Life in Alaska

Why I Moved to Alaska

Story and Media by
Tom Schneider
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Tom Schneider
I’d known Alaska was where I wanted to live after my first visit—and several later adventures proved that my heart and mind were in the right place.

“The Great Old Fart and Young Buck Wilderness Adventure Tour”

My first trip to Alaska was in 1998, August into September, when my buddy, my youngest son, and I flew up from Virginia to meet my oldest son in Anchorage. From there we caught a flight to Dillingham and another flight to Pegati Lake, the headwaters of the Kanektok River. My buddy and I were both celebrating our 50th birthdays and none of us had ever taken an unguided trip through the Alaskan wilderness. However, we were experienced canoeists on the rivers of Virginia. This trip was dubbed, “The Great Old Fart and Young Buck Wilderness Adventure Tour.” After landing on Pegati Lake and offloading our gear, the float plane left us and we proceeded to inflate our raft and get underway. I was at the oars first, and we hadn’t gone but a few hundred yards downstream when we encountered our first grizzly—standing in the middle of the river. All I could hear were the “clicks” on the revolvers as the hammers were pulled back. The bear ran, everyone settled down, and nobody was hurt! The river was a bit high, but it didn’t stop us from catching silver salmon, rainbow trout, and Arctic char. Wherever we stopped at night to camp, bear tracks were all over the place. Before we left Dillingham, the pilot and his wife advised us that we would need to stop and pick up a “honey bucket” while on the river. We thought they were joking with us. No, one evening just before dark a single boat showed up at our camp and we had to sign for the honey bucket, with a promise to return it when we arrived in Quinhagak. We arrived at Quinhagak on time for the plane pickup back to Anchorage, having navigated the entire river using a topo map, GPS, and a piece of string to measure our daily progress!

Thomas Schneider and company offload gear from the floatplane on Pegati Lake.

“AK Y2K The Great Adventure”

My second trip to the Great Land was in August of 2000, and it was called, “AK Y2K The Great Adventure.” Several family members and friends came along and stayed for all or part of the trip. We began by flying out of Anchorage to the headwaters of Talachulitna Creek, then on to the Talachulitna River. Once again, we caught plenty of fish, camped in different locations, experienced rain, warm days, frosty nights, and learned from our mistakes. A costly mistake occurred when the raft that my friend and I were in managed to get caught by a sweeper. We escaped the claws of the tree, only to discover that my new Sage fly rod and Scientific Anglers reel had been snatched off the raft and disappeared into the river. While we were waiting for our floatplane pickup that was delayed because of bad weather, I watched a rainbow forming on the other side of the river, while a huge beaver cruised along the edge. After the trip, we stopped at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, where we enjoyed a Joan Jett concert and had our first exposure to some huge Alaskan produce! Heading towards Fairbanks, we took the “flagstop” train at Hurricane Gulch into the wilderness and camped for a few days on the Indian River. Once again, the fishing was fantastic and we only saw a few bears. After the train trip, we stopped in Denali National Park, and enjoyed every minute of viewing more wildlife and “The Great One.”

“A Family Outing”

The third trip to Alaska was in August of 2002, “A Family Outing,” which was another unique experience. My sister and I flew into Anchorage and met my two sons, both of whom were then living in Fairbanks, and we all drove to Homer. We arranged for a water taxi to take us, our gear, and three sea kayaks into Halibut Cove Lagoon where we had a public use cabin reserved. As my youngest son was trying to get out of his kayak at the dock near the cabin, he misjudged the distance between boat and dock, and took a dunking in the cold water. We’d stopped at Freddie’s on the way out of Anchorage and picked up a birthday cake and candles to celebrate my sister’s birthday. She kept asking us what was in the brown paper bag that we guarded at all times. My sister was (is) terrified of bears, so I scared her at every opportunity, but believe me, payback can be hell. She and I went to fetch water in a creek that was running well below ground level, so she handed down the empty bottles and I would filter the water and fill them. Suddenly she screamed, threw down an empty bottle and started running. I knew I was about to be bear toast, so I cautiously peeped up at ground level, and there she was, a few yards down the trail laughing her butt off! After Halibut Cove, we headed back towards Anchorage, stopped at Alyeska Ski Resort, and watched several paragliders come off the mountain, then marveled at the tide change in Turnagain Arm. We also hit the Russian River, catching salmon and watching for bears; the State Fair again in Palmer; a short visit to Talkeetna; Denali National Park for a night; then on to Fairbanks.

“Tour de Tundra”

In September of 2003, it was the “Tour de Tundra,” when we started in Fairbanks and drove north to Deadhorse. Four of us and Stella, my son’s dog, enjoyed seeing sheep on the roadside at Atigun Pass, hundreds of caribou and musk oxen, and the pipeline. Being a photographer, I had to get close to a small herd of musk oxen, and as I approached they tightened into a circle, all looking outward, and I felt like I needed to retreat. Only after I returned to the truck did my sidekicks tell me how dangerous they are. At one point, we saw an Arctic fox and raven playing an amusing game of “dive and jump.” I saw my first heated porta-potty in Deadhorse and we experienced camping in three days of snow.

“The Great Moose Hunt”

The following year in September a friend, my son, and I went on “The Great Moose Hunt” on the Yukon River and then to Minto Flats for some pike fishing as well. This was a fire year, so we saw firsthand the damage that results from wildfires, passing through areas that had recently burned and were still smoldering. Whenever we launched our rented boat and canoe, loaded with way too much gear, the locals always commented, “You have too much stuff.” We quickly learned that you can’t make much progress going upstream on the Yukon at 8 mph when the river is flowing downstream at 6 mph. We had to stop short of our intended destination in the Yukon-Charley area. The moose were safe, and only a few pike were caught and released in Minto.

“The Great Graduation Tour”

My last trip to Alaska before moving here, was in July of 2005, “The Great Graduation Tour.” Another family event that included my two sons, one with his wife, my sister and her 7-year-old son, my daughter and her boyfriend (now husband) who had just graduated high school, and our bear-alarm dog, Stella. We started out near Fairbanks in a public use cabin in the Chena River State Recreation Area, and then went on to Hurricane Gulch to board the train for a few days of fishing on the Indian River. While there, we heard my son yelling, “Hey bear,” and we knew what was happening. My sister, being terrified of bruins, screamed and grabbed her son, ran to the big tent, unzipped it, and jumped inside. A lot of good that did, and we all laughed. Had my son and Stella not spotted the bear first, it was definitely on the way into our camp. We visited Denali National Park again, and enjoyed a night of camping with fresh salmon on the grill.

I did make a few other trips during the winter, one with my wife, just to experience the cold and dark, and this only added to the excitement of moving to Alaska. One trip included a seven-mile hike into a public use cabin in the Chena River State Recreation Area, and another included cross-country skiing. My wife and I moved to Alaska in 2008, after my first retirement, and it was a decision I’ll never regret. I’m always looking forward to another Alaska adventure!

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Why I Moved to Alaska

Life in Alaska

Author

Tom Schneider

Tom Schneider is a photographer living with his wife, one dog, and four cats in Fairbanks, Alaska. He is retired for the second time and enjoys all things outdoors, especially fly tying/fishing, hunting, and photography, and volunteers for several organizations in Fairbanks.

I’d known Alaska was where I wanted to live after my first visit—and several later adventures proved that my heart and mind were in the right place.

“The Great Old Fart and Young Buck Wilderness Adventure Tour”

My first trip to Alaska was in 1998, August into September, when my buddy, my youngest son, and I flew up from Virginia to meet my oldest son in Anchorage. From there we caught a flight to Dillingham and another flight to Pegati Lake, the headwaters of the Kanektok River. My buddy and I were both celebrating our 50th birthdays and none of us had ever taken an unguided trip through the Alaskan wilderness. However, we were experienced canoeists on the rivers of Virginia. This trip was dubbed, “The Great Old Fart and Young Buck Wilderness Adventure Tour.” After landing on Pegati Lake and offloading our gear, the float plane left us and we proceeded to inflate our raft and get underway. I was at the oars first, and we hadn’t gone but a few hundred yards downstream when we encountered our first grizzly—standing in the middle of the river. All I could hear were the “clicks” on the revolvers as the hammers were pulled back. The bear ran, everyone settled down, and nobody was hurt! The river was a bit high, but it didn’t stop us from catching silver salmon, rainbow trout, and Arctic char. Wherever we stopped at night to camp, bear tracks were all over the place. Before we left Dillingham, the pilot and his wife advised us that we would need to stop and pick up a “honey bucket” while on the river. We thought they were joking with us. No, one evening just before dark a single boat showed up at our camp and we had to sign for the honey bucket, with a promise to return it when we arrived in Quinhagak. We arrived at Quinhagak on time for the plane pickup back to Anchorage, having navigated the entire river using a topo map, GPS, and a piece of string to measure our daily progress!

Thomas Schneider and company offload gear from the floatplane on Pegati Lake.

“AK Y2K The Great Adventure”

My second trip to the Great Land was in August of 2000, and it was called, “AK Y2K The Great Adventure.” Several family members and friends came along and stayed for all or part of the trip. We began by flying out of Anchorage to the headwaters of Talachulitna Creek, then on to the Talachulitna River. Once again, we caught plenty of fish, camped in different locations, experienced rain, warm days, frosty nights, and learned from our mistakes. A costly mistake occurred when the raft that my friend and I were in managed to get caught by a sweeper. We escaped the claws of the tree, only to discover that my new Sage fly rod and Scientific Anglers reel had been snatched off the raft and disappeared into the river. While we were waiting for our floatplane pickup that was delayed because of bad weather, I watched a rainbow forming on the other side of the river, while a huge beaver cruised along the edge. After the trip, we stopped at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, where we enjoyed a Joan Jett concert and had our first exposure to some huge Alaskan produce! Heading towards Fairbanks, we took the “flagstop” train at Hurricane Gulch into the wilderness and camped for a few days on the Indian River. Once again, the fishing was fantastic and we only saw a few bears. After the train trip, we stopped in Denali National Park, and enjoyed every minute of viewing more wildlife and “The Great One.”

“A Family Outing”

The third trip to Alaska was in August of 2002, “A Family Outing,” which was another unique experience. My sister and I flew into Anchorage and met my two sons, both of whom were then living in Fairbanks, and we all drove to Homer. We arranged for a water taxi to take us, our gear, and three sea kayaks into Halibut Cove Lagoon where we had a public use cabin reserved. As my youngest son was trying to get out of his kayak at the dock near the cabin, he misjudged the distance between boat and dock, and took a dunking in the cold water. We’d stopped at Freddie’s on the way out of Anchorage and picked up a birthday cake and candles to celebrate my sister’s birthday. She kept asking us what was in the brown paper bag that we guarded at all times. My sister was (is) terrified of bears, so I scared her at every opportunity, but believe me, payback can be hell. She and I went to fetch water in a creek that was running well below ground level, so she handed down the empty bottles and I would filter the water and fill them. Suddenly she screamed, threw down an empty bottle and started running. I knew I was about to be bear toast, so I cautiously peeped up at ground level, and there she was, a few yards down the trail laughing her butt off! After Halibut Cove, we headed back towards Anchorage, stopped at Alyeska Ski Resort, and watched several paragliders come off the mountain, then marveled at the tide change in Turnagain Arm. We also hit the Russian River, catching salmon and watching for bears; the State Fair again in Palmer; a short visit to Talkeetna; Denali National Park for a night; then on to Fairbanks.

“Tour de Tundra”

In September of 2003, it was the “Tour de Tundra,” when we started in Fairbanks and drove north to Deadhorse. Four of us and Stella, my son’s dog, enjoyed seeing sheep on the roadside at Atigun Pass, hundreds of caribou and musk oxen, and the pipeline. Being a photographer, I had to get close to a small herd of musk oxen, and as I approached they tightened into a circle, all looking outward, and I felt like I needed to retreat. Only after I returned to the truck did my sidekicks tell me how dangerous they are. At one point, we saw an Arctic fox and raven playing an amusing game of “dive and jump.” I saw my first heated porta-potty in Deadhorse and we experienced camping in three days of snow.

“The Great Moose Hunt”

The following year in September a friend, my son, and I went on “The Great Moose Hunt” on the Yukon River and then to Minto Flats for some pike fishing as well. This was a fire year, so we saw firsthand the damage that results from wildfires, passing through areas that had recently burned and were still smoldering. Whenever we launched our rented boat and canoe, loaded with way too much gear, the locals always commented, “You have too much stuff.” We quickly learned that you can’t make much progress going upstream on the Yukon at 8 mph when the river is flowing downstream at 6 mph. We had to stop short of our intended destination in the Yukon-Charley area. The moose were safe, and only a few pike were caught and released in Minto.

“The Great Graduation Tour”

My last trip to Alaska before moving here, was in July of 2005, “The Great Graduation Tour.” Another family event that included my two sons, one with his wife, my sister and her 7-year-old son, my daughter and her boyfriend (now husband) who had just graduated high school, and our bear-alarm dog, Stella. We started out near Fairbanks in a public use cabin in the Chena River State Recreation Area, and then went on to Hurricane Gulch to board the train for a few days of fishing on the Indian River. While there, we heard my son yelling, “Hey bear,” and we knew what was happening. My sister, being terrified of bruins, screamed and grabbed her son, ran to the big tent, unzipped it, and jumped inside. A lot of good that did, and we all laughed. Had my son and Stella not spotted the bear first, it was definitely on the way into our camp. We visited Denali National Park again, and enjoyed a night of camping with fresh salmon on the grill.

I did make a few other trips during the winter, one with my wife, just to experience the cold and dark, and this only added to the excitement of moving to Alaska. One trip included a seven-mile hike into a public use cabin in the Chena River State Recreation Area, and another included cross-country skiing. My wife and I moved to Alaska in 2008, after my first retirement, and it was a decision I’ll never regret. I’m always looking forward to another Alaska adventure!

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Author

Tom Schneider

Author & Media

Tom Schneider

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