Monday, March 05, 2007

My two homes

(Picture taken Sunday at Knik Glacier, Alaska, posted with
other great pictures on a MTB forum thread.)

(South Window Arch, Arches National Park, Utah)

Geoff and I have started planning a spring trip to Utah. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking, "Do I really want to go back to Utah this spring? Why not save the vacation time to do something really cool ... like bicycle camp my way to Inuvik?" Despite the appeal of visiting friends and family, sometimes thoughts of Utah dredge up a 'been there, done that' sentiment.

I still can't deny - despite my current location in Juneau and 'born and raised' familiarity with my state of origin - that I'm completely enamored with Utah. I've become more lost inside myself within the shadows of towering sandstone canyons than I have in my wilderness treks through trail-less Interior Alaska. I've been gripped with more primal fear in the rushing rapids of the Colorado River than I have standing in the path of a grizzly bear. I'm always quick to defend my home state when Alaskans ask me how many 'sister wives' I had back home, or when they tell me how much Salt Lake City "stinks." ("You mean like that smell wafting in right now from the salmon hatchery?" I say.) But when people ask me when I plan to leave the land of snow and ice to return to the land of salt and sand, I always reply with a confused stare. What? Leave Alaska?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm here by the sheer pull of similarity. Utah is home to the many of the most remote areas of the Lower 48. Alaska is just remote. Utah has the suffocating heat and desolation of the desert. Alaska has the paralyzing cold and desolation of the tundra. Girdwood is basically Park City with a hippy problem. Anchorage is basically Salt Lake City with a moose problem. Homer could double for Moab if you replaced mountain bike and ATV-riding with halibut fishing. Even where I live, Juneau - which often seems like no place I've ever seen before - could find a lot in common with the Beehive State residents who live to ski and ski to eat (someone here told me once that Alaskans eat the most ice cream per capita. I had to dispute that one loudly, too.)

But there's something about Alaska - something that draws me further away, even as I spend my nights dreaming about redrock. Something that keeps me up at night, scheming about all the places I have yet to see. It's big. It's wild. It's full of life (Isn't that right, Anchorage tourism board?)

And it's my home.


12 comments:

  1. Are mtn biking and halibut fishing similar? How so? I ask only because fishing has always put me to sleep, but I might be missing something.

    Let us know your plans!

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  2. Funny, Ive lived in Park City for 20 years and it used to be a lot like Girdwood, wish it still was. I've been to every one of your analogies and they are right on! Check the blog at www.parkcitytracks.blogspot.com I'll have some great White Rim photos in a month. You have a great Blog.

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  3. As a local Utahn might say: "Oh my heck!" Is it Utah calling you, or the the taste of that wonderful Wasatch Ale? I enjoyed your article, read your blog daily. If you get down here, please, don't hit the guy on the weird looking bike.

    Jim (in Layton)

    Alaska is my undiscovered country.

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  4. I love Utah, but I still haven't visited Alaska. Thanks for posting this wonderful piece!

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  5. I was just at the South Window Arch on Saturday (and was in Arches again today)! My family and I went over to Moab for the Skinny Tire Festival this wknd. It was great riding! I'd do the rides in the mornings, then pick up the wife and kid for some sightseeing in the afternoons. I was pretty psyched to FINALLY get to Arches NP, but definitely need to get some more time there. We hardly got any hiking in due to time constraints. Moab ROCKS! I haven't been to Alaska yet (but long to! and I'm considering the 200-mile event of Fireweed), but I fully understand why you love Utah. Alpine wonderland up north, desert wonderland in the south, with some of the most beautiful rock formations anywhere in the world. When I lived in MN (where I grew up), I always spent all my vacation time in CO. Now that I live in CO, I tend to spend a lot of it in UT (well, I still spend a lot right here in CO - Colorado rocks, too!).

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  6. The statistic I subscribe to (and I vaguely remember actually seeing some data or reference) is that Alaskans eat the most ice cream per capita in the winter. I do my part!

    I love the southwest, but southeast is even better! Great photo contrast--thanks Jill, and I hope you knee-thing is figured out quickly.

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  7. I've yet to find a single place in Alaska that measures up to Utah for mountain biking. Very large period.

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  8. So very true, I also am planning a trip to Utah next month. Other than a wedding to attend in Moab I am spending 3 weeks wandering through all the parks, canyons, monuments and rivers I can find - and thawing out!
    I love alaska too but the residents here are just a bit too protective over their image, Ive learned over the years 'there are other cool places outside of AK'.

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  9. So many interesting comments about the differences between alaska and utah. I would agree with at least part of what everyone's said and have in fact thought about most of these things before.

    Dave, I would guess that the comparison of mountain biking to halibut fishing is more a comparison of how mountain biking relates to moab vs. halibut fishing's relation to homer. Both these activities overwhelmingly define these towns to anyone who visits, but to residents of these towns there is of course a lot more than mountain biking and halibut fishing... and there is likely the urge to leave town, even if you are going somewhere to go biking or fishing. after all, who always wants to ride in the mountain biking capital of the world or fish in the halibut fishing capital of the world?

    richard, i agree with you about the superior mountain biking in utah, unless of course you're including snow biking in which case alaska has the edge over utah for 5 or 6 months each year.

    daniel, dead on thoughts about alaskans being too protective of their image. Alaskans would be a much more endearing crowd to mingle with if everyone here realized that there are cool places outside AK. not to mention how nice it would be if alaskan's at least pretended not to think that they and their state were far superior to all else. a good first step would be getting rid of the condescending term, "outside" that's more or less universally used by alaskans when refering to anywhere in the lower 48. this expression isn't always used in an arrogant/condescending way, but more often than not i think it is. I have no problem with people being proud of where they're from, but when this pride turns into looking down upon all who are not from that place then I have a hard time dealing with that. I can think of a lot of reasons to stay in alaska for the rest of my life, but the reality is that i'll likely only be able to deal with the arrogance problem that so many alaskans have for a few more years.
    geoff

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  10. I had never really thought about the ‘outside’ label but that is so true. I grew up here and it always seemed normal to give the cold shoulder to the tourists, even the local ones just down from Anchorage for the weekend. And with that came a poor perception of everywhere else, it was common to think- ‘why would all these people want to come up here if the place they were from was so nice?’
    When I was a teenager I had a T shirt that somewhat stated that USA stood for the United State of Alaska. An arrogance several years of travel and new experiences cured. I just recently wrote a short piece for NG stating that in a comparison of ‘right outside your door adventure activities’ Reno wins hands down over Alaska – an opinion I believe to be true however is sure to upset many residents here. I too love it here, but really…you know. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go shovel the driveway.

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  11. with your new level of fitness and your curently level of bicycle handling skills you could do some amaszing rides in amazing ways
    enjoying the trails like you never experienced them before

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  12. Your photos sure are breathtaking! I hope to visit your area someday.
    Matt

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