HH8 - John Roderick on the last frontier: Alaska

This week, Matt and John talk about

The show is hosted by Matt Haughey.

John went from Kindergarten up to 4th grade in Seattle before he moved to Anchorage where he went to 5th grade through the end of High School.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

John’s podcasts (HH8)

John has given himself the job of recording 4 different podcasts, one of which comes out twice a week. Being a Rock musician for 20 years is a job as well for sure, but John did not have to wake up in the morning and go to work. It is a bit like when people who work at a bar want to open their own bar, because why would they want to go from a 30 hour a week job to an 80 hour a week job? It is hard to complain about a job where you work 2 hours a day.

The necessary research for Roderick on the Line and Roadwork has already been done years ago and Ken Jennings has a world-famous mind. When talking about factual things on a podcast with him, John has to be pretty on the ball, both to be prepared for what Ken is going to throw at him, but also to throw things back at Ken that requires him to be on the ball. That show takes a lot of work, but it is super-fun and it is the stuff John loves to do. Still, it is not the same as rolling out of bed and putting your headphones on. Twice a week is an unusual cadence and it is an awful lot of content (John didn’t want to use that word), but it is on the How Stuff Works network which is very much like a major label record company: They have big offices, they are a serious business and they wanted it twice a week, so they were like ”Sure, man! What else you got?”

When they were setting the show up, John wanted to help build a little studio and teach him how to record his end, but Ken insisted coming over to John's house because he didn't know that podcasting is never face to face. Podcasts are made by lonely people staring at a wall for lonely people staring at walls. Ken is an introverted nerd just like John and he gets in his car every week and drives all the way across town (why would you do that for any reason?). John built a little studio for two people at his house and they can sit across the table and look at each other which is great! He got a big table with professional looking white chairs and microphones on boom arms, he really did it up! They are actually talking to each other while they record and if any of them looks down at their computer or their book for more than 10 seconds, the other one is like ”What are you looking at!” It is a completely different experience!

John has only ever done one episode of Roderick on the Line where he was in the room with Merlin and they did four live-shows. He has met Dan Benjamin only once in person at XOXO 2014 in Portland, a long time before they were starting doing a show together. John follows Dan on Instagram and he knows what he looks like. Matt has know Dan for 10 years before he first met him face-to-face in Austin.

This podcast is usually about side-gigs, but John has put out so many hours talking about his life that Matt was struggling to come up with something John hasn’t talked about much, but he realized that John has barely talked about Alaska except for a few silly backstories from when he was a kid. From a purely selfish point of view, Matt was thinking that he always wanted to visit Alaska and John is the most famous Alaskan he knows. Matt lives in Portland and John suggests that the most famous Alaskans Matt knows are probably Portugal! The Man, who are super-famous now. They are quite a bit younger than John is, but they are from ”out in the valley”, which is the Susitna Valley where Sarah Palin hailed from. When John was growing up, it was very rural and was just farms and cows, but now it has become a bedroom community for Anchorage.

John's dad was an airplane pilot (HH8)

John’s dad was a small-plane pilot who learned to fly in the Navy. His idea of a great time was when he and John would bundle themselves down to Merrill Field, the busiest small plane airport in the world. It is in the center of Anchorage about a mile from John's dad's house. He would fire up the old 172, John would have the maps out, his dad would have the sunglasses on his head and they would burn off the strip and just fly out into Alaska somewhere, buzz around, and find some little town that had a hamburger joint he had heard of. ”Little town” in this case means one street out of dirt with houses on either side and an airfield. They would land, walk down the street, the dogs would chase them and little kids would come out. They would go into the one little restaurant with a ceiling that was 6'2" (190cm) and they’d get a hamburger before they would fly home. That was a perfect day for his dad, but for John it was ”God, that is a lot of work for a hamburger!” Partly it was because as a teenager you think that whatever your parents do is dumb. Flying is wonderful and that is how John grew up.

When John went away to college, they stuffed John’s stuff into the back of the 172 and flew down through Canada to Spokane, which was a 4-day road-trip at 2500 ft (750 m) above the road. It is the same as when you see a truck on the highway in California on a Saturday with 3 motocross bikes in the back of the truck and a trailer with 2 jet-skis and you know those guys are going out to have some fun. The amount of time and effort it takes to put all that shit in the truck and put it out there and unload it and get it in the water and gas it up, is motorhead baloney for John who is easy to entertain. He could just throw cards into a hat and be just as entertained as on a jet ski, which seems like an awful lot of extra time and energy.

That spirit of ”I want to jump my truck higher than my best friend’s dad’s truck” is only in John halfway. He is not that compelled to get rad all the time and he doesn’t want to maintain 3 motocross bikes, but his dad did! He loved to tinker on that airplane! John has friends his age who immediately fell into the lives their fathers had and took it up a notch. They have a really cool plane on skis and on floats and they will take their own kids up, drop them off at the top of the mountain, meet them at the bottom and fly them back up to the top all weekend, just because they love that their kids are getting to ski in this fresh powder, but they also just love to be in their airplane. John did some watercolors on Saturday and walked around the neighborhood.

Alaska (HH8)


John's home town of Anchorage is basically right in the center at the bottom of the largest landmass of Alaska on the water. To the East you got the panhandle across the front face of the Yukon territories and British Columbia. The archipelago of islands reaching out the far West is almost picked up by the Norther islands of Japan.

Geography and population

Alaska is very sparsely populated. When John was growing up, there were 500.000 people in the state whereof 250.000 people in Anchorage. The capital is Juneau, but at the time when John was growing up, there were efforts to move the capital to Willow, a place that then and now is just a big nowhere, but at least it would be in the middle of the state. It would have been something like Brasilia where they would have chopped down a bunch of trees and built a new capital. There are no roads to Juneau and you can only get there by boat or by plane. It is regularly covered by the most incredible fog you have ever seen and before radar and airplane technology came to the point in which you could land a plane in any kind of soup, there were times when you just couldn’t get to Juneau and you had to wait until the weather cleared.

Identifying with Alaska

Alaska is extremely government-oriented, which is funny because Alaskans seem just like rugged individuals, but they had UBI (Universal Basic Income) since 1982 and Alaska's relationship with government is really crazy-entangled. It has only been a state since 1959 and prior to that, the federal government just owned everything.

John hasn’t lived in Alaska for many years, but he still identifies with it as a place and his uncle and cousins do still live there. John is not just involved in Alaskan politics or Alaskan culture, but he is really involved in Alaska, which is one of the few places where you could say that sentence and everybody who lives up there would know exactly what that meant. It is what it sounds like. People identify with the state very much and it becomes a whole organism separate and apart from the rest of the world.

John's Uncle Jack is completely invested in Alaska and if you are, you have a relationship with nature that is completely different than what it is down here. There is no hubris about nature in Alaska, while down here it is 100% hubris. We have paved the roads, we have built the things and unless you are a back country person, you are just full of hubris if you leave Los Angeles and drive to Palm Springs. We forget there are 25 different opportunities for you to die if you walked from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. In Alaska, everybody is conscious of that all the time. Especially in the winter, if your car runs out of gas or conks out and no-one comes along, you could die and people do it all the time. In the summer, if you pull over and run into the forest to go pee, your friends might never find you because you fell into a hole. Nature is completely untamable and is running the show.

Resources and oil

In particular at the beginning of the cold war, the military played a big role in Alaska because it was a base right next to Russia. Other huge parts of Alaska’s economy were salmon, fishing, crabbing, gold mining, copper mining, and coal mining. The oil economy in Alaska started in the 1950s. The first oil was found in Ohio, which was the big oil state before Texas and Oklahoma discovered oil as well. Now we don’t think of Ohio as an oil state anymore. In the 1940s and 1950s they were looking for oil down around Anchorage and around the Seward peninsula (he probably means the Kenai peninsula) and they found some oil off-shore. It was exciting!

John’s uncle Jack published a little 5-page Scouting newspaper about oil exploration in the 1950s. He had also staked some claims around Soldotna and one of them was later bought by one of the big oil companies, providing him a residual to this day. He didn’t hit a gusher and became an oil baron, but his property got gobbled up and he still gets oil money.

The oil companies realized that there was this huge country with an incredibly long coast line, so they just poured in and made an incredible oil discovery in Prudhoe Bay up on the very North peak. Because Alaska was a brand-new state, there was no precedent for something like that and it wasn’t clear how they would hand out these leases and those claims. There was a lot of deliberation, some wanted to do it by lottery where random people who put their names in a hat could pull that ticket out and be billionaires. There was another suggestion to sell the leases to the highest bidder, and, most intriguingly, as they do in Scandinavia, the government retains the rights to all the oil and gives the oil companies contracts to drill and sell.

In Anchorage they were auctioning off the leases to the oil companies who paid a tax to the state, which created the Alaska Permanent Fund. There are rules to how this fund money can be used and at a certain point they just started giving permanent fund checks to every person in the state. When John was 11 years old he got a cheque for $1000 (actually he was 13 years old in 1982). What 11-year old has ever seen $1000? He got that permanent fund cheque as long as he lived in Alaska and because he was a frugal kid, he didn’t spend it. Some kids' parents really unfairly took their money, but John’s folks were not dishonest. They had to restrain John’s sister from buying $1000 worth of Reese’s Pieces, but John saved his money and when he graduated from college he had $7000-8000 which he used subsequently to pay from his travel around America and Europe. At a certain point the state of Alaska sent him a letter saying that he hasn’t lived in Alaska for long enough and that they would no longer give him a permanent fund cheque. John was so bummed! It was like they took the stripes off his uniform. He still carried his Alaska driver’s license, but he would have to live there for a year or so to get back on the list.

Alaska Railroad and ski resort

Matt’s wife has done fishing trips to the Kenai peninsula before. As the crow flies it looks like 60 miles (100 km) from Anchorage, but she was talking about a 4-6 hour drive because there is no direct route. There is also a wonderful railroad from Anchorage to Seward that John’s dad was the chief council of during the 1970s and that John highly recommends.

To the South East of Anchorage there is a little town called Girdwood where John and Susan grew up skiing in the Alyeska mountain range. It has produced half a dozen Olympic skiers, a wonderful resort that is very small compared to Utah or Colorado, but the skiing starts basically at sea level. You can ski from 3500 ft (1000 meters) all the way down to the base.

Seasons in Alaska

Alaska is great when there is snow. Then there is no snow which is also great, but then there are bugs and then there are more bugs you could ever imagine. In late summer there are gnarly bugs for sure, not big bugs, but swarms of mosquitos, gnats and black flies. It is not as bad as it sounds, but John would still not recommend going out into the bush 100 miles North of Fairbanks in August without a T-shirt on, because they will bleed you dry. Anchorage has done a pretty good job of mosquito control over the years and they are no more irritating there than they are anywhere else. There are great times to be in Alaska and there are sad times.

This show was recorded at the end of April which is the end of one of the worst times and the beginning of one of the best times. The weather warming up at the end of the winter is called break-up and that is when a years worth of snow and ice slowly decays and slowly turns to mud. Every cigarette bud that anybody threw out into the snow for 7 month and all the garbage reappears. Although you are really excited to see the sun and feel liberated during March and April, it is just a super-gross period where it is hard to get around. If you are unlucky enough that it freezes again halfway through breakup, you are dealing with cities of black ice and towers of garbage, which is terrible.

Then there comes a day when all of a sudden the snow is all gone and it goes pretty quickly from being dark a lot to being light a lot. On June 21st the sun is up 20 hours a day and it never gets completely dark. When John was growing up, there was a baseball league where the game started at midnight. Anchorage becomes an incredible place to be right about May before the big tourist influx and before the mosquitos come out. The town is getting ready for the summer and all of a sudden there are flowers everywhere. People put flower-boxes on their windows and it is a real celebration of life beginning anew. It is wonderful from May, June until the middle of July, which is also true for Scandinavia. Anchorage and Stockholm are almost exactly the same latitude (Anchorage is at 61.2, in Sweden that is more like Söderhamn, two hours North of Stockholm).

4th of July is amazing in Anchorage, like you are in heaven! Cruise ships do change things, but they usually stay down in the Southern panhandle, although they have started to come and bring tourists to Anchorage.

As spring is coming along, in Seattle you are sitting in class waiting for the bell to ring and for the summer to come. You can’t wait for the school to be out and to get out into the world. In Alaska this feeling of school being almost over goes along with the world returning. There is grass and birds and the sun is out in the sky. By the time the last day of school comes, you are being fired out of a canon back into the world, which must be true for grown-ups, too.

Anchorage being very close to wilderness and outdoor culture

The joke has always been that Anchorage is only half an hour away from Alaska, because Anchorage is a very recent Western town where the oldest building is from 1924. A lot of things in Alaska were built during WWII and the town is called Anchorage because it is a place where the boats could come in, although it is kind of a shitty port, because it is sandy. The good ports in Southern Alaska are Whittier, which is only accessible through a long tunnel. Also Seward is a good port. They built a couple of military bases in Anchorage like Elmendorf Air Force Base and Ford Richardson Army Base, both of which are essentially built right in the city. The town went from a stop on the railroad to the biggest city in the state. It does not feel like a city like Chicago, but more like a town like Edmonton, Canada, except smaller. If you want to get out of Anchorage, you just point your car North or South and you are immediately in the wilderness. You can just pull over at the side of the road and start walking and you will be in a place where there is nobody else. Wilderness is just all around, and it is gnarly wilderness. If you walk into the mountains right to the West or the East of Anchorage, you could be lost forever. They will never find your body!

People in Anchorage are outdoor-oriented, which is a big part of their culture and one of the reasons John didn’t stay. His ambition was to be a member of a larger culture of writers and of people who were experiencing an indoor-world or a kind of inner life. There is so much opportunity for adventure in Alaska that a lot of people living there get into lives of pure adventure. They are heli-skiing, snowmobile racing or ski-jarring, a sport where you hook up your dogs around your waist and let them pull you into the forest on cross-country skis. If you love that kind of live, then Alaska is great. If you don’t, then it can be a little isolating up there, because that is what everyone else is doing. A lot of John’s stories are about that kind of thing and compared to a normal American person he has done a lot of that crazy stuff growing up. The barrier to entry in Alaska is very low and you have access to places where nobody is watching you. Because the standard of adventure is so high, you have to go big if you want to make any kind of impact.

Denali Park

Denali is the tallest mountain in North America and it is the largest mountain in the world from bottom to top. The base of Mount Everest is 15.000 feet (4500 m), while the base of Denali is really low. It is an enormous mountain and even if you stand 100 miles (160 km) away, the mountain still fills your entire periphery. It is overwhelming and awesome! You cannot fathom it just like the Grand Canyon and it is much better than you can ever imagine. John and his dad were once flying with a pretty famous bush pilot by the name of Cliff Hudson toward the mountain and as they got closer and closer, it filled up the sky. John’s dad asked ”Aren’t we getting a little close to the mountain, shouldn’t we turn?”, but they were 40 miles from it and they would have to fly for another hour.

Denali Park is the size of the state of Rhode Island and within Denali Park they limit the number of people that can go in and how invasive they can be. If you tour around in one of the little busses, you can see giant Brown Bear on the hoof, not the ones who come over to the bus and you feed them peanuts, but real free alpha-predators who don’t care about you, which in and of itself is pretty amazing to see. Black bears are even bigger and Grizzly Bears are enormous. In California there are no more Brown Bears, maybe in Montana, but not very many. In Alaska they are still running the show.


Every year when John was growing up a Grizzly or two would follow the train tracks into Anchorage, forget where they were and suddenly pop out in the center of town. Everybody goes ”Oh, shit!” because there is an enormous bear rumbling down the street. A Grizzly with half of a run can clear a chain link fence without it slowing him down at all. Once the bear realizes it is in a town, it gets a real ”Oh, fuck!” attitude, because all of a sudden this is not cool and it gets agitated, trying to find its way out of town. The fish and wildlife people and the local animal people get into their trucks trying to herd the bear, but you can’t really herd it, because it is going to do what it is going to do. They are not going to shoot it for a lot of reasons unless it is on its way to kill somebody. They are firing flares and honking their horns to make sure everybody knows.

One time the bear went through John’s neighborhood. It was crazy big like the size of a Volkswagen Bug and it was taking its time, he was not running, he was not in panic, because in their minds there is nothing that can hurt them, They are the alpha thing, but they don’t like what is going on. Eventually the wildlife people will get them out of town. On the edge of town, there are constantly bears coming down into the yard, turning over the trash can, and eating the cat. John has met a bear on the trail 4 times in his life. They don’t want to hang out and you are ringing bells and saying ”Ho, bear!” as loud as you can, but always at a distance. The problem is that a bear’s skull is so thick that you can fire a 357 magnum right in its face and the bullet will ricochet off the bear’s skull and the bear will still kill you. Bear spray was very popular for a while, but if a bear is attacking you and you spray bear spray in its face, come on…

The Kenai peninsula

The Kenai river has a big fishing scene and in the summer people will be lined up side-by-side on both sides of the river while the bear are there fishing as well. There are all kinds of stories and there are pictures showing 50 fisherman with their lines in the river plus a bear, leaving each other alone. The Kodiak brown bear on Kodiak island is another dimension larger than even the typical Grizzly bear. You can fly to Kodiak from Anchorage pretty cheaply. There are places that will facilitate bear watching up in a lodge with dinner and everything. The bears are so focused on the fish and on grabbing those giant salmon out of the rivers, that you can kind of just stand there with your people.

The bear don’t care because your meat tastes bad compared to a salmon. As long as you don’t monkey with them, you can just watch them. There are YouTube videos of the bears of Kodiak island and there are even 24-hour webcams. Those bears seem so lazy and are just waiting for a salmon accidentally popping out into their mouth. They are fat, lazy, fun-loving and they are so cute. But all you have to do is to see one in full aggressive charge and you realize that they are not funny at all. That is a once-in-a-lifetime thing to do, because it is not hard, but it just costs money.


If you want to see the glaciers that cleave off into the ocean and some big waves, you can go on a cruise from Seattle up to Valdez or Skagway. Those big glaciers are just pouring down into the water and there will be whales. This is a completely different experience of Alaska, almost completely inaccessible from the land side. If you drive out of Anchorage on your way up to where Portugal! The man lives, a little bit past Sarah Palin’s house, there is a place called the Knik glacier. You can walk right up to it and under it, there is creepy blue ice, and you can walk around on the glacier to your heart’s content. You can walk through the tunnel down to Wittier, which is a very doable, but a slightly grueling hike up over the pass over the Portage glacier.

When John was a kid, the glacier came down 3/4 across Portage lake and you could basically drive there and see the glacier calving ice bergs, but since John was a teenager the glacier has retreated completely off the lake and around the corner up the valley so you can no longer even see it from where they would sit and drink beer and throw the cans at the glacier. Of all the places John knows, Alaskans are the most hyper-aware of climate change because you can see it right in front of your eyes. This glacier is not retreating naturally, but it is gone. You can still hike up to it and hike over. John hiked up there with his girlfriend last year and she had her first glacier ice right off the glacier, which is a delicious thing and tastes like old ice. He tried to explain to her that the ice used to be over there, but it is very hard to fathom because the glacier is so big as it is and you can't imagine that it was twice that big just 20 years ago.

Exploring places further away by car

There are a lot of things you can drive to with your car if you want to venture out. You can drive down to Homer, which is a groovy, fun and rowdy little hippie town that is called the end of the road because it is the furthest you can drive. It is absolutely worth visiting and it is hilarious and great. There is the Hull road up to Prudhoe bay that was closed until very recently because it was just for oil companies and not a thing you could just tourist on. You can read travel diaries online of rugged motorcyclist dudes who do it ever summer, but on the last 2 pages of their 30 page thing they will tell you that it was just a grind. It is terrible and super-dangerous and you should not attempt it unless you are so comfortable on a motorcycle that you can routinely be in a situation where you are completely out of control for 60 seconds.

Driving up North to Talkeetna is also really fun, because it is the jumping-off point for climbers who are going to do the mountain. In the summer it is a bustling hub of activity with people from around the world, but it is not a tourist scene, because everybody is busy getting ready to summit this mountain. You will find a group of 8 Japanese climbers and then a bunch of climbers from Peru who are all really focused. Planes are coming and going all the time. It is a groovy little hippie town and they have a Bluegrass festival that is worth visiting. You can drive to Valdez, but the drive is more interesting than the place. There is a town really far out on that road called Chicken. You can get to McCarthy, a giant old abandoned mine with beautiful red-painted mine buildings going up the side of the mountain. It is super-duper worth the trip, but it is a long dive.

Exploring places further away by airplane

There are more small private planes in Alaska than anywhere else in the world. It is a major part of how Alaskans think and how they get around. You should not be afraid to find one of the 400 bush pilots who are just kind of sitting around leaning on their airplanes waiting for a tour. It really was like that when John was a kid: You’d go down to Merrill Field or Spenard Lake and there were guys sitting on the strut of their airplane. You ask how much it was to Dillingham and he would be $300, and you say that the guy down there said $275 and he would do it for $275. It is like hailing a cab in Athens: You just make a deal with somebody. If you didn’t know about that culture, you could land in Anchorage, do the tour and see all the things, you would think that you had seen Alaska, but all you have to do is look at a map and see where the roads go. They don’t really go very many places and if you get inside the mentality of an Alaskan, they say that you have to take a plane if you want to go anywhere. These days there are surely Yelp-reviews on all of those bush pilots, but back in the days you would kind of judge them on what their mustache looked like.

Almost any time you get in an airplane up there, you are going to be blown away in seconds, because you just can’t fathom the scope. If you head directly West from Anchorage, you are immediately in pure wilderness and you will remain in pure wilderness until you arrive in Kiev. There is nothing anymore until you get to Japan. Still, there are a lot of things you can do: You can book a lodge where the fishing is insane and everybody is losing their mind, but if you don’t care about fishing, even just going to that lodge and basking in it will be astonishing. You can really get adventurous and get to places like King Salmon, Dillingham or a native town like Bethel. You are in an utterly different culture that you weren’t aware existed, which is completely mind-blowing and destabilizing. It is not like driving across the American Southwest and you are on the reservation now.

While 80% of Alaska is untouched or unspoiled, there is none of that romantic sense of native Americans as these noble spiritual untouched people, but everybody in Alaska is scrambling all the time, trying to figure out what to do. You are in a place where you are in the minority and it is not really evident what the rules are of that culture. In Dillingham you are kind of on your own, which is an extraordinary experience. These places are phenomenal, but they are really far away from what you know and they are super-far away from San Francisco. The Yukon river empties out into the ocean with a huge delta there, and a little bit further up there is Nome. If you are willing to buy a plane ticket and fly to Nome, you are going to have an experience that very few people in the world will ever have. You can even one-up those people and go to Kotzebue, but you might as well be going to Mars.

You should not neglect Inland Alaska either. John used to work in a gold mine in Circle Hot Springs, which is North-East of Fairbanks quite a ways and it is called like that because it is on the Arctic Circle. In late summer that is one of the places where the Mosquitos will carry you away, but in the early part of the year, like 4th of July it is really fun. They will get the fire truck out, some local gold miners will put clown noses on, and it is a 4th of July parade like you might have seen in the 1920s.

Alaska natives

Alaska is big enough that there are multiple whole-different races of native Americans. In the center of the state are Athabaskan Indians who are Indians like we would think of in the continental United States or like the First Nations of Canada, but on the coastal side there are what was formerly called Eskimos and what we now call as Inuite or Aleut by their actual population grouping rather than generally as Eskimos. They are are separate racial denotation related to Asian South Pacific and they reach all the way across Canada and Greenland. In the early days of the state and even when John was growing up they were not very respected, not because they clashed as native cultures, but they just weren’t very appreciated by the white American population.

These cultures were formed in places where 6 months out of the year they were all just sort of trapped together in a very small shelter. They are not super-chatty within their own home, because there is not that much to say over time. Maybe in October you are still telling stories about what happened that summer, but by February you just run out of things to say. From their standpoint we are babblers. They are very comfortable with silence in a native home and they wonder why we would not shut up, while from the white standpoint there is the prejudice that they don’t have anything to say. You would explain something to a native guy and he will just be watching you. There is a culture gap around the idea of how much you talk.

The difference between native Alaskans and native Americans on the continental US is something that happened in the 1970s called the Alaskan Native Claims act. There was this huge amount of land that was held by the federal government and the native people of Alaska organized and said that you don’t just get to take all the land, because they have seen you do this before, USA! You don’t get to come in, make some fake treaties and just take it all, but you will have to give us parts of Alaska. It was a huge proposition throughout the 1960s and 1970s how this was going to break down. What ended up happening was that different tribal entities formed native corporations, which were wholly owned by the population of the tribe. Each member of the tribe was a co-owner and these corporations were given huge tracks of land, millions of acres, and then the corporation was charged with running it as they saw fit.

Some of them have become incredible business operations. John has a friend who is the lawyer for the Chenega Corporation who have become government contractors and are running Guantanamo Bay now. They have turned the money their land produced into a major services company. Other corporations haven’t faired as well, but there is a whole different relationship between the government, the white population and the native population because of the Alaskan Native Claim Settlement Act. The difference is that the natives owned the land and had the money. It is not that there was this land in Oklahoma that nobody wanted and they let the natives live there, but then they found oil and would violate every treaty they signed with them. There is a lot of mineral wealth and material wealth in that land and the natives secured a real ownership stake in what would become a modern sense of what land was, rather than go from a place where everybody owns the land collectively to a place where everybody owns the land except us.

How we can bring development to Kotzebue is a big question. It has always been a place that survived by means of the ocean and whale hunting. They had a real cycle of life up there. How do you bring television and snow mobiles while not radically changing the way business is done? The fact is that you can’t. As soon as you have an engine on your boat, it changes the whole relationship with whaling and the whole culture, while at the same time we want to preserve that culture somehow. The state of Alaska is still convulsed by those questions and will be for generations, but it is fascinating to be a part of.

Fur Rendezvous

(see story in RW57)

If you are adventurous, another great time to visit Anchorage is in February during the festival called the Fur Rendezvous, which was the traditional festival where all the trappers from all across Alaska would converge on Anchorage to trade their fur. They would come in with their year’s worth of fur, big huge bundles of fox and beaver and all these pelts and they would trade them to furriers from around the world for money and gold dust. Even when John was young it was still a wild time. If you are a trapper or a gold panner, you are not a normal person, but you are a crazy hermit who's job it is to trap wild animals, kill them and skin them. They are nuts and they all come to Anchorage at the same time.

Everybody up there is a nut already, meaning that Fur Rendezvous is a nutty time, right at the time when the Iditarod sled dog race happens, which is an endurance race all the way to Nome. For the weak of Fur Rendezvous there are also sprints or sled dog races that just go around the city of Anchorage. On 4th Avenue they are setting up sled dog teams and starting them off to race all day long. It is a wonderful experience to see them leap off the starting line.

They also do the Malamute dog pull, which is basically a tractor pull except with giant dogs. They build an ice castle downtown and there is an amusement park where you can ride the rides in the freezing cold. There is an outhouse race where teams build outhouses, put them on skis and race them. They put a guy in the outhouse and sit them down. There are dances and parties and the town just rages. It is Alaska at its most winter-time extreme. If you want to see the Northern Lights, that would be the week to go.

It is a place with just biting cold, but it doesn’t slow anybody down and they just get in their heavy jacket and party in the streets. In the past they even used to block off all the streets Downtown and have car races in the middle of town where they pounded nails through the tires and basically did ice races in the center of town, but they don’t do that anymore because they had too many crashes. It is way more radical to visit Alaska in the winter, but it is the flip-side of the coin and if you love it up there in the winter, maybe you are the type of person who wants to live in Alaska.

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