Alaska Living: An Introduction to Alaskan Life
To learn more about Alaska and Alaskans, I guess talking about a day in the life of a "typical" Alaskan would be the logical place to start. I guess this article would be a little bit easier to write if there was such a thing, but one of the many things I loved about living in Alaska is there's nothing typical even about the most "typical" Alaskan.
Alaska is a huge state. In fact, if you cut Alaska in half, both halves would be larger than the state of Texas. So the typical day in Nome, Alaska, is going to be different than Barrow, Alaska, and Fairbanks, Alaska, or "The Interior," is going to be different than Anchorage ("Seattle Jr."), the Kenai, or the Southeast. I visited Anchorage and Kenai frequently, but I lived in the Interior of Alaska, so the best I can do is describe some of the common days from my life from the three years I lived there (and more in the future, God willing).
There's a lot to be said about more conventional Alaska travel, but for those who are planning to go inland a little more, here is perspective on a day of life in the Interior.
Happy in Alaska: Happy Way Up North
One of the Best Books on Alaska
A Day in the Life of an Interior Alaskan Student
I love the contrasts of Alaska. I lived in a cabin just outside of Fairbanks, about three and a half miles from the University, which sits just outside of the city and is surrounded by heavy wilderness. When I say cabin, I don't mean logs stacked up with a nice fireplace in the classic mental vision of rustic elegance.
I'm talking about a slapped together structure solid enough not to far apart, and drafty, but not too draft to heat when it's 40 below. No running water, no indoor plumbing (though a heat lamp in the outhouse makes winter far more bearable than with just a normal light), and wireless Internet to check on e-mail and figure out any responsibilities for the day.
If it's summer, then it will be light because it always is. Assuming I slept well instead of reading a book outside until 3 a.m. then it's time to make a meal, conserving as much water as possible and keeping an eye on dishes and trash. Then I pack my laptop in my backpack and prepare for a 3 ½ mile hike into town, about a mile of which actually is via a hiking trail.
People of the Bike
While I walk many people will pass on bikes, and I've often thought to myself that if Mongolians were people of the horse, than Interior Alaskans are people of the bike. The sheer number who ride, turn, and steer without hands is pretty amazing to a novice like me. There is only a 50/50 chance I'll walk all the way to town.
People pull over for hitchhikers all the time, and often times even for those who aren't sticking out a thumb. I'm 6 feet even and 300 lbs, so yeah, they even stop for the "scary" guys who usually turn out just to be good-natured fellas.
Living in a place where so many people "know how to handle themselves" has some great advantages—like no one being scared to pick up walkers. Nine times out of ten if the person isn't born and raised Alaskan, they showed up from the Midwest 5, 10, or 20 years ago and never went back. Displaced Midwesterners seem to fit right in, and seem to be some of the coolest people I know, up there with the Alaskans they get along so well with.
If it's a normal Alaska winter day and forty degrees below zero, I suck it up, bundle up, and walk to school during the few hours of the day when there is a dawn/dusk light. It's almost a certainty I'll get picked up if I just stick a thumb out, and I'll get plenty of rides if I don't. By the time winter is in full force, forty below is still walking weather, as long as the goal isn't more than five miles away.
Life in the city is amazingly normal like life in cities elsewhere. Only difference is more people in bars have interesting life stories, have been other places, and for a writer just sitting and listening in these places can be a creative heaven.
On the weekends anywhere there's a bonfire burning, you can usually walk right up with a six pack and start chatting away. Parties are fun, always around a fire and with good food cooking. Hippies, college students, blue collars alike all meet. Neighbors often show up just to see what's going on, and one time a Scotsman playing bagpipes appeared out of the darkness. Great times.
During the school year, life in the Interior isn't so different than the life of students in more "normal" places, but in a more extreme environment. Light at 3 am, or darkness at 3 pm. Bears and moose instead of white tail deer, but life continues with people living their lives, and hopefully appreciating their surroundings a little bit more.
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A Day in the Life of Alaska: More Odds and Ends
There are several moments that stick out. Because of the extreme nature of light and seasons up in Alaska, the solstices remain a big deal. The solstices mark the longest day and the longest night of each year, each hinting at the next season yet to come.
The Iditarod is a big deal, and speaking as someone who used to be an outsider, it is a lot of fun to attend and watch at least part of one of the legs of the race, and to keep track of who is doing what along the long frozen dog trails.
Once in a while a few friends get together and we take off north from Fairbanks, where there's a rest stop every 35-40 miles by a stream where camping is permitted. We carry firearms because it's Alaska, and that's legal as long as you're not a felon. I've never had to use against bears or moose, but it's always been reassuring to have and I wouldn't go deep into the woods without it. That said, with bears you definitely want to use a can of bear pepper spray first.
Part of life in Alaska for those who move there is coming to accept what used to be extreme as part of every day life. The wilderness and sheer size of the state is always present, and there is a beauty to that, as well as a scariness. There aren't many places where you can go and just disappear, but Alaska is still like that, even as sixty year olds reminisce about the "Old Alaska."
Alaskans are fiercely independent, so those of us who maybe don't do so well in other places often do well here, and there's always a slight mischief in the air. Every spring there is a barrage of commercials from the Alaska Board of Tourism, reminding us all to be very nice to the tourists because that's good for us, as if every normal Alaskan is a grown Bart Simpson just waiting to cause some trouble. Most of us find it funny and just keep doing what we do.
Summer weekends in Fairbanks are fantastic times for dumpster diving, as there are "depots" where you can check dumpsters, and even sections at each designed to store stuff that might be useful to someone else, but not to you. That's actually how I got my furniture and bed for my cabin, all for free. Pretty nice free furniture, too. Even had to leave a cherry writing desk at the dump because I didn't have the vehicle to move it.
In many ways, describing day to day life in Alaska is describing a paradox. Obviously life in a Yupik village or Nome, Barrow, Anchorage, Homer, or Juneau is all very different from each other, but for me, and for many others, living in Alaska is a paradox. To describe it: Alaska is more unique and spectacular and amazing than you can possibly imagine, and it is more normal, day-to-day, and "average" than you would possibly believe.
Those two statements are not contradictory, either. And that is day to day life in Alaska.
Rural Alaska—What Is It Like?
Alaska Photographs by Thomas Shover
Alaska Vacation Rentals
One of the most popular ways to taste even a small part of Alaska life is to look for a cabin rental during a summer vacation of a couple weeks. This can help you to be closer to nature, enjoying the incredible wildlife and natural beauty that this state has to offer. Also, just the rustic or semi-rustic feel can help add the wanted experience without giving up some of the comforts that you want from a vacation. Alaska vacation rentals can vary from apartments to hotel rooms to actual cabins on the lake. This last option is especially popular.
You might even be able to go into town and talk to some home grown Alaskans to find out all about what the life is like for a normal Alaskan in the area. Before visiting all of us in the great north, make sure to take a look at possible vacation rentals to know what your options are. In places like Fairbanks there are even on campus apartments at the local university that put visitors right on the trails on the side of town while providing an outstanding housing option that they can enjoy.
More Photos of Alaska - Courtesy of Tom Shover
All About Alaska Road Trips
When I first moved to Alaska, about my only small worry was that there really weren't a lot of roads, so could there really be any good road trips? Thankfully there are scenic stops every fifty miles, and Alaska might only have a couple roads, but there's hundreds and hundreds of miles between them and plenty to see no matter what direction you're going. Especially if you're a newbie heading to Alaska for the first time to visit friends, to have an adventurous summer, or to go to school—one of the first things good friends will want is to drag you into a road trip through their part of this fantastic state. It's definitely a journey worth taking.
Boiling Water "Evaporates" at -45
Links on Alaska
- 8 Things No One Told You About Alaska Living - InfoBarrel
Have you ever thought about moving to Alaska? Read on to learn more about Alaska and some of the major changes no one warns you about.
A ton of great information on the state of Alaska and everything involved.
- Travel Alaska
Visit the "Land of the Midnight Sun" and "The Last Frontier."