Hi everyone! I’ve been MIA since Friday because my friend was visiting for the weekend, and we had a blast! She’s from the Lower 48 but we met this summer while we were working in Seward and have managed to stay in touch. Right now she’s living in Bethel which is what I would consider “real Alaska”. It’s bigger than Seward, but much more remote. It is only accessible by plane from Anchorage and by boats or planes from the small Native communities (AKA “The Bush”) on the western side of Alaska. Here are some differences between Bethel and Anchorage:
- No mountains
- The sun rises and sets an hour later there because it’s so far west. I’d definitely take their 10:00 sunrise just to have their 5:30 sunset!
- You can’t drive there, but people have cars there because there is one main road that runs through the town…and then ends on both sides.
- When the river freezes over people drive on it like a highway
- Her hot water heater is broken, so she has been taking baths with water she heated up on the stove. Why not buy a new one? It costs a ton to get parts shipped out (although she was picking parts up while she was here!)
- Water has to be ordered and shipped to your house each month. And sewage is shipped out of your house. Both cost a ton.
- There are no chain stores or restaurants there
- Her cell phone doesn’t get service there
- She’s making $16/hour working as a cashier at a grocery store – mostly because everything costs twice as much there than it does in Anchorage. She was dying over our “low” prices on food, and I still think they’re super high compared to prices in the Lower 48!
- Right now it’s too warm for snow, so it’s been really muddy and she can’t walk around outside unless she wants to destroy her shoes. So she’s kind of stuck in the house with no cable and limited internet.
Yeah, I don’t think I could live there! When I met up with her on Friday, I told her we could do whatever she wanted this weekend while she was back in the city. And she told me that she wanted to cross some things off her Alaskan bucket list! This had me thinking about my own personal bucket list, and there is one thing on both of our lists that was a huge priority: seeing the northern lights. It was an amazing coincidence that the aurora was super active this weekend! There are two main obstacles for seeing northern lights in Anchorage: It’s pretty far south, and it has tons of ambient light. Both of those factors make it hard to see the aurora and Andrew and I haven’t been able to see them yet (although we try all the time!). It always seems to be too cloudy when they’re active. So after driving around a lot trying to find a good spot, we finally started seeing a faint green line in the sky. As we drove farther north out of the city we started to see them more clearly! We eventually pulled off the highway to watch them, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen! They were green and red, and they were literally dancing across the sky! This cell phone picture does it no justice:
The next day, after my friend spent all day stocking up on food and supplies, we met up with a bunch of our friends from Seward for dinner and plotted where to look for the aurora again. We drove up to the Knick River overlook which is about 30 miles north of Anchorage, and they were out again! They weren’t super active this time and the clouds came after about 30 minutes, but my friend was able to get some great pictures using a DSLR on long exposure:
On Sunday, we were tired from so many late nights (the northern lights don’t come out until it’s super dark!) and decided to skip our planned run, but we had one more thing on her bucket list: going shooting. I’ve shot quite a few guns before, but she hasn’t and she luckily had a friend in Anchorage who owns 10 guns and was willing to give us some lessons. We thought we’d shoot a few times and then leave, but we ended up spending hours at the range! It was much different than in Philly – everyone was really friendly even though we were clearly beginners, and it was pretty cheap too. There were lots of women shooting on their own which was really cool to see, as well as children who were learning gun safety in a controlled environment. And you can’t beat the sunset views at the range!
Fun fact: I’m worried I’ll alienate some readers for posting these pictures, but I want to share an accurate account of my life here in Alaska. I know many people might not be gun fans, and that’s totally okay. Here in Alaska guns are viewed very differently than down in the Lower 48 – most people have them for survival purposes, whether that’s for hunting or for protection against animals. Hunting up here is a big part of how people survive, and although I personally could never go hunting I have to give tons of respect to people who know how to hunt for food in a responsible way. I’ve been told many times that I should have a gun for bear safety (plus basically everyone has one up here) but I think I’ll be taking baby steps for now. I should probably get my Alaskan driver’s license first!
Anyways, after we finished shooting guns we went home, made brownies, and knitted scarves while watching TV. It was an awesome end to a perfect weekend! My friend left Monday at 4:30 am (did I mention that I hate mornings?) and we’re so excited for her to visit over New Years! Although she crossed everything off her Alaskan bucket list, I’m sure we’ll think of a few more things to add to it 🙂
Have you ever seen the northern lights or shot a gun? If you visited Alaska, what would be on your bucket list?