If going to Hawaii is more like visiting a foreign country than another state, then a trip to Alaska might qualify as a trip to another planet.
The landscape is so beautiful, it could easily be described as otherworldly. Plus, this is a place where something so basic as sunrise and sunset book-ending 10-12 hours of daylight doesn’t apply. I visited Alaska in the summer and was in the southern part of the state – the sun didn’t go down until 10:50 p.m. each night. In the winter, Fairbanks, which is in the middle of the state, hits a point at which it only gets 3 hours and 42 minutes of sunlight. Barrow, Alaska often sees 84 continuous days of darkness.
If such natural rules don’t even apply, the human rules are also in stark contrast to what we live down here in what Alaskans call “the lower 48.”
I went swimming at a City of Los Angeles pool this weekend. The lifeguard yelled at the kids not to run, not to splash water, not to dive into the shallow end, not to use kick boards in a particular quadrant of the pool – pretty much anything fun or remotely dangerous is absolutely not permitted.
Whereas in Alaska, you still maintain the right to go out and get yourself killed. Sure, there are some occasional warning signs here and there, but those occasionally get nibbled on by bears. So pretty much, it’s on you.
Not that Alaska is as wild as those of us from the lower 48 might imagine. After all, the second biggest employer in Alaska is Walmart. I think few of us picture going to the last frontier to work retail.
But it doesn’t matter. Alaska feeds our collective secret fantasy to “go off the grid” and “live off the land.” Most of us are as urban and pampered as all get-out, but with our backyard chickens and home-made pickles, we still play with the notion that somehow, we could just walk away from everything and live off our wits in the wild.
Even if you were barely listening in history class, you probably remember something about the pioneers and the Homestead Act of 1862. The rules were simple – go out, put up a flag, work your patch of land and it’s yours (Native American occupants be damned). The U.S. ended homesteading in 1986 – the last claim was in Alaska. It’s over, but folks from the lower 48 continue to call about it.
Most of us will never walk away from civilization, but we Americans still desperately need for there to be a frontier. We need a place where the pavement ends and wilderness rules, a place where you could get yourself killed.
Which is why Alaska has an inordinate number of reality TV shows about it. It’s our escape valve. Just as we watch American Idol and pretend we could be pop stars, we watch and pretend we could be burly fishermen and pilots or sled dog racers.
After two weeks of summer camping in Alaska, I know I’m not going to walk away and go build a cabin in the woods. But it gets me through a day at the office to feel like I could.
Need a little escape? Enjoy my pics!
Just for fun…some Alaska facts:
Unusually high per capita
- Pilot’s licenses
- Duct tape sales
- Vanity license plates
- Glaciers (100,000!!)
- Spam consumption
Rural Alaskans eat an average of one pound of wild food per person per day.