Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Alaska - "The Last Frontier"

"Foreign, beautiful, immense, picturesque, vast, rugged, and dangerous".

These are just some of the adjectives that come to mind when someone asks me about my experiences in Alaska.

If one were to take notice, the phrase "Alaska the last frontier", is emboldened onto the states official license plate.

I found this phrase resonating throughout my head as we maneuvered over the many twists and turns of the Alaskan-Canadian highway in our rented four door, all wheel drive, Ford Escape.

Through tunnels, around snow capped mountains, and over scenic bridges we drove. The images of surrounding beauty were hard to reconcile with my protective conscious and knowing that the closest grocery store, car mechanic, or god forbid a hospital were hours away.

While thinking about "The Last Frontier" phrase, it became apparent that the large industrial complexes, corporate strip malls, incandescent billboards and fast food enterprises that have become synonymous with driving in much of the lower 48 states ceased to exist in this part of the state.

On one level, I found the tranquility to be a very novel concept to me. On the other, a host for many potentially horrifying scenarios. For instance, a typical Alaskan road side scenic pull off featured unfathomable views complimented with steep drop offs complete with sharp, unforgiving, rocky crags below.

I can only assume that building a protective barrier to protect aggressive tourists from plummeting to certain death and disfigurement must have been beyond the scope of Alaskan Tourist Association's budget. It made me wonder how many tourists a year stumble over cliffs or off of trails in an ill fated attempt to capture that "closer shot".

Concerning the people of Alaska, there were several things I admired about the people that lived in this environment. Here are a couple observations that are more notable. After several interactions with Alaskan residents and natives, not a single person mentioned anything considered "less desirable" about living there. Even after setting out bait such as "how do you feel about the 22 hours of darkness during the winter?". "That's ok, it just makes me appreciate summer that much more." Came the replies.

I also appreciated their social interactions. A comment about outdoor recreation often served as a great ice breaker. "I heard the Kings are running two weeks late in the Russian this season", is an example of one I heard. Whether it be hunting bears, angling for salmon, or trapping small game, activities took more social precedence than the standard "what do you do for a living" so commonly heard around Washington, DC.

In conclusion, twelve hundred miles later, a crust of dust, mud, and tar served as the outer coating on our previously sparkling white Ford Escape. After twelve hundred miles, several impromptu fishing trips, multiple cities covered, I felt dignified that we had covered such a substantial distance in Alaska. It wasn't until later when I looked on a map and realized that we barely put a dent into the Kenai Peninsula!

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