To Be Alaskan......
I had ventured into the Last Frontier a number of times during my brief escapes from work and to a degree, most of civilization. About 8 years ago, home for me was Boise, Idaho. A great place, but I was ready for a new adventure. Having been a bike messenger in the past, I liked the idea of combining work with a splice of adventure so decided that I would spend some internet time and see if I could find a job in the wilds of Alaska. I had been to Juneau, Skagway, Petersburg and Sitka. No, no, no and yes. Sitka had been my favorite stop along the Dave/Alaska trail so I concentrated my search to the Sitka area. I would land a position with Sitka Convention & Visitors Bureau. I would soon learn that the first step to becoming 'Alaskan' is just getting to the state. In my case, that would mean almost 3 days on the Alaskan Marine Highway Ferry. Welcome to adventure!
Alaska , the name is probably a corruption of the Aleut work Alyeska, which means “the great land”. Great is an great understatement. First of all, Alaska is huge. If you cut Alaska in half, Texas would be the third-largest state. There were a number of times that I was asked or it was assumed that Sitka was close to Anchorage. Do you consider 600 miles to be close?
Brown Bear print
Bears…….by all means Alaska has bears! a definite thickness of the fur balls. And to make it more interesting, we have zero black bears on our island. If you come across a bear near Sitka, it will probably be very large and brown. On my trail run today I was stopped by a runner who warned me about a bear he had just seen on the trail. The trail would be free of large objects but it did remind me that there is a certain feel to Alaska and that I seriously needed to finish this blog.
Trever Alters on one of our No Limits kayak expeditions
Oh, and there is that oil fund check that Alaskans receive from the state each year, rewarding us for being Alaskan and for the fact that we are rather blessed with lots of oil. While at the Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau, one of the many inquiring phone calls I received from prospective visitors/residents was from a gentleman who asked what he has to do to receive the $20,000 check we receive each year. Well, Sir, it might has something to do with actually living in Alaska and no, it does not punch up your checking account $20,000, try $800-1200. That is easily washed out by the extra expense to live here. I have been appreciative of the extra cash, though.
ok, no moose on Baranof Island, where I live, but I like the photo
Being Alaskan almost demands that you own a pair of Xtra Tuff Boots.
Halibut Head Toss (Sitka Seafood Festival) with my daughter, Deanna
Alaskan, it turns out, is more than just somebody who lives up north. It’s also a language with many words all it’s own, including words borrowed from English but given a peculiar, northern meaning. Then there are words from Native languages, not to mention jargon and pidgin.
Cheechako-a newcomer to AK, usually one who has not survived a winter here.
Cold-according to physicians, there is no such thing as cold, only an absence of heat. Greatest absence of heat ever recorded in ak was -80 at Prospect Creek Camp on jan 23, 1971.
Deanna and that adorable halibut head
photo by Deanna Rivaldo
Some basic statistics that highlight a really big and varied state:
Lakes: 3 million / 586,412 sq miles / shoreline: 33,904 miles
Climate records 100 to -80
In 1867 Alaska was purchased for .02 per acre. from Russia. The end amount was 7,200,000. $200,000 was tacked on to the final price to cover the lost revenue that Russia would lose by selling ice out of Swan Lake (in Sitka). Sitka was the capital until it was moved to Juneau in 1906.
SE Alaska contains about 1,000 of the state’s 1,800 named islands
The flag for the 49th state was designed by a 13 year old.
Of special note to being a Sitkan I have pasted one of the top April Fool day hoaxes, ever, that was pulled off by Porky Bickar, of Sitka.
On April 1, 1974, a clear, beautiful morning, Porky Oliver Bickar of Sitka woke up early to see Mt. Edgecumbe through the window in all its glory. Porky whispered to his wife, Patty: "This is it. We've gotta do it today." Patty smiled sweetly, kissed Porky on the forehead, and said, "Don’t make an ass of yourself."
Porky rushed to his shop (you can see the name of his shop on Old Blue) and started calling helicopter charters. He called three charters, but when they heard his plan they respectfully declined. One said he was afraid of a white-out (snow), but since the weather was absolutely clear that didn't wash. Finally, with the help of Harry Sulser, the owner of Sitka's Pioneer Bar, Porky struck pay dirt with Temsco's Earl Walker in Petersburg. Although his chopper was fog-bound, Earl loved the idea and said he would be on the way to Sitka as soon as he could see one more telephone pole.
In the meantime, Porky made up two manila rope slings about 150 feet long...each holding about 50 old car tires. He also gathered up a batch of oily rags, a gallon of sterno, a lot of diesel oil, and a dozen smoke bombs. (He didn't want us to mention where he got those. OK, Pork.)
When Earl and his chopper arrived at the old PBY and Goose turnaround (Sitka didn't have an airport then), Porky, Earl, Larry Nelson, and Ken Stedman first loaded up the incendiaries. When Earl and Porky got off the ground and hovered the chopper, Larry and Ken hooked one sling of tires to the chopper and off they went toward Mt. Edgecumbe (with FAA "legal" clearance, of course).
Within just a few minutes, Porky and Earl were flying over Mt. Edgecumbe. They could see for miles--just water and islands--with Baranof Island to the east and the open North Pacific to the west.
Porky and Earl dropped the tires into the up-til-now extinct volcano, then swung around and set the chopper down. Porky got out and unloaded all the fuel...just the right stuff to make a lot of black, smoky fire.
When Earl lifted off headed back to Sitka for the next load of tires, Porky stacked the first load in a big circle, poured on the fuel, and started to spray-paint a huge message in the snow with 50-foot letters: APRIL FOOL. When Earl returned and dumped 50 more tires into Mt. Edgecumbe, the two boys finished the arrangement...set the whole mess ablaze...and happily headed back to Sitka.
On the way back, Earl asked the FAA tower for clearance, and Homer Sutter (the controller) said "I'll bring you in as low and inconspicuously as possible...and, by the way, the son of a gun looks fantastic!" Earl set the chopper down. Mission accomplished...
Although Porky had remembered to notify both the FAA and the Sitka Police (he was a member of the police commission), he somehow forgot to notify the Coast Guard. While Mt. Edgecumbe was busy spewing out its black smoke, the Coast Guard Commander called for a chopper to investigate and sent a whale boat over to check things out. The chopper pilot radioed back to the commander that all he saw was a bunch of smoldering tires and a big April Fool sign in the snow. This was after the commander had called the Admiral in Juneau about the apparent crisis.
Jimmy Johnson, Vice President of Alaska Airlines, had also heard about Mt. Edgecumbe's activity, and called Sitka to instruct their departing plane to fly over the mountain to give all the passengers a bird’s eye view of it all. And, in the meantime, the Sitka radio station and police station phones were ringing off the hook.
We later found out that Porky's April Fool's Day caper had made AP news...worldwide.
Link to Porky's caper on the Museum of Hoaxes website:
This is the first year in about 7 years that I did not sign up for the Alaska oil fund check. I will be moving off the island and off the Alaska grid by May 16th. It has been a grand adventure and I look forward to the next page in my life story.