Alaska Adventure for Under $900

The Last Frontier is unlike any other place on earth. Any man with a desire for rugged adventures can easily find enjoyment in a trip that includes big peaks, deep oceans, ancient glaciers, the biggest mammals in North America and rivers 10x the size of the ones in the Lower 48. But too often I hear guys tell me that a trip to Alaska is a bucket-list item that is out of reach for the near future. Which is exactly why I want to share how I can fish the annual salmon run on the Kenai River every year and not break the bank.


First and foremost, the biggest cost that can’t be replaced (unless you are married to a flight attendant like your’s truly) is travel to and from Anchorage. According to Google Maps, driving from St Paul, MN would take a total of 55 hours of non-stop travel. Of course we are creatures that require food, sleep and drive vehicles that require fuel, so realistically, a drive to Alaska on the ALCAN Highway is a 3-5 day adventure one way. Flying is the obvious preferred method of travel.


I take my trips every year in early August, catching the later part of the Coho or Sockeye runs. With a little advanced planning and shopping on, it’s not hard to find a seat on the 5 hour flight for between $500 – $600 (roundtrip ticket). If you’re a Minnesotan like me, both Sun Country and Delta have direct flights to Anchorage daily. Delta has had three flights every day for at least the past few years.


Once you land at the Ted Stevens International Airport, there’s not a sled-dog team ready to pick you up and take you where you want. So a rental car is a necessity. I’m generally joined on my trips by my good friend Matt, which makes car rental and gasoline half as expensive. I recommend finding a buddy to join in your travels. But don’t be afraid to fly solo if needed.


Count on a car rental for 7 days to be between $200 – $300 if you plan months in advance and shop competitively. I suggest renting an economy class car to make the rental as cheap as possible and so you don’t give too much of your money to the gas man. There’s really no need for a large SUV when fishing the Kenai with two people. Most roads are either paved or well tended gravel. The amount of gear needed is minimal. If you plan on hunting in Alaska, you may need a vehicle with more clearance underneath for the forest roads and more room in cab for gear.


I think a 6 night, 7 day trip in the Last Frontier would be plenty of time to fill up a cooler, see some awesome sights, and get in a lot of spectacular hiking. I’d recommend buying a 3-day non-resident license for $45 and using the other days for sight-seeing and hiking. On most of the Kenai River (according to 2017 regs) a person has a 3 sockeye salmon daily limit and a 6 in-possession limit. That’s 12 of the best filets on the planet per person, multiplied by 2 if your buddy’s skills are at the same level of yours.


Part of the reason people think of Alaska as an expensive trip is because they are intimidated by salmon fishing the Kenai without a guide. But trust me, it’s well within the abilities of the average angler. A little research and car/foot scouting will get you to the right spots. I mean no disrespect to fishing guides by the way. They serve a great purpose for people who want to get to the best spots or have little to no knowledge of fishing. But plan on spending $400-500 for a ½ day trip. That can add up quickly if you aren’t satisfied fishing for a short amount of time.


I believe the other major cost that can be avoided in Alaska is lodging. When I rented my vehicle this year, the guy at the counter asked me which hotel I was staying at. I smiled and informed him that I was going to be camping instead. What could cost a person $200/night, costs me $15 because I bring a tent and sleeping bag and willingly stay at any of the several state campgrounds located all over the Kenai peninsula. If $15 is too much, you can find many places to camp for free since 96% of Alaska is public land owned by the federal government. However, staying at campgrounds will get you closer access to some walk-in fishing spots and allows you to be around more humans in case a bear wanders into your campsite at night.


The one caveat to all this advice is that there are some expenses one could forgo, but probably shouldn’t. For instance, it’s smart to carry either a firearm or bear spray when hiking in Alaska. You can’t bring bear spray on an aircraft so you must purchase and use it while on the ground. A canister will probably set you back $35. If you don’t buy one, make sure you are around other people as much as possible. Although, close bear encounters are still extremely rare. Also, you might want to buy some more specific salmon tackle than what you have in your tackle box. Flipping for sockeyes is really inexpensive because it really only requires a heavy weight and a Russian River fly or large hook with yarn on it.


So there you have it! One sweet trip to Alaska to fish the Kenai and the total costs if you go with a buddy:


Flight – $550

Car rental – $150 (shared expense)

Gasoline – $50 (shared expense)

Camping – $45 (shared expense – 6 nights x $15)

Fishing License – $45

Total – $840


Optional stuff – Bear spray ($35), new fishing tackle ($20-$50)


I did take the luxury in assuming the reader has the basic camping gear, waders and fishing pole (medium weight with reel and 8-14 lb test will due). If not, add some one time costs into the budget.


Check out our podcast for more info:

Podcast Episode #31 – Turkey Camp 2017

On this episode of the podcast, Jeff and Jake discuss their incredibly successful turkey hunt of 2017. Both guys shot toms on opening day using large tracks of public land in northern Minnesota. They discuss their special method of turkey hunting that leads to year-over-year success.

This podcast was sponsored by Tyto Knives. Go to to pick up the brand new Tyto 1.1 today!

Podcast Episode #30 – Elk Talk

On this episode of CelebrateMan, Jake talks with local Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation volunteers Will Wes, Jim Gerold and Jesse Schneider to talk about their upcoming banquet, elk hunting stories from last fall, gear review and how to elk hunt out west for the guy on a budget.

What to Buy The Outdoorsman in Your Life

Alright ladies, it’s that time of year you dread. Time to buy the outdoorsman in your life a Christmas present. With plenty of shopping days left to Christmas day, we’ll help you navigate through the shelves of the big stores to help you find a great gift for your man.

Stocking Stuffer ideas

Main Gift ideas

  • Muck boots (about $165) at Cabela’s
  • Vortex Diamondback 10 x 42 Binoculars (about $220) at Gander Mountain
  • CVA Muzzleloader Rife (about $180) at Fleet Farm
  • First Lite Chama Hoodie (about $135) at First Lite
  • North Face Primaloft Jacket (about $200) at REI
  • SteriPEN water purifier (about $90) at Bass Pro Shop

Big Gift ideas


Learn more about these items and additional gift ideas by listening to our recent podcast episode.

Podcast Episode #29 – What to Buy the Outdoorsman in Your Life for Christmas

This is that dreadful time of year where countless women wander the aisles of Cabela’s without a clue what to buy their outdoorsman. The CelebrateMan crew breakdown the items we like and suggest stocking stuffer ideas, medium range presents and that really big item that most hunters and fishermen need.

Podcast Episode #28 – Deer Camp Diaries (BWCA Edition)


Jeff, Tommy and Jake sit around a campfire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to talk about the trials and tribulations of hunting the BWCA for deer. The trip begins with a hilarious mistake that ended up getting a lot of gear wet.

Hunting the BWCA with Friends from Wars Past

While millions of Americans were checking their social media newsfeeds during election week, I had the great fortune to spend time in the vast wild of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) with close friends. And not just any friends, but friends who have served with me in war zones. So it’s fitting that I share our adventure hunting the BWCA on this Veteran’s Day.

Some might wonder why a couple of guys would hunt whitetail deer in the BWCA in November when there are several options much easier and more productive. But there’s something in our DNA that craves the challenges, ignores the risks and endures the discomforts in pursuit of wild adventures. Despite unusably warm weather, a journey like this will come with periods of cold, mental frustration and injuries. And that began within the first minute.

We arrived at the landing by 9:30 am with a whole day of canoeing, camp setup and scouting ahead of us. I was joining Tommy and Jeff for half of their planned 10-day trip in the backcountry. The guys were using a 17 ft Kevlar canoe weighing only 35 lbs and filled it with gear and provisions that would support their lengthy stay.


(Photo taken right before starting our journey. From left to right: Tommy, Jeff & Jake)

When it was time to go, Jeff jumped in the front seat and Tommy scooted into the back. Since I had my waders on, I gave the pair a push off and the journey began. As I walked over to my canoe to get started I was immediately startled by the sounds of rushing water. I looked up and Jeff and Tommy flipped their canoe and were swimming in cold lake water. I was in my canoe holding back laughter (which I was not good at).

10 seconds into a 10-day trip and we were off to a bad start. Jeff and Tommy quickly swam towards the landing and began drying off. I spent 20 minutes looking for Tommy’s GPS at the bottom of the landing, only to chopstick it up with paddles to find a broken unit. Demoralized and wet, the guys started questioning the logistics and merits of the trip. But quick thinking paved the way to problem solving. We decided to switch canoes so they had the heavier and more stable aluminum. And the gear would have to be equally distributed in both canoes.

Thirty minutes later and we were pushing off again ready to start an adventure.


The BWCA is the largest chunk of wild land in Minnesota, composed of more than a million acres of thick woods and beautiful lakes accessible only by canoe. To navigate it, paddlers often have to portage their gear and canoe from one lake to another using uneven, rustic portage trails. Hunting the BWCA is a lot more work than driving a truck to the edge of the woods and climbing in a tree stand 100 ft away.

The vastness of the BWCA wilderness made locating deer a spectacular challenge. We spent the next few days busting through downfall and thick timber for a speckle of deer sign. The area we chose had experienced a wild fire several years ago and a massive windstorm this summer. Those events made conditions extremely difficult for human movement.

Our days were defined by paddling along shorelines and breaking brush in the woods. Evenings were filled with sipping whiskey and replenishing calories burned throughout the day with warm Mountain House meals. We huddled around the campfire at night reminiscing about past deployments and chatting about future adventures we wanted to make a reality.


Tommy shot a grouse with his 7mm rifle on the first day of hunting ensuring we’d have some wild meat from the trip. Of course that lasted about 10 seconds as we split the two small breasts amongst the three of us.

One morning, Jeff and I were stumbling through the woods when we heard the distant sounds of bull moose fighting. We both traveled to the noise, but showed up late to the party.

The hunt became frustrating as the days went on. What we originally believed would be a physically exhausting trip, rapidly became a mentally exhausting one due to our burning desire to hike more than the terrain allowed.

On the third evening of our hunt, Tommy and I paddled into a large marsh with a winding stream through the middle of it. About an hour paddle from camp, we found a large rocky overlook position that yielded some great views. The area was the best spot we’d seen on the trip and we knew it would be wise to sit up there and glass the surrounding area.

The next morning, Jeff and I paddled to the area as the sun rose above the horizon. Not too long after our arrival, Jeff tapped me on the shoulder informing me that a deer was moving along the wood line. I quickly noticed the deer with the naked eye and directed my binos towards it. Jeff had spotted a small buck, which would’ve been a trophy to us in that rugged country.

I quickly grabbed my range finder to get a distance and by the time I raised it, the deer had vanished; never to be seen again. I eventually made a slow stalk towards the spot we glassed him while Jeff remained in the overwatch position in case I kicked him up. Walking that terrain confirmed our beliefs that it would serve as a great movement corridor for deer. The sign was plentiful.

Tommy and Jeff decided that evening that they would pull out of the woods on Day 5 with me, leaving only one day left to hunt. After all the paddling, hiking and map reading, we had narrowed down our best chance of bagging a deer to the overwatch position along the creek.

So the next morning, all three of us headed up creek to the glassing spot at daybreak with the plan to spend the whole day on the rock looking for deer with our binos. The rock was cold that morning in the shade. Gusting winds and cold morning temps made us pull out our warm weather gear as we attempted to stay warm in our stationary positions. About 10 am that morning we decided to start a fire on the opposite side of the rock for a morale and welfare boost. We left one man in the overwatch position at all times and started doing shifts.

About an hour into this operation, I was standing near the fire with Jeff, shooting the shit, when behind him and across the creek I saw three does come running through the blowdown to the edge of the water. The deer were only 130 yards away and a relatively easy shot for us to make. But due to a BAH (Bad At Hunting) error, the deer spooked off giving us little opportunity at bagging a deer on this trip.

(Jeff enjoying the fire right before we spotted the deer)

We stayed on that rock, glassing the surrounding area until nightfall with no luck. It was a humbling experience paddling the hour back to camp in the dark, but I couldn’t help but crack a smile. The three of us enjoy eating deer and the meat does go to good use. But we live in modern times and our families won’t starve this winter since the supermarket down the street has plenty of fresh meat stocked year round.

I smiled on that paddle back to camp because I can’t imagine a more enjoyable experience than hanging out with my buddies, enduring the trials and tribulations that mother nature threw our way in the vast wild country of northern Minnesota.

It’s important for men to stay connected to wild country and be tested by the hardships that come along with living in remote areas. The concrete jungles and cubicle lifestyle we live back in the cities is abnormal and stressful. Getting out and paddling in wild country is good for the soul. Especially when it’s shared with friends. Some day, in the not so distant future, we hope to bring our sons to experience the beauty and ruggedness of hunting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in November.





Podcast Episode #27 – Final Prep for BWCA Deer Hunt


On this episode of the podcast, Jake and Tommy talk about an upcoming trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota to hunt whitetail deer. The BWCA is the most remote, undeveloped wilderness in the upper midwest which offers a real logistical challenge, while also offering the ability to be rewarded with an amazing hunt.

The Drive to do a 50-Mile Utramarathon

Six weeks ago I had no intention or desire to be an ultramarathoner. Most of the year I lift weights 5 times a week mixed with runs of 3 to 5 miles for cardio. My fitness and training is motivated by a desire to be a better outdoorsman when I head out west every year to hunt elk. To prepare for those trips I switch my focus in the summer months to intense hiking and hill training; often with a heavy pack. Putting miles on a trail in the wild is nothing new to me.

Back in May my friend Steve told me about his upcoming 100-mile utramarathon on the Superior Hiking Trail (northern Minnesota). Since I love the trail and often do backpacking trips on it, I offered to be one of his pacers. It also would serve as a final fitness test for my elk hunt because it was two weeks before I headed out to Montana.

When I joined Steve at mile 85, I didn’t find the man I was used to seeing. Instead, I found an elite athlete, driven by passion and a desire to keep moving forward no matter what pain or nastiness mother nature threw his way. I must admit that I quickly became envious of his feat. I paced him for 18 miles, enduring some mud pits, technical rock gardens, and a couple steep climbs. He persevered through every challenge like a champion. As we threw our headlamps on with 3 miles to go, I did the quick trail math and told him we could finish by 8 pm (totally irrelevant, but seemed like a good goal at the time). It didn’t take much convincing before the pace increased and the goal became a reality.

Then something profound happened.

As we ran through the Lutsen ski resort nearing the finish line, Craig (the other pacer) and I parted ways with Steve so he could finish by himself. For the last 18 miles I heard endless talk about the finish line and how much Steve wanted to get to it. I came within 50 yards of it and the feeling and energy of it was intoxicating. But low and behold, it was not my finish line, and I couldn’t scratch that sudden itch I felt.

When Steve talked to me the next day thanking me for crewing and pacing, he planted a seed in my head about doing an ultra myself. Since life is too short to hold onto that burning desire for a whole winter, I decided a couple days later to sign up for the Surf the Murph 50-mile ultramarathon in Savage, MN. At that point, I had not even run a marathon before.

With 5 weeks to train for the event, I immediately consulted fellow CelebrateMan crewmember Tommy about the ability to transition my elk training into ultramarathon training. Tommy is a former strength and conditioning coach at the University of Minnesota. At that point, I was hiking over 50 miles a week, which quickly changed to running per Steve’s (now Coach Steve) guidance. At the end of two weeks, I was able to do a 20-mile trail run before heading out to Montana for a week of intense hill climbing. Once I got back to town, I knocked out a marathon distance on trails, marking a new personal best and giving me confidence in accomplishing great things. That run was two weeks out from the race, so my training program began to taper in preparation for race day.

The week prior to Surf the Murph was marked with several questions appealing to Steve’s vast ultra knowledge, creating my race day plan, preparing my crew and pacers and resting my body. There was some doubt going through my head that week since running past 26 miles was unknown territory for me. But I had a great deal of confidence in my heart and determination to not fail, which eased the nerves as D-day approached.

The morning of race day began at 3 am so I could keep my normal daily routine of coffee and eggs. Starting out the day with caffeine and nutrition is key. The course was an hour drive from my house and registration began at 5 am, so I was out of the house by 4:15.

With long sleeves on and a headlamp on my head, my forward motion began at 6 am sharp. Surf the Murph course is composed of three 16.7-mile loops of cross country trails that maneuver through forest, fields and wetlands. There are four aid stations with the longest distance between any of them only 4 miles. Each aid station was full of various food, candy, liquids and gels. Oh yeah…and tons of energy from fellow runners who volunteered their day to support us.

My plan was to start out really slow, walking all the rolling hills through the forest in the dark. But due to race day anxiety, I knocked off a minute and a half per mile of my planned pace for the first 5 miles. Even as I passed the first aid station, where I ditched my headlamp, I continued a quick pace as the sun began to rise along the horizon. This ended up hurting me at mile 11 as the long sleeve shirt I had on made me sweat more and collect the sweat on my arms, turning them instantly ice cold.

I realized at that point I needed to slow things down and remove one article of clothing. Since I was only a couple miles from the next aid station, I decided to tie the shirt around my waist. That plan worked well, but masked a bigger issue that was lingering that I was unaware of at the time: my body was dehydrated.

After years in the military and athletics, how could I possibly be so ignorant about my own hydration? When I relieved myself at the mile 13 aid station, my urine was dark and minimal; signs of an urgent need to start consuming water. I made the decision to finish out the first lap with fast pace hiking so I could keep sucking down water every 5 minutes. With my fast start, I still managed to finish my first lap 10 minutes ahead of the plan.

Then the lap of hell began!

The first 5 miles of the loop is very hilly, with some short, steep climbs that really slow a runner down. On lap 2, these hills triggered severe cramping in my quads and I was trying hard to get my hydration back. These miles quickly became agonizing, putting doubts in my head about my ability to finish due to dehydration or time disqualification (race cutoff time is 14 hours). My pace increased to about 20 min/miles, which was about 6 minutes higher than the plan.

As I emerged out of the woods and into the horse camp aid station at 22 miles, I found a welcomed site. Two of my crewmembers Bob and Nancy were there ready to cheer me on. Unexpectedly, Nancy was in running attire and without missing a beat, volunteered to pace me for the next 8 miles. This meant everything to me! Nancy’s cheeriness and positive energy quickly wore off on me. The negative thoughts going through my head at the beginning of the lap quickly dissipated and were replaced with a can-do attitude. Plus, having someone to talk to made the time pass by a lot faster.


(Here I am coming into the mile 30 aid station with Nancy finishing her pacing duties)

By the time Nancy and I arrived at the aid station 30 miles in (all new territory for me) my whole crew was there: my wife Kirsten and son Colton, in-laws Jim and Ginny, niece Kelsey and two certified badass ultramarathoners Nick and Coach Steve. Nick offered up his pacing services and joined me on the trail back to the Start/Finish Line Aid Station 4 miles away. At that point I was starting to worry about my time since I was struggling with all the hydration and cramping issues, but Nick kept ensuring me I was well on pace to finishing the race in the time limit.


(My crew [from left to right]: Bob, Jim, Ginny, wife Kirsten, Kelsey and my son Colton)


(Even Colton realized the need to stay hydrated)

Pacers serve many functions for runners, but probably the most important role is for them to do what ultramarathoners call “trail math”. When someone has been running for 8 hours, math is an incredibly challenging thing to do. Pacers give you the details of the pace needed and the motivation to achieve it. Nick was great at that and I trusted his judgment.

We rolled into the Start/Finish Line Aid Station at about 8 hours (nearly an hour behind schedule). I knew ahead of time as long as I left that aid station to begin the 3rd loop, I was going to finish the race. I think Steve knew this and he was determined to get me back on the trail. Steve, or as I should call him “Mr. Resourceful”, found a couple wooden poles, wrapped tape on top of them, thus creating some makeshift trekking poles for me. These were a godsend in the hills.

Nick kept pacing me through the next 5 mile section, motivating me along the way and talking to me so my mind couldn’t process the pain my body was experiencing. He made the most grueling section of the trail seem like candy, and we were able to bring down our time so I could get back on schedule.


(Giving the thumbs up as I got ready to knock out the last 4 miles of the race)

At mile 38, Nick handed off pacing duties to Steve and I was never again going to walk on a downhill. Steve’s motivation and knowledge was instrumental in my ability to knock off mile-by-mile on tired legs and worn out body. He frequently reminded me to drink water, take a salt pill and fuel up with sports beans and gels. He smiled and cheered every time the terrain offered a slight decline because it offered us the ability to run it. I found this irritating for the first couple miles, and instinctual and fun towards the end.

At mile 40 we ended up on the trail with another runner named Dave, a retired Air Force guy. Steve had met him earlier on the trail and found out he wasn’t able to finish this race last year due to being bit by a dog on the trail. Dave and I instantly fed off each other’s energy as we both got second winds at different times. Steve took Dave under his wings so-to-speak, and we came into the final aid station at mile 46 with two hours left in the race.

We quickly downed liquids, refilled our water, got some calories in us, and got right back on the trail to accomplish something great. The next 4 miles went by quick. Pain and discomfort were sidelined to thoughts of finish lines and the thrill of accomplishment. As we rounded our final turn, in the dark with headlamps on, Dave and I could see the finish line and smell the warm fire pit where my family and crew were huddled waiting for our arrival. We came through the finish line to familiar cheers and accolades from fellow runners. At that point we had accomplished something great and it was worth every bit of the pain and agony our body went through during the day.



(Here are my badass pacers/fellow ultramarathoners. Nick is on the left and Steve is on the right)

As I reflect on this great achievement, I have a difficult time answering what drives me to do such crazy things. Six weeks ago, running an ultramarathon wasn’t even a thought in my head. Now I’m in an elite group of people who have run further than most people can comprehend. And I must admit, the allure of doing 50 miles more is floating around in my thoughts. Perhaps a 100-mile ultra is in the cards for next year.


Jake Duesenberg