It perplexes me why so few Americans delve much into the out of the way places of this spectacular country where pockets of micro-cultures still exist. Besides the major attractions of say New York, D.C. and (ugh!) Orlando, and the favorite summer spots of Nantucket, the Eastern Shore, or the Outer Banks, most regions remain entirely unknown – even to Americans!
A trip to Alaska with AWOC gives boys an up-close look at a style of life that is little known and less understood, and, sadly, is also under assault from the creeping homogenization of modern society. Part of the appeal of an AWOC Alaska trip is the designed contact with locals. Traveling the way we do, a small group on the road, provides a certain flexibility unknown in standardized tours. Participants not only backpack in one of the most isolated and wild places left in the United States, but they get the opportunity to interact with the men and women who just call it home. Will, who operates a seasonal way off-grid horse ranch in the middle of the largest National Park in the country, has several times offered us the hospitality of his cabin, providing us with a good conversation and a cup of coffee (and one time dinner and breakfast) at his place before we hit the trail. While in McCarthy, population 42 (in the summer), we join in the fun of trivia night (James and I are pretty proud of taking third place in the summer of 2015) or open mic night at the Golden Saloon. And when possible, the man who literally wrote the book on backpacking in the Wrangell-St. Elias, Greg Fensterman, joins us for a meal there to share stories of the trail before our flight into the bush. These are deep and memorable experiences that bring our trekkers into contact with real people. It is part of what makes traveling an adventure.
Alaskans have a style and attitude all their own. While in Alaska we make every effort to engage with local people and local culture, including the native Americans when possible. In 2013, for example, while waiting for the weather to clear we spent an afternoon chatting with Joe in McCarthy, a homesteader who lives in the bush, hunts and traps for his meat (he ate lynx for breakfast that day), and still pays his saloon tab with gold nuggets (he had a vial of them on him!). Other highlights have included celebrating the 4th in Wrangell (some of the best fireworks ever), lumberjack competitions.