Saturday, August 6, 2011

Alaska: The Last Frontier

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As I left work the Monday after returning from Alaska, I realized exactly who I resembled; Al Pacino from end of Insomnia. Fitting since that movie was set in Alaska. Alaska will do that to you. Especially in the summer when it stays light out almost all day long.

That fact was the first thing that struck us on our trip. While we were in Fairbanks we could look out our hotel room at 12:30AM and still see all the way across the town. It wasn't until we drove farther south into Homer that we were awake while it was dark outside.

From Alaska

Most Alaskans are very similar to "Americans" as they call us lower48ers. However, there are some notable differences.

One difference is gun ownership. Most Alaskans own, carry, and use guns on a regular basis. This is a big difference from your average Northern Virginian; At least the ones I associate with. Heidi's (my wife) grandfather has a huge gun collection. In fact, he keeps a vintage, working condition 1848 Sharps rifle under the couch in his living room. That discovery seemed astonishing to me; Both that he owns such an antique and that he keeps it under his couch. He also has a working 1898 Winchester shotgun in his kitchen resting against the counter. Heidi's uncle has a AK-47-like clone casually resting against the bookshelf in his living room. So it is a different culture from what we are used to here.

I don't know if most Alaskans also identify themselves as "westerners", but our experience indicated that they share similar traits. One such trait was an assertiveness with strangers. Whereas eastern Americans are often considered to be closed off to interacting with strangers, Alaskans are not. We met a lot of people in public areas who simply started talking to us. To me, as someone is as reserved as any easterner, this took some getting used to. My wife loved it. She's more outgoing. Perhaps this phenomena was simply a function of us spending most of our time in high traffic tourist areas. The sort where the locals are wont to give suggestions. However, often it wasn't. During our last night in Alaska, we were at a bar in Anchorage sitting a long, high table when a guy and his girlfriend sat down next to us and started up a conversation. They weren't giving us suggestions or selling us anything. They simply wanted to talk. That type of experience seems a lot more unlikely to happen in Virginia.

From Alaska

Seeing wild animals native to Alaska was one of the best ongoing experiences we had. The interesting animals we saw included: moose, bald eagles, a sea otter, and orca whales (killer whales).

Moose are like the Alaskan deer. The are everywhere along the side of the road in Alaska.

We saw the orca whales the first night we stayed in Homer. We were on the "Spit". The Spit is a 3 mile narrow strip of land that juts out from the town. We had just exited the famous Salty Dawg bar when Heidi says, "let's walk down to beach". So we walk down and stay just long enough for her to put her feet in the water. We turn to walk back when she catches a glimpse of something briefly pop up out of the water about 30 feet from shore. I sort of see it. She said, "I think those were orcas". I said, "What's an orca?". So we stood there for a second and sure enough, the two whales pop back up briefly. Their dorsal fins and black color where unmistakable.

Our trip was split into two halves. The first half was spent with Heidi's family. The second was more of a personal vacation for us. Most of Heidi's family lives in Palmer, Alaska. Palmer is about 45 minutes away from Anchorage. For you Palin fans or haters out there, Palmer is 5 miles away from Wasilla. We spent a couple of days there, then we drove to Fairbanks which is about a 6 hour drive away. We were in Fairbanks for Heidi's cousin's wedding. After leaving Fairbanks, we stayed with Heidi's aunt and uncle in their cabin located between Delta Junction and Tok. After staying with them for a couple of days, we returned to Palmer via Tok. This is the point in the trip when Heidi and I left her family and went on our own. We traveled south onto the Kenai peninsula after first staying one night at Alyeska resort in Girdwood. Our journey south brought us to Homer where we stayed for two days. After that, it was time to travel back to Anchorage and then back to Virginia.