Letters from the Last Frontier

In 2007 and 2008, I did some seasonal work in Alaska. Below are some of the letters that I wrote to people who were following me back in the Lower 48 back in 2008:

 

LETTER 1

Greetings from beautiful overcast Alaska!

I am pleased to announce that I survived the journey to Alaska. Except for TSA taking my toothpaste in ATL, I had a very pleasant flight and coach ride to Trapper Creek. It is the coldest summer on record here in the Last Frontier. The lows have been in the upper 40s and the highs have not been reaching 70 for the most part. I am not complaining at all as I do not care for heat too much and it is a welcomed change from the upper 90s. This time, I am living in more rustic accommodations. I still live in company housing, but this time it is in a travco trailer with 8 other people and a laundry room. My room is about 10 X 10 (13X10 if you count our toilet and shower). I have one room mate and we have 2 beds, a desk, a closet, and not a ton of room for luggage.  In my travels, the only luxury that I cannot do without is hot water and I have that. It seems to be looking good here for the next two months. As a front desk agent and night auditor, I will be doing at least 48 hours per week and more as people start leaving over the next few weeks. We are under a new general manager this year as well as a new CEO, and it seems that even here we are bracing for an economic slow down. Princess too has a hiring freeze now on full time positions and has restrictions on overtime for many departments. I hope all is well back home, I hope to report back a few times before my Trans-Canadian Journey. (Of course that $15/night cruise deal may cause me to change my Greyhound plans….)

Derrick Feinman,

Denali State Park, AK

 

Letter 2

Greetings from the top of the world!

Since the last time that I e-mailed, I have been working many hours in Night Audit and Front Desk here at the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. Just today, I was given permission to work a shift or 2 a week with housekeeping which will put me at about 60 hrs per week. I live in an area of Denali State Park that is just south of the Kasugi Ridge. This area has the highest concentration of black bear of any place in the US. That being said, I finally have a bear story to share. The other day, I was taking a walk down a trail to the bank of the Chulitna River when my friend and I heard the bellowing of bear cubs. Though I could not place them at first, I discovered two cubs had ascended a tree and were signalling their mother. We stood still for a few seconds and placed the mother down on a slope trying to get a better look at us. After deciding that we were not a threat, she wandered back down to the creek for some fishing/foraging as her cubs remained in the tree. We were in a safe spot on a bridge from which we could watch for about 10 minutes as they all went about their daily life. It was an amazing experience. The few times that I have seen bears in the lower 48, they tend to be rather skiddish and never there long enough to grab a camera. After 10 minutes, the mother gave up on catching the fish and called her cubs out of the tree. One came down pretty quickly clawing his way down the whole way. The other one took about 5 minutes and a lot of urging from his mother to come down (It appeared that he was a very confident climber.) My friend took pictures, and I will get some copies to send when I can. Overall, this was an amazing experience- only to be had in Alaska.Nature is not always so friendly. As you might see on the news (or not as Alaska is often forgotten about), we have a little Volcano problem at the moment. Anchorage Airport (that never closes all winter) is closed for the next 3 days due to ash. This will be seriously affecting my mail delivery….. Other than that, I am back in the swing of things here at MPL…. I have made some good friends already, including a girl from Bartow, FL and a guy I knew at Durant High School. The food is better than I remember it with chopped eggs on the salad bar daily! Hope all is well down there (or as the Anchorage Daily News calls it “The Bottom of the Country” [am I the only one that finds that slightly offensive?]).

Have a great day!

Derrick Feinman

Denali State Park, AK

 

Letter 3

Hello,

First off, I am sad to say that the McKinley Princess community lost its 5th person this year. Our lodge and transportation division has over 300 employees and we form a community here in the Alaskan wilderness. Though I did not know this person much at all, a death always be felt throughout a community of this size. That being said, lets move onto living here in Alaska…. I live in Trapper Creek, AK which is between Fairbanks and Anchorage on the Parks Highway (AK 3). To give you the scale, if Anchorage were Tampa, Fairbanks would be Atlanta, and I would be in Lake City. The Parks Highway is the only road that directly connects Fairbanks and Anchorage and for the most part, is an undivided 2 lane road. Just a few days ago, a truck overturned on the Parks Highway and made quite a mess with the liquid methane that it was carrying. The Parks Highway was closed for nearly 20 hours! The fumes were so bad, that the Alaskan Railroad (2 miles away at that point) was shut down for a few hours. We could not ship our north bound guests out that day and had to recheck them all into their old rooms (most had to be comped significantly). This was on a ship day, so we had a load of cruise passengers (500+) to then reassign to different rooms when they arrived. Of course, the cruise passengers arrive en masse all at one time so this was utter chaos. I was never happier to be on the overnight shift…. Despite the annoyance at work, this whole situation hurt a lot of businesses and vacations from Anchorage to Fairbanks. One truck and one road closure. This is about the same as the Overseas Highway closing and disconnecting the Florida Keys to the mainland. It is almost scary how quickly I can be disconnected from the road system. If this had happened to the south of us, the nearest hospital would be 4 hours away and the nearest ambulance would be dispatched from the borough (county) 1 hour north of us. I deal with a lot of medical emergencies here so I am a bit mindful of these things. I am often asked about cost of living up here. For informational purposes, I have decided to list the prices of various items that I purchase frequently in the lower 48. These prices all reflect the cost at the general stores and other businesses in the villages of Y and Talkeetna:

Can of Tuna: 2.96 Cake Mix: 3.25 Gal of Milk: 5.89 Soy Milk: 4.89 Pound of Spaghetti: 1.99 Can of Diced Tomatoes: 2.59 Can of Green Beans: 1.59 Box of Cereal (off brand): 3.59 Gallon of Petrol: 4.36 Pint of Beer: 4.50 Cheese Pizza: 12.75 USA Today: 2.00 Of course, things are far cheaper in Anchorage, but still slightly higher than in the Southeast. Well, my return is a little over 1 month away. I should be back in Georgia about mid day on the 24th.

Have a great day,

Derrick Feinman

Denali State Park, AK

 

Letter 4

Greetings from Alaska!

Only 24 more days until I return to Atlanta and only 12 more scheduled work days here at Princess. I head to Fairbanks, Whitehorse, Skagway, and all points further south in 18 days. A few days ago, a few friends and I took the flag stop train to the bustling metropolis of Hurricane, AK. This is a train that Alaskans use to get to cabins, villages, and trail heads in South Central Alaska. We passed plenty of these places and dropped off several locals during this trip. In the case of Curry, Chulitna, Sherman, and Gold Creek, the Alaska Railroad is the only connection to Talkeetna, Anchorage, and the rest of the world. These are people completely disconnected from the road system and fully dependent on the Alaska Railroad’s 3 day a week service during the summer and 1day a week service during the winter. As remote as the ARR is and the cabins along it are, there are still more cabins and villages that are accessed by unmarked trails going off into the woods. We dropped off a few people going to these places. Sometimes these people had an ATV waiting for them, other times they donned a backpack and disappeared into the bush. Two of these villages have active pebble or gold mines. In fact one of the gold mines is leased and operated by a couple and 3 of their daughters. The conductor was trying to hook me up with the oldest one (age 20 who has been living out there since she was 13), but somehow I did not think that relationship would be very convenient. I found it odd that in Gold Creek, I saw a mini bus parked not far from the ARR. It almost seems pointless to have a motor vehicle like that when you cannot even drive to a store. Actually Curry- about 30 miles north of Talkeetna was once a major stop along the ARR. There was a 5 star hotel, golf course, and ski trails. The train switched from steam power a while back and begun passing Curry. Finally in the 1950s, the hotel burned down and the village just declined in importance. It is now a major pebble mine operated by the ARR, but the weather beaten tennis court and basketball hoops are a reminder of what used to be there. I could mention Hurricane Gulch, where we turned about, but suffice it to say that it was a big hole in the ground that I have seen before from the highway. Hurricane itself was a transient village with 3 permanent structures and a ton of RVs and tents. Hurricane, AK is a summer camp of railroad workers and not much more. It was here were I saw the Parks Highway at MM 171 and thought, “This would be a great place to open a sandwich shop.” The nearest restaurants are at MM 135 (down the street from me) and MM 230 (at Denali National Park Village). There is nothing more than a few bars between the two. I hope that this has been an educational e-mail…. all of a sudden living in Helen without a car does not seem too extreme at all….

Have a Denali Day,

Derrick

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