A woodpecker learns morse code
A woodpecker learns morse code, one of the alternative means of long distance communication in Alaska where cell phone reception does not exist. Art by Tim Bower.

I’m traveling to Alaska during a busy time for my job but need reliable cell phone reception. Is that possible?

We’ve heard of these “cell phones” that somehow beam voices through the air, but we certainly don’t have them here. One of our means of long-distance communication is shaving messages on the sides of caribou before migration. Once I trained a woodpecker to peck in Morse code. People think geese are dumb because they seem to only know the letter “V,” but my friend was in a long-distance relationship when he proposed after teaching those honkers the rest of the alphabet. So romantic.

I really want to see Alaska, but I don’t have a lot of money to spend on a vacation. How can I do it on a budget?

Luckily for you, Alaskans don’t use a recognized central currency. The only goods with value in the north are those that provide warmth, shelter, nourishment, or protection from wild animals. In summer we also accept entertainment, but there’s no time for laughing in winter. For winter travel, you’ll get far on a knapsack of Zippos or handwarmers. The summer market is flooded with Trader Joe’s gifts and machine-sewn clothes. So, we recommend entertainment. Try mastering a skill like swallowing a sword, performing a small gymnastics routine, or doing the “Thriller” dance.

My partner wants to travel to Alaska in winter so we can see the northern lights, but I’d rather go in summer. What do you suggest?

This sounds like a stalemate that can be settled in classic Alaskan fashion. When couples in The Last Frontier disagree, we strip naked, slather ourselves with rotting salmon, and venture into the wilds. We are left alone for a fortnight with nothing to survive but our wits and fortitude. Alone, we devolve to an atavistic state. We tear lichen from the rocks with our teeth, howl at the night sky, and fend off predators that are attracted by our salmon-scented stench. Whoever returns with more bear and wolf pelts is clearly stronger, and, therefore, correct.

I’m planning an Alaska Highway road trip and I’ve heard some horror stories about the road’s condition. What should I really expect?

These days the ride is so smooth it’s like driving your car onto a conveyor belt so all you have to do is sit back and pet the comfort otter they give everyone who passes through Dawson Creek. Back when I first drove it, one section of road was so steep we had to walk up the hill and then use a hand winch to pull the car up after us. Another section was so swampy we took the car apart, waded through the swamp with the pieces held over our heads, and assembled the car on the far side.


Alexander Deedy formerly worked as the assistant editor and digital content manager for Alaska magazine.

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