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Finding your roots: an Alaskan adventure

by Derek Clarkston, editor

With Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska” tune soothing my ears as I got off Continental Airlines flight 1260, I was ready to embark on three weeks of extreme living in the land of the midnight sun, only at this time of the year, the sun would be at the minimum.

For the first time since 1999, I headed back to the place where I was born, Anchorage, Alaska, where for the first time since the age of four, I would be spending my Christmas, trying to regain my Alaskan roots in the harsh winter months of Alaska. I was ready for whatever the Alaskan weather gods had in store for me.




I was not let down. The day I arrived, Anchorage and most of southern Alaska had just received a fresh coating of that precious (if you're in Hawai‘i) white, fluffy stuff they call snow, which made the city look like a winter wonderland. The wonderland thoughts evaporated as soon as my right foot exited the warmth of a heated airport and I headed out to a balmy 12-degree day in Anchorage.

After experiencing a small case of what seemed to be frostbite on my legs due to the fact that I had worn shorts on the flight from Seattle to Anchorage, I eagerly climbed into my cousin’s car. I had plenty of time to get thawed as we headed off on an hour-long ride to Wasilla, an up-and-coming town 40 miles southwest of Anchorage, that I would call home for the tenure of my stay.

The first few days, I ventured out in brief five-minute periods trying to get used to weather that was so foreign to me now. Soon, though, I remembered what my mom once said to me: “You’re not a true Alaskan until you walk around in the snow in your bare feet.” So I tried it. While my grandma was yelling at me to get back in the house before my feet became ice cubes, I was trying not to reveal to her just how cold the snow on my feet really felt. After romping around in the snow, for all but 10 seconds, I once again considered myself a true Alaskan. At least I wasn’t going to do it again.

With this new-found glory running through my blood, I thought it was time for a full day of playing in the snow, which in Alaska during the winter is only from 10 a.m. till about 3:30 p.m. So my cousins and I headed to the Talkeetna Mountains to a place called Hatcher Pass, located 60 miles north of Anchorage. Once a gold mine, it is now home to the Independence Mine State Historical Park, which is closed during the winter. So we set out to entertain ourselves.

The people at Hatcher Pass that day were in for a treat, as they played spectators to a redneck country boy attempting, for the first time, to keep himself balanced on a slick contraption called a snowboard. For my first attempt I tried to conquer one of the smaller hills, but it had other plans. I made it a couple feet before I felt my rear end headed for the ground, and before I knew it I had wiped out, tumbling over and over until I came to rest with my face firmly planted in the powder snow.

I wasn’t about to let this little hill get the best of me, so I hiked back up and tried again. This time I managed to hang on just a little bit longer, but the run ended with the same results, my face planted in the snow. Meanwhile my cousins, who are half my age, are running circles around me doing things on snowboards that I could only dream of.

With the bittersweet taste of failure lingering in my mouth, I was beginning to believe that my first snowboarding experience would be a washout. Then that magical run happened, and before my face hit the snow I had gone about 15 feet, a triumphant victory for a Washington country boy who’d spent his last four years in Hawai‘i.

After my shenanigans atop Hatcher Pass, I spent the rest of my time in Alaska just taking in all the snow, moose, and cold weather that I could, not knowing when I would see all this again. And in the three weeks that I was there, I proved to myself that I am and always will be a true Alaskan at heart.


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