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Getting out in Alaska has its risks, but at least there aren’t lethal mosquitoes

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: October 9, 2019
  • Published October 9, 2019

I’m heading back east for a wedding this week. Recently I got an email announcing that the ceremony is going to start an hour earlier, so everyone can be inside by dusk.

Mosquitoes are still out in Massachusetts, and there have been three deaths due to Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). This horrible virus causes a brain infection and inflammation that results in death for 30% of people infected. The city of Framingham, where I’m from, is considering canceling trick-or-treating on Halloween if there isn’t a hard frost in coming weeks.

I hemmed and hawed for about a millisecond before stuffing my running shoes into my suitcase.

It made me think about my approach to risk, and wonder if I’ve changed since settling on Alaska as home.

I still have some level of East Coast risk aversion. I think it’s in my blood. I get on my hands and knees toward the tippity top of mountains. I am paranoid about bears (my poor husband will attest to that). I typically overpack water and snacks, even for short hikes.

But I’ve also made the decision to live with significant risk. I live in an earthquake-prone region that sometimes lights on fire and undergoes extreme light and dark, with accompanying cold, throughout the year. By and large, my groceries come from over 2,000 miles away. I heat my home with gas, supplemented by wood, and require electricity to pump water out of a well.

I spend a lot of time outside with limited options for shelter, warmth or rescue. That makes me sound extreme, and I don’t think I am. But really, isn’t Alaska extreme? Even just heading up into the foothills here, I can be farther into wilderness than many Americans will ever experience in their lifetime, in conditions that are really a far cry from many places in the Lower 48. (Side note: A fun game is bringing Californians up to Alaska in the middle of winter.)

Many Alaskans are far better than I am at being prepared. Yet, the fact that we all live up here means we do have one thing in common: With the extremes and remoteness of our state, we inherently face a different set of risks from those down south.

Part of my risk management strategy is that of a teenager. I am blissfully unaware. Or, rather, I choose to be.

Take this trip back east. I could choose to douse myself in DEET, which melts my clothing — a pretty typical signifier of a safe substance — and only wear long layers when I absolutely must go outside. I could go to the YMCA instead of going outside to run. I could be perfectly safe.

And bored. And tearing my hair out.

When I focus too much on the news about this virus, I find myself getting paranoid and wondering if perhaps I should lock myself indoors for the week. So I have to convince myself to not think about it and focus instead on making a measured, reasonable choice to take some precautions but still live my life.

Doesn’t this seem like an Alaskan approach?

Up here, I am reasonably (maybe a little overly) prepared each time I go outside. I have extra water, canned foods, and a cooking stove and fuel around the house. When I head out the door, I tell someone where I’m going and when I expect to be home. I don’t focus too much on what could go wrong, but I do try to have a couple of safeguards in place. Then I go and live my life. Even with all of the risk out there, I consider my life too short to spend in fear.

I’m keeping the sneakers, heading back east, and taking my chances. If I could fit it in my luggage I’d also pack a hard frost, but Massachusetts will have to pull that one off on its own.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.