Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Alaska - Surprises

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Alaska - Surprises in Alaska

This a short read on why my wife and I moved to Alaska, and what we found different in Alaska compared to the lower 48. This is not about Alaska scenery or Alaska wild life. But about the different life styles in Alaska. Plus I have installed an appropriate game at the bottom of this blog

In 2002, my wife and I decided to retire in 2003. We never even thought of Alaska to move to. Question was where we to move if we wanted to move from our home in Omaha, Nebraska. Since I have no roots, moved on average, every five years, lived in California, Louisiana, Japan, Hawaii, Idaho, Connecticut, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Massachusetts , Nebraska, I had no problem in saying lets move. My wife had no problem in deciding to move either. She came over from England in 1997 to marry me so she was easy to relocate. I thought I might have a hard time to convince her to move to Alaska.

The next decision was where to move to. Since we were retiring and I lived where my mom and dad wanted me to live or where my job took me, I decided to list the attributes I wanted for where we were to move. The attributes were: low humidity, cool summers, snow that stays on the ground all winter and no wind.

The place we found that captured all these qualities was North Pole, Alaska. A 6000 mile relocation. That excited us, we were eager to see the views, animals, northern lights etc, but what we didn't expect is that living in Alaska is much different than living in the lower 48.

First off Alaska is a big, big state. Alaska would stretch, if laid over a map of the US, from the east coast to the west coast if the islands were added. Its population is about one person per square mile. Now it is essentially divided into two parts by the Alaskan Range. South of the Alaskan Range is where more than half the population lives, which includes Anchorage, and the state capitol Juneau, Alaska. This area is about 20% or less of the land mass of Alaska.

North of the Alaskan Range is what is called the Interiorof Alaska and contains the town of Fairbanks and North Pole. This has the other half of the states population and over 80% of the land mass. This is such a lopsided distribution of population to land mass, that there are some people in the Interior who advocate a separate state or a separate country.

We bought our home in North Pole on the banks of the Chena River in November of 2002 and came here for 10 days in late January of 2003. I had a sense that this was going to be a completely different life style when one morning I was drinking coffee and looking down the river, which was completely frozen, and saw a dog sled team come up the river.

I also noticed at this time that -40 degrees Fahrenheit is the same as -40 degrees Centigrade.

In June of 2003 we made the move to Alaska. The only person we new was our real estate agent and our neighbor who we met on our first visit here. So we were starting from scratch not realizing the experience we were about to obtain. Here are some of the differences

Road System

We had a struggle learning the way to identify the highways here in Alaska. Though they are numbered, there is no interstate here, the local people call them by their noun names. Highways such as The Steese, Dalton, Elliot, Richardson, etc are the terms used to identify the main roads. Not highway 2, 4, 6 etc.

You can be traveling north on the Steese and suddenly you are on the Dalton Highway. Appears, that right after the town of Fox, Alaska, the Steese makes a sharp right and heads east towards the town of Circle, Alaska. The Elliot goes north for about 70 miles and then turns into the Dalton highway, which continues up to Purdoe Bay. Dalton highway is also known as the Haul Road, mainly of gravel, except for a few miles of paved road across the Yukon.

Another surprise we had was that most of the villages in Alaska you can not get to them by automobile. The only way you can get to these villages is by airplane, boat, or in the winter, snow machine, or dog sled. For instance you can't drive to Nome or Barrow. Even though they have pictures of trucks and cars in these towns, they are very low mileage.

Another oddity about Alaska is the state capitol is the only capitol you can't drive to. Its either by plane or boat. The capitol Juneau is cut off from the world by glaciers. There has been talk of moving it but two things stand in the way, cost, both the cost of moving it and the loss of revenue to Juneau. The second concern about moving is where, both Fairbanks and Anchorage have valid reasons for wanting the capitol in their town.


Because of the vastness of Alaska, providing electricity to every household is monetary prohibited. Even people who live close to large towns or villages do not receive power from electric utilities. In this case these people go without or rely on portable generators for power.

In most of the villages they rely on diesel generators. In order to get diesel to these villages, they must barge the oil up the river in the summer before the rivers freeze over.

The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, which serves 53 small villages in the state, says that in 2008 cost of electricity is going from $14 million last year to $26 million this year.

A review of the village of Galena in 2004, shows that Galena pays about 28 cents per kilowatt hour. That was when oil was at about 30 dollars a barrel. They are currently looking at placing a nuclear reactor in the village which could drop the cost to around 5 cents per kilowatt hour.


I have fished all my life, but found the fishing regulations here quite interesting. For example, on the Chitina River, where there are many fish wheels, the annual limit is 30 for a household of one or 60 for a household of two. For each additional person in the household you may increase the limit by 10. Now if you request it, you may receive a permit for taking an annual limit of 200 salmon for a household of one or 500 for a household of two or more. There is no special requirement for getting this permit, just ask for it.

A fish wheel is usually operated all during the fish run by several different people all taking turns during the fish run. Usually the turn lasts a week, which is enough time to get the limit. In some cases the limit is reached in two or three days and in other cases the limit may not be reached in the week allowed, which sends the operator home with much less.

Another fishing regulation we found interesting is called proxy fishing. This is a special license issued to a person allowing them to fish for another person, besides themselves. The person they fish for must be over 65, or legally blind or 70% disabled. This law also allows a person to hunt for another with the same requirements. The reason for this law is to allow the elderly or disabled, to obtain subsistence fish and meat in which they would not otherwise be able to obtain.


After a few days here we noticed a lot of people drove their pick up trucks with large plastic containers in the back. After a few inquires we found out that most people who don't live in the towns but out in the woods, don't have running water. They live in what is called dry cabins. They must come into town to fill the containers with water at coin operated watering stations or they go to a town called Fox, just north of Fairbanks, and fill up at a spring there.

For showers they can go to some of the laundry mats that have coin operated showers. Another practice we heard of, from a lady in the Rotary who lived in a dry cabin, is to get up early in the morning and go to the health club, work out, and then shower.

In dry cabins people usually keep one or five gallon jugs around for drinking and cleaning.

9:03 AM