorts. The other was a tall blonde with massive… eyes. Within five minutes they were gone.
Note: Hitchhiking is easier for some people than others.
The gateway to Glacier Bay National Park is the wholesome little town of Gustavus. What a great place. Whereas many towns in Alaska have a large population of men who work in rough and tumble industries of mining, oil & gas, fishing, and military, Gustavus is more of a laid-back artists colony. Although tourism is an important part of the economy, cruise ships don’t dock here and it is by no means touristy.
Plus, the beach is one of the best spots in Alaska for a sunset stroll.
Fairbanks is sort of the antithesis of Gustavus. Fairbanks is all about oil, mining, military and the associated industries, like strip clubs. Gustavus has no law enforcement; Fairbanks is rough around the edges.
I have always said that Fairbanks isn’t the worst town in America, but might be the worst town that tourists visit. And yet, I love Fairbanks. When I lived in Denali, we’d escape to “town” once a month to go to the movies, visit Wal-Mart, eat Thai Food and hang out in Starbucks. It offered a much needed respite from the wilderness.
41. Thai Food
Thai food is my favorite international cuisine. Alaska has a large Asian population and scores of excellent Asian restaurants, which might be expected in the larger towns of Anchorage and Fairbanks, but even little towns like Talkeetna, Denali and Tok have Thai food trucks.
42. Otto Lake
Otto Lake, just outside the boundary of Denali National Park, is a great place to escape the crowds of the front country and is a perfect place to catch a sunset. I am not sure why it isn’t busier with visitors, but I don’t mind. You can visit too, but we need to keep it a secret. Trust me, posting this on my blog isn’t revealing any secrets.
43. The Alaska Railroad
A ride on the Alaska Railroad, especially the section from Talkeetna to Denali, is one of the classic train journeys in America, if not the world. The train crosses over raging rivers, skirts countless lakes and offers stunning views of Denali. A must-do for anyone visiting the interior.
44. Point Woronzof, Earthquake Park and the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail extends from downtown Anchorage out to Point Woronzof, connecting several parks along the way. It is a great place to bike, run, walk, or cross-country ski.
Airplanes take off and land right above the park at Point Woronzof, and there are incredible views of downtown and Mt Redout in the distance. On a nice day, the place takes on a party-like atmosphere as locals gather to watch the sunset and airplanes.
Note: there isn’t much to do in Anchorage, okay? It is okay that watching planes take off and land is an activity we enjoy.
45. Reality TV shows
There are dozens of reality shows based in Alaska. It is cool to see these shows on TV and casually say, “Yeah, I’ve been there, done that” or “HEY IS THAT STEVE!? What is he doing on here?”
I really love wildflowers, probably more than I should. I get a certain giddy excitement when the first tentative blooms appear each spring, and I feel a sharp pang of sadness when the fireweed goes to seed in the fall. Sometimes, I can be seen awkwardly taking macros of wildflowers from several angles, trying to get it just right. I. Love. Wild. Flowers.
47. I get fired each year
For ten straight years, I have managed to get fired in September. I just can’t seem to hold a job. It is great. Working seasonally in Alaska, my contract ends in the fall and I technically get fired and have time off to go travel. I always get rehired again in the winter or spring and it is a perfect lifestyle.
48. Z.J. Loussac Public Library
The Z.J. Loussac Public Library in Anchorage is well-stocked with Lonely Planet guidebooks. In the cold and dark months of January and February, after I’ve returned to Alaska after a few months of unemployment – funemployment! – and travel, I check out books and dream about our next (warm, sunny) travel destinations. It keeps me sane.
49. I don’t spend a winter here!
Probably the single biggest reason I love Alaska is the fact that I escape for four months each year, and miss the darkest, coldest, most depressing months. While my year-round friends are going to work in the in the snowy gloom, I am usually somewhere between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
So, there you have it. I am not sure how many more years I’ll be working and living seasonally in Alaska, but the last 11 years have been incredibly enriching and rewarding. This place has had a profound impact on me, and touches nearly all who visit. If you’ve never been, it needs to be high on your list of places to go. And if you’ve visited before, hopefully you have enjoyed it as much as I have. Thanks for reading this marathon post.
If you missed it, part I and part II
Note to self: never make a top 49 post again. It is way too much work.
Otto Lake looks beautiful. Lack of materialism and the locals, these two reasons are so heartwarming. Where on earth do we find simple communities. Wanting love and not luxurious lifestyle?
Great point. A lot of people up here have different values. I think especially in the USA, it is a unique community.
Every time you post about Alaska, or bear spray, you make me want to high tail north to Alaska (good name for a movie!). I’ve always wanted to go there, but just never quite made it. Your photos in this essay are incredible. Especially the flowers! About running from the bear—I was snorkeling once, saw a shark on the floor of the ocean, and did the exact same thing you did…
If I leave here this year…I’m coming to Alaska (to steal your job, or get one like it)
High Tail it North to Alaska, a romantic comedy starring Badfish and Jennifer Anniston. I think this could work.
They can say all they want about standing your ground in a bear or shark encounter, but that is not our instinct. Luckily, the bear paid no attention to us.
Ditto. I learned later it was probably a sand shark and I could have gone up to it and punched it on the fin and it wouldn’t have bothered with me. Somebody’s watching out for us!
Great way to round out the top 49. I hope you are still working there seasonally when I arrive in 2019. I might not get to experience all 49, but I’m sure gonna try like hell!
You might – depends on how long you are here. Spend a whole summer and you may get close. Perhaps I’ll see you then.
We are planning at least 3 months there. It would be great to meet you in person.
Agreed – it would be cool to see y’all in person. Three months is the perfect amount of time. You can see a lot of things and take your time doing it.
I think you should keep going to a 100. I think you have it in you! I also think it took far too long to get to the bears.
Yes, it probably did take a bit too long to get to the bears. I am not sure I have the stamina to go to 100, although I could probably think of more.
I need a follow up post with all the things that are difficult about living here, like the week of torrential rain we just had, or the $29 I spent on two sandwiches, a bag of chips and 2 beers last night for dinner.
#36 and #40 are my favorites.
I am very much enjoying living vicariously through your Alaska stories!
Thanks Athena. #36 is a good one. The locals are interesting.
Badfish and I apparently will meet on the road to Alaska. You had me at about number 2 in the first posts but way to hammer a point home. 🙂
Good, I am glad you are feeling inspired. There is only 1 (very large) province and a mountain range or two between you and Alaska.
All of that great stuff AND Thai food! I’m sold. When can I move?
Matt and I drove out to Alaska from Chicago via Vancouver Island and the Alaskan ferry system on a two-month honeymoon 15 years ago. We are planning on recreating the trip (hopefully even better) for our 20th. We can’t wait to return for all the reasons you mention. This was a fun read!
Alison, I bet that was a fun honeymoon. I should have put the ferry system in my top 49 – it is like a really cheap cruise. I hope you get to come back in 5 years and do it again.
What was your favorite place you visited?
That’s a tough one. We were really lucky and saw some humpbacks bubblenet feeding outside of Gustavus–so amazing! We also loved the Anan Bear Observatory outside of Wrangell. Have you been there? It’s an incredible opportunity to see brown and black bears feeding and interacting with one another. I highly recommend it!
I’ll have to check out the observatory in Wrangell. This is my first year living in Southeast so I haven’t seen as much of this region as I’d like. Thanks for the tip.
What? You don’t have a picture of my favorite reality TV stars? (The Browns) 😛
I haven’t seen that one yet. I’ll check it out – they look really cool.
I’ll be waiting for updates… 😛
More wonderful memories come flooding back! The locals! Well I believe I actually was one for a time since I spent several winters there. And the “fashion” LOL – yeah wear whatev. It was fun in winter to identify people solely by their parkas. Too many bear stories and sightings to count, none of them threatening thankfully. *Loved* being fired every year 🙂 and the carpets of wildflowers every spring. Watching spring arrive – that time for about 2 weeks when all the trees have soft delicate chartreuse green leaves – so welcome and so beautiful. Hooray for the muddy season!
If you spent several winters, I think you qualify as a local for sure. Those green trees are great in the spring, and with all that sun the trees change so fast. One day they are barren, the next day it is all lush. Thanks for sharing.
That’s a lot to love!
Yes it is.
Fascinating! Alaska is certainly on my list to visit!! Fingers crossed that I will see that amazing rainbow too!
I hear the diving up here is incredible, but you need a dry suit. I think you should come up here and dive and photograph it for me.
nowww… diving in a dry suit is another level to accomplish 😀 But I wouldn’t mind to hike at Denali to start with 🙂
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I happened to come across this after seeing a comment of yours on Jane Lurie’s blog….I’m not terribly far from Alaska but haven’t gotten up there yet, and this is exactly the kind of information I like. Gave me a nudge. Thanks.
If you love nature, Alaska is simply the best. There is so much wildlife and raw wilderness that is relatively easy to access. Go now!