By BRENNA GRITEMAN
Popular culture calls Alaska “The Last Frontier.”
But for one Findlay man, this remote corner of America feels increasingly familiar.
Dave Burget has spent the past two summers driving tour buses in Alaska, as a seasonal employee of Holland America Princess Alaska Yukon. The gig required him to learn and share tourist-friendly facts about Denali (the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet) and the summer solstice (it brings 22-plus hours of daylight and is marked by large parties and festivals on what just happens to be Burget’s birthday), but he’s also learned a few other gems along the way. Vacationers lucky enough to find themselves aboard his bus might be treated to a quick detour to watch salmon spawning in a stream or witness him expertly brake for a black bear or moose lumbering across the road.
Burget’s tours have become so successful, his employer chose him specifically to escort the film crew for the Australian lifestyle show “Getaway,” featuring celebrity host Catriona Rowntree, during their trek through Alaska.
The Alaskan adventure started for this retired Marathon IT professional in summer 2017, when he and his wife took a two-week cruise and land tour through the state. Though technically retired, Burget has been driving school buses for Arcadia Local Schools since about two days into his retirement, when he answered a help wanted ad in The Courier. As a tourist in Alaska, he noticed all the bus drivers ferrying fellow vacationers to and from their cruise ship ports and resorts, and began asking the drivers about the work.
Soon enough, he was completing drivers’ training in the Fairbanks area, studying up on Alaskan trivia and escorting vacationers through Denali National Park and Preserve.
“Why would I want to retire and sit around here when I can do stuff like this?” he says.
The Alaska tourist season runs from Memorial Day to mid-September, and Burget lodges in employee housing built from trailers formerly used for oil exploration expeditions on the North Slope. He spends about six days a week driving a bus, while noting no two days are alike. Some days are spent driving the resort shuttle, while others require a 13-hour jaunt across the state.
Burget says the biggest tourist draw to Alaska is the wildlife, with the “big five” consisting of moose, bear (black and grizzlies), caribou, wolves and Dall sheep. In his first year driving, passengers aboard his motorcoach got an up-close look at a black bear when Burget had to come to a full stop to avoid hitting one that had darted into the road.
“I put a pretty big scare into that bear and he took off into the woods,” Burget says, recalling how the incident gave some sleeping passengers a surprised jolt.
Burget has also had to brake for a moose, though luckily no one was on board at the time. He says one Alaskan borough reported over 300 car/moose accidents last year, and police keep a contact list similar to Ohio’s deer lists of people to call when an Alaskan moose is fatally struck.
Though Burget has been lucky enough to witness natural wonders like the northern lights and glaciers, his favorite thing about Alaska is driving through Broad Pass. This long, wide basin is largely unforested, offering views of the Alaska Range to the northwest, the Talkeetnas to the southeast, and Denali.
Though he has yet to commit, Burget has been asked by his employer to return next summer.