In the late 1990s, before it reorganized in bankruptcy, Sun Country Airlines flew out of the Humphrey Terminal at Minneapolis/St. Paul. It ran specials on undersold planes, and I received an email alert, I think, about round-trip tickets to Alaska for $300. It seemed so far away for so little money. I was a graduate student in the College of Agriculture on the Twin Cities campus; I was making $12,000 a year. This was cheap, it was an extravagance, an adventure, a story to tell.
I boarded the plane in Bloomington and disembarked in Anchorage. (It was the first time I had been to an airport with signage instructing passengers how to check and reclaim your gun.) The bus took me downtown, and I looked for a hotel. In the years before travel websites and mobile phones, this was hard — I had to walk toward hotel signs and hope for vacancies. There were few; the flight was cheap, but the hotels were booked; I spent twice what I spent on my ticket on my hotel, at what felt like a dive for the price.
I was young and weighed less than half what I weigh now, so I started walking. I walked to Cook’s Inlet, which was muddy. “Captain Cook” was not a real person to me, and so his inlet meant little. So, too, did Mt. McKinley mean little to me — Mt. McKinley, also called Dinale or Denali or Bolshaya Gora/Большая Гора, Densmore’s Mountain. The history of its naming means more to me than the mountain. I was more interested in a business dedicated solely to pull tabs.