Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 609 Alaska – Go Now!

This is Retirement Talk. This is Del Lowery.

Travel is one thing that people in retirement and those nearing retirement seem to always have on their agenda. They want to see things they’ve never seen, go places they’ve never been, and do things they’ve never done. Alaska is one place that seems to be on everyone’s list. They have either been their and rave about it, or they are planning on going there and fulfilling a lifelong dream. Well, I think you should go. I did.

l968 I quite my job, bought a small, green tent and two sleeping bags, strapped a trunk on the back of a 2+2 Mustang, and drove west and north. Our son was two years old and our daughter was five months from being born. Our destination was undecided, but we knew it was going to be somewhere new. We had no job and very little money. Youth and hopes for a better life were our only assets.

“Alaska had to be your goal,” said my uncle Cy who lived on a ranch in North Dakota. I can still hear him rave on: “If I were a young man, you couldn’t keep me from going to Alaska. It’s a huge place: lots of land, mountains, oceans, forest, tundra, open spaces. And best of all, there are hardly any people. Opportunity isn’t all locked up. That’s the future. It’s the place for a young man,” he said. “You go out there and get on that road, and don’t you stop till the road ends.”

We did. The road was gravel. It was long, twisty, dusty and exotic. We drove slowly. We camped along the road. We smelled gas one morning only to discover a rock had been thrown up and through our gas tank. We raced on in search of one of the widely spaced gas stations. One was just around a couple of curves; good luck following bad. It was early morning: no one around. The dogs barked. A guy came out on the porch pulling suspenders up over his shoulders. When he heard of our problem, he turned instantly and headed back inside saying over his shoulder: “Nothin’ that some Fix-All and a little piece of grandma’s underwear can’t repair. Have you on the road in just a couple of minutes”. And he did.

We gave ourselves two years in Alaska. “At the most”, we agreed. Twenty years past before we left. Oh, we left on trips, but our home was in Alaska: exciting, interesting, challenging, profitable. Smartest, or luckiest thing I ever did – other than marry my wife.

But, I wanted to talk about you going to Alaska in retirement. You should just go. It isn’t hard. Just go out; get in the car and drive away. You will need a passport and maybe a birth certificate at the Canadian border today. Tuck a plastic credit card in your pocket and you’re good to go. They have even straightened the road for you today. It is paved except wherever they might be working on it. The gravel is gone. The dust is gone. Gas stations and motels are ubiquitous. Campgrounds lie scattered along the road. Restaurants lie just around the bend. We have driven it many times by now. I have ridden it four times on a motorcycle. It is the best ride. Few stop lights and light traffic; beautiful mountains and forests. For our money, the drive is the very best way to visit Alaska. You’ll just need a chunk of time and that is where retirement comes in.

Of course, you can fly or take a cruise out of Vancouver, BC and perhaps out of Seattle. Or, you can come to Bellingham, just below our house and board the Alaskan Ferry and sail up to Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway and Haines. From there you can drive on up to the Alaskan mainland – raving about the beauty as you go. One time we, our kids were 10 and 13 years old, we drove our jeep to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory where we parked it. Then we rode our bikes down to Skagway and then ferried and biked down the Inside Passage to the San Juan Islands in Washington State. We slept on deck with our sleeping bags. Great trip.

There is much to see in Alaska and you can find that all in books, or on-line through the Alaskan Website. Flying into Alaska is as easy as flying into Chicago – easier actually, or any other place in the US. Then you can take a taxi into town. Stay at anyone of the numerous hotels. Rent a car, hope a train, or charter a bush plane for exploring the bush. You can drive to some beautiful places. Go on short hikes. Within fifty miles of Anchorage you could have enough hiking to last you for years. In the same area are moose, bear, sheep, goat and wolves. If the Chugach Mountains were in the Brooks Range they would be world famous.

When to go? That depends on you. We still go every year to visit our son and his family. We usually go at the end of May or the middle of March. March has always been my favorite month because it is the real Alaska: lots of snow, cold, and clear. It is not so dark, the days are longer. There are few if any tourists and no bugs. It is a good time for skiing, hiking, good food, and conversations late into the night.

If Alaska is one of your dreams, you really should go. There is no time like the present. It is not far and it is worth going. Retirement brings a certain sense of urgency to life long dreams. It is, indeed, now or never.

My uncle – from North Dakota – he retired at 65 and moved to Alaska. He lost a leg to diabetes before he went. He moved there in a wheelchair – lived another 20 years and loved every minute of it. He could look out his window and see an occasional moose, hear local stories of desperate adventures in the bush, or spin a tale or two himself. You would swear that he had been right on the scene and you were hearing a first person account.

This is Retirement Talk.


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