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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

5 Years of Living in Alaska, 9 Things I Have Learned


Almost 5 years ago today I boarded the first of three flights that would bring me to my final destination in Alaska. My physical journey started out in Milwaukee, Wisconsin & ended in Coldfoot, Alaska. My personal & emotional journey had started many years before & is still a work in progress now. 
My decision to leave my life in Wisconsin for a 6 month job in Coldfoot was a rather impulsive one. I had a full-time job, two part-time jobs, friends, a rental house & a pretty decent social life. When an email from my mom landed itself in my work inbox, every element in my life suddenly seemed wrong. I had allowed myself to get trapped in a mundane day-to-day lifestyle. I worked in a cubicle, enjoyed Applebee's appetizers at least twice a week & preferred heels to my hiking boots. 
If any of those things currently described you or someone you know, please do not feel offended. My life, in most respects was perfectly acceptable & wonderful to a lot of people. For me, the girl born with a bit of wanderlust in her bones & adventure seeking genes, it was just plain boring. 
I responded to my mother's email with my 79 words per minute typing efficiency. While placing an incoming work call on hold, I filled out & submitted a work application to work in Coldfoot, Alaska. 
A refreshing shock to my life occurred 3 days later when I was contacted by the hiring company for Coldfoot Camp & less than a week later I was officially hired & preparing to leave for my new job. 

As the weeks passed by & I made my journey to Alaska I begun to feel nervous, excited, & completely & utterly unprepared for what was ahead of me. I had packed 3 rather large bags filled with all of the things that I thought were necessities, it turns out half of the contents were a waste of precious packing space & nothing could of prepared me for the things I was about to learn that summer. 
Coldfoot is the rarest of places. Where sleeping in a tent, climbing a mountain & enjoying a midnight fire back lit by the midnight sun are all possible within a single day. Where people from all walks of life from all corners of the globe gather each summer to capture aspects of Alaska that are only possible in a place where adventure is nestled amongst mountains & nature's most beautiful views can be seen from a plane flying a path through those very mountains. 

I could ramble on & on about Coldfoot, my first summer in Alaska & the totally random & sometimes weird moments from my initial months living in the Last Frontier. But I want to share 9 things that I have learned since arriving in Alaska, 5 years ago. The first couple of course, I learned that summer in Coldfoot. 

1. Trust your instincts. I was a bit naive & unprepared for some of the personal situations I would encounter within the first few months in Alaska. Over time I learned to allow my gut-feeling to be the leader when it came to deciding which person to trust or which person to politely leave behind. I wish I could say that I caught on immediately & saved myself some heartache & tears, but I had lessons to learn & this was one of the first that life in Alaska made very clear for me.

2. Be prepared for anything. When people say Alaska is the Last Frontier they are not joking. I thought growing up in central Wisconsin gave me a good sense of being ready to accept the unexpected. But Alaska comes with it's very own sense of wild possibilities. From catching a glimpse of the Aurora's midnight dances to driving a side-by-side through peanut butter textured mud, Alaska allows you to explore with endless excitement & surprises. 

3. Dream big, then dream bigger. Alaska is full of opportunity. Whether you are looking for a place to start over (sort of like I was) or you just need to escape your everyday life for a while, Alaska will welcome you with open arms. The job opportunities during the peak tourism season are pretty fantastic & by taking one you could find yourself working in some of the most amazing places in the entire US.

4. Surviving the winter takes some intense mental, emotional, physical, preparation. I spent my first Alaskan Winter in Deadhorse...6 months of total Arctic chill. (I'll save that journey for another post.) I have since spent winters in Wasilla & other parts of the North Slope region. No matter what anyone tries to tell you, the winters are brutal. It's not the cold or the snow that gets to me (I'm a WI girl after all.), but the darkness that occurs from mid-December to the end of January. Each year I have found that the winters seem to stretch a little longer & more draining on me than the one before. If you're going to venture to Alaska for the winter, bring lots of books to read because you are going to want an escape...even if it is a fictional one.

5. I'm pretty much awful at keeping my thoughts to myself. Seriously, I knew this was problem before my life in Alaska. But I have found that my personal beliefs & views clash a bit more with people here than they did back in WI. I used to be able to keep a lid on myself, but now I just feel like  keeping my mouth shut is almost impossible. Good thing I like to freely share my thoughts on the internet via my blog, youtube channel & twitter. HAHA!

6. Time is everything. It seems like everyone here is always trying to make the most of every moment. It's as if the thirst for life is greater here in the north. The everyday, mundane tasks like grocery shopping &...work, are just a necessary evil so that we can all enjoy the wild, freedom & fun that Alaska has to offer. Seriously, if you don't believe me go stand in a Fred Meyer on a beautiful summer day & tell me what you see. :) 

7. Embrace your strengths & face your fears. Alaska is pretty overwhelming & extreme no matter where you go. I had to learn to embrace the things I was good at while keeping my fears at bay then entire first 2 years I lived here. Amongst my fear list....bears, guns, the dark & spiders. In the 5 years I have been here I have faced one bear personally, witnessed the process of my husband hunting/killing another. Purchased my first gun & sometimes I can go get my dogs in the dark without having to mentally prepare myself. The spider thing is still pretty intense, luckily for me Alaska doesn't have the densest spider population on the planet. 

8. How the rest of the world perceives Alaska/Alaskans is a but off, but sometimes painfully accurate. Now maybe my stance on this whole issue is slightly skewed because I spent 20 years growing up & living in another place. But Alaska is an odd place, where the modern world meets the rugged intensity that only the 49th state has. Alaskans are deeply proud of their home state & they will defend it forever. But seriously, sometimes all I can think is... the odds are good, but the goods are odd. ;) 

9. Love knows no bounds. While I have adored the last 5 years I have spent living & learning in Alaska, being away from my family & friends in WI has been tough. I have some of the best friends in the world & an amazing family. Most days I can tolerate the 4,000+ mile distance, but I have a lot of days where I just want to lock myself in the bathroom until I can get on a plane to return to the people I miss. Luckily technology is quite advanced on the communication front, while I love getting snail mail from everyone, having them available at my finger tips when I'm feeling a bit home-sick is pretty great. If you are thinking about moving to Alaska please keep in mind that your average plane ticket to anywhere in the Lower 48 is going to be at least $1,000 round trip & that doesn't include the steep increase in prices when tourism season hits. I've spent anywhere from $800 to $1,800 on a round trip ticket to WI/CO over the last few years. 

Well if you are reading this...you stuck with me on this rather long rambling post. Thanks! I have truly loved the last 5 years in Alaska & I'm looking forward to spending many more here. Of course since moving to Alaska I became a wife & mother & this entire post could of been about the things I've learned from that part of my journey, but I wanted to keep things rather generalized...focusing on things I have learned aside from being a wacky mommy with a side of wifey-life. 

Here is a rather long Facebook post from earlier today...as you can see I'm feeling rather sentimental about the years I've spent in Alaska. I promise I will return to the beauty topics you've come to love soon, it's just something about the 5 year aspect that has me searching for perspective a bit more than usual. 

All of the pictures in this post were from my first summer in Coldfoot, Alaska. Obviously I have worked/traveled/lived in other places in the state, but I just really love looking at the first pictures I ever captured here. Something about them just seems perfect to me because they were the first things that truly caught my eye when I arrived in this wild, free, intense place. I just wish I had invested in a better camera before making the trip....

Lesson #10...Buy a badass fricken camera if you are going to come to Alaska. Whether it is for business, travel or a life change...make sure you are prepared to capture all of it with the quality it deserves.