By Hank Nuwer
Florida is the vacation choice of my friends on the Stateline.
My wife Gosia, too, loves vacation places to get hot and sweaty.
I love cold places with fish so big you don’t have to lie about the one that got away.
Sometimes the big fish doesn’t get away. I take a photo before I put it back.
This month, Gosia and I are off to Alaska to flyfish and visit museums.
As a compromise, we just flew on the $59 Breeze Air special from Columbus to Tampa to loaf on a beach and to, you know, get hot and sweaty.
Gosia has been to Alaska seven times. Once she came from Warsaw for 48 hours to attend the Iditarod.
She, like I, fell in love with sled dogs. We began taking sled rides with new friends Bill and Sandra McKee, former Iditarod mushers.
She also went to her first hockey game. She blushed as the Kiss Cam ambushed us.
I first went to Alaska many decades ago to interview mushers, state troopers, etc., for magazine articles.
Years ago, I decided to own a slice of paradise.
Gosia and I met in Poland in 2015. I owned 10 acres near the Canada border.
That same year, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources put up five adjacent acres for sale. Several bidders wanted the property. I lost in a lottery.
Months later, the DNR phoned. The buyer failed to make promised monthly payments. I had three days to decide if I wanted the additional land.
I took three seconds. “Sold!”
Gosia and I will sign the paperwork on five more acres, this time located in the wild bush due west of Anchorage. We just paid the last nickel owed.
This land at Alexander Creek, AK is accessible by bush plane.
Our first visit in 2018 was in a 1947 Cessna run by Trail Ridge Air. We left from Lake Hood, the largest floatplane base in the world.
Our pilot took us on a 35-minute flight over the Cook Inlet to the Yentna Valley and we spotted foraging moose.
Sadly, Alexander Creek has had some bad press. A nutty retired professor named Charlie Vandergaw habituated dozens of brown and black bears on the property. A vain poop, he invited TV camera crews to Bear Haven.
The videos are online.
Incredibly, he invited bears inside his kitchen to feed on cookies. Naturally, the bears wanted back in. They damaged the cabin’s exterior after Charlie refused them.
Who knows how many of his remote neighbors found their cabins trashed by Cookie Monsters?
Then there’s the fact that these bears became easy game for hunters.
Some like Yogi Bear — in search of a picnic basket — ended up a floor rug.
Alaska State troopers busted Vandergaw. The courts fined him $20,000. (I woulda fined him $20,000 and make him stand outside his cabin with honey spread on his butt — kidding).
His bears still patrol our property. They have lost fear of humans, making it a sensible idea (and a big pain) to carry a weapon while hiking or fishing.
Another problem in our local fishing waters is that some anglers didn’t think superior king salmon fishing was good enough. These jokers introduced non-native northern pike into Alexander Creek.
Now the state spends millions trying to eradicate the pike. The intruding pike thinned out the kings and shuttered the doors of a million-dollar salmon fishing lodge.
Gosia’s biggest adjustment to remote cabins was using its outhouses. Her very first visit found her meditating on the throne as wild howling erupted.
The outhouse had a curtain instead of a door.
She barged into the cabin. “There are wolves outside!”
I yawned. “Maybe just coyotes.”
“You’re dead,” she cried. “That’s no comfort!”
But the best story of all was when my then-teen-age son Adam and I rented a remote state cabin alongside a glacier.
Around 2 a.m., I took the trail to an outhouse. It was June and daylight 24 hours.
I surprised a bull moose munching on lily pads. Yikes!
After an hour spent trembling, I tiptoed out the John. Mr. Bullwinkle was gone but I took no chance. I sprinted to the cabin.
“Moose,” I shouted, waking Adam up.
He leaped to his feet to look around. “What, where?”
“There was a moose outside the outhouse,” I gasped.
He spoke with the arrogance of a typical teenager. “Well, Dad, after all it is Alaska.”
“Stow it,” I said laughing. “I’m afraid of a moose, but you’re afraid of an itty-bitty mouse.”
Oh, by the way, Gosia and I agreed to a compromise.
Next year, we will camp near gators, black bears, and abundant fish in the Florida Everglades — staying in a cabin that has indoor plumbing.
I already feel hot and sweaty.
Hank Nuwer is an author, columnist and playwright. He and wife Gosia live on the Indiana side of the Union City state line. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.