Slammin Lammon's Guide To Alaska: Part 1
Thumbnail photo courtesy of Ingenious Travel
Despite being born in Bethesda, MD, I consider myself an Alaskan. For some people that might be a point of contention, I wasn’t born in the state and therefore can’t claim to be a true Alaskan, but I was raised in the state and consider myself at least “Alaskan Grown”.
Don’t immediately get the reference?
Well then, THIS POST IS FOR YOU!
Growing up in Alaska, but traveling down to the “Lower 48” (what we Alaskans call the other lesser 48 states below us), I would get many questions about what my life was like, what I ate, how I lived, all the basics.
Now it’s not your fault you poor Lower48ian, you were never properly educated in school. You never knew a real live Alaskan and never were able to receive firsthand knowledge.
Instead, you’ve received hearsay, lies and over exaggerations.
I pity your life before this post. Walking blindly through life without being graced by an Alaskan influence.
But after today, no longer will you be forced to live your life in the shade.
WALK TOWARDS THE MIDNIGHT SUN MY FRIEND!
Now sit back and enjoy while I set you straight and leave you with more information than a Discovery Channel special can give.
Let's start with the basics: location.
“Wow! You’re from Alaska! What’s it like to be so close to Mexico and Hawaii?”
This is actually a question I was asked by a friend. In her defense, she knew almost immediately that what she had asked was dumb, but it’s not entirely her fault. Look at all the maps, Alaska and Hawaii are usually in their own little boxes down at the bottom left of the map by Mexico.
Some people have never been educated on the fact that Alaska is actually above/next to Canada and THE BIGGEST state in the USA.
Sorry Texas, not everything’s bigger in the Lonestar State.
Refer to the photo below and keep the size of Alaska in your mind for the next question.
“So it’s always cold in Alaska, right?”
Alaska actually has a pretty decent temperature in the summer. Daytime highs range from 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit, or even up to 90 in Fairbanks, and dip down to 40s and 50s at night.
Winter gets even colder, but here’s the thing…
Remember the size of Alaska from the picture above?
Would you ever assume that Oklahoma and Minnesota have the same temperature?
Maybe you do, and that’s okay, geology can’t be everyones strong suit.
Wait, geology? Isn't it geography, you ask. If you didn't catch that, then you're part of the problem.
Everyone else, the answer to the above question is NO!
Southeast Alaska winters hover around 30s-40s, South (where I’m from) 20s-30s, Interior:-10s-20s, West:10s-20s, North: -20s to -30s and Southwest 35-45s. There’s a map below for your reference.
As you see, the temperature varies greatly depending on where you are in the state. Yes, Alaska is colder than Florida, that’s a little obvious. But the state temperatures are not the same. That’s why if you’ve ever asked me if it’s cold in Alaska I’ve responded “yes, but…” or if I’m just fed up with being asked so many times I’ll respond “yes”.
“Is it always light (or dark) in Alaska?”
Again, not a simple yes or no answer. It depends on the time of year and where you are in the state.
For example, Summer: happy, warm, sunny = light.
Winter: Everything about it says cold and dark. How bright are all the GOT scenes that transpire in the winter? You know, all two of them…
During the summer the days are A LOT longer. Summer solstice is June 21st and that’s the longest day of the year.
Sure, it’s great being able to have TONS of daylight during the summer and pretty cool that in the Arctic Circle in Alaska, the sun doesn't set for around three months. But let me tell you, it’s a B*tch to try to sleep when it looks like it’s still 6pm outside. I have to use blackout curtains because even at 2am it seems like it could be 5pm. That’s why darkness and warmth kinda freak me out. When it’s warm in the summer, it’s also light outside up in Alaska.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN GO OUTSIDE IN SHORTS AND LOOK AT THE STARS IN THE SUMMER? I guess you Lower 48 states can hang…
I knew a lady who moved to Alaska in the summer when her kids were still around elementary school age. She spent the day unpacking and told her boys to go outside and play until it got dark. Next thing she knew, she looked at the clock and it was 2am and still light outside.
Can you tell I had a rough childhood with minimal fun outside activity?
I’ll touch more on my backyard playtime later in this post.
So of course, summer time is a light fun time, winter on the other hand…
Being in Anchorage meant that I was lower in the state and didn’t have to deal with the extreme darkness, but it still got dark pretty fast. There were some Saturdays I would go into ballet early in the morning and it would be dark out and by the time I was leaving later it was already dark out or the sun was going down.
You better be good at nighttime driving in Alaska…
In a snowstorm…
Trying to navigate around icy spots…
That is why I am quite a GREAT driver. Since my birthday is in the winter, I went through drivers ed in the wintertime and was given some extra winter driving instruction. When you’ve been driving since 14 (that's when you can apply for your permit in Alaska) and spend at least 6 months a year driving in hazardous conditions, you can DRIVE in any situation.
I would like to take a break from your Alaska education to enroll you in Slammin Lammon’s AAA program!
No, it’s not crazy good insurance that protects against moose attacks, avalanches or float plane crashes, it’s something YOU, an everyday Lower 48ian can do for the great 49th state!
Become and Alaskan Answer Activist!
Now that you’ve been educated on some of the FAQs about Alaska, you can help make sure that other Lower 48ers don’t live in an ignorant state of mind. Like Smokey the bear says, only you can prevent forest fires. Like Slammin Lammon says, only YOU can prevent Alaska ignorance.
Be that person who steps in when the convo turns to referencing something being cold “like Alaska”.
“Actually, Alaska really doesn’t get that cold during certain times of the year, plus Alaska is such a big state that you really can’t classify it as being crazy cold like the northern most towns.”
Knowledge is sexy my friend, and you're about to be the sexiest beast alive!
“So if you’re from Alaska, then why are you white?”
Okay, not a real question I've gotten, just a reference to the age old saga "Mean Girls". Many people don’t realize how diverse Alaska is. Of course we have the OG residents, the Alaskan Natives which are made up of 5 major groupings: Aleuts, Northern Eskimos (Inupiat), Southern Eskimos (Yuit), Interior Indians (Athabascans) and Southeast Coastal Indians (Tlingit and Haida). Their different histories, traditions and lifestyles are so rich and fascinating and I loved living in Anchorage where there were so many influences present around town.
My favorite exhibits are at the Anchorage Museum and the Alaska Native Heritage Center that have replicas of how different cultural groups lived and currently live. Seeing their homes, art and lives is an incredible experience and one that I recommend greatly to anyone who goes to visit Alaska.
Besides Alaskan Natives, the population of Alaska, especially Anchorage is a huge melting pot. Growing up, my high school was the 24th most diverse school in the nation, and while that may not seem pretty impressive to you, numbers 1,2 and 12 all belonged to other Anchorage high schools. Anchorage has one of the most diverse school districts in the nation which meant there were a lot more cultures celebrated and influencing our daily lives. Our school district has many different immersion programs as well, from Spanish (which I took part of), to Russian, German and Japanese. My high school also had one of the best Special Education programs, as well as A.P. and IB classes.
So no, Alaskans aren’t just a bunch of white people hiding away in an igloo.
“Do you live in an igloo?”
Nope, sorry. I never lived in an igloo, merely an apartment and later a townhouse. I did however make an igloo in the snow. During the winter, after each snow fall, I’d pile a huge pile of snow and pack it down. After it got large enough and tightly packed enough, I dug a hole into the side and then started to hollow out the inside. Once it was big enough to stick a candle in, I put a lit one in and let the heat hollow away the rest of the inside. I made an ice door by pouring water into my saucer sled and letting it sit outside to freeze.
It was a pretty great igloo to play in and I really enjoyed spending my time out there reading and hanging out, until some asshole jumped into the middle of it during the night.
“I saw in the Simpsons that they pay you money to live in Alaska.”
Yeah, that’s actually true.
Leave it to the Simpsons to accurately portray Alaska. Each year, eligible Alaskan residents who have been living in Alaska for more than a year get the Permanent Fund Dividend, or PFD.
The PFD is calculated by
- Add Fund Statutory Net Income (the fund is oil revenue) from the current plus the previous four fiscal years.
- Multiply by 21%
- Divide by 2
- Subtract prior year obligations, expenses and PFD program operations
- Divide by the number of eligible applicants
Some of the smallest amounts I remember were $800 and I’ve received one for a little more than $2000.
Around October when the PFD drops, all you need to do is drive by a mall and see the ginormous crowds outside stores like Best Buy as people use their extra cash to purchase fun toys. There’s always PFD sales at businesses around this time and it *almost* makes up for the fact that for Alaskans, shipping and handling is never free and our $5 foot long is actually $6.
“Do you see polar bears and penguins in Alaska”
First off, polar bears AND penguins? Nah bish, you either get one or the other. We do have polar bears and puffins, but no penguins.
Wrong area of the world my friend. Other hemisphere. You and your geology...
In northern parts of Alaska, seeing a polar bear is common, especially at a football game.
In all parts of Alaska, its common to run into brown or black bears, but that’s not something you want to do AT ALL. We’ve had several bear maulings recently and sometimes it happens when you least expect it. Even in certain parts of the city, you need to be careful to not leave trash or food out where a bear could smell it, eat it, then stay around looking for more.
Moose on the other hand are quite predominant in Anchorage. It got to the point where when I saw a moose in my backyard or on the side of the road, I wasn’t that impressed.
Here’s the thing, people are dumb. Moose are not big horses with antlers. You really shouldn’t just walk up to them and try to pet one, or ride one. You can do it once for sure, and after that I’ll find you in the hospital peeing through a tube and not being able to chew anything denser than soup.
I've also heard of people trying to cow-tip a moose before.
I think you can guess who one.
Since I lived in Alaska for 17 years, I definitely had my close calls with moose. They’d show up on our elementary playground quite often causing recess to be moved indoors.
One time, my mom and I were coming home late in the evening after a rehearsal I had. It was pitch black outside and the light to the walkway of our apartment was out. My mom was walking a bit in front of me and disappeared into the darkness. All of a sudden she came running back the way we came. I kept walking confused and came face to face with a moose. I turned and ran back the other way. We were down in the parking lot when we realized there were two more baby moose down there by us. Now that’s dangerous, getting between a momma and her baby generally means you’ll get attacked.
This is true for just about every Alaskan animal.
My mom and I then spent the next half hour trying to navigate getting home. It seemed all the entrances were blocked by the mom and her babies.
Eventually they spread out and we were able to get home in one piece.
Luckily, I’ve never been caught between a momma bear and her babies, however I did watch a brown bear slide down a mountain on a patch of snow once.
"You have a pet polar bear!?"
This is actually something I convinced someone once before. I was at the store Fernald's in Damariscotta, ME and was able to convince one of the workers there that I had a pet polar bear. I showed him my license and was able to quickly google a picture and pretend it was one I had taken.
I've heard of people I know doing the same when they're in the Lower 48.
Some people will believe anything you tell them.
"What kind of food do you eat in Alaska?"
Well, I can tell you that Anchorage is a HUGE foodie town. We have some of the neatest places to eat. From craft breweries, to hotdog stands to pizzerias, we have some unique stuff. TripAdvisor voted Moose's Tooth Pub and Pizzeria number 3 on their top nationwide pizza restaurants. When you visit Alaska, make sure to check out the local restaurants, chains are good, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how yummy and unique the food is.
And no, it's not all fried whale blubber or moose sausages...
Check out some of my terrible foot photography from when I was last in the state...
Anchorageites also drink A LOT of coffee. We love our coffee and there are so many Alaskan coffee companies in the state. There are even little coffee trailers all over Anchorage that can be found in parking lots. You can't drive 5 minutes without passing one and all you have to do is drive up and get your coffee! They have ginormous lines of cars during rushhour! These little shacks make A TON of money. Coffee is like water up in Alaska, maybe it's because it's pretty cold in the winter, or maybe because we just like sticking it to the British, but we consume A LOT of coffee!
Well this concludes the Alaska post... for now...
I know that there is so much more I can cover and I would love to hear more questions you have about Alaska. Leave them in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I truly consider myself lucky to have been raised in this state, especially because now I can share my life with people like you! So stay golden like the Alaskan Midnight Sun and continue to spread the truth of Alaska to the world!