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.


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Papa Arlen

When my dad was young he told his classmates that his father ended the Korean war. “They saw old AW coming and they feared what lie ahead” my dad would say. While it’s true that the armistice was signed the week that my grandpa landed in Korea, my dad’s claim wasn’t based on carefully analyzed cause & effect, rather it came from grandpa’s story to his children. Papa Arlen had a sense of humor about almost everything and we loved it growing up.


My earliest memories of grandpa were from our old Duesenberg family annual July 4th tradition. Papa Arlen’s parents owned prime real estate in Clear Lake, Iowa: a spacious single level house right on the lake and located next to the city park. Every 4th of July the carnival was in town and you can imagine how much us grandchildren enjoyed the rides and games at the fair and running off the dock and swimming in the lake.

Clear Lake Home

(Recent view of the Clear Lake home my great grandparents used to own)

When we were really young, we loved going up to grandpa, sitting on his lap and punching him in the gut. He was a strong, big-framed man who could withstand our “severe” blows to the midsection. We’d really lay into those punches, but he would just sit there, smile and laugh at our attempts to rattle him. We thought Papa Arlen was one tough man!


My grandparents retired at 60 and were able to live comfortably in their retirement. They enjoyed traveling and purchased vehicles to compliment that lifestyle. I remember back in the late 80s when they owned a van that had a small box TV and VCR. We thought that was the coolest thing ever! To my grandpa, the van was a practical vehicle. To us, it was a playground on wheels. We especially enjoyed climbing up the ladder on the back to watch fireworks on the rooftop.


They eventually joined the RV community, starting with a large Fifth Wheel and gravitating to a fully loaded Motorhome. Grandpa was no stranger to driving large pieces of equipment. He worked his whole career in the family road construction business. My grandpa and grandma took that enormous piece of metal all around the U.S. and I believe even into Canada on a RV group trip. Although none of those trips compares to the one Papa Arlen took one summer in his college days.


Back in January when I was visiting my grandparents, grandpa recalled his trip to Alaska along the ALCAN highway. It was an important trip to him because my great grandfather’s company was one of hundreds of contractors that help build a portion of the road a decade before. Today the ALCAN is mostly paved and our vehicles are dependable machines. But when Papa Arlen traveled the highway, it was gravel and cars were far less dependable. I guess that added to the adventure.


My dad and I talked a lot in recent years about taking a trip up to Alaska with grandpa. It became evident early this year that this trip wasn’t likely to happen as Papa Arlen’s health started to become a grave concern. In April, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and his prospects didn’t look so good. The whole family was slowly coming to the realization that we were going to lose our patriarch.


On Monday morning we got the news that he passed on. It was a sad day in the Duesenberg family.


My grandpa was a great man. He came from a generation of hard working Americans. He showed that hard work does pay off in the business world and I admire his success. But even more admirable was his daily conduct. My grandpa was a man of honor and ethics. Although his witty sense of humor came out 90% of the time, Papa Arlen was serious about doing the right thing. In a world addicted to the filth of reality TV, it’s refreshing to have men in our culture that exude good virtues.


Despite a distance of 800 miles and several states separating me from my grandparents, I was able to see Papa Arlen three times this year. I visited him in January and he got to meet my little boy for the first time. After his diagnosis, I joined my dad and his brothers on a trip in April to enjoy his company before things got worse. And last week, when his life seemed numbered by days, I was able to be with him and grandma and say my final goodbye.

Papa Arlen Dad Me Colton

(Picture of Papa Arlen, my dad, my son and me with a shotgun that’s been in the family for many generations)

I’ll always treasure those visits and would have been full of regret if I didn’t do them. We are all busy with work and other things, but we can’t let that get in the way of spending time with family. If you still have living grandparents, make the trip to see them. Don’t miss the opportunity before it’s gone.


I miss you Papa Arlen, but I’m glad you were a part of my life.


Jake Duesenberg

Gear Review: GSI Bugaboo Backpacker Camp Set


For more years than I dare to admit, I stretched the life of my aluminum mess kit that has been apart of my gear since I first journeyed up to the Boundary Waters with my buddies in the 90s. Those pots, pans and cups have done me well, but they were inefficient with heat retention and took up a lot of space in my pack. So a year ago I finally upgraded to the “fine china” of the backpacker’s world.

The Bugaboo Backpacker Camp Set is a great piece of equipment for the guy that wants to feed more than one mouth and have the options to boil, fry and steam. First off, the set all fits nicely into the pot, which is covered by a makeshift field sink for washing dishes (clever!). Inside the pot are two cups with insulated fabric, two food bowls (same dimensions as cups), removable pot and pan holder, steamer lid and lying on top of it all, a frying pan.

What I do with the space inside the cups and bowls is stuff a box of matches, my MSR Micro-Rocket stove and a CRKT Eat’n Tool.

The set is quite durable, yet lightweight. It has great heat retention which speeds up cooking times. And the pot and pan has a non-stick surface that makes clean up a breeze.

The one downside to this kit is its size. I have a big appetite and often go camping with a buddy. So the size fits my purpose on 70% of trips. But that other 30% of the time, I’d be better off with a one-person, compact kit.

If you’re in the market for a new mess kit, go check out the GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Backpacker Set today at your local outdoor retail store. #CelebrateMan




Annual Alaska Trip

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Every year I load up my fishing gear, fly to Anchorage, and then head to one of my favorite places on this planet, the Kenai River. This is a tradition I started 3 years ago when I accompanied my wife on a layover. She works for the airlines (lucky me).

When I started this tradition in 2013, I was hit with tremendous luck. My first cast while fishing the Kenai River, a 10 pound coho salmon nailed my lure and gave me a thrilling fight. I’ve been hooked ever since. However, it’s distorted my expectations of the annual salmon run because I assume every year that the fishing will be as simple and productive as the first year when I timed the silver run perfectly.

This year was awful for me. I hit the tail end of the King salmon run, and saw a mediocre sockeye (otherwise known as “reds”) run in my area. The flashy Blue fox spoons that landed me countless silvers in the past, was a waste of time for spawning reds. I had two days to fish the river this year and my go-to spot was not producing.

Determined not to come home empty handed, I struck up conversations with locals and other anglers and found out the technique and location people were catching the sockeyes. They employed a technique called “flipping” or “flossing” which involved tying a Russian River fly to a 24″ leader, then flipping the line into the current near the bank, holding for 6-10 seconds, and pulling out and repeating the process.

I hiked a mile to a popular fishing hole where I was instructed, and sure enough, the technique paid off. Landed my first salmon in about an hour and although I didn’t fill the cooler that day, I came home with fresh salmon that runs $18.99/pound back here in Minnesota.

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My trips to Alaska every year are part of what help satisfy the wild desires I have as a man. Guys like us need to pull away from civilization now and then and face challenges in nature. These adventures rejuvenate the soul and build everlasting character…and often add more protein to the freezer. #CelebrateMan