The booming metropolis of Whitehorse (pop. 22,000) is capital of the Yukon. Here one finds an assortment of loud smoky bars, cheesy tourist traps, riverboats old and new, and the pleasant Loose Moose cafe, where I took to diarizing. Whitehorse is rich in history due to the vital role played by the Yukon River in the settlement of the Klondike. This river flows out of the mountains just to the south and then arcs northwest through Dawson City and eventually straight through Alaska to empty into the Bering Sea near Nome. Before roads were built, flat-bottomed paddlewheel steamers used to transport miners and supplies all through the region. After touring the SS Klondike, conveniently beached in downtown Whitehorse, I stopped to picnic by the river.
The Duke family was parked next to me. For two to four months each year, the Dukes close their frame shop in Surrey and fly to North America, usually to Florida, then drive cross-country and back. "We've done this 14 years in a row now, although we've only been to Alaska three times so far," they allowed; it hit me how little I'll know this great land even after this trip.
One mile from downtown, I parked at the hydroelectric dam's fish ladder and was disappointed to find that the salmon don't come back here until late July (it is rather far from the ocean after all). Just as I hauled out my mountain bike, Kaarin appeared with Grizz, her dog, who looked unbearlike despite his name. Kaarin is an Anglophone Montrealer who gave up on McGill after she couldn't learn any more Arctic biology. She's going to spend next year at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, where they've an entire building devoted to the subject. Alaska, incredibly enough, gives resident tuition rates to residents of the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Kaarin has been living out of her old Chevy hatchback and camping "wherever."
Kaarin directed me down a dirt road toward Miles Canyon and eventually off onto some ski trails. I was beginning to get comfortable with my SPD pedals, but the trail became very technical at times with as many as three logs to hop over in one foot of trail. Under a resplendent blue sky, I zoomed through the woods, trees to my left, the dark green waters of the Yukon to my right. The last bit of the trail drops about 50' down the side of a steep slope. A flat trail notched into the hillside would have been nice, but this was essentially a sideways line on the slope. About halfway down, my back wheel started to slide over the edge. I thought I was finished. Somehow I managed to modulate the brakes and balance to keep it together. I wouldn't want to try it again.
Miles Canyon looked magnificent. The afternoon sun shone on 120,000 gallons of water a minute rushing through a narrow granite gap. Red rock and deep jade water make a striking contrast. I rode over a bridge to the other side of the Yukon and up to a paved road looking over the Yukon behind the hydroelectric dam with mountains in the background.
After a swim in the Lions Club pool and dinner, I met Kaarin downtown where she is house-sitting. The house had been recently condemned by the city, and a quick glance was enough to understand why. "In Canada, as long as tenants are living in a condemned structure, they can continue to occupy it," Kaarin explained.
We read the Yukon News personals, which are remarkably truly personal! Anonymous meetings simply aren't possible in this town of 20,000. Don't bother placing a standard ad, e.g., "Tired of superficiality? 30ish woman of fine character and discernment wanted by thoughtful man for elegant dinners, philosophical discussions, and serious commitment. Must measure 38D or larger." You already know all the single women in town, and if you don't get on with them you have the following options: move or get cable. Kaarin's friends had placed a typical Yukon News personal: "Kaarin, The Queen of Carnage, coming soon to a town near you. Adipose present [she'd had a job hacking adipose fins off fish], work experience absent, maybe shave legs! Love and peace; the gang at 304."
Grizz's provenance was interesting.
"Rick left his wife, his child, and his dog, but I could only take his dog." It turned out that Rick put his wife's head through a wall before leaving as well, which made me wonder aloud why women couldn't find better men.
"They don't want better men," Kaarin responded. "At least that's what a friend of mine says. He wears his hair in dreadlocks even though he's pretty conservative. He claims that women only like men who are bad for them or at least appear to be so. I think he's right because all the nice guys I know are permasingle."
Permasingle? Is that like permafrost?
"That's what I call anyone who hasn't had a steady girlfriend or boyfriend for years."
Kaarin is doing her share to make sure that the nice guys of the world stay single. Her last boyfriend and she were together five days a week in a lakeside cabin; on weekends, he went to the Big House to pay his debt to Yukon society.
"My family back in Montreal was fond of referring to him as `The Convict.'"
Saturday, July 3
I lunched at the Talisman Cafe with Lloyd, a heavy equipment operator who moved here a year ago, and his girlfriend Ruth from Ontario. Lloyd was trying to convince Ruth to move out here also. Lloyd is straightening the Alaska Highway about 300 miles east of here, mostly with Caterpillar D9 bulldozers. He looked remarkably fresh for a guy in his mid-40s who works construction 55 hours/week.
"I love my job. I'm going to be knocking over trees and pushing dirt around until I'm 65. Do these look like the hands of someone who has worked construction for 30 years?" Lloyd asked as he turned up his smooth palms. "I work in air-conditioned or heated comfort. Mechanics grease and clean the machines."
Lloyd's mother was a schoolteacher, but she didn't object to his being pulled out of school at age 15 to work on the farm. Lloyd wants better for his children, but they thwart his desire by indulgence in alcohol and by working moronic low-paying jobs.
"I've tried to get them into heavy equipment operation, but they can't be bothered to try and double their pay. They're lazy because they've been living with their mother, whom I divorced some years ago."
He seems to be doing better with Ruth, a vivacious fortysomething blonde who is just a touch careworn from divorce and too many years tending bar.
"I don't know if I can move to Whitehorse. I've been having fun this weekend, but I'm used to a variety of people," Ruth wondered.
"I'd expected the women of the Yukon to be built like me [6', 190 lb.] and the men to be built like grizzly bears [9', 900 lb.]. Who was it that said, `You won't find any Canadians in the North; only mad dogs and Scotsmen'? But actually the spectrum of people I've met here has been pretty broad," I noted.
"Best of all, Whitehorse is swimming in beautiful women," Lloyd interjected with a gleam in his eye.
Our waitress came over just then to underscore the issue. Erika, a stunning, dark, tall 25-year-old Hungarian fashion plate, came here five years ago chasing after her boyfriend, whom she ultimately married. If she lived in New York, she'd be a haughty fashion model or a pampered East Side trophy wife. Life in Whitehorse is different; her husband one night put a gun to her head and those of their two toddlers. She's been on her own for two years working seven days at week at three jobs (waitress, flower arranger, and dog trainer). She sees her children about five hours a day and makes the equation balance by only sleeping five or six hours a night.
"I was raised in Miskolc, a town of 600,000 next to Budapest. I was surrounded by ambitious architecture and urban sophistication. Whitehorse has beautiful people, but is too boring, untasteful, and full of junk."
Has she found romance here?
"I'm dating a 23-year-old. He's sensitive; he's a writer. But we don't get along so well because he feels guilty about not wanting to settle down and make a lifetime commitment. I don't pressure him to do anything, but he pushes himself."
Erika was remarkably sunny, cheerful, and active for a single mother with three jobs. She told me of her plans to drive 12 hours round-trip in a weekend to attend the Dawson City music festival. Even that isn't a rich enough life for her taste.
"I don't live the way I want to live. I'm just going to keep trying until I get my way."
Two hours of beautiful driving brought me to Haines Junction. Every mile of the road revealed a photo opportunity with wildflowers in the foreground, a stream in the midground, and dramatic peaks in the background. Six miles past the junction, I turned off onto the Alsek Road, which is a ribbon of dirt heading straight for the highest mountains in Canada. A deep creek across the road made further travel by minivan inadvisable. I hauled out the mountain bike and tightened my SPD pedals to weld me a little more firmly to the bike. I was, on the one hand, afraid of falling over and pulling the bike down on top of me, but, on the other, was even more afraid of popping out of the SPDs just when I needed power to keep me going through a rocky or muddy bottom.
The creek turned out to be far worse than it looked. It flowed fast over a sandy bottom and was nearly two feet deep. Thus were my shoes and socks soaked through in the first 100 yards of the ride. The temperature was about 65 degrees but a 25-40 mph wind made it feel much colder. Going directly into this wind was agony. I crawled along at a few miles per hour while my ears hurt from the cold air rushing past. The trail was so rocky or creek-strewn that I couldn't keep my eyes on the scenery. I returned to the car ready to buy the next suspension mountain bike that crossed my path.
As the edges of clouds began to tinge with color, I drove along
the shores of Kluane Lake, whose shimmering blue-green waters were once
home to the world's record trout (70 lb.). For an hour, I had Kluane
Lake on my right and the Icefield Mountains in the distance on my
left. Rising up to about 20,000', these mountains are also home to
the world's largest nonpolar icefield. I was tempted to stop and
take a scenic flight, but my desire to reach Alaska was a bit
feverish. I drove until 11:00 PM and camped by the Donjek River.
As I passed Canadian customs, I reflected on the appropriateness of re-entering the United States on Independence Day. My joy was postponed, however, because a combination of road construction and 22 more miles of Canadian territory delayed my homecoming. If you can survive in this wilderness, a flat forested valley, you are apparently welcome to enjoy a 22-mile strip of Canada without having to declare yourself. Until recently, the U.S. left nearly 100 miles of border land open in this manner, but customs and immigration were recently moved to within half a mile from the boundary.
"This unfortified boundary line between the Dominion of Canada and the United States of America should quicken the remembrance of the more than a century old friendship between these countries, a lesson of peace to all nations."
--- stone monument erected by the Kiwanis International in 1982
A mustache and paunch in uniform waved me into the U.S. without asking more than "Did you buy any alcohol or other things in Canada?" My first real American encounter was a few miles up the road at the Texaco. Paying $1.39/gallon for gasoline would have made me apoplectic just a couple of weeks ago, but after the US$2/gallon prices in Canada, it was a relief. Rhonda, the cashier, is a schoolteacher in Oklahoma nine months of the year.
"I'm thinking of moving up here. The average Alaskan schoolteacher makes well over $40,000 [the nationwide average was about $37,000], and they can retire with full pension after 20 years. I'm not sure if I can handle the long dark winter though."
Noting her naked ring finger, I pointed out that Alaska might be a good place to meet men, who tend to predominate in such wilderness areas.
"That's what I came up here to avoid," she plaintively responded.
I arrived in Tok, Alaska, a rat shack town of 1000, at about 4:00 PM and promptly parked myself at the famous Gateway Salmon Bake, where one can simultaneously satisfy cravings for barbecued salmon and reindeer sausage. Walter Holland was clearing tables, and he exemplified what I was to later learn about Alaskans. All one has to do to hear an interesting story is ask someone how he got here.
"Oh, I walked up here from Mexico with a Malamute. It took me four years to get this far, and I'm going to start walking/snowshoeing to Siberia when the trails freeze over in October."
Was it a tough walk?
"Well, I walked from Connecticut to Oregon a few years ago. That took me three years, but now I can pick up some cash anytime I want speaking about my walks in public schools. My biggest problem is that the Malamute likes to attack porcupines. I have to carry knock-out serum and a syringe so I can pull the quills out."
What wisdom had he gained from his years on the road?
"Most towns are the same."
cf. Frederick Law Olmsted's A Journey through Texas (1857): "It is our misfortune that all the towns of the Republic are alike, or differ in scarcely anything else than in natural position and wealth."
Driving the 200 miles from Tok to Fairbanks, I couldn't help noticing how crowded Alaska felt. Despite a population density 1/300th that of New York State, it still seems much more settled and less free than the Yukon Territory. There are at least 10 times as many side roads, most of which go into land owned by one of the native corporations established by Congress in the '70s. The Indians used to regard their songs as private and the land as common. Times have changed and "no trespassing" signs abound; one can't just throw down a tent on any old spot as in the Yukon.
My perspective on Alaska had been largely formed by my first Alaskan friends, whom I met in Amsterdam back in 1984. At one museum after another, I kept running into Rick, a rugged bearded state prosecutor from Juneau, and Kathy, a statuesque law student. We decided to accept Fate and team up.
"Alaska attracts people who are just too socially maladapted to live in the Lower 48. It is theoretically the last place in the U.S. where people can nurse their idiosyncrasies far from the intrusions of government and community," Rick observed. "We used to catch people all the time with oversized weapons, such as 50 cal. machine guns. Their defense was always the same: `Well, a couple of years ago I was charged by a grizzly. I shot him with my rifle and the bullet just bounced off his forehead.'"
My favorite Rick and Kathy story starts with us touring Amsterdam's Red Light District. We stopped to talk to one of the barkers, a guy who pulls people in from the street to attend a sex show. Rick asked the barker where most of his customers were from. He told us that Japanese and Germans were his best customers, but that people came from all over the world. I then asked if he didn't have to speak several languages in order to do his job. Of course, he said, "I speak English, Dutch, German, Japanese, French, and one word of Hebrew." "Oh," I inquired, "what's that, `Shalom'?" "No, it's mumphulumphul..ble," he responded. "What does that mean?" we all asked. "It means `live fucking on stage.'"
Shortly after crossing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which looks depressingly insignificant for something that cost 8 billion 1977 dollars, I rolled into Delta Junction, where the Alaska Highway ends. Right next to Milepost 1422, there is a horrifying yellow sign with black schematic figures. A huge bison is crashing into the front of a light truck, whose driver is being ejected from the vehicle through the windshield. One of the truck's tires flies off toward the right. I counted myself lucky that in six days on the Alaska Highway I'd suffered only a flat tire while getting a real feeling for the size of the continent, meeting a lot of interesting people, and not having to pay a dime for shelter.
Reflecting on this last point, it occurred to me that civilized man may indeed have gone overboard in the shelter department. Thoreau thought that single men should live in plywood coffins so that they'd not have to spend their days working to pay rent. Today virtually all of us own steel-and-glass coffins-on-wheels that, when supplemented by a tent, would seem to Thoreau like luxury. Yet, despite the fact that we are already protected from inclement weather, we insist on building ever more elaborate monuments to impress other human beings. I was a few minutes into this thought when a country-western song came on the radio: "My parents think I'm doing swell. I tell them that I'm staying in Beverly Hills, sleepin' in the Hotel Coupe de Ville..."
I rolled past Calvary's Northern Lights Mission in the town of North Pole. KJNP, "your 50,000 watt Arctic voice of the Gospel," took me right back to medieval times and Thomas Aquinas's divine hierarchy with their 4th of July prayer: "Thank you God for giving us this great land where all may worship in tolerance. We know that all authority is established by you." I wondered how the "tolerance" theme would have struck David Koresh.
David Koresh, born Vernon Wayne Howell, led a fundamentalist Christian community in Waco, Texas that had stockpiled guns. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms laid siege to the compound for two months during early 1993. Janet Reno authorized a military assault on the compound in order to "protect the children inside". During the 6-hour assault on April 19, 1993, 400 CS gas canisters were fired into the building and tanks breached its walls. An ensuing fire and collapsing walls killed 75 of the 84 people inside the compound, including 25 children. The government prosecuted the survivors on a variety of charges but failed to obtain convictions on the more serious ones.
Monday, July 5 (a holiday still)
Fairbanks is Rat Shack Writ Large, but the University of Alaska's museum is one of the world's most interesting per square foot. They've excellent exhibits on the geography, wildlife, and history of each part of the state. There were also some good films about the aurora borealis, which the bright sky keeps one from seeing until September. After an hour there, I stopped at the nearby Pizza Hut to write my diary. I'd just told the waitress, Lisa, a college kid from Pennsylvania, how anonymous and frightening I found Fairbanks (pop. 77,000) after the Yukon. Marcia and Tony leaned over from the booth next door and explained that the pipeline project ruined Fairbanks.
"We used to have bumper stickers that said, `Happiness is 10,000 Okies heading south with a Texan under each arm.' Prostitution and all other kinds of crime came with the pipeline. Door locks on houses used to be unheard of, but now one has to lock the house; everyone used to stop to help stranded motorists, now one doesn't dare."
Marcia moved up here when her first husband started at the University of Alaska. The Army sent Tony here rather than back for another tour of duty in Vietnam because his brother was also in `Nam. Tony stayed to work construction. Tony made me feel like a girlie-man driver with his tale of his most recent trip up the AlCan. In order to save $6500, he bought his Chrysler minivan "Outside." He left Tacoma, Washington, at 2:30 on a Tuesday afternoon and arrived here Thursday at 10:30 PM. It was December, and he had unstudded, unchained, all-weather radials.
"Driving is easier in the winter on the AlCan because all of the bumps are filled in with snow and ice. I just set the cruise control on 80."
After poking around the tourist information offices and the mushing museum, which are semi-interesting, I stopped in at a tour office and chatted with the staff. When I noted that Fairbanks would not win any prizes for architecture, the fellow there said that I should "think of Alaska as one big park and the cities are just campgrounds." My next stop was Alaskaland, where admission is free and the attitude is low-key. One of the most interesting portions is the aviation museum, which highlights U.S./Soviet cooperation. I never knew that we sent 8000 fighters, bombers, and cargo planes via Alaska to the Russians during WWII! I'd spent so much time reading magazine articles about Japanese superefficiency that I'd forgotten our strengths. The United States in the 20th century had a staggering amount of leftover energy and capital. We tipped the stalemated scales of WWI. We rebuilt Germany in the '20s, by pumping in millions of dollars to stabilize the mark after the hyperinflation of 1923. During WWII, we supplied the Red Army and the British, used massive amounts of materiel to save American lives while defeating both the Germans and the Japanese, and did 20 years of physics in two years to build the A-bomb--a project the Brits gave up as too costly. We rebuilt postwar Germany and Japan. Then we fought a Cold War with Russia and hot wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq without crimping the civilian economy too badly.
Anxious to see a genuine tourist trap, I decamped to Marcia and Tony's hometown hamlet of Ester and the Malamute Saloon. The show was nearly sold out from bus tours, and it dawned on me that touring Alaska without reservations or a place in an organized tour is a dicey proposition in the summer. All tourism here is crammed into June, July, and August. Many activities are therefore simultaneously shockingly priced and sold out. Furthermore, this ain't Paris, where you can walk across the street and do something else if you can't get into the opera; the next attraction may be 300 miles down the road.
One of my tablemates was a power engineer who was seduced into working on the pipeline for 12 years, living one week up in Prudhoe Bay and then having a week off down here. I noted that I'd been tempted to fly up past the Arctic Circle to see the oil fields and Eskimo villages. Like most people I'd spoken to, Larry had never developed much affection for the North Country.
"Imagine Kansas with millions of mosquitoes and more wind."
While we rubbed our feet in sawdust, four versatile actors told the story of life in the original Alaskan mining towns in song and dance. They also recited the Robert Service poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee" that I'd already heard twice, such a staple is it of Alaskan tourism. In typically American fashion, this English-Canadian poet has been appropriated without mention of the fact that he rarely left the Yukon Territory.
One Alaskan commented that "it is our misfortune to have had a Robert Service rather than a Robert Frost.""There are strange things done in the midnight sun By the men who moil for gold; The Arctic trails have their secret tales That would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, But the queerest they ever did see Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated Sam McGee."
After the show, I rung up Tony, who came down the hill to fetch me in his minivan. We drove up unmarked, unsigned, unmailboxed streets to his house on the hill and went inside. Tony told me that he'd built this house himself for Marcia and their family. Although its architecture was more functional than decorative, it looked remarkably square and solid.
Tony complained about the outrageous property tax rates in Alaska (about 2% of assessed value, or slightly lower than in Massachusetts). I pointed out that with no sales tax, no income tax, and $4000/year in Permanent Fund checks (one for Marcia, Tony, and each of their children still technically living at home), they were in fact making a profit of about $2000/year by virtue of living here.
Remarkably, rather than bloat up the bureaucracy to absorb excess oil revenue, the state distributes $1000/year directly to each Alaskan as long as he or she remains in the state or is a full-time university student.
The interior was comfortably furnished, although dogs, a cat, and aquariums inevitably created some disarray. I hadn't been inside more than a few minutes before Marcia set before me two huge delicious made-from-scratch brownies topped with four scoops of vanilla ice cream.
Don't come to Alaska if you don't want to eat hearty, son.
We talked until nearly 2. Tony told of his days as a Med-Evac team leader on a helicopter in Vietnam. Wasn't it incredibly dangerous?
"We were under fire sometimes, but most of the time we were protected by helicopter gunships."
So your helicopter never got hit?
"Oh we got hit all the time. The worst was one trip where the pilot was killed by a machine gun shell through the chest. The Huey had hydraulic controls so it remained stable, but the co-pilot had been wounded also and he froze up. I had to help him fly the helicopter back to base. We'd been trained for that; it wasn't a big deal."
Tony thinks the Vietnam veterans who complain of flashbacks and war trauma are contemptible. Not only were so many people sent to Vietnam that one would expect a fair number to have gone crazy afterwards, but the streets there were littered with hallucinogens for sale, both synthetic and natural. Tony is more of the "I did my job in the Army as best I could" ex-military guy as opposed to the superpatriotic gung-ho Rambo type. He didn't even bother voting in the last presidential election: "Bush conceded well before the polls closed here."
Marcia talked about how, as head teller in her bank, it was difficult to train and motivate bank tellers. They only get paid $6/hour, though, and it seems that they can't realistically hope of ever making enough to support a family properly. Marcia spoke of the trials and tribulations of raising her adopted children with her ex-husband. She'd always thought that parents were to blame for children who dyed their hair orange or green, but changed her mind after coming home to find half of her daughter's hair shaved away. "You can't be with kids 24 hours/day."
Tuesday, July 6
I wasn't up and showered until after 10, and by then Tony had come back from his construction site because the required materials hadn't arrived. Marcia fixed us all prodigious quantities of sourdough waffles, and we chatted some more while looking at the Fairbanks paper. The top stories concerned a local boy who'd been burned by an aerosol can in a campfire and a British Columbia man who'd bulldozed his ex-girlfriend's house.
I wasn't allowed to leave without more of Marcia's home baking: a mammoth banana bread. I went back to Fairbanks to look up a friend who'd given me incomplete directions. I was reduced to flagging down a red Thunderbird driven by a young-looking fellow with an attractive blonde companion. He filled in the missing details and invited me to come to his house up the road if I couldn't find it or needed the phone.
My friend wasn't home, so I went to the "Thunderbird house." As I drove up the driveway, I was shocked to find that it was an architecturally tasteful stone-faced quasi-mansion. This was really the nicest building, public or private, that I'd seen since maybe Whitehorse or even Edmonton. Randy ushered me in and introduced me to his wife, Cathy. They looked so young that I initially thought it must be their parents' house.
Randy defends doctors in malpractice suits. The beautiful 32-year-old Cathy was his second wife, and the young-looking Randy turned out to have two daughters just out of college! East Coast attorneys his age wear the grime of 20 years of recirculated skyscraper air around their sagging middle.
Randy and Cathy were delighted to find out that I knew Marion, daughter of Bernard Kelly, one of Alaska's foremost plaintiff's attorneys. Cathy had worked for a big medical malpractice insurer, which is how she and Randy met, and they'd squared off in court with Kelly on several occasions. In the history of the state of Alaska, only three or four doctors have ever been found liable for medical malpractice; one of those cases Randy lost to Kelly.
We had a wide-ranging conversation for several hours, during which Cathy offered me all kinds of ice cream and beverages. Cathy had moved here a year ago from Lincoln Park (Chicago's equivalent of the Upper West Side) and was surprised to find out how much civilization existed in the wilderness. She'd initially labeled Randy Geographically Undesirable, but now found that even the winter darkness wasn't so bad.
"In Chicago it was a bit dark when I'd go to work in the morning and thoroughly dark by the time I got home at night. I don't really feel that I'd ever had a significant amount of daylight to be robbed of."
Randy was raised in Arizona and likes the Western culture out here.
"People are always willing to open their hearts and their homes to strangers. Alaska felt like home from the minute I landed here," Randy remembered. "Nobody here in Fairbanks would move to Anchorage. Sure, it is a lot warmer there, but it is so damp that it feels colder."
In response to my questions about how they'd met, Cathy spoke of her years dating in Chicago. She couldn't understand why men weren't content to have a good time night after night on dates without sleeping together. She didn't think that the fact that men were paying for several dozen dinners, symphonies, etc., entitled them to sex.
"No matter how irrational the belief, men have to maintain the fantasy that they are the one person who is really attractive to a woman. It is ultimately no fun spending time with a woman who isn't attracted to me," Randy noted. "Men are romantics. Male suicides outnumber female suicides by an order of magnitude. Women think about raising children and are naturally more practical minded. They don't look for soulmates but hunt practically for men who meet fixed criteria, matching guys up against big checklists."
"Oh, that's completely false!" Cathy exclaimed. "Although, of course I wouldn't date anyone who didn't have a postgraduate degree. And naturally he'd have to have the proper sort of job. Well, and one couldn't really expect anything lasting if one partner were neat and the other sloppy. ..."
General observation I about Alaskans: They divide the year into light and dark almost as much as warm and cold. Daylight here is precious and people are very conscious about losing it. Every weather report contains the length of the day and, right now, how many minutes shorter it is than yesterday. Six minutes may not seem like much to you or me, but several times I heard Alaskans lament their imminent loss of the sun.
General observation II about Alaskans: The southern senators who objected to Alaska's statehood in 1959 may have had a point. People here aren't all that bound to the rest of the country. Alaskans speak of the Lower 48 as "The States," and it sounds just as far away to them as it does to Americans I'd met who were working in Cairo. People here feel themselves to be a breed apart with a distinct culture and distinct capabilities. I wouldn't call them unpatriotic, but I get the impression sometimes that if the Lower 48 were to sink into the ocean tomorrow, it would make the front page of the Daily News-Miner for a day and then life would go back to normal.
Reflections on finally reaching Alaska: How did I feel about finally reaching my destination? Lucky to have driven 7000 relatively crash-free miles. Awed by the size and variety on our continent--this just has to be the best piece of real estate on the planet. Warmed by the good hearts of my fellow North Americans. Daunted by the prospect of touring a state one-fifth the size of the Lower 48 in just four weeks (three on land and one by ferry down the coast).