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Don't fear the last frontier

Jessica Lee

By Jessica Lee
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday Jan. 10, 2002

It was past midnight when my plane touched down on a solid ice runway in Fairbanks, Alaska. I welcomed the land of the cold, darkness, caribou and lots of bears.

And as I took my first breath of the below zero air, I practically heard the current state motto, "Guns, Jesus and President Bush" whispered in the wind. Not really, that is just what I was told.

The first snow of the year still froze to the trees. The first strange phenomenon I noticed was the Alaskan drivers. It has to be true that Alaska produces the best wheel-handlers in the country because they had a knack of perfectly incorporating the spin-slide into each turn and stop. The initial thing uttered from each drivers when we got on the road was, "Man these roads are really icy." And by God they were. Solid. But, they didn't drive any slower.

I was lucky enough to visit my boyfriend and his family in the small and diving town of Delta Junction. The settlement was there for basically two main reasons. One, it proudly houses the connection between the Alaska Highway and the Richardson Highway. This is a big deal because Alaska only has three highways. In fact, at the intersection is the visitor center. The second reason is because of the nearby army bases. And perhaps soon, if Alaska and the administration get their way, Delta will have another reason to be on the map-the new home of the missile defense system.

Hell, enough with politics. Let's talk about the cold. It wasn't bad when I was there, it didn't drop lower than ten below. It was a warming trend. Actually, the hottest day at twenty-one above was actually the coldest. Although Alaskans pay no attention to the wind chill, me from Arizona did. It was about 80 below. Anyway, right smack next to the weather forecast in the local paper was the aurora borealis forecast. No joke. It would either be quiet or active. Of course, it was only active on the cloudy days. I arrived home believing northern lights could only been seen on the screen saver package sold at their nearest Fred Mayer.

The other unusual feature was the dark and dreary winter skies. Let me put it this way. We went in to see "Lord of the Rings" right after sunrise and by the time we came out it was dark. Did I mention that movie is ungodly long?

One day we decided to spend our four hours of light ice fishing. So, we packed up the frozen salmon eggs and the tiny poles into backpacks, and hopped on the snow machine. No, I did not mean to say snow mobile. They are snow machines in Alaska, get it straight or they'll shoot you. After a bumpy ride on the trail next to the road and managing to hold onto the ice gouger, we made it to Bluff's Cabin Lake. It must have been our lucky stars because there were already some old holes, so we didn't have to drill far. We even built a fire right on the lake because ice fishing is nothing but cold and boring. That was what the locals said. But, I thought it was great. We even caught a few.

Another day my boyfriend's friend took us up to his family cabin. In order to get there, we had to park out on a lake in the designated ice parking lot. Ice fishing cabins were scattered across the lake, even a drive-by cappuccino hut was there. We then had to ride the snow machines up the frozen Goodpastor River twenty-six miles. Since it was winter we didn't have to keep a loaded shotgun to keep away the bears. And the outhouse floor was covered in snow.

From extension cords hanging out from the front of each car (to keep the battery warm) to high gas prices to eating reindeer sausage, the culture fascinated me. The local news was the best. One letter to the editor complained how the poor oil companies didn't have the resources to fight the rich and powerful environmentalists. The town of Unalaska was getting their first strip club although alcohol was outlawed. The dog-sledders were complaining that the warm temperatures had melted much of the snow affecting their training for the upcoming 1,049-mile Yukon Quest. And, it was always Christmas in the ultra-Christian town of North Pole-giant candy canes and everything.

Also, a Fairbanks homeowner who lives behind a newly built McDonalds had hung three life-size Ronald McDonald puppets from their trees by the neck. The local paper referred to it as the "Ronald Effigy."

This was my kind of place. Well, actually, it is not much of a place for an environmental liberal, unlike here in Tucson. So, I had to return. Plus, it is about ninety degrees warmer.


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