Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Fur at the Rondy

It doesn't get more Alaskan than this...

Fur Rondy

Fur Rondy is the biggest festival in Alaska and is held in the week building up to the start of the Iditarod. The spectrum of events includes everything from dog-sledding to blanket-tossing to stamp-collecting, and the week is filled with fun and mayhem as everyone shakes off any cabin-fever symptoms.

The opening ceremony of Fur Rondy boasts a spectacular Grand Parade, and Daniel and I rushed into Downtown to be a part of this truly American display of pomp and circumstance. We think, however, (very diplomatically, of course) that the pomp might have been popped by the weather, as the crowds were meagre in the -10 degree chill. The Parade turned out to be a fizzle of Girl Scouts and insurance companies handing out free sweets, but we tried to imagine some spirit.

We also rushed down to the waterfront to watch the Big Air Demo, and were quite surprised when not a single plane flew overhead. The Big Air Demo turned out to be snowboarders flying down a ramp and doing tricks in the air! Not quite what we expected, but brave nonetheless.

Just behind the flying snowboarders was the Rondy Central Carnival. Finally, we thought, a chance to relish the American spirit: candy floss, big wheels, root beer floats, and stuffed teddies to be won at stalls. We made it as far as the Big Wheel, from which we could see, for the first time, Anchorage's beautiful waterfront and beaches.

The evening finished off with a fireworks display over the sea, and then we took our numb feet home.

The Frozen Oosik

According to the oracle that is Wikipedia, an 'oosik' is a"baculum used for copulation". The one we are referring to is the three-foot long penis bone of a walrus, and it is the trophy for the annual winter rugby match.

Rugby in Alaska is a summer sport, but once a year a few hardcore Pacific Islanders, the occasional lost Frenchman, and lots of local Alaskans who happened to learn the rules of rugby, engage in a match in knee-deep snow. Since the inaugural match a few years ago the scoreline has been 0-0 every single year, and this year was no different.

And so, at the end of a tough hour of running in snow without spilling their beers, the players kiss the trophy (???) and call it an honorable draw. And then head to the pub...

Some rugby players in action

Scrum down: the call was for everyone to go to the front row!

The ref holding the 'trophy'

Coffee Culture.

On almost every street, in almost every carpark, and on very many street corners in Anchorage you can find a coffee shack. These are convenient little drive-thru sheds that serve fresh coffee all day to the cold folk of Anchorage.

We couldn't call ourselves Alaskan until we had visited one. I think Daniel gave away our 'cheechako' status though, when he drove up to the window so that I had to place the order from the passenger seat...!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Winter Trails Day

The Campbell Creek Science Center and REI put on the Winter Trails Day every year. This involves an introduction to the Alaskan outdoors, and features instruction on basic snow survival skills and a chance to try out several different winter sports, all free to the public!

On arrival we were given a survival kit in case we ever get stuck out in the wild. The cool little pack included headgear, hand-warmers, a leatherman, safety lights, an emergency blanket, a water bottle, energy bars, a map, lip salve, and a mini first-aid kit. It's incredible that they can just give these out for free, but safety on Alaska's trails is a huge priority here. We also explored the ice-shelters (digloos) and snow trenches, which was pretty interesting. I hope we never have to resort to one of these!

Our main aim was the winter sports and we finally attempted some cross-country skiing. We settled for skate-skiing over classic skiing, even though it looked like harder work. After receiving instruction on how to stay upright and move forward at the same time, we practised skate-skiing round a short, icy track.

Once we were confident enough, we headed out on one of the trails in Campbell Creek Park. It was exhilarating to move through the forest at speed, and we got a good workout and had great fun at the same time! We'll definitely be trying this again soon.

Later on in the day we managed to borrow some "fat bikes". These are mountain bikes which have been specially adapted for riding on snow, and are punted as the ultimate Alaskan trail bike. They are fitted with tires that are three-inches wide, and these enabled us to plough through the snow and ice with relative ease. Bigger leg muscles would have helped my cause, but I managed to keep up with Daniel most of the way!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fun in the (little bit of) sun

The first month of 2010 has flown by, and we've filled it with all sorts of exciting activities. We were invited to play broomball in the friendly Sunday afternoon league with a huge group of friends. Broomball is a little like Calvinball. The set-up is similar to soccer: two teams, a goal at either end, most goals wins. However, most similarities end there. Broomball is played on an ice rink, but players wear running shoes instead of skates. They use "brooms", which are long poles with a rubber "blade" at the end, and they use these to hit around a kind of mini-soccerball. Feet can be used, accidentally and on purpose, but the use of hands is discouraged (but not illegal).

We're not sure how anyone came up with this game, but we're glad they're did! It's great fun, and it's the only time we end up outdoors wearing just a t-shirt, as we get we a good run-around!

We do also play a more formal sport, although some may argue that it's less civilised. We joined a mixed soccer team and we have league matches every weekend. Neither of us has actually played soccer before, so we were quite hesitant at first. However, our teammates have embraced Daniel's speed and sleight-of-foot, and they put up with my presence on the field when one of the other girls is having a rest...

The matches are all played indoors as the outdoor fields are covered with knee-deep snow. One of the venues, the aptly-named Dome, looks a giant inflatable dome. It is white, and camouflages nicely against the white sky or mountains, which makes it quite tricky to find! Inside there are three fields surrounded by a six-lane rubber running track.

The latest sport we've tried is snowboarding! Although we knew exactly how to excel at it before we even took to the slopes, we left nursing bruised bums and egos. Snowboarding is the "cool" sport at Hilltop, and all the gangly teenagers who whizz past are clothed in baggy shirts, giant hoodies, and ski pants hanging around their ankles. We thought that if we were suitably attired, we'd fit right in, but they saw through us!

Snowboarding turned out to be not that much fun. We didn't take to it as well or as quickly as we took to skiing, and we spent more time falling than boarding. It seems that much of a boarder's time is spent sitting on the snow tying bindings or trying to stand up. It looks like good fun when it's done properly, but we found skiing more enjoyable, so I think we'll be sticking to that!