North of Normal: Anchorage, Alaska
Last week marks two months since I first flew into Anchorage through a blizzard, wondering what possessed me to leave the lower 48 behind for a year. But as it always seems to go, in no time I’ve gone from that wide-eyed, new place survival mode period to feeling somewhat settled in Anchorage. It took three highway-side moose encounters, but I now play it moderately cool when I spot those antlers lumbering down the shoulder of the road ahead. Or at least I don’t shout “MOOSE” as loudly anymore, anyways.
I’ve learned to feign casual understanding when someone brings up some newly insane Alaskan thing I’d never heard of, like Arctic Man, a race that involves “slednecks” (redneck snow-machiners) slingshotting skiers up a mountain at breakneck speeds. Or Buzzwinkle, Anchorage’s resident drunken moose.
And I’ve even come to terms with the lack of reasonable weather, because there are only so many days in a row you can be shocked to step out into single digit temps even though it’s nearly April. Winter isn’t done with us yet up North- and the unexpected foot of snow that dumped on Anchorage today was an effective reminder. That, coupled with the fact that we are getting 12+ hours of sunlight a day and counting (5 more minutes every day!), is an utterly confusing combination.
Alaskans definitely know how to do winter, though, and this winter has had its moments. Skiing at Alyeska on a clear day with a backdrop of mountains, glaciers, and the shores of Turnagain Arm is hard to beat. Fur Rondy, Anchorage’s winter festival, was filled with only-in-Alaska moments. Every year, people race reindeer through the streets downtown and sport all manner of uncomfortably recognizable furry creatures in the form of coats, hats, and even pants as part of Alaska’s tradition of fur trade. Along with ice sculpture contests and outhouse races (don’t ask), the ceremonial Iditarod start begins during the festival, with sled teams running right through downtown Anchorage.
Ski Train is another odd but great Alaskan gem, where passengers ride the Alaska Railroad four hours north of Anchorage to stop in the middle of nowhere for an afternoon of skiing and snowshoeing. The experience is complete with a gaggle of older men and women in lederhosen playing live polka music and, for the 21+ crowd, an impressive amount of day drinking. Let me tell you -there’s nothing like hearing an entire train car of tipsy passengers cheer when Denali comes into view in the distance, impossibly immense and wild.
There’s no telling what quirky adventure or borderline insane pastime Alaska will bring along next, but something tells me I’ll be glad I’m here to see it.
“To the lover of pure wildness Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”
-John Muir, Travels in Alaska