If everything goes according to my grand master plan, I will be leaving the state I’ve called home for two and a half decades in less than 12 weeks. That, and the beautiful light-filled summer at hand, has got me thinking about the uniquely Alaskan opportunities I’ve had here, about what I will miss and, most especially, I am reflecting on things I wished I’d done in Alaska.
Why is that we appreciate places most when we no longer live there? I adored New York City in the 1980s when I lived and attended school there. But after I left, even to this day, I ask myself why I didn’t visit Central Park more than the one time I went on a picnic with my fellow fourth floor Weinstein dorm mates. I wonder how many amazing museums I never stepped into. I ask myself why I can count on one hand the number of times I left the island of Manhattan.
After I left, I swore I learned my lesson. But if that were true, why was it that only after I left San Diego did I even learn about the tidal pools of La Jolla? Now here I am thinking about that same list as it pertains to Alaska. Fortunately, the list isn’t too long. Here are the top six:
- Certainly you have heard about the oil spill of 1989 when the tanker Exxon Valdez released 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Nearly 30 years later, there remain beaches where you can turn over rocks and still find oil. Some animal species have yet to be classified as “recovered” from the devastation. Despite this, Valdez is said to be a lovely place to visit with great hiking and beauty. Ironically, this is probably one of the easiest places on my list to visit because it is on the Alaska road system. Very little of Alaska actually is accessible by road. I have no reason for never having visited. I just never made the effort.
- Alaska’s lack of a road system is most evident during the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. In the early 1800s the Iditarod Trail was a mail and supply road, all via sled dog. It was before the advent of snow machines (Alaskans are adamant that they are not called snowmobiles). The most famous run on the trail was when dogs and mushers got life-saving diphtheria serum to the epidemic-stricken, Nome, Alaska, in 1925. The first race commemorating that run was held in 1973. These days, the ceremonial start is in Anchorage, followed the next day by the “real” start in Willow. And, 1,000 plus miles and eight or nine days later, the teams spill into Nome to cross the finish line and pass under the burled arch. Many years I have watched the finish on local television from the comfort of my home under a warm blanket. I’m not a big fan of cold weather. But, even so, it remains on my bucket list to someday be in Nome, Alaska, for the finish of the Last Great Race.
- Alaska has a lot of islands. Alaska, in fact, has more miles of coastline than all other 49 states combined. One of the larger populated islands is Kodiak. And with fishing being a major industry, in 1958, Kodiak began an annual celebration called the King Crab Festival. At the time, King crab wasn’t a well-known or popular food. Later the name was changed to the Kodiak Crab Festival to promote all types of crab. I’ve heard it’s a fun event in the town of 6,000 over the Memorial Day weekend.
- Earlier this year, I saw the lottery deadline announcement for the opportunity to go to the McNeil River State Game Refuge for their famous bear viewing as salmon ride the river back to the place of their birth to spawn. Brown bears flock to the river during the summer months to feed on the fat-rich salmon. It’s a sight to behold. Even the photos are breath-taking and you know in real life it has to be even more so. In an average year, the chances of getting a permit are about 13%. Though in the last year or two, that number has increased to 22% since the application numbers have declined. Still, it could’ve taken multiple tries to be selected. If ever. But you know what they say about lotteries. You can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket.
- As I prepared to write this post, I realized something. Chena Hot Springs and the Ice Museum are not only on my list of things I wished I’d done in Alaska but also not too far off
the likely route I’ll take when I leave. And, bonus, they offer a discount to Alaskans. Interestingly, the place is as popular in the winter month. Japanese couples visit in droves during the winter months as they believe babies conceived under the northern lights will be extra happy / healthy / intelligent /wise (depending on which source you use). Even though I will be super excited about getting to Tennessee to pick up my new home, it’s a detour of less than two hours each way. And really, what’s a few hours and a few days when I have years ahead of me? Plus, if the point of hitting the road is adventure and experiences, isn’t it kind of dumb to pass up one adventure and experience?
- And speaking of ice. The last thing I never did in Alaska but have wanted to do is ice climbing. I’m not sure if there are other kinds of ice climbing (a reflection of how little I know about this bucket list item) but the ice climbing I’m referring to is going down into a glacier’s crevasse. I get butterflies imagining how scary and thrilling it would be. And I did say I was going to do things that scare me.
Maybe no matter how much you do in one place, there is still more to do. No matter how much you see, there is still more to see. Maybe it is impossible to leave a place having missed something. That something is what draws you back years later. I adore so many things about Alaska. But I feel like I need to leave the state for a while to appreciate it as I should.
In the back of my mind, I’m planning a glorious return trip. I will come in my trailer, be a slow summer wanderer and check one or two of the items off this list. I look forward to the day I return to catch up with the friends I’m leaving and to see this amazing place with a tourist’s eye.
What about you? Are there things in your own hometown or home state you’ve meant to do but haven’t gotten around to yet?