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North to Alaska

I've had the privilege of being invited to speak at conferences in Alaska twice - in Anchorage in 2000 and in Fairbanks in 2004. With this great state so much in the news as of late, I started reminiscing a bit about my short experiences there.

Two conversations especially left an impression on me.

The first was with my van driver on a 14-hour-long trip from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle. I'd booked an extra couple of days hoping to get to see Denali Park after the conference was over, not realizing that Alaska actually closes between Labor Day and Memorial Day. Really. No trip to the park. But I did ante up an ungodly sum of money to ride in a supply van from Fairbanks along the pipeline to the small rest area you see in the photo above. I then got in another van and rode back to Fairbanks. I did see a couple of moose and received a signed certificate that proves I was north of the Arctic Circle (by at least a foot or two.)

I heard a lot about Alaska life from the van's driver, a former Alaska Department of Transportation worker. I learned mostly about building roads on permafrost. But I also learned that he goes out hunting each year and makes sausage from the bear he shoots and that he and his wife enjoy eating their bear sausage for breakfast each morning. I appreciate hunters who actually eat what they hunt. And I sense most Alaskans do just that.

The second conversation was with a bus driver in Anchorage. I overheard him complaining about "goddam taxes." I was curious.

"But you don't have a state income tax, do you?"
"And you don't have a state sales tax, do you?"
"And you get an oil revenue check from the state each year, don't you?"
"So what taxes are so high?"
"Property taxes. Goddam property taxes."
"So what's the value of your house and what do you pay? I'll let you know what mine are in Minnesota and we can compare."
"Well I live in a camper on the back of my pickup so I don't actually pay property taxes. But I hear they are goddam high."

Unfairly, I'm sure whenever I think of Alaskans, I think of these conversations. Of course, I met and talked to lots of educators who seemed to be pretty nice, normal people. Well, at one event, they were wearing Velcro suits and using a trampoline to vault themselves onto a wall where they hoped to stick, but other than that...

I also left with an appreciation that there really are other places in the world with colder climates than Minnesota. The living conditions in the state are challenging for many residents. Alaskans, in my experience, are tough people.

Oh, this is no way an endorsement of Ms Palin as VP pick. Just a reminiscence...

One of the few rest stops from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle. March, 2004.

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Reader Comments (3)

Okay, that photo just gave me a physical reaction I best not describe online. BRRRRR!

September 12, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterteacherninja

OK, Doug, I have to ask this because I've been dying of curiousity and have not been able to verify it. Someone told me that in Alaska, there are cages along side of the road out in the bush, so if you have trouble with your car, you should get out immediately and get into one of the cages because the bears can peel back the top of your car like a can of sardines and get you.

Did you ever see such a thing while you were there? I know I am probably risking my entire intellectual reputation by asking, but I had to ask.

September 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Hi Mary,

Actually they discovered those cages were put out by the bears themselves and baited with peanut butter sandwiches. Much easier meal than having to open up cars. Easier to catch as well.

Sorry, didn't see any such cages. Lovely story though. Maybe I should check Snopes!

All the best,


September 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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