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Tuesday, 10 July 2012

North to Alaska

By Joanne Zimmermann

Recently I took a vacation to Alaska in early June and encountered some strange weather phenomena. The first part, a cruise, took me through seven days of rain and into lush jungle ferns and mosses. That was a surprise as I thought ferns died in freezes.

The next surprise was that all was brown just two weeks prior. The combination of rain and 20-plus hours of sun cause Alaska to burst forth with green trees, grasses, flowers of grand proportions and some of the world’s largest vegetables.

There followed a week of sunshine, longer sun-filled days leading up to the summer solstice that had a gorgeous, spectacular sunset at 1AM. Trying to sleep as a novice in this situation is tough but heavy curtains are in most hotels.

Also, remember the time difference. There is a four-hour lag from my Florida home. I adjusted pretty well going in but coming home – well, that was another freaky thing. We flew out of Anchorage at 8:30PM. I took a sleeping pill but it did not really work until I landed in Houston at 6AM which was really 7AM, then left there at 8AM which was really my Florida 9AM.

So I slept then and awoke to being in Orlando at noon. Renting a car and getting home to Daytona was another three hours. At this point, tropical depression Debby was flirting with the Gulf and it began to rain.

So now it is Monday, still raining 20-plus hours while Debby meanders closer and my Florida yard now looks like the Alaskan rain forest.

One other thing added to my disorientation. The hotel clerk told me that when he came to Alaska, he was confused for several days. He was told it was due to being close to the North Pole and magnetism had caused it. None of our group with metal parts got stuck to a mountainside, however.

Add all this to the fact that I am nearly 80.

But it was exhilarating beyond my expectations. Alaska is ginormous, beyond comprehension and the mountains and rivers and glaciers are all huge. It made me really appreciate those gold rush pioneers who went up in droves carrying 1,000 pound loads on horses.

So many men and animals died in the effort or arrived only to find all the gold had been already staked out.

The one thing that seemed constant is that there was the very low crime rate and the easy spirit of those who went to live in Alaska and stayed. Everyone went out of their way to be helpful. Frustrations were well tolerated; after all, many live without water or electricity.

Fairbanks temperatures fluctuate from minus 61 degrees Fahrenheit to 90 in the summer and if one goes higher up, it gets warmer, not colder.

And our tour included talks by Inuit teens who were in college with great future plans. They stressed the last hundred years for them to adapt to western culture has been amazing. Their grandfather still lives in his cabin with a sod roof, but he has Wi-Fi. And they are still capable of hunting a moose or caribou and preparing it to eat. Every single part is utilized, nothing is wasted.

If you have not gone, I would recommend it - the sooner the better. You want to go while you still are able and you hope Alaska will remain pristine.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I can't agree more that one should go to Alaska as soon as possible. We have gone twice on Elder Hostel tours which allowed us contact with local persons who grew up there. Glacier Bay was spectacular and Denali was beautiful--trips I will always remember.

Alaska is one of my favorite destinations for a vacation. My husband and I enjoyed a getaway from the desert heat to Alaska during the summertime. I remember one year in Juneau the weather was very warm. No a/c in the stores and the tights I was wearing made for some discomfort. The glacier recedes with each passing year. Still a magnificent departure from the beauty of the California desert.


The account of your trip to Alaska was so complete,I was exhausted just reading it.

You seem to have the same experience I have on long trips like this one. It's one bad day to get there and one terribly bad day to get home, but it's all gravy in between.

I love to go places but wish it was like Star Trek and I could say, "Beam me to Alaska, Scotty."

Enjoyed your story very much!

Yes Alaska is a place everyone should visit but it better be soon for I'm afraid our last frontier will soon change dramatically what with off shore oil drilling and a proposed pipe line. Hordes of people will have to work on these, and they will not have time to adapt to the Alaskan ways. As you say, better go now.

Joanne: I'm glad you got beyond Southeast Alaska and into Southcentral (the greater Anchorage area). Too many who take cruises think all Alaska is like the rain forests on Southeast. I take it you didn't get down to the Kenai Peninsula where I live. Or perhaps you did if your ship docked in Seward.

Johna: Not to worry. Any off-shore drilling will be so far away north, only those who work on the rigs will see them. As for the pipeline, that remains a big IF, because natural gas n large quantities has been found in the Lower 48 and thus diminished the demand for Alaska's natural gas.

What made the biggest change in Alaska was construction of the 48-inch oil pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez in the mid 1970s, and the influx of construction workers. Most went home but some stayed.

Nonetheless, if you've always wanted to see Alaska, the sooner you do so the better. The cruise ship industry has already taken over the ambiance of Juneau and Skagway. I've never seen so many jewelry stores selling stones I've never heard of in Alaska, and I've lived here since 1948.

I had the wonderful time to live there for seven years. I miss it, tho the light kept me from sleeping like I should. But there are things that I don't miss about being so far away from my family, nor the close bear encounters. I guess it's all a trade off. Thanks so much for sharing.

Loved the story of your visit to Alaska. Thanks for sharing. I think I might like to go sometime. Your story gives me an idea of what it is like.

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