As of August 21st, I have now lived in the state of Alaska for a full year. So I thought that it would be an appropriate time to write about what life is like in “the Last Frontier”.
When I tell people that don’t live here that I live in Anchorage, Alaska, I usually get one of two responses: 1) “Isn’t it just dark and freezing?” or 2) “The winters there aren’t even that cold!” The latter coming mainly from people who live in Minnesota, who are comparing Anchorage winters to their own, rather than the rest of the country. Both responses are somewhat true, but they don’t tell the whole story. It is very dark and cold here in the winter, however, I think some people hold the misconception that Anchorage has 24 hour darkness during part of the winter, and that’s just not the case. At it’s worst point, there’s still probably at least 5 hours of daylight, the problem is, that those 5 hours are so dim due to the overcast sky that it still almost feels like darkness. As for the other response, it’s true that if you’ve grown up used to Minnesota winters, you can handle the temperatures in Anchorage. Anchorage can reach some super frigid temps, but most of the time, it’s somewhere between 0-25 degrees F. The other thing, is that even if you can survive the winter, the rest of the seasons are all going to be consistently colder than you’re used to unless you grew up in Siberia.
There’s basically two types of people that live up here: 1) The outdoorsman hunter/fisherman/snowmobiling types, or 2) the hippie outdoorsman hiking/skiing/berrypicking types. There are combinations of the two and obviously people like me who don’t fit either generalization, but I’ve practically listed everything there is to do in Alaska right there. You have got to love the outdoors if you’re going to love living here. Since there are no shortage of beautiful mountains, rivers, and wildlife, you’ll never run out of stuff to do if that’s your scene. Even though I’m a basketball junkie and more of an “indoorsman”, I do enjoy a good hike every now and then, and I intend to get out and fish next summer since I now qualify for a resident fishing license. I mentioned basketball, which reminds me that there is no such thing as professional sports up here, unless you like minor league hockey or some sort of arena football. Also, if you like to follow college sports, you’re going to have to settle for the NCAA DII UAA Seawolves. Even if you want to watch your teams from another sports market, the time zone difference is enough to drive you crazy at times. I don’t get home from work each night until about halfway through the 2nd quarter of Monday Night Football. By now you’re probably feeling my pain as someone who has been described as “addicted” to sports. I’ve often referred to Alaska as “Sports Fans’ Hell” but that sounds a bit negative, and in hell you can never leave, so let’s go with “Sports Fans’ Purgatory”. I’ve found that frolf is the one activity around here that I’ve gotten into a little bit, but you should see the people you run into on the course. It’s like a Sunday at Talladega out there.
I was going to have my first ever guest blogger since I was recruiting my roommate Ross to write about the ladies of Alaska. But despite his rants about the quantities and qualities of women in our state, he is reluctant to have those opinions published on the internet. I’m just going to refrain from commenting on this at all. It’s just too volatile of a subject.
I don’t think Alaska is necessarily known for any particular food, but there is still plenty of food here that you won’t normally find anywhere else. Since I’ve moved to Alaska, I’ve eaten wild salmon (including red, king, pink, and silver varieties), halibut, reindeer, moose, and most recently black bear. All of those wild animals that found their way into my stomach were not only delicious, but they were also all free for me. There’s also all kinds of Native Alaskan food out there, but I’ve only sampled a few dishes/items, so I can’t really elaborate here. There are a couple of decent restaurants in Anchorage, but my favorite restaurant in all of Alaska is this joint called Fast Eddie’s, which is in Tok. It’s the first decent sized town you come to in the state when you drive up the Alaska Highway, and it has bigger, better burgers than any other place that I’ve been to in Alaska. The worst thing about food in Alaska, is that fast food is so expensive, which is just a testament to the cost of living in general up here. It’s so annoying to see the ads for the dollar menus on tv, and then go to McDonald’s and pay 1.60 for a McChicken. Sure the government pays us to live here, but the money is lost on paying more for rent, groceries, gas, and eating out.
So when you move to a new place, as the outsider it doesn’t take long to notice the unique things about your new city. The biggest thing I’ve noticed about Alaskans is that there seems to be a sense of pride about living in Alaska that I haven’t quite seen anywhere else I’ve lived. Sure, people in Minnesota tend to be somewhat proud of the state, but in Alaska, you see tons of state flags around. It seems like every other person has one. They also seem to be really proud of how big the state is, even if its all wilderness. I can’t tell you how many t-shirts I’ve read or times I’ve heard people tell me that Texas would be the 3rd largest state if Alaska was cut in half. They really like to get Texas going, probably due to how proud Texans are. But unlike Texas, I sense the Alaskans carry their pride with somewhat of an inferiority complex. They come from such an overlooked state in the grand scheme of things, but because they endure some crappy weather and live in the largest state in the union that makes them tough or something like that. I see tons of “Alaska Girls Kick Ass” bumper stickers, and “Alaska Grown” sweatshirts around town, and I just don’t understand the reasons to be so proud. I used to be a perpetrator of all of this, since I was born in Nome, Alaska. People would ask where I was born, and I would proudly proclaim, “Alaska!” I even enjoyed putting a girl in her place on the school bus one time because she was born in Texas, and I was from a bigger state (she was being obnoxiously proud, herself). Of course, that was when I was 10. Anyhow, I hope I don’t sound like I’m looking down my nose too much on the locals, but I just don’t understand what the big deal is. Then again, I didn’t grow up here.
In addition to those quirks, I’ve also noticed the local Alaskan vernacular. Here’s a sampling:
“snowmachine” – This is just the Alaskan word for a snowmobile. I guess they felt like being different. Example: I hope it snows more. I want to take my snowmachine out and ride it this weekend.
“barbecue” – We all have this word in our vocabularies, but the way Alaskans use it is for the equipment that you cook the food on. Where I come from, we call that a grill, and the barbecue is the party you throw where you eat food that’s cooked on the grill. Example: Throw some reindeer sausage on the barbecue, I’m hungry!
“Outside” – Any part of the USA that isn’t Alaska. I’m not sure if Hawaii counts or not. Example: I haven’t been outside in 3 years, I think I should head home to Minnesota for Christmas this year.
“The Valley” – The Matanuska-Susitna Valley where the towns of Wasilla and Palmer are located. Anchorage people seem to like to dump on the Valley a lot, which I find hilarious. Example: I don’t want to go to the State Fair, it’s way up in the Valley.
“The Peninsula” – The Kenai Peninsula. It’s where the towns of Seward, Soldotna, Kenai, Homer among others are located. I’m not even sure of how often I’ve heard this one, but I use it, and I don’t think I’m clever enough to have made it up. Example: The most crowded fishing you’ve ever seen happens every year on the Peninsula.
“The Road System” – Just like it sounds, it’s the parts of Alaska that can be reached by roads, which is an important distinction since so many villages are not accessed by roads. Example: I wish I could drive to Seldovia, but alas, it’s not on the road system, so I’ll have to fly.
“The Bush” – The opposite of the road system. Basically any part of the state that can’t be accessed by driving on roads is the bush. Example: It’s really expensive to buy fresh milk out in the bush.
“The Slope” – The oil-rich area of the state on the northern coast. A lot of people have jobs where you work 2 straight weeks up there, and then have 2 straight weeks off in Anchorage. Example: Ah, man! In just two days I’ve got to go back to the slope for two weeks. I need a new job.
I don’t know how long the great state of Alaska will keep me, but I have very much enjoyed my time here. Even if I move away some day, I’ll always look back on my time here fondly, and if nothing else, I’ll really miss the lack of state income and sales taxes, and the free money.