Monday, February 28, 2011

Mary Poppins blows into town

Well, it’s the end of February, and everyone knows what that means.  (I’m looking for an answer other than “March” here.)  In Alaska, it means we long for spring and nature throws the usual northern fastball, single digit temperatures and various other unpleasant items, like a wind that can blow away nannies (see Mary Poppins or any child under fourteen for an explanation).  So what do Alaskans do when spring isn’t in sight and they’re really sick of the prolonged cold?  Why, we have an outdoor festival of course! 

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Some may recall I wrote about our world famous Fur Rendezvous last year.  If you missed the fantastic and nail-biting parade coverage or dog sled race lowdown, check here.  Only one snag: Alaska is about to blow away.  If you don’t believe me, check the facts at NOAA here.  So if nothing else, “gusts to 45 mph diminishing to 35 mph toward morning” should be a clue that not even mad dogs or Englishmen are outside by choice. 

It turns out we’re the lucky one because Juneau can plan on “gusts to 65 mph near downtown” and Valdez is getting “gusts of 65 to 80 mph in town” but they can’t complain.  Their wind has died down a little from 95 mph.  I have conveniently circled how windy it is in the picture below but was unable to capture all the nannies blowing away.  I apologize, and I can only assume, some kid or kids in Anchorage just got a new nanny named Mary Poppins who is “practically perfect in every way.”

rondy 024   Our little fur festival is downtown, mostly.  All those narrow and straight city blocks are great wind tunnels.  At one point, during a particularly nasty gust, people were gasping and shielding their faces.  I turned the kids around to face the other direction till the gust died down.  Then we tromped onward through the dirty snow, envying those wearing cozy fur hats and coats.  One thing about modern arctic wear, it just doesn’t look cozy, like these fluffy animal skin hats for sale on the sidewalk.  Sorry, gore-tex, I had to say it.

rondy 045   My destination, 3rd Avenue and E Street and the Rondy Carnival.  I was there to see some people getting tossed around on a blanket of seal skins.  It has a history you can read about here with our Native peoples during their spring whaling festival.  Check out the link, there’s some fun pictures and they actually mention Alaska’s very own far northern town of Barrow.  But first a couple of interesting ocular diversions for you.

Ever wondered just how a musher transports a team of dogs and all the miscellaneous gear required for a race?  Me too, and if I ever find out, I’ll let you all know.  Meanwhile, here are some pictures of vehicles that I think have something to do with it.

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Reminds me of a hotel room I once stayed in, but the dogs seem cozy enough with their straw lined vehicular cocoons.  Another fun sighting, the entrants for the Outhouse Race.  Yes, you read that correctly. 

I can just see the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, thick in a meeting about how to drum up some tourists and spending during the official “most disappointingly cold month” of the year.  “Eureka, we’ll have them race outhouses down the street!  The tourists will flock to Anchorage to see adults push their latrine themed, and ski equipped, Frankenstein's down the street in a footrace!”  People were posing on these babies for pictures, I kid you not.  I wanted to, but my posterity vowed to disown me if I did.  Rats, foiled again.

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Ok, ok, enough of the potty pictures.  This blanket tossing stuff is what I wanted to see in “real life” having only seen it previously on newscasts and at one really rowdy high school party where the landing wasn’t so good.  And once at the bottom of a sledding hill where the landing was even worse.

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After walking in a bent position for approximately 20,000 city blocks into the wind, I had my first reward.  The temperature in the sunshine raised a degree or three and nearly thawed my fingers and my jaw enough to croak, “there’s the carnival, kids, keep moving or hypothermia sets in.” 

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My next reward, the sight of a person being tossed above the crowd.  I elbowed a few five-year olds out of the way and got to check out the blanket and the tossing method.  My investigation should be useful when I try to replicate this pastime at home sans seal skins and twenty able-bodied helpers.  Maybe I’ll use a blue tarp.

Do you have a favorite thing to do when it’s too cold to do anything normal/reasonable/rational? Outhouse comments? 


  1. Christine, Your posts never fail to entertain me. This time, sitting in a cozy 70 degree room shivering at the thought of windchills that would make Santa shake in his boots. [Or Mary in keeping with your theme.] Kudos for donning the kids in their winter wears and taking on this project which just proves that Alaska has no winter wusses. Here's wishing you an early spring!

  2. I never would have believed it but there you go, now I've seen it with my own eyes. I used to live on a gulf island in British Columbia, Canada and every year, during summer mind you, with bicycles, they had an outhouse race around the entire island. I thought I would never see anything like it ever again. Never say never.

  3. a fun great post! The racing potties are hilarious. Alaskan have a refined sense of humor.

  4. What a hoot this must have been with an outhouse race. That doggie getting loaded in the traveling dog hotel does not look like a musher dog. Where is the fur? My Samoyed would have had a snicker.

  5. @Grace PetersonYou're not alone, Grace. I too, sit in a 70 degree room and shiver...all through winter, in fact. I've taken to wearing house sweaters, like Mr. Rogers.

    The chamber of commerce will be thrilled to hear about this!

    Alaska is at the forefront of the refinement movement in America. I believe Miss Manners herself has a summer cottage in our fair state.,
    The racing dogs are beginning to resemble those professional marathoners: no body fat. They are sure excited to get harnessed up and go though.


  6. I have wondered how they transport their dogs and sleds for the big race. Interesting. I have read about the tossing of the people on seal skins too. Fun post. You are even funnier.

  7. I'm so glad to see a whole town celebrate the dregs of winter instead of complain about it. And with such style and good taste too! I love Alaska's spirit and your funny tales about it.

    We have crazy boat races here in warmer weather, with non-seaworthy piles of junk competing to get to the finish line before sinking. Unsafe but highly entertaining.

  8. @Lisa at GreenbowCome visit our state sometime, there's always something fun/odd/dangerous to do!

    Don't get us wrong. We do plenty of complaining, too. In the summer, our boat races consist of crafts made from cardboard and duct tape. Everyone sinks in the end.


  9. Greetings from Southern California

    I added myself to follow your blog. I invite you to visit mine and follow me if you want too.

    God bless you :-)


  10. @Theoldgeezer,

    Welcome to the Last Frontier! Plenty of old geezers up here, too, except they call themselves snowbirds and head down to warmer climes every winter. I'm quite jealous actually.


  11. When there is fresh snow we used to make snow cream or just throw maple syrup on a cup of clean snow. Also, we made snow candles once, kinda like sand candles. Have to have the wax just the right temp so it doesn't distort packed snow shape pouring into.

  12. Speaking as an Englishman may I say that we are probably quite sane compared to you Alaskans! Oh, and Mary Poppins lives in London, everybody knows that! :):)


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