Alaska is a unique place. Massive industry interests in petroleum, mining, timber, and fishing are juxtaposed against environmental conservation.
The time-honored Alaskan tradition of self-sufficiency is juxtaposed against cities and communities which clearly owe their success to tourism.
The people I met in Alaska were diverse and compelling. Here is a sampling of them:
- Kenneth was living in Tok, and by his own admission he had come up to Alaska from Boston to “straighten himself out.” He was attempting to sell a Porsche watch to get enough money for a plane ticket to visit his sick mom in the lower 48. He wanted my help to set an asking price and post it to craigslist. He made me uneasy, and when I asked him what it’s like living in Alaska he said “We’re all here because we aren’t all there.” That was definitely the case for him.
- Alex and Melissa were an athletic couple traveling with two dogs in a white VW van. They had driven up from Durango, Colorado.
- Barb worked as a gas station attendant, and her grandkids tumbled into the store while I was talking to her over the cash register. She spent winters in Hawaii and flew out to Alaska on Mothers Day each year to spend five months with her family.
- Rick and Wendy were school teachers from Kentucky on vacation with their children. They said they couldn’t imagine not having summer break to take extended vacations.
- Mathew (Florida) and Vlada (Bulgaria) met while studying in New York to be concert pianists. They had flown out to Alaska and were road tripping around when I met them while camping at Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords NP.
- Ann and Austin were friends of mine from OSU who married and moved up to Anchorage. We all studied engineering so it was fun to talk technical with them. We poured spruce tip syrup on our pancakes, and they sent me away with some smoked sockeye salmon and a jar of fireweed jelly.
I simultaneously don’t think I spent enough time in Alaska, and I don’t think I could have lasted any longer. The long days wore me out, and I drove too much per day, but looking back, I didn’t stay long enough in Wrangell St. Elias NP and Denali NP to get a good feel for them.
At some point I’d like write a long post to try to unpack the complexity behind Alaska’s tourism, resource industry, and Native Alaskan relations, but for now I’ll post a few final pictures to help you visualize the area.
There aren’t too many roads in Alaska, and they keep the numbering convention simple. For example, I drove Highway 7 to Hwy 2, to Hwy 1, to Hwy 3, back to Hwy 2, and down the Al-Can Highway.
Alaska was a great drive, but the roads can be rough. A few times I was practically thrown out of my seat while bouncing over frost heaves. However given my expectation of terrible road conditions, I was happily surprised with the quality.
All this time I’ve been thinking about the woman I’m in love with who I haven’t met yet.
I didn’t realize there were states like that too.