Alaska: Land of the Brochure Tourists — By Jennifer Shipp
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Alaska: Land of the Brochure Tourists — By Jennifer Shipp

Nearing the top of the world where the mosquitoes are always biting even if it’s only 30 degrees outside.

If hadn’t spent the last week in Canada, making our way to Alaska, John and I would have already purchased tickets for our big Egypt trip. I saw the headline in The Globe and Mail in Whitehorse early yesterday morning: “Egypt cheers as Morsi ousted.” John and I were concerned two weeks ago when Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) became newsworthy in nearby Saudi Arabia. Though we’ve joked about getting great airfare deals by going to places torn by civil war or stricken with Ebola, the truth is, I’d rather skip countries that have recently been overtaken by a military coup. Egypt, right now, sounds too “French Revolution” for my taste.

We almost went to Mexico City instead of Alaska, which in a way, is too bad because a volcano erupted there yesterday and didn’t kill anyone in Mexico City. That would’ve been a cool experience, I think (a non-lethal volcanic eruption, that is). We were near a volcanic eruption while we were in Costa Rica, but didn’t get to see it firsthand (it was in Nicaragua). I rather enjoyed the 7.9 earthquake in Costa Rica that didn’t really hurt or injure anyone during our stay in Alajuela. I’m only slightly bummed about it because we did get to see some raging wildfires close-up on our way up to Fairbanks.

I don’t relish tragedy enough to move toward it, but I do like a little excitement. Finding a balance between these two things is a challenge while traveling. There’s self-inflicted challenge, like living in a tent for several months in a cold climate, or bicycling the Pan-American Highway from the far north to the far south. These challenges breed adventure, plot, and plenty of stories, but not without a lot of static and white noise in the grueling interstitial moments. Our pop-up tent camper challenge is pretty mild overall as far as adventures go, even with two teenage girls. We’ve had plenty of mind-numbing interstitial moments over the past two weeks, but the surprising part is that we’ve adapted to the constant sunlight, a prolific number of unfriendly, and rather backwardsy Canadians, and the lack of cooked food. It’s been a slow transition from normality to an RV-er’s reality and from the to and fro of typical human biorhythms to the onward inner march of having daylight 24-7.

It’s a Man vs. Self sort-of-plot, but it’s just enough to keep me interested. The trip hasn’t been filled with edge-of-my-seat material, but that’s okay with me. I didn’t expect that it would be.

Today, I gathered a selection of brochures from the laundry room at the River’s Edge RV Park here in Fairbanks and mindlessly perused them while Lydian and Camile coo-ed at some baby duckies and then went off in search of a microwave for our lunches. One of the brochures that I picked up promised a “relaxing adventure” and another, “a ceremonious guided trip” along with some cheesy photos of people taking photos or posing for photos on rafts, on glaciers, or on horses.

“I don’t think we’re brochure tourists,” I said to John. He agreed and upon noticing how many of the photos contained senior citizens we discussed the mythology of Alaska that seems to become mostly prevalent among the aged. Since we began our RV-ing career back in 2002, innumerable old folks have urged us to go to Alaska. “It’s so beautiful there!” they exclaim, romantically extolling the virtues of this cold, mostly inhospitable place the becomes overcome with mosquitoes in the summer months. And it turns out, most of the people here are convalescents, hoping to soak up some “adventure” in their golden years.

But being old and having adventures don’t really go together which is why some marketing genius came up with the “relaxing adventure” catchphrase. There is no such thing in my opinion, but for those who put off “living” until their final, least productive years on earth, a relaxing adventure sounds like the perfect combo and may, in fact, stretch a person’s limits adequately. A long trip in a pop-up camper is mild when judged against the would-be trip to Egypt or even the Mexico City volcanic adventure. Sometimes, seemingly simple, relaxing situations turn epic. Sometimes seemingly epic adventures turn out to be relatively mundane.

Watching the clouds off in the distance over the mountains yesterday as we made our entrance into Fairbanks, I couldn’t help but think about autumn in Nebraska when the weather becomes dreary and the once towering thunderheads of summertime are reduced to harmless, fluffy cottonballs that shift and tumble over each other as they harmlessly cross an autumn horizon. I wondered if I missed any good thunderstorms back in Nebraska and I wondered if the people in Alaska ever longed for a raging summer storm. It occurred to me, at the end of our long drive yesterday, that sometimes, the water that’s swept up out of the ocean ends up at the northern or southern poles and other times, it’s carried into the monsoon season in India or Central America or tornado alley in the Great Plains. Those bubbly but innocuous gold-rimmed clouds beneath the midnight sun would go on to become giant super-cells, torrential rains, and dripping icicles as the earth spins and tilts and the winds blow.

Maybe Alaska-for-seniors isn’t just a romantic mythology. Maybe there’s a legitimate truth to the idea of a relaxing adventure. And anyway, it is beautiful here.

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