SPONSORED: There are countless reasons to live in rural Alaska, from family and tradition to adventure and opportunity. But access to affordable fresh food has never been a benefit of life off Alaska's road system. So a trip to the city usually means a visit to the store.
"When you go to town, you usually load up on groceries," said longtime Yakutat resident Jack Endicott.
Traveling 400 miles to fill your pantry might seem like a challenge for some, but it's all part of life in the 165 Alaska communities that are unreachable by road. A trip to Anchorage or Fairbanks for a medical appointment or a layover on the way home from a trip Outside is an opportunity to stock up on staples and specialty foods that are hard to find — or prohibitively expensive — at home.
A job with the National Weather service lured Endicott to Yakutat 37 years ago, and its small size and friendly community made it a perfect place to raise his seven children — although feeding a family that size off the road system will leave any Alaska parent feeling pinched.
Yakutat locals, Endicott said, used to box up all their groceries and supplies in Anchorage and let the USPS handle the hauling. "It was only 10 bucks for 50 pounds. But now it's gone wonkers. It's very, very expensive." So it makes sense to stuff totes with groceries on a trip home from the city.
"When we had our kids, we'd take — well, that's nine bags extra you can have," Endicott said, referring to the extra bag each person can check for free within Alaska. "You'd have all kinds of stuff packed in there." In their suitcases, you'd find ketchup, groceries — everything they needed for the months ahead.
Combining travel with grocery shopping isn't unique to Yakutat — in fact, toting consumer goods along on a commercial flight is so commonplace across the state that Alaska Airlines recently added a "Freight For Less" benefit to its Club 49 program to give residents an affordable in-state shipping option. On the other side of the state, far from the surfer's paradise of Yakutat, Bethel resident Elena Rothschild is as much an expert in packing in groceries as Endicott and his family.
Rothschild has lived off the road system most of her life — first along the Kuskokwim River in Napakiak and then in Bethel, which has been her home since 1974. Three years ago, she and her husband Roger opened the Sleepy Salmon B&B. It's a retirement career for the Rothschilds; Elena worked for years as a community health aide for Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., while Roger is a former college chemistry teacher who now works as a correctional officer alongside his duties at the bed and breakfast.
"I love it," Elena said about her shift to a second career as full-time host. "I just love meeting new people."
Bethel doesn't host hordes of seasonal tourists like some Alaska communities, but it serves as an important hub for Southwest Alaskans. In terms of population it's about 10 times the size of Yakutat, but the Rothschilds and other Bethel residents face the same challenges when it comes to finding affordable fresh food, household supplies and other staples. Keeping a well-stocked, clean B&B is a point of pride for the Rothschilds — something that's made easier with semi-regular trips to Anchorage.
"I always bring along three totes," said Elena. She packs a cooler bag that fits inside a large plastic tote, perfect for transporting the fresh fruit they always have available for guests. Fruit makes it to Bethel year-round along with other grocery necessities, but prices can be steep, since everything must be shipped in by barge or air freight.
They also stock up on cleaning supplies like paper towels and Swiffer duster refills.
"We come back with those (totes) filled to the gills with everything that we need," Roger said.
It may not be the most convenient way to go grocery shopping — but, as Endicott points out, it just might be the most Alaskan. And it's an accepted part of travel in the Last Frontier.
"I think in the Lower 48, if you came to the ticket counter with boxes of groceries that are taped together with duct tape, they wouldn't be quite as understanding as they are in Alaska," Endicott said.
Alaska Airlines proudly serves Yakutat, Bethel and 18 other communities in Alaska. Club 49, available only to Alaska residents, is our way of showing gratitude to the state that gave us our name and the people who've kept us flying for more than 80 years. Members enjoy exclusive benefits like two free bags, Travel Now discounts, weekly fare sales, and our newest benefit Freight for Less. Now you can ship 100 lbs. for $10 when you fly, and $40 anytime.
This article was produced by the creative services department of Alaska Dispatch News in collaboration with Alaska Airlines. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.