Episode 378(075) Alaska – Go Now!
Going to Alaska seems to be a common dream. The mystic of the land of snow, ice and the northern lights has a pull. Stories of moose, bear and men who moil for gold continue to lure us through out life. I find it hard to understand why more people don't just go. It isn't difficult. And, after all, it is Alaska. It is unique.
This is Retirement Talk. This is Del Lowery.
Travel is one thing that people in retirement and those nearing retirement seem to always have on their agenda. They want to see things they’ve never seen, go places they’ve never been, and do things they’ve never done. I remember my mother at age 65 bouncing up and down on some tundra just above Anchorage smiling and exclaiming, "Imagine, I am in Alaska".
l968 I quite my job, bought a small, green tent and two sleeping bags, strapped a trunk on the back of a 2+2 Mustang, and drove west and north. Our son was two years old and our daughter was five months from being born. Our destination was undecided, but we knew it was going to be somewhere new. We had no job and very little money. Youth and hopes for a better life were our only assets.
“Alaska had to be your goal,” said my uncle Cy who lived on a ranch in North Dakota. I can still hear him rave on: “If I were a young man, you couldn’t keep me from going to Alaska. It’s a huge place: lots of land, mountains, oceans, forest, tundra, open spaces. And best of all, there are hardly any people. Opportunity isn’t all locked up. That’s the future. It’s the place for a young man,” he said. “You go out there and get on that road, and don’t you stop till the road ends.”
We did. The road was gravel. It was long, twisty, dusty and exotic. We drove slowly. We camped along the road. We smelled gas one morning only to discover a rock had been thrown up and through our gas tank. We raced on in search of one of the widely spaced gas stations. One was just around a couple of curves; good luck following bad. It was early morning: no one around. The dogs barked. A guy came out on the porch pulling suspenders up over his shoulders. When he heard of our problem, he turned instantly and headed back inside saying over his shoulder: “Nothin’ that some Fix-All and a little piece of grandma’s underwear can’t repair. Have you on the road in just a couple of minutes”. And he did.
We gave ourselves two years in Alaska. “At the most”, we agreed. Twenty years past before we left. Oh, we left on trips, but our home was in Alaska: exciting, interesting, challenging, profitable. Smartest, or luckiest thing I ever did – other than marry my wife.
But, I wanted to talk about you going to Alaska. You should just go. It isn’t hard. Just go out get in the car and drive away. You will need a pass port at the Canadian border today. Tuck a plastic credit card in your pocket and you're good to go. They have even straightened the road for you today. It is paved except wherever they might be working on it. The gravel is gone. The dust is gone. Gas stations and motels are ubiquitous. Camp grounds lie scattered along the road. Restaurants lie just around the bend. We have driven it dozens of times by now. I have ridden it four times on a motorcycle. It is the best ride. Few stop lights and light traffic; beautiful mountains and forests. For our money, the drive is the very best way to visit Alaska. You’ll just need a chunk of time and that is where retirement comes in.
We like to allow six to seven days to drive the 2000 odd miles from our house to Anchorage: about 300 miles per day. It allows for stopping for walks, picnics, coffee and plenty of photos. We use to always camp in tents and that was great. Lately we just stay in motels. Age is catching up to us.
Of course, you can fly or take a cruise out of Vancouver, BC and perhaps out of Seattle. Or, you can come to Bellingham, just below my house and board the Alaskan Ferry and sail up to Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway and Haines. From Skagway or Haines you can drive on up to the Alaskan mainland – raving about the beauty as you go. One time we, our kids were 10 and 13 years old, drove our jeep to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory from Anchorage where we parked it. Then we rode our bikes down to Skagway and then ferried and biked down the Inside Passage to the San Juan Islands in Washington State. We slept on deck with our sleeping bags. Great trip.
There is much to see in Alaska and you can find that all in books, or on-line through the Alaskan Web Site. Flying into Alaska is as easy as flying into Chicago – easier actually, or any other place in the US. Then you can take a taxi into town. Stay at anyone of the numerous hotels. Rent a car, hope a train, or charter a small plane for exploring the bush. You can drive to some beautiful places. Go on short hikes. Within fifty miles of Anchorage you could have enough hiking to last you for years. In that area are moose, bear, sheep, goat and wolves. The Chugach Mountains rise up above Anchorage and if they were in the Brooks Range they would be world famous.
When to go? That depends on you. We still go every year to visit our son and his family. We usually go in the middle of March or end of May. March has always been my favorite month because it is the real Alaska: lots of snow, cold, and clear. It is not so dark, the days are longer. It is a good time for skiing. There are no bugs and few tourists. But the summer is good. The mountains are beautiful as well as the flowers. It is the perfect time to hiking. Meet some new people, enjoy good food (especially sea food) and engage in conversations late into the evening light.
My uncle – from North Dakota – he retired at 65 and moved to Alaska. He had lost a leg to diabetes before he went. He moved there in a wheel chair – lived another 20 years and loved every minute of it. He could look out his window and see mountains and an occasional moose. He heard local stories of desperate adventures in the bush. He got so he could spin a tale or two himself. You would swear that he had been right on the scene and you were hearing a first person account.
This is Retirement Talk.