Truck is fixed and we are are headed home (more details in next post), but before we left I wanted to share my thoughts in summary on our Alaska adventure. It’s important to note that our experience in Alaska wasn’t necessarily the “traditional” one. We worked, for one thing, and established a home base rather than traveling from place to place in the state. That being said, I think I have learned enough from both our experiences and those of our friends to summarize my thoughts on visiting here. Of course your mileage will vary to some extent, but I think in general these apply to most visitors.
Alaska is vast. Not big or spacious, but huge. It really is not like anything you have ever experienced. Add to that only a relatively small amount of the state is easily accessible by road and you should probably make your peace with the fact that unless you have unlimited time and budget, you won’t see everything.
The roads are rough. There are certain areas that are relatively well maintained, but these are the exception to the rule. The more remote the location, the worse the roads, and their condition changes as the summer progresses. Vast distances, plus rough roads, equals long drive times. If you are not a fan of long driving days this may not be the place for you. Yes, you can stop frequently along the way, but most people are trying to get to a particular area, and the in between is frequently not that hospitable. Also keep in mind that several of the most interesting roads are dirt/gravel roads and big rigs or rental cars (unless you pay extra) cannot be taken on them.
Alaska is expensive. Absolutely everything costs more money than in the lower 48, even locally produced items, and the bargains are few and far between. Couple high prices with poor selection, and staying on a budget can be challenging. You can mitigate costs somewhat by stocking/filling up in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Palmer, or Wasilla but the more remote the area, the bigger the budget challenges. If you fish you can help keep costs down, but keep in mind a fishing license runs $150 and a deep sea fishing trip runs around $350. So yes, you can fish and it is plentiful, but there is a cost associated with it. Unlike most places we have been there is little local meat/fish for sale. Most people here hunt and fish for their own subsistence needs and expect to pay premium prices for salmon or any exotic meats. One good piece of news is although traditional campgrounds are on the high side at $35-$45 dollars a night, there are many free or inexpensive spots to boondock. There are some places though that if you want to visit you will need to pay for a spot somewhere or leave your rig and travel from a remote site. All of those extra costs are doable, but when you add in the money to get to Alaska and back to the lower 48 it really adds up. Gas prices, the Canadian exchange rate, and ability to boondock are all big factors in determining the cost the trip to Alaska itself will take. If you would like to see a detailed cost accounting from our friends Les and Sue who traveled and didn’t work camp, check out this great blog post. They show both total cost and incremental cost and personally I would look at incremental because no matter where you are you’ll be spending something. In the case where you need to work and decide to not work while in Alaska, you should take into account both incremental cost and lost revenue. Personally we could never have done this if we hadn’t chosen to work.
Services are limited. Internet of course is sporadic outside of the cities, and service is crushed in certain seaside towns when the cruise ships come in. You always need to keep an eye on your gas tank, because although gas is available in most places, the prices can vary by as much as 50 cents a gallon. Restaurants are not that common, and in our estimation mostly over priced, and underwhelming. Mechanical issues are common (see the roads are rough) and choices for service providers are limited. Our experience is that largely those folks do good work, but expect long wait times, especially for parts.
It rains a lot. Coastal towns are the worst, but the interior sees batches of heavy rainfall as well. It’s nearly impossible to chase the weather here because the weather forecasts are often inaccurate. Mountain ranges and ocean fronts change the weather very quickly, and at some point you will get really tired of the rain. That being said we had far more beautiful days than I was planning on, and the temperatures were largely very pleasant and once I got used to the long days we took advantage of them to extend our travel days.
Wildlife is not as prevalent as you would think. Everyone (myself included) comes here with a mental list of animals they want to see. But the wilderness is vast and again you only have access to a small portion of it. Don’t get me wrong, the animals are here, but there is a huge element of luck in each and every animal sighting. Most of our sightings have taken place in the early morning, late evening, or during cloudy weather, and once the hunting season started those sighting were reduced to a trickle. If you can help yourself don’t come with a mental list that you need to check off in order to call Alaska a success. If you can’t help yourself cheat a little and visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. I will say though that one of the most impressive things about the state is how well they manage their animal resources. They take poaching very seriously up here and there are constant updates on hunting and fishing regulations. If you plan on fishing, stop at a visitors center and get the regulations and keep your ears open changes to those policies. King Salmon, for example, were restricted completely right after we got here and they were not open for taking for the rest of the summer.
So why do it, if all the things above are true, why come here? Because...Alaska is breathtaking. I mean forget to breathe in the moment breathtaking. And there are so many of those moments. It’s not one scenery that plays itself out multiple times or one really great thing that you have to see and then can check the box. It’s wild and vast and ever changing. It changes with the weather, as the snow melts, when the leaves turn color. As a matter of fact the rain makes it more special because you can’t see everything all the time, so when you do, it matters. It is like no place I have ever been and this sentiment was reiterated by the many foreign visitors I have met who are much more traveled than I am. It is the experience of a lifetime, but it is not without it’s challenges or costs and as such should not, in my opinion, be a trip that is undertaken lightly. So think it through, but find a way and come. It’s totally worth it.
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