Melissa and her husband Elgin left the lower 48 states to pursue teaching positions in the great north of Alaska.
We had some questions about her experiences that she was quite excited to answer.
Sit back and let her words take you to the land of the midnight sun.
1. What was the hardest thing to leave in the lower 48 states when moving to Alaska?
Family. We vowed to return to Wyoming often to ensure our children knew their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Every summer and most winter breaks, we returned home for visits. Our children spent more time with their grandparents than most kids who live in different towns.
2. What did you find you needed up north but was unavailable?
Medical services. We had limited access to general doctors, specialists, and vets, which became an issue when I came down with multiple sclerosis during our first year in the Last Frontier. At times, I needed to fly into Seattle for medical care, and our pets flew into Ketchikan to see the veterinarian.
3. During your stay in Alaska, where was the most enjoyable place to be?
The dock. I strolled the dock in our tiny logging community at all times of the day and night. I walked a block from home to the water’s edge when insomnia kept me awake. Nighttime dock strolling became one of my favorite things to do, especially during snowstorms.
4. What quick tips would you offer anyone contemplating moving to Alaska?
Move the items that you need for the first year. Store what you want to have five years from now, and sell everything else. It is expensive to move to Alaska, and though living in the Last Frontier is a dream for many people, they often leave within a year or two because it is more challenging than expected. Research the communities you are considering because the climate, population, and culture differ vastly.
5. After reading your book “The Call of the Last Frontier,” what moment sparked the first glimmer of life in making this interesting and informative book?
When we flew 400 miles in a single-engine plane from Homer down the Alaska Peninsula to the tiny Aleut village of 30 people on the edge of the Bering Sea, I knew. Pilot George Nathan hollered in the plane, “Nelson Lagoon up ahead!” I couldn’t see it, so he dipped the plane’s wings for us to look down at the sand spit with a gravel runway. It was a sand spit in the middle of the sea! I didn’t think we could land on it, but we did. Nelson Lagoon is one of the most remote places to live in Alaska, and it had no services of any kind. We were in for the adventure, the speaker at the teacher job fair warned us not to come to the state seeking.
6. What were the main differences in teaching in Alaska instead of the lower 48?
In remote areas of Alaska, grades K-12 attend classes in the same building. Teachers instruct outside their certified areas regularly because there may only be one, two, or three teachers for all the students. I never had one grade level in my classes; multi-graded classrooms are the norm in small Alaska schools. Older students help younger students with their lessons, which leads to developing life-long friendships across the ages.
7. If you could go back in time, would you have done anything different during your Alaskan adventure?
Yes. I would have gone sooner. We thought about moving to Alaska when we graduated from college. The Alaska certification application stated, “Alaska hires Natives first,” leading us to believe there were no jobs for white teachers, which delayed our arrival by a few years.
8. If any of the locations you taught in called today with an offer beyond belief, would you return to teaching in Alaska?
Yes. I would teach in Alaska again if I could. I have multiple sclerosis and left teaching due to my illness. The “beyond belief” would need to be significant to pry Elgin away from Wyoming again. Many people move to Alaska, experience it, and return home. They reminisce about their time in the Last Frontier while walking into a movie theater, store, or restaurant unavailable to them in remote areas of this most northern state. Even though I’d return to Alaska, I enjoy the conveniences I missed while living there, including the sidewalk in front of my house.
9. What was your scariest wildlife encounter during your Alaska adventures?
Walking a logging road to a nearby creek with my son and granddaughter, I heard a bear warning us to move on. As we approached a bridge over the creek, another bear came out of the woods, stood just off the road, stomped its feet, and growled. We backed off, turned to go down the road, and spotted another bear walking through the trees. Bears were everywhere, so we retreated to give them their space to fish alone.
10. What adventures are you currently pursuing?
Today, we Jeep the backroads of northwestern Wyoming and share the adventures on our Wyoming Jeepers show on YouTube. Visit www.MelissaCook.us for all my social media links for daily updates.
Many thanks to both Elgin and Melissa Cook for the great look into their lives of adventure in remote Alaska and beyond. I highly recommend their book.
Do you like articles about the outdoors? You can follow him @ericthewoodsman on Twitter, The Classic Woodsman on Facebook, and @theclassicwoodsman on Instagram, The Classic Woodsman, and The Classic Woodsman YouTube Channel.