1. You trade in your umbrella for an all weather waterproof jacket.
Great Alaskan outdoors dress code 101: No one uses umbrellas. Not for rain and most especially not for snow. What we do use instead is high-end outdoor gear with removable hoods. Specifically, the breathable kind with two way zippers, zip in/zip out liners and decent size pockets. Umbrellas are for Mary Poppins, not Alaskans.
2. You begin wearing sunglasses year round.
The sun, beautiful as it is, is also brutal when the glare comes blazing through your windshield. Ultra reflective snow nine months out of the year only makes things worse. If there was one fashion accessory Alaskans can’t live without, it’s sunglasses.
3. You amass a small fortune in outdoor gear.
It all begins with that first ‘harmless’ spinning reel and pole outfit. After the first season or two, you find your favorite fishing hole (rather, it finds you) and you realize the gear you’ve got could be a lot better. And with better gear comes better fishing and so on and so forth. Before you know it, you’ve got a selection of rods, reels, and associated paraphernalia that would make a pro blush. The same goes for hunting, boating, camping and every other hobby Alaskans get carried away with. By year five, you could open your own gear rental shop. By year ten, you could open your own retail establishment and have plenty left over. Alaskans love their gear and their garages. Heck, Alaskan garages are basically repurposed as personal gear storage warehouses.
4. You acquire a 4WD beast of a vehicle.
Alaska, being the superlative state that it is all but requires super-sized vehicles. Between the boatloads of gear we regularly haul around (and rotate seasonally), the extreme driving conditions, potential animal mishaps, and johny-come-lately out-of-state drivers — it doesn’t take long to realize a two-door, rear-wheel drive coupe doesn’t cut it. While there’s no official Alaskan motto for vehicle purchases, if there was, it’d be something like, “The beastlier, the better, so go big or go home.” XL SUVs and extended cab trucks are high on the average Alaskan’s ‘must have’ vehicle list but, don’t be ashamed to start off on the smaller end of the spectrum and gradually work your way up.
5. You begin talking travel times in terms of hours.
To highlight the obvious yet again, Alaska is huge. There are extremely limited public transportation options in urban areas and if you want or need to get anywhere — car, boat, or plane are the standard options. Depending on where you’re headed, the clock can roll over into days while a 1.5-4 hour jaunt each way is the norm. The bright side of this is we’re pretty much guaranteed the scenic route and you learn to love the journey every bit as much as the reason for taking it. You also learn to one up your friends and family from everywhere else. When they complain about traveling twenty minutes extra to get someplace, the Alaskan always holds a trump card. “Twenty minutes to the store? I wish it only took me twenty minutes to the store! It’s 90 minutes round trip from here…”
6. Your definition of “bad” driving conditions evolves.
Depending on where in Alaska you’re located, you’ll have extreme dark, extreme daylight, gale force winds, whiteout snowstorms, ice rinks for parking lots, sleet, sheets of rain, battery draining cold, avalanches, landslides, wild fires, ill-timed animal crossings OR on myriad occasions an unhappy cocktail of the aforementioned and then some. Everything you knew about extreme driving conditions where you came from will fly out the window and you will finally learn how to deal with ‘real’ challenges on the road. The only thing an Alaskan is not great at dealing with on the road? Gridlock traffic.
7. Your infatuation with the Northern Lights wanes in favor of staying inside where it’s warm.
One of the surest ways for identifying the difference between cheechako and sourdough is their general attitude towards the Northern Lights. Sourdoughs are less and less inclined to rush out in the freezing cold to gaze at the far north nighttime wonder that is the Aurora Borealis. In fact, unless they are out in all their glory and splendor, we’re more likely to turn off the kitchen lights, take a quick peek, and get back to whatever we were doing before someone mumbled, “Oh, the Northern Lights are out.”
8. You gladly welcome summertime insomnia after months of wintertime SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is rough — especially where there are up to 64 consecutive days of wintertime darkness. The flip side of SAD is summertime. With up to 84 days of constant daylight, it’s easy to see why it’s difficult to sleep every bit as much as why no one actually wants to. Who in their right mind wants to snooze the summer away when it’s absolutely gorgeous out? You now fully grasp why we tell tourists, “We hibernate with the bears during winter.”
9. You wear shorts, t-shirts, and sandals in 40°F degree weather.
Temperature is relative. After a winter spent bundled up against double digit, below zero temps — 40°F in late March feels like a luxury vacation in the tropics. Bring out the “Life is Good” t-shirts, oversize cargo pocket shorts, and that trusty pair of wet/dry Keens. Woohoo! It’s finally summer!
10. You make bets with family and friends on when the first bear mauling news of the year will take place.
It happens every spring without fail. The bears wake up, people go running to enjoy the beautiful weather and then BAM — the first bear attack story of the season headlines on the evening news. The only questions are when and where? Kincaid Park in April, anyone?
11. You’re done with that stupid bus.
Enough already. If one more person from out-of-state comes up here, hikes out to ‘that bus’ pretending to be Christopher McCandless reincarnated by heading ‘Into the Wild’, either make them pay for their own search and rescue operations or, for the love of all things useful and good, please, air lift that bus out of there and blow it up. We know the world has no shortage of people with common sense deficiencies, but let’s stop giving them extra reasons to make Alaska their final destination.