SO FAR, YET SO CLOSE


THEY CALL IT the last frontier — a land so vast and unspoiled, less than one percent of it has been altered by man. Amazingly, you can get there from Oakland by lunchtime.

I’m talking about Alaska, a place that sees scores of visitors annually out of Oakland International Airport. This week, it was my turn.

You’d have thought I was headed for the moon. I packed everything from an eye mask (I was sure the sun never set) to a parka. And energy bars — in case reindeer and moose were my only options. Everything I knew about Alaska I’d read in a book or seen on TV. I had a lot to learn — and four days to do it.

You’d be surprised at how much you can do with 17 hours of light each day, and how soundly you sleep when your head hits the pillow.

Spending two afternoons in Anchorage, I saw folks fishing for salmon in downtown Ship Creek. I followed the walking tour and recreated the Gold Rush, the entry into statehood and the ’64 earthquake. I rode the coastal bike trail and the original red trolley and caught a hilarious dinner show spoof on Alaska at the famed “Fly By Night Club.” I also wolfed down two reindeer sausages and some coconut-battered Spam. (Alaska has the second highest consumption of Spam in the U.S. What a distinction!)

But while Anchorage has plenty to see and do, you need to go airborne for the “real” Alaska. Bush pilots will fly almost anywhere and land on anything from a lake to a beach to a frozen strip of ice. Alaska Air Taxi took 10 of us over the colorful Cook Inlet to Lake Clark National Park for a day of bear watching.

We saw big browns eating berries and salmon and grubs. Then they scratched their backs on the bark of a Black Spruce. In this wild land, bears fish side by side with human anglers in great glacial streams. Everyone gets their fill. And that night at the Alaska Homestead Lodge, I had the best salmon dinner of my life.

Alyeska is the largest ski resort in Alaska, but its busiest season is summer. That’s understandable, with biking and hiking and even walking on glaciers. With Red Bull for breakfast, you can accomplish all three and be soaking your blisters by dinner.

That leaves just one day to accomplish the number one tourist activity in Alaska — a glacial cruise. You can knock that out in an hour with a quick cruise to the Portage Glacier, where 1,000-year-old ice chunks float all around you. Call me crazy, but I couldn’t refuse a taste of this finely aged ice when the captain brought it aboard.

Spot a moose, see spawning salmon … talk to 10 guys who like bear hunting and oil drilling. Yep — you really can do Alaska in four days. But you’ll need those energy bars.

Wood woes

A giant wood pile on an empty lot on Azalea Lane has neighbors crying foul. They’ve been told by the city that a crew can’t come out until late September to clear it away.

“That’s the end of fire season,” says one woman, who says she’s been calling for action since last spring, but the lot owner (who reportedly lives in Montclair) hasn’t complied.

Meanwhile, folks at Oakland Weed Abatement say they wish they’d known sooner. It apparently takes time to give the guilty party the required two warnings and wait for a response. The final step, which the agency is preparing to take next month, is to hire someone to chuck the wood, then bill the owner.

The wheels of justice do move, but ever so slowly. If you have a similar incident to report, call 510-238-7388.

Hollywood Hornet

The rumors are true. A big Hollywood movie is being filmed on the USS Hornet in Alameda next month. The whole thing is hush hush, but it’s bringing in enough money to force cancellation of the Oct. 9 Jimmy Dorsey big band dance (reschedule for April).

I wonder how the fabled Hornet ghosts will react to all the hubbub.

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