I wrote this on April 30th, but never finished it. Decided to finish it tonight, nearly a month after returning to the lower 48 from Alaska. I’ve had so many people ask about Alaska. “What went wrong?” “I’d heard Anchorage was bad, but I had no idea just how bad.” “I’ve heard of many people moving and coming back– what’s your reasoning?” “Can you tell me what happened?” “Do you think you gave it a fair chance?”
So here’s a bit of the story. This is my opinion only after 3 months living in Anchorage, Alaska — from February to May.
I think I cried until we got to Vail on the day we left Colorado. That’s two hours out of Denver. As optimistic as I wanted to be, and as much as I loved Alaska when we visited– I didn’t want to leave Colorado. It’s funny how we tell ourselves little lies to make situations better. I’m ready for a new start, I’m ready for a change, Colorado is changing. Since when have I ever been displeased, thoroughly, with my time in Colorado? Never. I absolutely loved my life in Colorado. Little things annoy me. Like the increase in people on trails. And the sometimes too liberal for me Denver agenda. But It’s the only place that has EVER been home to me. I grew up in California and am still there regularly whether working or visiting, but with divorced parents who re-married and without having a “home” to go “home” to since I was 20– well, you who have dealt with this know– you want and need a “home” badly. And Colorado was that for me for nearly 10 years.
But, I figured we’d give Alaska a chance, and it would be great, and we may love it! We may really love it, I thought. I was actually worried that we’d love it too much and that two years here would lead to a lifetime here. And who wants to live a million miles away from what they love — their family, their friends, Colorado, Utah, California. You get two years in Alaska, I told him.
Ben wanted to move to Alaska. Ben needed to move to Alaska. To test it out. It had been a dream of his since he was a kid. He needed to get it off his chest. I love Ben. I wanted to do this with him. He worked really hard to get his law license in Alaska, and he didn’t have it in Colorado yet. Yet. So we did it. We moved.
It’s been a couple months and then some since we moved. I think the first two weeks were okay. After the long, white knuckle drive on the Alcan, we were just happy to have arrived in Alaska and get settled. It was cold. And icy. And for the next month it was cold. And icy. But it didn’t snow or rain. It was dry, and manageable. Alaska ended up having one of their most mild winters on record. That’s fine with me… I’m a Californian, after all.
By week three, reality hit. What in the heck did we do?
The crime in Anchorage is overwhelming. Cars being stolen in broad daylight. Drugs on the streets. Fights. Murders. Assaults. Cars being broken in to all of the time! Almost every day we hear of cars being broken into it at trail heads. Nice outside? Want to go for a hike and need to park your car at the trailhead? Make sure you have solid insurance on your vehicle, that nothing is inside of it at all, and that you’re prepared to have your windows smashed regardless. And then there is the homeless crisis. The camps. The people sleeping in cars, that they stole. The drugs. The drugs. The drugs.
We have options to move outside of Anchorage…. sort of. With three dogs, the options are limited. We considered buying a house and sticking it out for a couple years here. But the most affordable and nicer options are 45 – 60 minutes outside of Anchorage. Which means, an hour commute to work for me, three times a week, when I already arrive at the hospital at 6:45am as it is. If you know me, you know I’ve never been an early riser who functions well in the mornings. I don’t want to do that drive. There are smaller towns closer to Anchorage — two, to be exact…. about 20 minutes away. Inventory is limited. Prices can be high. Neighborhood conditions vary. And the reality is still there– we have to work in Anchorage. Anchorage will be home away from home. And we don’t like Anchorage.
Ben grew up in Kentucky. I grew up in the Central Valley. Obviously, I’m a bit more used to this type of crime than he is. But even with my home town being a bit rough at times– you can escape the crime. There are nice neighborhoods.
Here– it’s everywhere. On Sunday night we heard three gunshots from the living room. Last night, we heard another around 7pm. And we live in what they call one of the “nicer” areas of town.
Ben and I have one major thing in common when it comes to all of this– neither of us will tolerate living in a place like this. Neither of us will accept this as, “it’s just the way it is” like nearly every. single. person. does that we’ve talked to. We moved here from a NICE state. From a nice area in that state, where crime was not something we really worried about. Ever. Sure, Denver has crime. But we didn’t live in Denver.
Alaska passed a ridiculous criminal justice reform law in 2016 and since then, their crime has skyrocketed. Criminals can commit crimes, suffer no consequences, and go do it again. And again. And again. At some point, they may spend some time in jail– if the criminal algorithm places them there. But to get to that point they’re going to have to commit a really big crime, or multiple small crimes and get caught multiple times. You want to feel disheartened? Read about some of the criminals in Alaska who have done horrible, horrible things just to be slapped on the wrist (maybe) and set free.
Other than the problem with crime… Alaska is struggling in other ways. So few mental health services, so few options for help for drug addicts… the state has few resources and has an overwhelming number of drug addicts and alcoholics. It’s so, so sad. You can imagine what I encounter at work.
And then there is the problem with trash and filth. When the snow melted… there was trash everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Plastics, papers, cardboard, needles. And then some more needles. On trails, at parks, in parking lots, outside of schools, downtown. The state doesn’t have an income tax and Anchorage doesn’t even have a city tax! TAX ME. TAKE MY MONEY. Take it and clean up your streets, gets some help for your homeless and drug addicts. Clean up this place. Alaska is a beautiful state! Take care of it, why don’t you?!
I must add a note to all of this ranting– we still like Alaska. In fact, we love it. We have spent time outside of the city and we love Homer. And Seward. And Talkeetna. And the wildlife. Oh how I love the wildlife. But we loathe Anchorage. And it will never be our home.
Update: Today is June 23rd. Shortly after writing this post (and never publishing it) a job opportunity for Ben in Alaska fell through, and what a blessing it was because I was presented with a job option in Colorado. I was able to resign from my job in Anchorage (and am working on paying back that wonderful sign on bonus they gave me. Luckily, my manager was understanding of life’s circumstances and I was able to leave easily). I was able to go back to travel nursing! We packed up our life and drove back to the lower 48 with our three dogs over 6 days. We made it safely, and what a beautiful drive it was! I’ll post about that next.
— In addition, since leaving, Alaska repealed and replaced their criminal justice reform bill, SB 91. It was an absolute disaster for the state and I can’t wait to see how the repeal gets criminals off the streets!
— In addition to that– the federal government has decided to step in and help with Alaska’s crime both in Anchorage, where it’s of course unusually high, and in the indigenous areas.
We love Alaska and we’ll be back some day. But not anytime soon — we’re still recovering.