I have a knack for finding alterna-towns. That’s what I call them, anyway. They’re crunchy, liberal, quirky, Olympia-styled towns, and they draw me in like a magnet.
This time, I made my way with my family in tow to Talkeetna, Alaska.
Why Talkeetna? Isaac asked me this when I approached him with an AirBnB listing for a Yurt, and a proposition to get away from Fairbanks for a few days. Spontaneity is never lost on him, and he went for it. Although I had to sell it as a hippy town, and as the launching pad for Denali Expeditions (I picked up that tidbit from all the Mountaineering memoirs I read this summer). The five hour drive would be worth it, I convinced him.
There’s more to the story, though. A friend suggested I watch Northern Exposure back when I first moved to Washington, since the show was filmed in nearby Roslyn (although based on a town in Alaska). I never got around to it, but two years into my Alaska residency (and nearly four years later), I finally did. I had to rent the DVDs from the local Blockbuster since the show is not in syndication, and it was not streaming online anywhere. It took nearly two months of evening binge watching, and treadmill TV sessions to power through the six seasons, but I did it. And the extra leg work was totally worth it.
The quirky protagonists, odd town issues, and uniquely Alaskan story lines held my attention. I could relate to Joel Fleishman’s poor assimilation, yet I still pulled for him. I loved Ed’s sweet disposition, and Shelley’s bitchin’ style. And of course we all admired Maggie’s tenacity.
For non-Northern Exposure fans, the show’s small town of Cicely is loosely based on the town of Talkeetna.
Walking around downtown, it wasn’t hard to connect the dots between the show and the town. I easily imagined Ruth Ann working the counter at the historic Nagley’s, or Holling and Shelley scandalizing the town with their relationship age-difference while running the Fairview Inn. A long-haired tourist with a leather jacket immediately drew assumptions from Isaac — that must be Ed!
While walking around downtown, we saw a stray-ish dog hobbling about on weak hips. His front legs pulled hard and fast, while his posterior extremities wobbled and collapsed like a baby deer. Out-of-towners sought to help the dog, find his owner and get the poor boy (or girl?) some help. Isaac overheard someone holler out of the Fairview Inn, yelling for the dog — Hipster! Fitting, especially for a town with a stub-tailed cat for a Mayor named Stubbs.
No, seriously. Talkeetna has a cat for a mayor. His name is Stubbs and he’s something like 19 years old. They call him stubbs because his tail is a nub. Anyway, I think someone is finally running against the incumbent. The more you know.
We showed up to the pet-friendly town at the end of the season.
Alaska is flush with tourists for the few warm months every year. After the influx dies down, most commerce boards up, literally, and takes off for the winter. The remaining shops and restaurants rarely disappoint. Talkeetna followed suit. We ate at the Roadhouse twice, and definitely benefitted from the Family Style seating. Advice from locals on where to go and what to do is always welcome.
I had a fine time gawking at the Denali Expedition paraphernalia. I was largely unable to imagine anything about the summit expeditions except how cold it must be at the top, and how glad I am to not have the drive to do something like that.
We were lucky to find the world’s greatest playground. Apparently, the townsfolk wanted a great place for the local kids to play, so they fundraised, and then everyone came together and built this insane playground, modeled after the town itself, in just five days. Another testament to the resolution of the people of Talkeetna. Seriously, the craftsmanship was amazing!
It was basically impossible to rip the kids away from this park, but we did it. And we had awesome food and delicious beer from Twister Creek Restaurant, home of the Denali Brewing Company. I recommend the Mother Ale, if you find happen to visit, or if you see it in your local beer cooler.
And the icing on the cake was our two night stay in a Yurt! I think it took just as long to convince my dad that staying in a dry yurt with an outhouse wasn’t endangering my family. He spent enough time roughing it out of necessity as a kid that he doesn’t see the recreational purpose of vacationing in a glamorized tent. He’s also a grandpa, so he wants to make sure his babies are spoiled rotten, all the time. Unfortunately, Alaska doesn’t have a cushy reputation, so stoking a wood burning stove all night to keep his babies warm is probably not his idea of an awesome family vacation.
Of course we loved it.
This was our last hurrah before the snow flies. We were glad to have spent it in such a cool Vegetarian-friendly, alterna-town like Talkeetna.