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Useful tips for Valley folks visiting snowy Alaska

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POSTED May 20, 2009 1:42 a.m.
­ Hopefully there are a handful of Central Valley dwellers that are headed to Alaska this summer on a quest for salmon, trout and the wilds of the north.

As a kid, my buddies and I used to make fun of you.

When we rode our bikes down to the river in basketball sneakers, torn jeans and hooded sweatshirts, you went in tag-still-on-it gear that is water, wind and everything else resistant.

We actually ate the fish we caught rather than leave them to burn in the freezer while you show pictures and tell friends about how incredible the experience was.

Since I am now one of you and I get relentless flack for being a traitor, here are a few tips to blend in, which won’t be possible anyway.

Don’t try to be a local.

Even though I call Alaska home and visit there every summer, I am still a Californian. I am not a local, though I have local knowledge.

It is better to be yourself and have a good time, than try to impress people that just endured a winter that was six months long and enough snow to flood the Central Valley. Living in the Sierra Nevada isn’t the same.

Alaskans don’t have the option to just drive down the hill, or head to the city for a weekend getaway. They live on islands or in villages without roads anywhere. Mail comes when the weather is good which could be every other week, there are no places to eat out, and if you get sick of caribou, fine, we’ll have caribou soup tomorrow.

Don’t ask about penguins and don’t call anyone an Eskimo. I will not waste column space explaining — Google it.

If you are fishing in Ketchikan, take note of the extra money added to your stay for the lodge to pick you up or the money you have to spend to carry all of your gear 300 yards down a half exposed ramp to the ferry that takes you from the island with the airport to the island with the actual town.

If it’s 50 degrees and raining sideways on you and all of your expensive new Alaska gear, yet you complained about the “road to nowhere” you have no right to bicker further.

If you miss your plane back to civilization because you missed the airport ferry and had to wait a half hour for the ferry to come back to get you as your plane takes off, you might want to reconsider what constitutes a “waste of money” or realize just how important some “nowheres” are.

Don’t be in a hurry.

People stop their vehicles for pedestrians (unless you are in the tourist district, then its 10 points). Waitresses will get around to your table, the cooks will prepare your food, the guide will guide you to the fish. Just relax and enjoy it. Saying you are in a hurry is more of an admission of sickness than an urging to speed a process.

Don’t pet the bears. These are not the tagged versions you have seen in Yosemite and many have limited experience with humans. Approaching bears to take pictures is stupid. A couple years ago some dude got between the mom and cub and was chased.

The tourist had heard that grizzly bears can’t climb trees; however, this was a black bear and the bear almost beat him to the branch he struggled to reach, swiped him and his arm busted on the subsequent fall.

Don’t read Jack London. Posting up at Annabelle’s in Ketchikan or the Hangar in Juneau and getting the best bowl of seafood chowder then pulling out “White Fang” is about as embarrassing as a grown man getting a professional jersey with his own name on the back.  How cliché can you be, really?

Alaska doesn’t have to be expensive, but it is intimidating. With recent studies finding polar and grizzly bears possessing an unrelenting hunger for botox and $100 make-up, visitors have been hesitant.

Seriously though, if you want to see the most amount of Alaska possible, fly to Bellingham, Wash. and take the Alaska Marine Highway to Skagway. It’s a fraction of the cost of a cruise and real town Alaska will be at hand.

Locals take the Big Blue Canoe as its call, and the ferries have naturalists provided by the National Forest Services that give talks for free in the forward lounges.

The food onboard is good, the staterooms a bit tight, but who told you Alaska was about luxury?

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail aklund21@gmail.com.
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