May 03, 2013
By Peter B. Mathiesen
Three years ago, outdoor writer, photographer, and consummate sportsman Peter Mathiesen left his hometown of St. Louis to start a new life in Alaska. Here’s why he made the move, what everyday life is like, and how it feels to have Denali right outside your window.
Restlessness is something that has always followed me. At the age of 18, I moved from the Midwest to New York City with just $300 in my pocket. It was no wonder that after 30 years back in my hometown of St. Louis with a hefty mortgage, two children finishing college, and a wife wrapping up a Ph.D., I reconsidered our heavily scheduled existence.
My wife and I wondered what life would be like with a massive reset. Although the timing to sell our home was not ideal in 2008, we agreed our urban Midwest lifestyle needed to be augmented. With the market slugging downward, we sold our home in 2010, leaving a huge question: Where do we go?
A life that offered new challenges and opportunities was key. My wife wanted a vista and to teach at a college. I wanted accessible wilderness and great fishing and hunting with the caveat I could discharge a firearm in my backyard. As a full-time writer in the outdoor industry, I had plenty of options. Places like New Mexico, Idaho, Oregon, and Maine were all considerations, but few of them worked for my wife.
None of those places held the allure or the opportunities of the 49th state. Massive vistas, consistent economic growth, and the adjusting to an active rural lifestyle seemed impressively appealing.
I had been to Alaska numerous times on assignment, scratching my itch to argue with rainbows and salmon. My wife on the other hand, had never been.
We boarded a flight to Anchorage and drove every connecting road in Alaska except the Haul Road. My wife was to choose our new home, and I was willing to go wherever she found comfort.
Our first morning, just 20 miles north of Anchorage, the car broke through the fog at the Palmer Hay Flats, where the Talkeetna Mountains meet the Chugach Range. My wife was overwhelmed with the panoramic overload, and burst into tears. Four days later, we found an unfinished home on a small lake in the shadow of Denali in the artist town of Talkeetna, two hours north of Anchorage.
I would pack, move, and finish the house in Alaska while my better half stayed behind and worked for 8 months in Missouri.
It’s really not possible to explain the depth and breadth of moving everything you own 3,869 miles across the North American continent.
Instead of paying a moving company $55,000, I opted to buy a 24-foot 1994 U-Haul and trailered my truck behind on a car hauler. It was a slow, highly arduous adventure, but other than one flat tire, it was thankfully uneventful. I looked pretty smart only spending $6,000, including fuel, to move.
Three years later, we have settled into our life in Talkeetna. My wife is a professor at a university, my carpentry and plumbing skills have found new heights, and my summers are spent guiding for trout and salmon. Of course, there’s plenty to write about.
In the next few weeks, I’ll share some of the stories that have enriched my life as an outdoorsman in the 49th state. I can tell you that nearly every day, something happens I had never experienced when I was a suburban Midwest resident.