1. Summer nights spent catching sunsets at the Arctic Valley turnout.
It never gets old watching Sleeping Lady transition from subtle mountain backdrop to silhouette as the midnight sun burns through the day’s final moments. No matter how long I’ve been away from AK, the early nightcap phenomenon of other places getting dark around 6 or 7 feels flat out wrong.
2. Fishing for real fish.
If I was back in Alaska right now, I’d be fishing The Russian and catching salmon this big [insert hand gesture for emphasis]. I was raised an Alaskan angler, but I find myself battling wave upon wave of regret because I’ve missed another fishing season blitz. Going fishing anywhere else just awakens a fresh round of homesickness. The best thing I can do is call home and nonchalantly check in to “see how the reds are running.”
3. Wildlife constantly bombarding into our everyday lives.
Unless there’s a moose under a sprinkler or a bear hanging out in a kiddy pool, whatever has people excited is likely not worth me craning my Alaskan neck at. Back home, we don’t care if there’s a bear in a tree, a bald eagle nearby or a couple of dall sheep butting heads. We’re thinking about that time a grizzly came down from Bear Mountain and ripped a hole in the side of our storage shed.
4. Camping, like in a real way.
The activity city folk call ‘camping’ nowadays will never come close to my Alaskan version. We don’t have meticulously landscaped and manicured camping yards; cute little log cottages with bunks, teeny windows and wafer thin sleeping mats; fully functioning bathing, toilet and laundry facilities; community cooking areas with outdoor kitchens (sinks and soaps included) and; shops ‘just around the corner.’ We have non-flushing outhouses, individual fire pits, semi-secluded tree lined gravel and dirt camping spaces and a single community potable water spigot per camping zone. We also have abundant visual reminders we’re in bear country and to conduct ourselves accordingly- including ‘bear proof’ dumpsters where everyone is expected to deposit their unburnable trash.
5. Termination dust.
As August transitions into September my body is programmed to ‘look to the hills’ and scan for the first high altitude snows we sourdoughs call termination dust.
6. The right color of salmon flesh.
7. Viewing the Alaska Range every morning, noon and night.
That 400-mile long stretch of mountains, strung together like a strand of giant freshwater pearls, includes: the world’s third highest mountain which happens to be North America’s highest (20,310 ft Denali); a double vented stratovolcano (11,070 ft Mt. Spurr) and the Denali Fault which shook all the way down to Texas in 2002 during the 7.9 Denali Earthquake. It instils a sense of awe, raw power and regal magnificence like no other. Not having this view occupy my field of vision several times a day feels like something is missing.
8. Road trips to nowhere.
There’s nothing quite like an Alaskan road trip spent cruising around the Kenai Peninsula along Alaska Route 1 stretching from Tok to Homer. The Parks Highway (Route 3) headed towards Fairbanks, or the Taylor Highway (Route 5) towards Chicken and Eagle for hours on end without seeing another sign of humanity. No shops, no billboards, nothing.
9. The air.
It’s so clean, pure and undefiled that all my stress evaporates the second I step outside and breathe deep. Nothing on the planet makes me feel more alive, present and together than Alaskan air. Outside of Alaska, I morph into a humanoid heat-seeking missile hot in pursuit of the next best thing: a green space to temporarily relieve my suffering. Suffering in the form of feeling contaminated from overexposure to everyone else’s molecular junk.