Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Back from Alaska

I’m back from Alaska. I actually got back at noon yesterday, but I was up all night on the flight back, and I am taking the day to decompress and relax and stuff. I am loading the pictures to Flickr, but it is taking forever because there are 800 of them.

(Update: Flickr photos are here. Note that Flickr appeared to lose 12 of the photos during the impossible batch upload, and it will take me forever to figure out the 12 missing, and take 754 hours to upload those 12, so try to avoid the Flickr page, and try to avoid them in general, as it appears they have written an entirely impossible to use tool that’s about as reliable as a piece of wet toilet paper as a birth control method.)

The trip report [gone, sorry] is just a bulleted list now, and partially makes no sense, but I will try to expand it at some later time. Sarah actually scheduled and planned the trip at the last minute, and booked reservations and stuff for everything so we didn’t spend the whole vacation at the mall or eating at Arby’s or whatever, which is what would have happened if I went alone. So we got to do a lot of cool stuff. Probably the best thing there, and maybe the best thing I’ve ever done, was a snowmobile tour we took out of Girdwood, south of Anchorage. It was with Glacier City tours, at snowtours.net. They first airlifted us out of Girdwood Airport in a Robinson R-44, which is a tiny little four-seater. We went up and over a mountain, and then at about 6,000 feet up, we were dropped off on a glacier. There, we met our guide Chris at a basecamp, which consisted of nothing more than a tent and a bunch of snowmobiles. There was nothing but white all around us, densely packed snow, with the very occasional bamboo trailpost marking where we got to go. We took off on three polaris snowmobiles, which were an absolute blast to drive. You sit low to the ground, and even though we were surrounded by ice, it wasn’t that cold outside, and I wore a light jacket and gloves. It was a completely surreal experience, being in such cold-looking surroundings, but wearing what you’d normally wear on a May day, plus helmet and gloves. And I have prescription sunglasses, but after a half-hour of wearing them, everything looked normal because it was so bright from the reflection. The trails started simple, and then we gained speed, to where we could drive along at 40 or so miles an hour, which seems catastrophically fast when you’re right off the ground, with an open-visor helmet and no windshield, and you’re trying to hang on to your snowmobile. We stopped in a lot of places, usually where the snow ended and the mountain began, and got to crawl up for many million-dollar views. It was seriously like mountain-climbing in Tibet, but without the pesky climbing. And once we got done snapping a few pictures and admiring the view, we got back on and rode down a ski hill at insane speeds. There was even part that was like a giant natural half-pipe, covered in snow, where we could carve the side of the hill and then turn, reverse, and do the same on the other side. It was absolutely fun, and if you ever go to Alaska, it is a must-do.

There was a lot of white and glaciers and ice for the trip – we also took a cruise down the fjords south of Seward and saw a big glacier there. The big chunks of ice were blue instead of white or clear, which is weird. If I could find a way to make that ice in a bar with a machine, I would be an instant billionaire. We got to sit and watch this huge glacier calf and drop off big pieces of ice, which was pretty awesome. We also chartered a sailplane on our last day and saw two glaciers, one more like a field of ice, and the other more of a cliff. Lots of pics to be seen on my pages, so look for that stuff, even though a snapshot does not do it justice. On the cruise we also saw a lot of wildlife, like bald eagles, orca and humpback whales, sea lions, sea otters, a brown bear, and a million birds I cannot identify. And when we were driving in Girdwood, we saw a female moose standing at the side of the road. I jumped out and got a couple of photos, but was scared (mostly of some weird flea-borne disease) to get too close. She didn’t really care either way, she was just busy eating some bushes.

Speaking of which, lots of lesbians in Alaska. Lots of tough guy types too. Lots of jailbait. Lots of Jesus. It’s a very southern type of atmosphere at first, especially with the biggest economic booms being construction, petroleum, and the military. It isn’t really southern in the typical redneck Alabama way, though, and it’s hard to put your finger on it. There’s the whole outsider, outlaw thing, but there are so many differences. Yes, everyone drives pickups, but everyone needs pickups, because you never know when you’re going to have to drive 100 miles in the dirt and mud. Everyone loves guns, but everyone needs a gun. One of the big stories the day we left was that a dude woke up to breaking glass in his house, got the gun, went downstairs, and was face-to-face with a 400-pound black bear. He unloaded the glock into him at point-blank range, and the bear turned around and said “you got anything else to eat?” (Of course, it says something that this story was front-page news there.)

I always expected Alaska to be the land of frozen everything, but the whole time we were there, I didn’t need a jacket. It was nicer there than it is currently in New York. What was weird was that we could go up into the mountains and see the snow and ice, but then go back down and be in 76 degree weather. One day, we went to the Alyeska ski resort and took their tram up to the top. I figured ski season was long since over, but when we got up there, the mountain was open, and a whole bunch of kids were on snowboards, carving it out on the mountain. It was so abnormal to be up there in jeans and a t-shirt, watching people in their “winter” gear on the slopes. In fact, some people weren’t in winter gear – we saw a lot of dudes with no shirts and sunglasses, riding their boards.

Overall, I liked Alaska a lot. It was very quiet and quaint when I was there, and the people overall (with the exception of the rude blue-hairs in their tour groups) were very nice. Everyone was pretty laid back, and politically, everyone was pretty close to my own views. I want to go back again. Actually, if I could find a way to live there, and then spend the winters in Oahu, I’d be pretty much set.

Still waiting on Flickr. God damn, their upload tool is slow. Anyway, back to work tomorrow (if I can even find the place.)