Dispatch, Alaska: The DIY lifestyle


Destinations Editor Eric Moya was in Alaska last week visiting several national parks. His second dispatch follows. Click to read his first dispatch.

After witnessing a few examples of Alaskans' self-sufficiency, a feeling of awe began to set in -- actually awe, inadequacy and maybe a bit of envy.

During our press trip's dinner at the Gustavus Inn outside Glacier Bay National Park, for example, proprietors Dave and JoAnn Lesh offered a James Beard Award-winning menu using little more than locally caught fish and herbs and vegetables grown in the inn's garden and greenhouse (and, to be fair, a few ingredients from the occasional run to Costco, about a 20-minute plane ride away).

Apparently, even the flour for the rhubarb pie's crust was locally sourced. "Of course," mused a fellow travel writer. "Of course."

Maybe more impressive is that flying a bush plane or smoking salmon is the stuff of small talk, not bucket-list contemplations. For many Alaskans, it's simply their way of life. Whether foraging or fishing, the prevailing attitude seems to be: I got this.

Perhaps not surprisingly, that do-it-yourself mentality extends to many aspects of life in Alaska, including entertainment. During our visit to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, for instance, one nighttime event was a must-do for those in the towns of McCarthy (population as of 2010: 28) and Kennecott.

Thursday's open mic night at McCarthy's Golden Saloon is like few I've been to, and I've been to dozens. Sure, musicians, poets and storytellers pick their spot on a sign-up sheet. The crowd gets rowdier as the night goes on and the bar tabs grow. Someone played "Folsom Prison Blues."

But even as the bar's noise level escalated, performers weren't ignored. Practically no one was checking their phone (granted, connectivity might have been an issue here). As a park guide related an amusing tale about his recent rafting trip to Erwin, Tenn. (where an elephant was hung in 1916 after its rampage killed a resident), locals and visitors alike listened with rapt attention, peppered with shouts of encouragement and hearty laughs. An IMAX experience this was not.

Even given the differences with this open mic, I felt within my element, particularly after several days of feeling way, way out of my element. I took the stage and led a couple of shameless sing-alongs; the crowd dutifully chimed in on "Sweet Caroline" ("BAH-bah-BAH ... so good, so good, so good!").

A fellow travel writer got up later, singing a lovely, heartfelt rendition of "You've Got a Friend" that prompted the crowd to scream for an encore.

She launched into her second song, her hands a bit unsure on the loaned acoustic guitar. She called me up for an assist. I'll probably never field dress a moose, lead a glacier hike or perform running repairs on an ancient SUV. But "Take Me Home, Country Roads" in the key of G? I got this.

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