It's been 11 years since I moved as far from home as possible without having to learn a new language or exchange currency.
While I don't feel much different since relocating to Alaska — according to recent blood work, I'm not even vitamin D deficient — this place has definitely rubbed off on me. Good thing I'm wearing my Hellys.
The difference appears most noticeable whenever I visit the Lower 48, land of skinny jeans and 12-lane highways, Red Lobster and zoning laws, businesses other than liquor stores open on a Sunday and people who've never scraped eagle poop off their windshields.
That's the thing about Alaska: Nothing makes you appreciate living here like leaving here.
Unlike anywhere else in America
For one, it's unlike anywhere else in America. Simultaneously the easternmost and westernmost U.S. state, Alaska is considered part of the continental United States, but not the contiguous United States (either way, IKEA won't ship here).
In Alaska, every item on the "Dollar Menu" costs at least $1.99. And we lead the country in per capita ice cream consumption, which only stands to increase once retail marijuana sales begin.
Now, in the Lower 48, no matter where you go, someone else is already there; in Alaska, you can find absolute solitude in minutes — unless you're at Wal-Mart on Permanent Fund dividend day.
In the Lower 48, people seem particularly concerned with punctuality, cleanliness and order; in Alaska, it's socially acceptable to show up to a dinner party hours late, caked in animal blood, with some type of fresh kill to butcher in the kitchen … as long as you bring beer and take off your shoes.
Something else I've noticed: In the Lower 48, many parents harness their children and tether them to their wrists; in Alaska, people don't even leash their dogs.
In the Lower 48, rush hour begins at 3 p.m. and doesn't end until after 7; in Alaska, people cross-country ski to work.
In the Lower 48, public restrooms are outfitted with auto-flush toilets, motion-sensor sinks and cutting-edge hand-drying technology. In Alaska, at some point you will relieve yourself in a bucket.
What, no snakes?
The Lower 48 has Jamba Juice; Alaska has Pilot Bread.
The Lower 48 has Trader Joe's; Alaska has Mattress Ranch.
The Lower 48 has wild snakes; Alaska does not have wild snakes.
In Alaska, people use GPS to traverse vast stretches of wilderness; in the Lower 48, people use GPS to find the nearest Cheesecake Factory.
In the Lower 48, you'll hear someone say, "I actually prefer farmed salmon;" in Alaska, people can barely bring themselves to utter the phrase. Seriously, it's like the Voldemort of fish.
In the Lower 48, no one seems to comprehend the time difference between themselves and Alaska. In Alaska, no one seems to comprehend the geographical difference between themselves and the Lower 48, especially when something happens like an earthquake disrupting 4G or the electricity going out after an eagle drops a deer carcass on some power lines.
In the Lower 48, people use umbrellas; in Alaska, nobody does — even high school productions of "Mary Poppins" costume her in neoprene.
In the Lower 48, people start wearing scarves once the temperature dips below 70; in Alaska, as soon as the thermometer hits 33 it's time to break out the flip-flops.
The Lower 48 experiences four seasons: winter, spring, summer and fall. Alaska, also features four seasons: winter, still winter, construction and oh, crap, better finish this project before it's winter again.
On summer evenings in the Lower 48, children go out and chase fireflies; in Alaska, they go out and chase porcupines.
Armed for the grocery run
In the Lower 48, exterminators are called to take care of a couple of little field mice; in Alaska, you might find yourself guarding your trashcan from bears until the garbage truck comes, possibly with a .44 tucked into the waistband of your jammies. (Note: Personally, I don't own any guns — way too klutzy — so whenever a neighbor reports a sighting, I'm out there at sunrise armed only with a cup of coffee and my son's T-ball bat.)
Speaking of which, in the Lower 48, people don't usually shop for groceries carrying handguns; in Alaska, I've seen this several times. Bit of advice: If someone's got a semi-automatic strapped to their leg, go ahead and let them cut the deli line — you don't need jo-jo potatoes that badly.
True, the Lower 48 does have a few good points. For instance, Uber. Also, even the most gray regions of the Lower 48 receive more sunshine than Alaska, but up here, we're not afraid of a little spray-on tanning product, no matter how frighteningly orange we become.
And yes, in the Lower 48, it's far easier to find things like water parks and ripe avocados. But the state of Alaska cuts you an annual check just for occupying space, and you know you won't blow it all on water parks and avocados.
Last but not least, in the Lower 48, everyone you meet tells you they've always dreamed of visiting Alaska. By contrast, traveling to the Lower 48 is most Alaskans' worst nightmare — no matter how many water parks and avocados the journey may entail.
Geoff Kirsch is a Juneau-based writer and humorist currently working on an essay collection based upon his long-running column in the Juneau Empire.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said Alaska has no professional sports team. The Alaska Aces hockey team is a professional franchise.