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.
Note to self: never make a top 49 post again. It is way too much work.