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August 17, 2006 - A Life, Changed

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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