Going to Extremes
Going to Extremes

Author - Joe McGinniss

This is the fourth edition of a work that always has been controversial in Alaska. Yet, it is an important and highly readable classic work that captures a portrait frozen in time of a raw state in turmoil during the oil boom. McGinnis went north to find out if there was anything left of the "last frontier." He found "mind-bending contradictions," as a previous publisher put it--greed, waste, addictions, and racism, among other things, that contrasted with an awesome untamed natural beauty and an honest, open, and independent spirit of the people.

"Joe McGinnis did not set out to judge or explain, but only to find out what Alaska is. He has succeeded."
    --New York Times

"Rewarding, impressive... first-person reporting at its finest."
    --Christian Science Monitor
"Wonderfully ironic and perceptive!"
    --San Francisco Chronicle

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November. A Friday night in late November; the week before Thanksgiving. A soft mist was drifting down upon the pier. This, apparently, was not unusual for Seattle. Through the mist, the lights of the Space Needle glowed; and the lights of glass-and-steel office buildings and of traffic on the multi-leveled freeways.

The ferry was supposed to leave at 9 p.m. But it had been announced that there would be a delay. The ferry was going to Alaska. To Ketchikan and Wrangell and Petersburg and Juneau and Haines and Skagway, which were towns in southeastern Alaska. Haines was the only one that had a road leading out of it that went anywhere. From Haines you could drive to Anchorage or to Fairbanks or to anywhere you liked. Haines was three days, by ferry, from Seattle.

Because it was November, there were not many people waiting for the ferry. There was room for 750 on board, but only 250 would travel. In summer, the ferries ran twice a week and carried tourists. There was light for more than twenty hours of the twenty-four, and retired couples and backpackers and schoolteachers on vacation could sit up most of the night in the big observation lounges, or could stand outside on the deck and look at the glaciers and the forests and at the mountains that jutted up from the sea.

But in November-late November-there was rain and wet snow and darkness came early.

The ferry ran only one day a week.

There were few tourists.

The people who rode the ferry in November were people who were going to Alaska for a reason.

On my way to Seattle, I had stopped in Washington, D.C., to talk to the congressman from Alaska, the only congressman Alaska had. He had come from California in the 1950s and had settled in Fort Yukon, an Indian village located directly on the Arctic Circle. Fort Yukon was a hundred fifty miles northeast of Fairbanks, and sixty miles north of Circle, where the nearest road, the road from Fairbanks, stopped. The congressman had been a schoolteacher in Fort Yukon.

"I believe," the congressman said, "that Fort Yukon holds the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded in the state. Seventy-nine below. Went down there and stayed for four days. The next summer we set a record for heat-a hundred and one.

"Now I'll tell you a little story about the cold. One winter I'm up there and I'm out doing a little drinking with this friend of mine, another teacher. Well, you know how it is, dark all the time and real cold outside and you're never in a hurry to leave the bar. So it gets to be pretty late, finally, and I say, 'Hey, school tomorrow, we better get going.' Now I'm feeling pretty good but I guess he's feeling even better, because we go outside to his car-there's only a couple hundred yards you can drive around there, you know; no roads that go anywhere; but when it's that cold you keep a car just to drive the couple hundred yards. Anyway, he's got the keys in his mitten there-he got that all arranged while we were still inside-but then we get out by the car and damn if he don't drop the keys. Snow all over the ground, you know, and he drops the keys right in the snow. So, 'Goddammit', he says, and he takes off his mittens and squats down there and starts trying to dig the keys out of the snow. Well, like I say, I'm feeling pretty good, I guess, because I just stood there and watched him do it. Took me about twenty or thirty seconds to realize what the hell is going on. Soon as I did, of course, I yelled right at him: 'Hey, get your goddamn mittens on!' But it wasn't quite in time. He lost about three or four fingers altogether, as I remember. I guess that night it must have been sixty, sixty-five below."

The congressman inserted a cigar into his mouth and lit it. He blew a cloud of smoke across his desk. Maybe, I said to him, sometime over the winter, I would make a trip to Fort Yukon.

Category: Memoir / Biography Suggested Price: 17.95 Release Date: 08/01/2010 ISBN: 978-1-935347-03-3 Product Type: Paperback # Pages: 306