|August 17, 2006 - A
In the summer of 1985, a lifetime of obsession
was about to come to its logical fulfillment. I had actually saved
up some money, and I was going to hop on a plane and fly across the
continent to visit Alaska. I was in my early 20's, and Alaska had
been calling me since I was a child.
Geography, especially the geography of the far
north was a source of constant interest for me. I had a set of
encyclopedias and an atlas as a kid, and while my mother maintains
that I read them cover to cover, I was actually more selective than
that -- I read them as I found an interest in a topic. The section
on Alaska was particularly well-worn.
When I was in sixth grade, my teachers came up a
creative way to get us to study geography. They created a game where
all of the kids would submit a list of questions and answers about
the United States. The teachers would take the questions and cut
them into strips, and then rank them. The easy questions would be
rated a 'single', harder ones a 'double', 'triple' or 'home run'.
The class was divided into teams, (boys and girls) and people would
draw questions from a hat, the teacher would announce the number of
bases the question was worth and pose the question to the player. If
you were right, you would advance the number of bases stated on the
question. If you were wrong, you were out.
I don't remember exactly what the score was at
the time it was my turn, but the bases were loaded. Up until it was
my turn, every question had been rated a single. For example, "What
is the capital of New Jersey?" etc. So it was my turn and the bases
were loaded. I reached into the grocery bag that held all the
questions, and pulled one out. I handed it to my teacher. A big
smile appears on her face. She said, "Home run..." and she paused,
and said, "And it is his question!"
My team was cheering wildly as the teacher posed
the question: "What is the area of the State of Alaska, in square
miles?" I answered as if EVERYBODY knew the answer, and it was the
easiest question in the world: 586,400 square miles. I trotted the
bases, three of my male classmates ahead of me, and Alaska had made
me a hero.
Twelve years later, on August 28, 1985, I stepped
off the plane in Anchorage, and while I hadn't made any concrete
plans at that time, my heart knew it was home. Out of deference to
my mother, I got a room, rather than sleeping in the airport.
However, had she seen the place, she would have found the airport
preferable, I think. I spent the night that night in one of the
scariest places I have ever seen in my life - a motel that was a
throwback to the pipeline days.
The next day I took the train to Denali and saw
the northern lights for the first time. I eventually ended up in
Fairbanks, where I met some of the coolest people; some that have
become good friends, even to this day.
I had been in love with Alaska from afar, but
once I got here, it was a life-changing event. And while the
spectacular scenery and wildlife were an important part of my visit,
it was the people that I met that clinched the deal for me. Since I
have never been the really spontaneous type, I did in fact fly home
at the end of my vacation, but the following summer I drove my car
from the east coast to Alaska, and I have been here ever since.
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