Larry Case: Things you didn't know about Alaska

Two sights that let you know you're in Alaska: big mountains — seen from the beach of the Kai Peninsula — and a pair of Xtratuff rubber boots, the go-to footwear of choice for summer in the 49th state.
Two sights that let you know you're in Alaska: big mountains — seen from the beach of the Kai Peninsula — and a pair of Xtratuff rubber boots, the go-to footwear of choice for summer in the 49th state.

"Historically, Alaska is a place that has attracted those who are fed up with conventionality." - Bill O'Reilly

I'm telling you, don't do it. If you do, you are probably going to be sorry.

So you are in the hunting, fishing, hiking, I-love-the-wilderness crowd, and you think you want to go to Alaska. Maybe, like me, you have spent much of your life thinking about, reading about and wondering what it is like in Alaska. As a kid, I pored over hunting and fishing magazines showing big bears, big salmon and big mountains, and I read anything I could find about the last frontier.

If you read my last column, you know I was invited up to the 49th state by some dudes in the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Instagram would have known exactly where I was. (Don't follow me? Your humble outdoors scribe? For shame! Look for Larry Case on Facebook, and Guns and Cornbread on Instagram. OK, I forgive you.)

So after attending a bear defense class with folks from the Alaska DNR and several other agencies (more on this in a later column), my son Jesse and I set out to discover as much of Alaska as time would allow. Here is a news flash for you: there ain't enough time. The first thing I will tell you that you are not going to believe about Alaska is that it is big.

Now pilgrims, there is what we think of as big down here in the lower 48, and then there is Alaska big.

How big? Alaska is 663,267 square miles, twice as big as Texas (sorry, Texans) and one-fifth the size of the lower 48 states. If you are there for one week or two, what you can see of it is a drop in the bucket.

So here are some of the things you didn't know about Alaska and were afraid to ask:

- Big mountains are everywhere you look. As soon as you get off the airplane, you will immediately be entranced, spellbound and captivated by the sight of large, looming peaks all around you. For those of us in the East, I mean way bigger than the Appalachians. The mountains appear dark and all have snow on them - snow - in June. It dawned on me while I was there that this where Bob Ross, the painting show guy on PBS, learned to paint mountains. They look exactly like the ones in his paintings.

These mountains cause all kinds of problems for first-time visitors. For the first three or four days, you are almost in a hypnotic state as you continually do what I came to call the "Alaskan Spin." You stand in one place and slowly pivot around, gazing at the mountains with your mouth open. Everywhere you look, you are seeing a postcard - or maybe a picture in National Geographic. It's hypnotic and, frankly, dangerous; you just are not able to keep your eyes on the road while driving.

- And everyone drives crazily in Alaska. This is a common theme we heard while there. In truth, I don't think it was that bad. Sure, the locals call Route 1 south of Anchorage the "highway of death," but I didn't see that. The tourists, like me, may say the locals drive crazy, though, and all of the locals definitely think the tourists drive crazy.

I think what causes most of the trouble goes back to the mountains.

Tourists get on Route 1 and head down the Kenai Peninsula. They are immediately confronted with the aforementioned mountains. The head swivel/mouth open thing starts, and they are not driving very fast because they are afraid of missing something like the odd Dall sheep or a moose. Meanwhile, behind them is a guy from Eagle River who just wants to get down on the Kenai River and salmon fish, so now the fun begins.

- In summer, it never gets dark! Maybe you have heard of this, and I am not making this up. We were there at the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Due to Alaska's location on the earth, in the summer months the amount of daylight hours is extremely long. The sun is going to come up around 3:30 or 4 a.m., and at 11 p.m. it will look like it would at 4 p.m. here in the lower 48. Even when it gets dark, it's not really dark but more like twilight.

Unaccustomed tourists such as me who are used to going to bed with the chickens are in big trouble. I don't think I got used to it the whole time we were there.

Me: "Man! I am bushed! What time is it? Must be 11 p.m.!

Alaskan local: 4:30

- The official Alaskan tennis shoe is the Xtratuff rubber boot. If you are going to get off the sidewalk while you are in Alaska, get a pair of these boots. Everyone wears them in Alaska at least in the summer - fishermen, construction workers and hunters. I think these boots originated for fishermen, but everyone seems to wear them. If you want to not look like a tourist and fit into the local crowd, buy a pair of Xtratuffs as soon as you get there. I did.

So, again, don't go to Alaska. Why?

Because you might end up staying. Alaska is big, beautiful, wild and unlike anywhere else in the world. Get on a plane, get some Xtratuffs and see for yourself.

"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at

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