Voices of the Clarion: Vacation of a lifetime

Staying close to home means surf, turf and losing money

Posted: Sunday, August 07, 2005

On my summer vacation, I managed to squeeze in a few rounds of golf, some sightseeing, a bit of world-class fishing, a little quiet time strolling the beach and even a couple late-night bull sessions with some of the locals.

And I never strayed more than 30 miles from home.

It's become my custom the past few years to take a week off work around the end of July to become a tourist in my own town. After all, if thousands of rubber-neckers from Outside are willing to spend their 401(k) cash to come up here, there must be something to this place.

In case you haven't heard, the king salmon fishing in these parts is pretty good. On two trips out during a five-day period, my guide put me on two nice, feisty, 40-pound fish. In addition, he smoked the fish for me and even fed me dinner. For most guides, this would be going a bit out of the way. But considering mine also has experience changing my diapers, it's understandable.

Fishing with my dad (who is not actually a fishing guide, but has at least a couple years of river time under his belt) and two of his buddies on the last night of king season was one of the highlights of my Alaska vacation. Sitting out on the Kenai that Sunday night was like a trip back in time, as the normally hectic river transformed itself into a quiet, laid-back salmon stream populated only by diehard fishermen and a few bored moose.

The fact that we managed to pull in two fish — my dad's buddy, a guy called "Buckeye," picked one up just before midnight — only sweetened the deal. I could not have asked for a better fishing trip, and I didn't even have to buy the gas.

Not that I didn't spend a few bucks on my time off. In fact, if you factor in gambling losses, I may very well have spent more money than had I driven to Vegas. That's because my golfing buddy (who shall remain nameless in order to keep his already-inflated ego in check) happens to manage to shoot a better score than I do every time we play.

If I shoot a bogey, he gets a par. If I get a par, he gets an eagle. If he screws up and gets a double bogey, I screw up worse and make a triple.

This wouldn't be so frustrating if I didn't insist that I'm actually good enough to beat him — and further insist that we place wagers on the outcome of our matches.

Poor judgment aside, I did enjoy my time on the course, despite the fact that I've discovered the golf in these parts can be — what's the word? — unsettling. Not that the course here is tough, but I did a little Tiger fist pump after knocking in a 5-footer that saved my three-putt 7. (I never did find out who was responsible for that pin placement on No. 6 — probably a good thing for everyone involved.)

As for my time lazing around on the beach, well, it wasn't exactly lying in the sand in Cabo. Something about the smell of decomposing sockeye takes a little of the tropical luster off a place. But I did manage to hang out around a couple bonfires, and I even saw some fireworks reflecting on the water (proving for all time that the Mat-Su is, indeed, good for something), so I really won't complain. After all, who needs white sand beaches covered with little kids hawking chicklets when you've got seagulls and dipnetters?

The fact that I had a great summer vacation, however, doesn't mean I plan on doing the same thing again next year. After more than 20 summers (but still a few less than 30) spent vacationing in the same place, I'm starting to get a little bored. That's why next year, I've resolved to branch out a little bit — you know, maybe get out and see the world.

I might even get as far as Sterling.

Matt Tunseth is a reporter for the Clarion.

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