The Search for the Perfect Alaska Town

The Search for the Perfect Alaska Town

Sometimes I get angry with Fairbanks. It’s cold here. And dark. And people can be super mean and annoyingly grumpy (because it’s cold and dark).

I have escaped from here more often than most people seem to be able to do. My job the past four years has taken me on interesting trips around the state and I’ve met quirky Alaskans doing their quirky stuff. I’ve been able to go visit my sister in Brazil, travel back to Colorado and Nebraska, get hot and tanned in Hawaii, and other trips. And frankly, it’s always been nice to come back home to Fairbanks.

But I’ve  decided to leave Fairbanks, though I can’t quite reconcile leaving Alaska. No, I don’t think I’m drawing out an inevitable break-up, just trying to find my own way in my relationship with this state.

That leaves me in a bit of a pickle. Where should I make my next home in Alaska?

I think in my dream world, I’d be only a part-time Alaskan. Sure, that’s what a lot of people want, but I’d prefer to get out of this state for at least the ugliest months: October, November, December, and January. Once February hits, the sun is back and the snow is glorious and the dog races all over rural Alaska make everything feel alive. But those other months, they could disappear into a dark vortex for all I care.

So let’s see, here are some of my options for a life in Alaska outside Fairbanks:

1. Well, there’s always Anchorage. It’s the state’s biggest city of course and everybody loves to hate on Anchorage because of that. I’m somewhat inclined to agree (for bandwagon mentality sake) and I think we all know that there is some jealousy stuff going on when it comes to this anti-Anchorage mentality. I mean, Anchorage is the cheapest place to live in the state, it has the least expensive transportation, and has access to the most job opportunities. It’s also nestled in a pretty beautiful location on the top of Cook Inlet and surrounded by insane (yes insane) mountains. But the problem is, my heart doesn’t yearn for Anchorage. At the end of the day, it’s just another mid-size suburban city with a conservative politics problem.

2. So maybe Homer? Sure, Homer is a whole lot more liberal than it’s big sister, Anchorage, but it’s so damn far away from anything. I’ve been to Homer twice and was smitten by it’s special fisherman/artsy aura both times. But it’s a lifestyle town, I think… meaning the kind of town you live in and love because it’s got the lifestyle that you want. That’s cool and all, but I’d really prefer to avoid a 5-hour drive or expensive flight every time I wanted to go on vacation or visit my sister and her small children in Colorado.

3. Okay, so maybe Juneau. I have to confess, I love Juneau. I love Juneau so much sometimes I just wish I could move back there and buy a little house on the hill in downtown Douglas and spend every day walking Sadie at Sandy Beach and every night at the Island Pub eating pizza and drinking Blue Moon beer. But I have a small problem: I promised myself that I wouldn’t move back to Juneau without a boat. If I live in a town surrounded by water and mountains, I must have an escape option. And since I don’t trust myself flying a small plane, a boat it will have to be. The other problem is that I don’t like the idea of moving somewhere twice. I already lived in Juneau (even if it was only for a year) and there is a part of me that would like a new adventure.

4. What about Haines? I think a lot about Haines. It’s the prettiest little pocket of a town you can imagine, with mountains that exist only in dreams and access both the Alaska Highway and the channels of the Alexander Archipelago. By boat, it’s just a few short hours from Juneau. By road, it’s not too far at all from Whitehorse (the lovely and country cosmopolitan capital of the Yukon). It’s also got a fisherman/artsy vibe…and yet there are some hearty adventurers and independent types that dwell here. This feels like an option, but yet… it’s so little! While I would like to live there and know that Heather Lende would know my name, I wonder if right now I might be happier with a few more peeps around.

5. Well, Sitka is bigger? Yes, Sitka has also stolen my heart every time I’ve been lucky enough to visit (which is not often enough). This town is the kind of town that you want to live in when you get married and have a half dozen babies. You know they will all grow up to be whip smart adventurers with quirky hobbies and a real independent streak. This feels like a great place to settle down, but I’d also be worried that every time I flew out, I’d be on weather hold for half my trip.

6. Okay, so let’s get back to the main chunk of Alaska: Palmer? I could buy land here, you know, I could really spread myself out. I could build a yurt and a tool shed and a wall tent for guests. I could plant a garden and raise a dozen chickens, maybe a hog or two every so often (I’ve always wanted to learn to butcher a pig). And yet, I would still be a short drive to the Anchorage International Airport in case I wanted to get out of town for a little while or go to Nordstroms to buy a lingerie set, which I may want/need in the evenings after I get cleaned up after my day of wrestling with chickens and pigs in my backyard. The drawback? I’d live in the country. I hate to drive.

Well… the list could go on. Maybe I will add to it as I continue to consider my options. As you can see, I am looking south and east, but that could be because I am enticed by warmer temperatures and that whole boat lifestyle world. Speaking of boats, maybe that’s  what I should do – make a home on a boat and become a dweller of the high seas.

What would you chose?

For now and the next few months, however, I still get to soak up the good things about living in Fairbanks. Like this photo of the northern lights taken the other day by Sebastian Saarlos:

Aurora Borealis - Feb. 18 - Saarloos

Caption from the Newsminer:
“Purple Aurora” — I’ve been photographing aurora for 3 years and last night was the first time I was able to capture purple. Sebastian Saarloos, Delta Junction

13 responses

  1. Cool post. We recently went through a similar checklist. We love Seward, and have been spending our summers there living on our sailboat in the harbor. It’s not too bad of a run up to Anchorage to meet friends and family at the Anchorage Airport (or to make a Costco run), The Breeze is a quintessential small coastal town bar, and except for the 4th of July holiday, Seward is not too overrun by tourists. Generally, the most vibrant and enjoyable towns have a 4-year college, which Seward lacks. But the Sea Life Center is very cool. However if we were going to live anywhere in Alaska… I think we’d try a town in the Southeast. Maybe Juneau. Maybe Sitka. Or maybe one of the small villages. But, to paraphrase Frost, we’ll have to save that road for another day, and knowing how way leads to way… By the way, we try to steer our friends away from Blue Moon. It may say “Blue Moon Brewery” on the bottle, but it’s Coors, and for as long as we’ve been on this planet, Coors has had a horrible record for the way it treats employees. And the Coors families’ attitude toward women is ridiculous. Lots of good, authentic craft beers out there. Try Alaska Brewing Company’s White Ale for a similar Belgian Wheat style quaff. Cheers and good luck finding Nirvana!

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    • Thank you! Seward is also one of those towns that sometimes makes my list… Though Southeast tends to beckon more. Boat life is so appealing! And I usually agree with you on Blue Moon, but inexplicably I have developed a habit of either drinking gin martinis or a Blue Moon beer at the Island Pub. More typically, you can find me enjoying once of Alaska’s microbrewery beers too.

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      • We’ve come to recognize that in our capitalistic society, every dollar we spend is essentially a vote for one thing or another. We are as careful as we can be to use those “votes” to reward businesses that share our values.

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      • That’s a nice way to live, I’m glad it works out for you. I’ve come to recognize that in any kind of society there is no value in judging others for their own choices.

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      • I’m not offended, just not a fan of judgmental thinking! I have a fondness for Coors because it reminds me of a roommate I had when I was 22 and who passed away way too young. We would drink Coors Lite and laugh and talk until the wee hours of the morning. Though I rarely now drink any beer from the Coors label, when I do, I get to remember my friend. And frankly, there are times that that kind of thing worth more to me that “voting with your dollar.” I choose love – that’s the kind of society I want to live in.
        But thanks for your comments. I appreciate the perspective. Cheers to you too!

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  2. you didn’t mention the ferocious winds of palmer! i second the seward suggestion & propose two more places to add to your list: talkeetna & meadow lakes. i love talkeetna; it reminds me very much of fairbanks (the more liberal, outdoorsy parts), has gorgeous mountain views & has a strong sense of community. long drive to the lingerie store, but keep in mind nordstroms has free shipping ;) while meadow lakes may be overrun with Joe Miller supporters, it has the same appeals as palmer without the wind or traffic, is close to the road system, close to the talkeetna mts. and is dotted with beautiful lakes. :)

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