April 8, 2014 at 3:19 am #7658
Not so much on this forum, but on another that I frequent, there are many who dream of the day that they will move/bugout to Alaska. Their minds are filled with movie scenes of gorgeous log cabins, huge forests, gushing rivers, and game everywhere. Perfect for wilderness survival–‘a piece of cake’ for anyone who has a few backwoods skills. The reality is not quite that easy… Yes, this will be a negative post. Just want to hit y’all with some reality.
First of all, it is a different culture and a different world. I, as an outdoorsperson, felt somewhat disoriented. The sun does not travel the same path as in the Lower 48. (And those on this forum from the Southern Hemisphere might experience a similar disorientation here in the Lower 48, with our sun to the south, instead of the north where they are accustomed to seeing/sensing it.)
When we lived in Alaska, we were in the Interior about 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Far enough so we didn’t have total darkness in the winter. But winter was dark enough to make me want to go into hibernation mode, since I am very light-sensitive. Slower, lacking energy. Most of us are used to the days growing shorter in winter, but in Alaska, as soon as the Sept Equinox is past, the days grow short very fast, sometimes by 7 minutes per day. That means 49 minutes per week for a while. If you grow up there, it’s normal. For me, it was not. My body needed to adjust more quickly than I was accustomed to doing. By December 31st, the sun came up in the SSE at 11:30AM and set in the SSW at 2:30PM. Granted, the sky was twilight for many hours, but no visible sun. I began to feel starved for sunlight. Some people are not troubled by it; others get depressed and go to drugs and alcohol (Alaska has the highest teen suicide rate in the US and the highest rate of alcoholism.)
Conversely, by June 21st, there are 22 hours of brilliant sunshine, and three hours of twilight while the sun dips briefly below the northern horizon. You can sit on your porch and read a newspaper all night (if the mosquitoes would let you….) And, like me, you can’t stop doing things…
As for the disorientation, the sun was never in the place I am accustomed to seeing it. It had been a “given” for me to judge direction and sense approximate time by the sun’s position, but not in Alaska. I mentioned the winter situation; in summer it rose in the NNE and set well after midnight in the NNW. It seems to travel in a low arc, rather than overhead. Not where I think it should be.
Once you are north of the Alaska Range (which we were) big trees are the exception rather than the rule. Yes, there were some lordly white spruces, but also thousand of miles of black spruces in the muskeg (swamps) and in permafrost areas that were 200 years old and barely 6ft tall. And the branches never grew far out from the trunks. Lots of spindly skinny spruces where the moose are There are very few species of trees up there: Spruce (black and white), birch, aspen, willow, cottonwood (balsam poplar). No fruit trees. No nuts. No vines. And the farther north you go, the fewer the trees. Going north from Fairbanks on the Steese “Highway” (gravel), you soon notice that there is more and more tundra, and the skinny trees are down in the sheltered valleys, until they finally peter out completely.
Another misconception is “all that empty land”. Sorry, but it is all owned by: Native Corporations; the Federal Govt; the State of Alaska; etc. Very little land is privately owned. It is not cheap. And you’d better not trespass on the Native lands, or public lands where someone has years of trapping rights, or traditional fishing camps, etc. So, no, you can’t just fly in and go “mountain man”. On occasion, you can purchase some at auction from the State, but it is usually only accessible by bush plane or a good boat. And not much of it is prime…
So let’s talk mosquitoes. Hordes of mosquitoes. Clouds of them. Not mentioned in the tourist brochures As soon as the snow begins to melt in late April, out they come. The moose dunk their heads into the water to escape them. The caribou run berserk. Grizzlies nap on late patches of snow to escape them. People have smudge coils burning in their homes/cabins/tents all the time (or now, battery-operated “puffers” hung on the wall which squirt out mosquito poison about every 15 minutes.) In our first cabin, we had tilt-out awning windows with the screens on the inside. The mosquitoes would swarm on them, and their whining was audible 24 hours a day.
Big game is not that easy to find. Alaska is huge, and the game is often scattered. In areas where it is hunted, a big moose can make himself invisible. They are more plentiful/easy to see in the city of Anchorage than anywhere except Denali Natl Park. Caribou require special permits as well. But I will admit that we love to hunt ruffed grouse–the limit is 15 per day, and we ate plenty. The fishing is spectacular esp during the salmon runs. Most people dry/smoke them for winter, and for dog food. Just know you are competing with the bears. You are no longer at the top of the food chain.
And although you cannot grow fruit trees or vines in the Interior or Arctic, God has provided miles and miles of blueberries (tart but intensely flavored), raspberries, cranberries, crowberries, soapberries, etc etc. The tundra is a mosaic of berries in the autumn as far as the eye can see. Great to harvest for winter. But, carry a .44mag. The bears love them too.
Gardening is different there. For instance, Denali Natl Park has a 53 day growing season; everything must sprout/bud/blossom/set seed before the snows. Cool season crops do well; esp those that are day-length growers, since the short growing season is compensated by loooong hours of daylight. (Cabbage, strawberries, etc) Most people have a jury-rigged greenhouse on the south side of their home for squash, cucumbers etc. There was no month that was completely frost free–maybe July–but there was snow one July too…
Just wanted to correct some people’s fantasies/illusions about The Great Land. Yes, life there can be wonderful. But my suggestion is get a day job for a couple of years to orient yourself to the culture and the seasons. Make friends who are willing to teach you. Remember, summer is basically time to get ready for the long winter. Buy good quality equipment and tools. And cut lots of firewood. Nothing warms the bones or lifts the spirits in the dark of -60F winter like a good wood fire in the stove.
I am not an expert on Alaska. Just some experience living there for several years, and I am surprised by the misconceptions of those who have never been there–or only gone there on a tourist cruise in summer, in the SE panhandle area. If you have questions, I’ll try to answer them.April 8, 2014 at 3:23 am #7659
My apologies to those on this forum from Scandinavia/ Northern Europe/Canada. You already know all or most of this. My post was for the Lower 48 USA people who have been ‘sold’ tourist Alaska…(or Reality Show Alaska.)April 8, 2014 at 4:27 am #7663
Lived in Maine for a few years , its very similar in some respects . Big difference is Mainers are for the most part nicer people , ( no offense ) they have always been on the poor side and have nothing to prove or an attitude towards anybody , most would give the shirt off their back . Funny thing is that you need subtitles to understand rural mainers ( northern hillbillies ) .April 8, 2014 at 7:05 am #7668
There was a time, long before reality tv that I considered Alaska.
Then common sense kicked in.
I don’t like the cold, hate mosquitos, and anyplace with that long a winter has no real appeal, especially as I grow older.April 8, 2014 at 9:07 am #7674
Good article WildArtist! It’s similar here in N. Scandinavia, how it is ‘sold’ and how it really is… There is quite a differenceApril 8, 2014 at 2:15 pm #7681
Thank you, Wildartist. Really enjoyed your info. I think people that wants to get away from the crowds move to places where it is hard to survive. That would be my motivation. I think we would all like to live in beautiful places with good soil and normal temperatures. But where there is lots of people there will be lots of trouble.April 8, 2014 at 3:47 pm #7700
Tolik said: Lived in Maine for a few years , its very similar in some respects . Big difference is Mainers are for the most part nicer people , ( no offense ) they have always been on the poor side and have nothing to prove or an attitude towards anybody , most would give the shirt off their back . Funny thing is that you need subtitles to understand rural mainers ( northern hillbillies ) .
Thanks for your comments, Tolik. Many people in Alaska are nice, BUT many are also very competitive, meaning “stay away from my area and my stuff.” Guess they already have the survival mentality–me and mine first. Many native elders remember the stories of winter starvation when game was not to be found. (We met one former Alaskan in Idaho after we left–asked if he’d go back–said Naaah, tired of every day being a survival situation.) Also, they tend to stand back and watch you for a year or two before they decide you are “for real” and begin to give advice or divulge information.
As for the ‘subtitles’–I’m laughing. After my Dad died, I moved to Vah-jinn-yuh. Along the Blue Ridge a bit north of Charlottesville. For a year, I’d have to get everyone to say things twice. “MawninHowYOOOO!” was one word. But they were great people. Knew I was accepted when the mountain men invited me to go bear hunting with them (with the wives’ approval). No bear, but great sitting in the dawn forest, listening to the distant hounds. More about camaraderie than getting a bear.April 8, 2014 at 4:22 pm #7705
WOW! Thanks so much for sharing this, wildartist. I have no dreams of bugging out to AK, and certainly don’t after reading this. I had no idea about the sun’s position there!
Wow!April 8, 2014 at 5:38 pm #7729
This guy gives some good insights into operating in Alaska I think…April 8, 2014 at 7:36 pm #7758
I read Call of the Wild by Guy Grieve, sod bugging out to Alaska it sounds like Scotland on steroids ;o)
If at first you don't succeed, excessive force is usually the answer.April 9, 2014 at 12:09 am #7785
Thanks, everyone, for reading my post. Just didn’t want someone to sell out and move there without a dose of reality first.
Leopard, much of Alaska is beautiful, but then there are thousands of square miles of the same ol/same ol muskeg–swampy spindly spruce with little mosquito ponds. I remember flying in a bush plane up to Bettles, north of The Circle, and we flew over miles/hours of that. The only way you can travel over it is in winter when it is frozen solid. And then, like the tundra, it is lumpy and difficult. There’s a reason Alaska is sparsely populated. But, yes, some of it is spectacular. The soil is mostly mineral, very little topsoil up where we were. And permafrost underneath which sinks septic tanks–and houses if they are not built on stilts or a meter of gravel. Temperatures–swing widely in the Interior, from -70F in winter to a few days of +104F in summer in Fairbanks.
And Toby C, yes, that website seems to have value. I think, by the looks of the vegetation, that he is south of the Alaska Range. I said in another post, Alaska is great for the young and strong. They will survive if they keep their focus. He has great gear and a great outlook–amassing real survival skills.
It is also great for the old and rich, who have plenty of equipment such as boats that can navigate the silty glacier rivers; bush planes to hop to a hospital if necessary; and all the gear that makes life a little less ‘on the edge’. I enjoyed most of my time there–and I was surprisingly warm in winter. I am always cold down here in Oklahoma, but when it hit -20F I think I had an internal thermostat that clicked on Dry, still winters with the frostflakes filling the air, sparkling in the low sunlight–like a beautiful fantasy. Finding an inebriated neighbor frozen to death in the snow, not so great. His dog was waiting by him…
It saddens Bushrat and myself to think that we have finally gotten a little past the ability to take on the world. Yet, on the other hand, many who were born there in Alaska, died from one stupid mistake. It only takes a second, then the village is out looking for your body among the driftwood spruce snags that pile up on the riverbanks. Or in the snow where your snowmachine dumped over on top of you.
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