Alaska 101: A Visitor’s Perspective
First: It’s big. Really big, and really far away.
I’m speaking geographically here, mind you, not by population. It’s the US’s largest state and is big enough to contain the smallest 20 US states inside it. An entire country separates Alaska from what the natives refer to as “the lower 48.”
It’s one of the reasons so many here want to call it their home. They like the expanse of land and the freedom and independence that comes along with it. The first time I asked an Alaskan “why Alaska?” I got the short, simple reply: “not many people.”
Honestly, my first impulse was to laugh — but he wasn’t laughing. He was serious. Not standoffish, not disgruntled, just laying the facts bare. I took pause for a paradigm shift. That’s just how people up here prefer to live life. Eventually, I would conclude his response is fairly representative of most Alaskans who live here by choice. Simple and straightforward.
Second: it’s beautiful, which a place might as well be if the sun is shining on it 24 hours a day.
In Alaska, the trees grow tall, the clouds roll in fast, and the air is fresh and crisp. It’s home to North America’s tallest peak, Denali. There are ample opportunities for day hikes, trails, and mountains to climb, plenty of moose and bears to see (exercise caution, as the #1 cause of death in Alaska is by moose) and just enough retail/activities/coffeeshops to keep you busy in Anchorage.
Third: it’s rich in character.
The state sport here is the Iditarod, a unique 1,100 mile dog sled race through the outer reaches of Alaska wilderness with a six-figure monetary prize.
It has a bit of a problem with homelessness. On the first two days I was in Anchorage, I spotted at least three times as many people in the streets having frantic conversations with themselves. Numerous buildings lie abandoned to give shelter to those without homes. “I don’t know if I’d choose Anchorage as a place to be homeless,” said a co-worker. I can’t help but agree; in the winters, it’s common to see temperatures of ten below. This might be related to the fact that its economy is dependent on oil and gas; as you can imagine, it’s struggling right now.
It’s 3,265 miles away from where I live in Houston, but I’ve gotta say — it feels like home. Here’s to Alaska!