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Refreshed, renewed, ready to go

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By Alice Du Pont

When you don't think you need to get away, that's exactly when you do. I just came back from vacation and I realized, after one day out of the office, I was past due. My vacation this year was to Anchorage, Alaska. I had written on the wall calendar in my office "Alice's Vacation Adventure 12-18" and looked at it every single day.

The trip from Tallahassee to Anchorage was a long one, about 12 hours. But the instant I stepped off the plane it was well worth every minute. The plane landed at 9:30 p.m., Anchorage time, and the sun was shining brightly. Finally, I knew what was meant by the Midnight Sun. I was so fascinated by this phenomenon that my eyes were glued to the window of the shuttle as we made our way to the hotel.

There were snow-capped mountains in very direction. I later learned that it was the Chugach Mountain Range and that it almost encircled the city. I was too keyed up to be tired and I wanted something to eat. Even before I left home, I planned to at least taste moose, bear and caribou. I get halibut and salmon from Alaska every year, thanks to my brother and cousin, who like to go the Alaska and catch their own.The restaurant we chose didn't have either of the large game I wanted to enjoy on the menu and the manager patiently explained that while caribou is sometimes on the menu at smaller restaurants, moose and bear are usually eaten by locals who hunt them for personal consumption. I got the feeling that he gives that same speech at least once a night to a tourist like me.

I had salmon and halibut almost daily and sourdough, which is not my favorite bread, was on every table, kind of like salsa and chips in restaurants at home. It was either sourdough bread or corn fritters. Their fritters reminded me of golf balls made from corn meal with kernels of canned corn throughout. They seemed a little heavy for my taste but in Alaska you have to eat hearty food. They were served with a delicious honey butter that you could just dip your finger into.

That first night I could feel the stress leave my body ever so gradually. I stayed awake until a little after 4 a.m. It was still light and I kept going to the window, the way Floridians do when we first see snow, checking to see if it was still light.

With a long list of things I wanted to see and do, I headed into the city center to book some tours. Getting just about any tour I wanted was easy and the people were ever so nice. It's almost as if the chamber of commerce or somebody gave a course in how to be nice to the people from the "Lower 48" as they call us.

After a quick tour of the downtown area, I was ready for bigger and better things. I got up close and personal with the Chugach Mountains when I took a 5,000 foot tram ride to the top, where I enjoyed my first bite of a reindeer hot dog. This thing was good. It was more robust than our regular brands and reminded me of a smoked sausage link without the smoke. I visited the glaciers at Portage and saw large hunks of ice come crashing into the lake.

I didn't have the nerve to go into the wild so I settled for visiting the Wildlife Conservation Center where they nurse injured or abandoned animals back to health. The animals included moose, caribou, musk oxen, elk, reindeer, bison, brown bears, black bears, reindeer and red foxes. Seeing these animals at the center, some of them were massive, was close enough for me. The ones that I had on my list to taste didn't seem so special anymore. But I did find a mighty fine caribou stew at the restaurant in the Native American Cultural Center.

Another thing which struck me about Alaska were the beautiful flowers. The vibrant colors were everywhere. The blossoms were unusually large and one guide said it could be attributed to a mix of the long summer days and the soil. I was going to buy some seeds but was told not to waste my money by the cashier.

"They never grow down there; it's too hot," she said.

Speaking of heat, the high was between 65 or 70 degrees each day and that was considered a heat wave. A local woman was sitting next to me on park bench and complained that she didn't know how she was going to make it in the heat. I had on a jacket. A couple of nights it dipped down to 49 degrees.  No need for air conditioning.

As my vacation drew to a close I was ready to come home. Alaska is a nice place to visit and I recommend the trip. Normally, when I take a vacation, I want to live there when I get back home. Not this time. The downside of 17 hours of sun during the summer is horribly offset by the  17-20 hours of darkness during the winter.

But if you seek adventure and want a rugged life, one tour guide said there is still a lot of gold in the mountains.