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.
Clips to "North to Alaska"
Amazon's Favorite Alaska Based Items
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."
Where You from? Any Good Alaska Memories?
Virginia stone on November 05, 2019:
I lived in Fairbanks for 25 years. I loved it, had a snowmachine. Learned to mush
But Alaska can be loving & harsh. As the saying goes i don't live in Alaska but Alaska will always live in me!!
Joan on December 12, 2015:
Beautiful place spent a short time there last year and would love to return. I expected to freeze going there in May after an Australian summer, instead found the temperatures very pleasant. Only wish I had more time to spend there. Maybe one day I will return hopefully.
WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on November 10, 2014:
Are you still in Cedar Rapids, Jerry? My mother was born in Marion, and my dad was born in Coggon. I grew up in the very small Iowa town of Prairieburg.
Janette 2b AK on February 17, 2013:
Oh wow! Jerry! I absolutely love this! Thank you so much for this wonderful glimpse into your Alaskan adventure! It makes me realize just what a caged bird I've been: As long as I can remember I've longed to "drop out" "run away" whatever. I can't remember when the yearning began but it's an itch I've never scratched and boy does you hub make me want to. I came across it whilst researching the Alaskan way of life whilst looking for writing inspiration. It has helped and inspired me so much. I've always loved the idea of living in Alaska but more recently, after watching "Alaskan State Troopers" ans "Ice Pilots" I've became even more obsessed with "running away to Alaska" than I had before and started researching the place. I must say, your hub gave great insight to life in Alaska, it's people and their unique outlook on life. Brilliant! ( Would have loved to see more photos of your cabin though).
Jerry G2 (author) from Cedar Rapids, IA on January 18, 2013:
LOL - well good luck with that. Tell her I said it's totally worth it. From the UP, huh? Been years since I've been up that way - was visiting friends at Michigan Tech. Good luck this winter - enjoy the spring when it comes!
Kas from Bartlett, Tennessee on January 14, 2013:
Okay, I've been wanting to go Alaska for years now and this is helping to fuel that fire. I love the outdoors as it is, so to be outdoors all the time would be amazing to me. Very well written hub, voting up and interesting.
collegedad from The Upper Peninsula on January 14, 2013:
I want to head to Alaska, but the wife is digging in her heals. Thanks for the great hub. I'm going to forward this to the Mrs.
random on June 18, 2012:
I wish it had more om clothes :(
Nyesha Pagnou MPH from USA on December 29, 2011:
This is so interesting. I really want to visit Alaska one day.
htodd from United States on December 24, 2011:
Alaska is really great....Very nice place to visit
Marwan Asmar from Amman, Jordan on November 23, 2011:
Nice hub, dreaming Alaska!
Paul Smith on August 31, 2011:
As a Mid west transplant, I seem to understand exactly your point of view. I am looking forward to my first Moose season to start tomorrow as well as another great winter!
North Pole, AK
manoj on August 24, 2011:
i have never been there but i am so eager to go there and watch such beautiful natural hills, mountains,rivers ,lakes and the woods..
tumbloo on July 29, 2011:
cant wait till the snow get here to snowboard
lilyfly on May 12, 2011:
Jerry, I awoke to two moose on my lawn last morning, I'm the real deal guy Bred and buttered Alaskan.. Yes, we are little Bart Simsons!
Jerry G2 (author) from Cedar Rapids, IA on April 09, 2011:
Fairbanks has plenty of places like that, although the winters are much harsher in the Interior than they are south. If you have enough money to look around, the Kenai Peninsula is beautiful and might be a fantastic match as there are many towns on the Peninsula, you're only a few hours away from Anchorage, and plenty of cabins along what might be the most beautiful part of Alaska. Take a look around Juneau, as well. Some online research can do some good, or spend 3-4 weeks in the summer checking out the state. It's incredible and you'll get a good feel for what each part of the state is like. Hope that helps.
lesley5499 on April 08, 2011:
i want to move to alaska once my parents are gone i live in virginia beach any suggestions on how to go about it i want to get a cabin with all the basics water electricity but out in the woods but close enough to drive into town if i need to what would be a good place to start
Jerry G2 (author) from Cedar Rapids, IA on February 17, 2011:
Not a problem! I'm hoping to be back up there for a month or two this summer - and most people I met up there were from the Midwest and talked about how 'X' number of years ago they wanted to go to Alaska so they did...and then never left. It's great meeting so many interesting people, 'cause you have to be a little bit different to want to be up there :)
Debra Cornelius from Georgia on February 17, 2011:
Loved reading this Hub about Alaska. Never have been but it is a dream of mine to go one day. Your 'rustic cabin' sounds right up my alley!!!
My family thinks I'm nuts for wanting to 'run away to Alaska', but maybe that's what it takes to be drawn there.... ;)
Thanks for sharing your experiences so well!
Jerry G2 (author) from Cedar Rapids, IA on January 23, 2011:
Thanks for the kind words. Will, I definitely recommend the trip. Don't forget to enjoy British Columbia on the way - some of the most beautiful country in the world is right there on the way to Alaska - also some of the most beautiful country in the world. I definitely know where Coogan is (which definitely pegs me as from Iowa) and am probably going to be in Cedar Rapids another year or so before moving on again. Thanks for commenting!
WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on January 22, 2011:
My wife will retire soon and Alaska is on our list of RV destinations.
Having grown up in Iowa, I like the challenge of cold and snow and I often use it in my writings.
firemanak on December 21, 2010:
Hey Jerry, awesome hub... I have lived in Alaska all my life, and wouldn't change it for the world..
Sharilee Swaity from Canada on November 20, 2010:
Beautiful hub, thank you. I lived in the Yukon, the neighbour to the South, for about a year and a half, and love it! My husband and I are talking about moving out there once the kids are off and well. You've done great justice to the North! Take care!
Charlie on October 23, 2010:
I am living in West Australia at the moment, and have always wanted to relocate to Alaska. It seems like such a beautiful place.
Jerry G2 (author) from Cedar Rapids, IA on September 22, 2010:
I pray that old feeling never goes away. It's a huge part of what makes Alaska so special!
taffy23 from Central Washington on August 21, 2010:
Enjoyed reading your piece. Just returned from a month driving around Alaska as an adventure to see what had changed since I left there about five years ago. Lots of changes, but the old feeling was still there.
Jerry G2 (author) from Cedar Rapids, IA on August 03, 2010:
Thanks for the kind words. I love traveling, and have to say I've also enjoyed what I've seen of Tennessee so far. The rent on my cabin, which was month to month (and not vacation) was $320 a month, which was a good deal because oil heat was included, so I didn't have to sport the bill for heat during those long winters. It was a rustic cabin, so no running water and an outhouse but I didn't have to pay for heat and I had phone and Internet and was only a two mile hike from UAF, so it was a great deal for me. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask!
Donna in TN on August 03, 2010:
thanks for the experience I feel like I got from reading your hub, I so enjoyed it that I wanna go to Alaska for a visit now. You did a terrific job, thanks alot,
Donna in TN
by the way, what kind of rent did you pay on the cabin if you don't mind my asking?
Jerry G2 (author) from Cedar Rapids, IA on July 21, 2010:
Haven't read that book, but I'll definitely add it to the reading list. It's such a fascinating state that there are so many places a writer can go with it. Appreciate the recommendation!
amsmoving on July 21, 2010:
Hey Jerry - you ever read a book called "To The White Sea" by James Dickey? It's kind of what got me started on my Alaska kick. It's about Alaska though in kind of an oblique way. I'd definitely recommend it to another writer.
SteveoMc from Pacific NorthWest on June 30, 2010:
I grew up and lived in Sitka, SE Alaska. Your article intrigued me since I still love the stories about alaska.
Glad to read your hub. Thanks
Denise Handlon from North Carolina on June 22, 2010:
A kindered spirit. My family calls me a 'free spirit' because whereever I roam is home, LOL
Jerry G2 (author) from Cedar Rapids, IA on June 21, 2010:
Hi Denise, Actually I'm back in Iowa now after almost two years in Austin, Texas. Before that was 3 years in Alaska, with half a year in between roaming New England and going back to the Midwest. I've always been a wandering soul, and that Metallica line: "Anywhere I lay my head is home," applies to me pretty well :) I do miss a lot of Alaska, especially my friends, and the unique culture and people - but I think some warm winters in cool cities like Austin and Tampa may have spoiled me, LOL. Thanks for the kind words on my Alaska guide!
Denise Handlon from North Carolina on June 21, 2010:
Awwww! Your hub makes me even more homesick to go back! Great hub. I initially thought you were from AK, but I see you are a Texan, LOL. I went from MI to AK for 3 yrs. Your article captured the essence of the state, the experiences, the love for its uniqueness. Two thumbs up - I voted you UP. :)
It's just me from Alaska on June 12, 2010:
Yep,it gets in your blood, doesn't it. LOL
Jerry G2 (author) from Cedar Rapids, IA on April 04, 2010:
Thanks for all the comments, friends. Absolutely a beautiful place, and part of what's incredible is the little nuances in the culture and people. Definitely the longer I stayed the harder it was to leave: even with some of those less than hospitable winters :)
mpurcell10 from Arkansas on December 14, 2009:
So beautiful. I can't wait I want to see it.
Taressa Klays from Hinton, Alberta on July 07, 2009:
What a beautiful hub! I have been to Alaska, but only saw a small part on a luxury cruise ship. After reading your page, I feel I have seen so much more without having been there. Thankyou for sharing. Makes me want to run back and explore, and explore.
Carlosweb from USA on September 30, 2008:
Thats a very good experience and of course a grate Hub.
Constant Walker from Springfield, Oregon on August 28, 2008:
I agree, Jerry, very well done. And thank you.
Clive Fagan from South Africa on August 21, 2008:
Interesting to see life in a different place. i also resonded to this request some time back. My "day" contrasts markedly. great hub. I almost feel like I am there with you.