Some days, I don’t know why I grow terribly nostalgic for South Dakota and its open skies and thunderstorms. Its almost as if the woods and the mountains of Alaska become stifling and the oddball little settlements humans have carved out of the wilderness are all working in cahoots to strangle me.
And its not the eastern part of the state I long for, the place where I was born, but rather its the rolling prairie and range land of central and western South Dakota that call me.
Maybe this feeling has been kicked off by a novel I’m reading, set on the plains and written by a South Dakota rancher and author. Or maybe it is something more.
While in South Dakota al I wanted was to get away, go somewhere where adventure was right out my back door, where I didn’t have to drive for hours to get to mountains or days to get to the sea.
Now, there is this small part of me who wants nothing more than to go back there.
There is a financial calculation, sure. Living here is expensive. South Dakota is cheap. But that’s not the heart of it. It’s that misguided idea that you can go home again and it would make everything alright.
I love Alaska. I really do, but it also feels a bit like the lair of the lotus eaters. The surface beauty and mystery of this place becomes the lure and the remoteness becomes a trap in many ways. When I first moved here, I spoke with my coworkers about taking weekend road trips and the response was always the same — in a few months of that you’ll run out of roads, then what’ll you do?
Being from the plains means that roads are in my blood. Nicely laid out grids of roads a mile square. Interstates, highways, arterials, sides, gravels.
These are where I cut my bike riding teeth, riding ribbons of gravel for miles and miles in one direction under the huge plains skies. In South Dakota you can easily drive most anywhere you’d ever want to go. Obviously Alaska isn’t like that. If you don’t have a boat, a plane, a snowgo, an ATV, or some other machine that isn’t tied to roads and infrastructure, then its quite difficult to get to many places in this huge mass of land. I’m not telling anyone anything they don’t already know.
As an Outsider, though, realizing that you’ve come to this amazing place and will only ever be able to see a tiny percent of it is a bit disheartening.
Growing up, I swear I knew every road in a twenty mile radius of my house and had ridden them all. This connected me to the land no matter how much I fought to get away. Just being in the world on those roads, jumping in creeks when hot, chatting with farmers as they roll their tractors from one field to another — it was a type of community.
I wonder if having more roads here would make it feel more like a community. There is a distinct feeling I get in Anchorage that I am invisible. And Anchorage has the most streets of any community around these parts. In the valley it is similar — anonymity. What’s it like in the bush? I don’t know, but I wonder. Maybe my feeling of missing community has more to do with my own sense of being an Outsider still?
Or maybe it is just watching thunder heads build across the inlet and missing the impending doom that arrived on the plains each afternoon as the summer sun baked the moisture out of the clouds, mixed it with the static electricity of air in constant motion, and then turned black and rained it all back to the earth in a rattling of thunder and the phosphor flashes of lightning and knowing — knowing in a real, real way — that if I were to indulge the nostalgia I’d realize the hollow taste of it and grow homesick for Alaska and all she has to offer.
Read more from Phil B. on his blog, Multimodal Alaska Adventures.