Many regions of the United States have their particular sport they are obsessed with. Mostly it is football, baseball, or in the more colder states, hockey. Alaska however, has a love affair with dog mushing. Of course most people have heard of the Iditarod, the world famous sled dog race from Willow, Alaska to Nome that in part commemorates the 1925 diptheria serum run to Nome from Nenana. There is one other epic sled dog race that isn’t as widely known outside of mushing circles, but is just as grueling–if not more so–than the Iditarod, and that is the Yukon Quest.
The Yukon Quest started in 1984 and runs every year in February between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, Canada. Mushing athletes compete across a 1,000 mile trail following the historic Klondike Gold Rush transportation routes. There are fewer checkpoints in this race than the Iditarod, only 10 compared to the Iditarod’s 22, which makes the Yukon Quest a true test of the survival skills of the musher and the strength and determination of her dog team.
As with most competitions that happen in Alaska, the idea was dreamed up out of a–well, maybe not a drunken discussion but a discussion over beers for sure. The desire to have a race that tested more raw survival skills was strong. This year will mark the 33rd year of the race which will start on February 4, in Whitehorse and finish in Fairbanks. It takes teams between 10 and 20 days to finish the race, often through difficult conditions like blizzards and temperatures as low as -60F.
The atmosphere in the two participating cities is truly one of celebration. The fanfare at the start and finish of the race is impressive with people even showing up when temperatures dip to -40F. Following updates on the radio and newspaper, people crave stories from the trail, and after taking a moment to listen to these stories it is understandable as to why. Mushing is exciting and the Yukon Quest has to be one of the most exciting sled dog races in existence.
If you know anyone in Alaska, especially Fairbanks, you’ve heard them complain loudly about the frigid temperatures this week. You know when an Alaskan complains about the cold, it is some serious business! With temperatures in the interior down to -50F and at some places even colder, it really is something to complain about. Most people stay inside near their heater or fire when the weather gets this cold, but there is an intrepid bunch of die hard athletes that venture out in every kind of weather just to go for a run.
In fact, there are running events held all year in Alaska, and in places like Fairbanks it is a steadfast tradition that will never die. There are racing events held every weekend, but we’ve complied a list of some of the most challenging and most fun winter running events. Are you brave enough to try one of these out?
Susitna 100 – This race will really test your grit! Held in mid February along snow-packed snow machine and sled dog trails, this race is 100 miles through the frozen wilderness of the Susitna River Valley. You have the option to run, ski, or bike and there is also a 50K race if you aren’t up for 100 miles. To top it all off, you’re not just propelling yourself forward through the tundra, but all your gear as well. 48 hours to complete means that you will be pulling along a sled filled with the gear you’ll need to survive. You are your own happy little sled dog!
White Mountains 100 – Maybe the Susitna 100 is too far south and you really want to freeze some toes off. Well, we have you covered with the White Mountains 100, another 100 miler that you can run, ski, or bike. This race traverses the White Mountains north of Fairbanks. Held in late March and in it’s 8th iteration, this race is not for the faint of heart!
George Bloom Memorial Midday Sun Fun Run – Most people rarely use the words fun and run in the same sentence, especially regarding winter running. This run however is more our style. Held mid December in Fairbanks, this run is a leisurely 6.5 miles that loops around the University of Alaska Fairbanks through rolling hills that snake through communities of cozy cabins filled with people staying warm, not running and freezing their eyelashes to brittle icicles. This run is free and a favorite among locals, but the warning that the race is run “regardless of temperature” has us a little suspicious and shivering already.
St. Patrick’s Day Run – Another Fairbanks ‘fun run’ favorite is the St. Patrick’s Day Run. Obviously this run is held on a weekend closest to St. Patrick’s Day, so the weather is a bit warmer, usually. It isn’t unheard of to still get snaps of -30F even in March, but lately temperatures in March are bearable. So grab your green tutu and run a cheery 7.1 miles through snowy trails and make sure to reward yourself with a beer afterward!
Training Sessions – You don’t need an official race to go run in the cold! The Running Club North in Fairbanks has a couple on going training sessions you can torture–I mean reward–yourself with all winter long. The ‘Fahrenheit Be Darned’ group meets on Wednesdays to train through all sorts of winter conditions. -40F? Ice fog? Ice?! No problem, they got this! If you need more of a carrot to get you moving out into the cold, the Hoodoo Goldstream Beer Runs are held every Thursday through the winter. 1 to 3 miles and the promise of a tasty beer afterwards? We are in!
Alaska is nothing if not unique. Places like the Doctor Seuss house and events like the Talkeetna Moose Dropping Festival really speak to the quirky nature of Alaska and its residents. Though, if you live in a climate that spends nine months out of the year in dark sub-zero conditions then you need to have a sense of humor just to survive. We have put together a list of three places to stay that don’t take themselves too seriously and we love them for that!
The Bork Zoo-Retro 60’s Feather and Fur – If you love 60’s architecture, animals, and fun eccentric hosts then this is the airbnb for you! Mike Bork and his wife rent out their fully finished basement to travelers looking for a more local feel when visiting Fairbanks. Full of wood paneling and stone work, plus a fully stocked wet bar, this place will transport you to a time of rabbit ear TVs and beehive hairdos. The Bork Zoo is aptly named, they practically have a full (albeit strange) mushing team with four dogs, four parrots, and an outdoor cat named Bacon. But the hosts are really the reason you should stay here. Mike not only sings and plays the ukulele, but is also a balloon artist, laugh therapist, and a pretty decent chef. If you want a local flavor of Fairbanks, this is the place to stay!
Burly Man Bunkhouse – This bunkhouse brings to mind a popular saying in Alaska pertaining to the once heavily skewed ratio of men to women, and while the number of men no longer overtakes the women, the sentiment is still appealing. You want to find a husband in Alaska? Well, the odds are good, but the goods are odd! The Burly Man Bunkhouse in Seward embodies this wholeheartedly! This cozy cabin in the woods is decked out in full color portraits of rugged Alaskan men in nothing more than their birthday suits doing manly things like hiking in the snow, playing the guitar in a serene field, fishing, and even horseback riding (yeah that made us cringe too!). This place will satisfy your desire for a quiet Alaskan getaway and the added bonus of some delightful eye candy.
Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn – You’ll know you’re at the right place by the cutout of two uncomfortable looking humping bears proudly displayed out front. Yes, Alaskans have a bawdy sense of humor. What can we say? It gets us through those frostbitten -40F nights (and days). Skinny Dick’s was once a saw mill in the 50s. The story goes that the sawmill was bough in 1969 and remodeled into a bar called the Halfway House due to it’s location halfway between Fairbanks and Nenana. The bar was sold in the 80s to Richard “Skinny” Hiland who renamed the place Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn. If you want that local bar feeling with the added bonus of purchasing a rude t-shirt with humping polar bears, this place is a win!
Music is ingrained in our daily lives and yet it is staggering how many talented artists we never get the opportunity to hear. At Alaska Cache Box we love discovering new music and sharing it with others. Alaska is a hot bed of creative talent and the music scene is as vast and varied as the state itself. Below you’ll find a short list, in no particular order, of some Alaskan musicians we think you’ll enjoy.
Blackwater Railroad Company – If you want the feel of Alaskan life in music form, Blackwater Railroad Company does the trick. This band from Seward encompasses that Folk/Rock sound that Alaskans can’t get enough of. But this band doesn’t stop at sharing their musical talent, they also created a ‘music lending library’ that allows children in their community to play instruments they wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to play. We love bands that give back to the community!
Marian Call – This singer/song writer from Juneau is truly one of a kind. She pairs her smooth vocals with unique accompaniment and subject matter. It isn’t uncommon for her to bust out a beat on an old fashioned typewriter or sing about geek culture with tributes to Firefly and Battlestar Galactica. Her songs are deep rooted in the human experience but with a fun side too!
Pamyua – Pamyua (pronounced bum-yo-ah) is a Yup’ik Inuit word meaning ‘encore’ or ‘do it again’, and you will be screaming ‘encore’ after every Pamyua performance. This group is best described as Inuit soul music, mixing traditional Alaskan Native rhythms and song with R&B style vocals. You’ve never heard anything like this, it is a treat for your ears!
Emma Hill – Nicknamed the ‘Sleetmute Sweetheart’, we first heard Emma Hill perform at a small coffeehouse in Fairbanks. She blew us away with her range and heartfelt personal lyrics. Best described as Folk/Americana, Hill captures that Alaskan feel perfectly.
Hannah Yoter Band – This new band just released their first album in November, 2016 and they are truly a group to keep your eye on! Originally from the rural town of Hope, Hannah Yoter’s vocals are soothing and easy to get lost in. The band’s sound sits somewhere between Americana and Classic Country.We hope you enjoy our favorite musicians. Tell us in the comments who your favorite Alaskan artists/bands are!