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Reading the North: Lonely Planet, Alaska sampler

Lonely Planet Alaska

By Brendan Sainsbury, Greg Benchwick and Catherine Bodry; Lonely Planet; $24.99

Blurb: Lonely Planet Alaska offers up-to-date advice on what to see and skip on your trip to the 49th state. Watch playful bears and breaching whales, catch a ferry to remote islands, explore the nightlife of Anchorage or fill up at a salmon bake.

Excerpt: Hiking & Paddling in Alaska: Much of Alaska's wilderness is hard to reach for visitors with limited time or small budgets. The lack of specialized equipment, the complicated logistics of reaching remote areas and the lack of backcountry knowledge keeps many out of the state's great wilderness tracts, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. To experience such a remote and pristine place, you may need to turn to a guide company and pay a premium price.

But that doesn't mean you can't sneak off on your own for a trek into the mountains or a paddle down an icy fiord. There are so many possible adventures in Alaska that even the most budget-conscious traveler can take time to explore what lies beyond the pavement. Do it yourself and save.

The best way to enter the state's wilderness is to begin with a day hike the minute you step off the ferry or depart from the Alaska Highway. After the initial taste of the woods, many travelers forgo the cities and spend the rest of their trip on multi-day adventures into the backcountry to enjoy Alaska's immense surroundings.

There is also a range of paddling opportunities, from calm rivers and chains of lakes for novice canoeists to remote coastlines whose rugged shorelines appeal to experienced open-water paddlers. Alaska is an icy paradise for kayakers. Double-bladed paddlers can easily escape into a watery wilderness, away from motorboats and cruise ships. Enjoy the unusual experience of gazing at glaciers or watching seal pups snuggle on icebergs at sea level.

Hiking the Petersburg Lake Trail: A short hop across the Wrangell Narrows from the fishing community of Petersburg is Petersburg Lake Trail and Portage Mountain Loop, which can be combined for a trek to two U.S. Forest Service cabins. Petersburg Lake Trail is well planked and provides backpackers with a wilderness opportunity and access to a Forest Service cabin without expensive bush-plane travel. Those planning to continue on to Portage Bay or Salt Chuck along Portage Mountain Loop should keep in mind that the trails are not planked or maintained and, at best, only lightly marked. The 7-mile trek to Portage Bay is very challenging and involves crossing wet muskeg arms or stretches flooded out by beaver dams.

Bring a fishing pole, as there are good spots in the creek for Dolly Varden and rainbow trout. In August and early September, there are large coho and sockeye salmon runs through the area that attract anglers and bears.

The trek begins at the Kupreanof Island public dock. From the dock a partial boardwalk heads south for a mile past a handful of cabins and then turns northwest up the tide-water arm of the creek, directly across Wrangell Narrows from the ferry terminal. A well-planked trail goes from the saltwater arm and continues along the freshwater creek to the Petersburg Lake Forest Service cabin.

Alaska Sampler

Edited by David Marusek and Deb Vanasse; Running Fox Books; Kindle edition free

Blurb: The Alaska Sampler returns in 2015 with a fresh collection of Alaska-inspired fiction, memoir and biography from a big place with big tales to tell. Among the dozen featured authors, you'll discover old friends and new favorites, including Heather Lende ("If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name"), C.B. Bernard ("Chasing Alaska"), Deb Vanasse ("Cold Spell"), Rich Chiappone ("Opening Days"), Gerri Brightwell ("Cold Country") and David Marusek ("Counting Heads").

"Counting Heads" by Marusek: Dead of winter. It's 57 degrees below zero, and things soon start going wrong for Mike Fisher, a sad-sack cabbie in Interior Alaska. Before long, he finds himself searching for his missing daughter through a tangle of kidnappings and murders connected to a local militia.

Excerpt: Fisher stops at the lights. It's going on 4 p.m. and the town's got that deep undersea feel he hates. Beyond the windshield, shapes swim out of the darkness: a lit-up city bus heaving itself through the intersection, a busted-up Chevy bouncing in slo-mo over a snow berm, a cop car trailing it silent as a shark. Headlights catch frost clinging thick as algae to a fence. Across the road, a row of buildings squats against the cold. Neon flashes red and pink and green. Hot girls. Cold beer. Small splashes of color against the sub-arctic night.

Fifty-seven below when Fisher reached the airport to drop off his fare and the ice fog's settling in. Already the streetlights are blurred and past the intersection it's real bad, like a stirred-up sea. Here traffic making the turn vanishes — red taillights hang for a moment, then shrink and wink out like they've gone forever.

That's how it gets you, that kind of cold. It seeps into your soul. It doesn't help that the news is on and Fisher has it turned way up over the rush of warm air from the vents. A suicide bombing in Iraq, the cops here in town looking for a missing state trooper, a pile-up on this very road a few miles away, where it leads to the army base and the ground's low and the fog can get real bad. Two people dead, three injured. Fisher's hands tighten on the steering wheel. He thinks of twisted metal and severed limbs, of heads dented and broken. He wonders when it will be his turn to be snuffed out. Those people, minding their own business, driving to the store or to pick up the kids, and now they're dead. No warning, just gone.

He thinks what he'd leave behind. Not much: a dingy trailer beside his hardly-built house; a sulky, troubled teenage daughter; an ex-wife who's reinvented herself right out of remembering she loved him once-upon-a-time. I'm not a has-been, he thinks. I'm a never-was, a 240-pound sad sack, a class A freaking loser.

He takes a breath and lets his eyes close. Now that he's wrapped in his own darkness, the ache in his head swells and an echo starts up in his cheeks, only that pain's sharper and more insistent. This is the root of his misery. The cold's squeezed all the moisture out of the air, and it's so dry it's making his sinuses smart, as though the front of his head has been hollowed out with a knife. He needs something to dull it. Christ, maybe he should call Grisby, get himself some Vicodin, because the pain's bad enough to leave him swimming inside himself, to make the day feel cursed, to make him wish he'd called in sick and watched TV until it was time to go to bed again.

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