I’ve now lived in Kenai for 17 years, and just recently, I had what I consider to be the second-most Alaskan comment I’ve ever heard directed my way.
The comment at the top of my list came just a few months after I started at the Clarion, when I was working as a sports reporter. I was getting ready to cover a football game in late autumn — you know, like the first week of September — and it was one of those cold, windy and rainy days. I was layering up in the newsroom like a Bering Sea crab fisherman, when somebody cracked that I’d need to toughen up.
One of the older staffers in the newsroom at the time, a gentlemen who fit the textbook definition of “sourdough,” heard the comment, literally snorted, and replied that “tough is something cheechakos think they need to be because they’re too stupid to know any better.”
Words to live by, indeed.
In the years since then, I doubt I’ve toughened up much, but I have expanded my comfort zone, and more and more frequently push if not outside, at least to the edge of it. For example, I’ve taken up mountain biking, and while you’ll never see me catching massive air on some extreme downhill course, I have been venturing farther afield. In fact, this summer I’ve been on trails here on the Kenai Peninsula that I’d never explored previously, despite living here for almost two decades.
That brings me to the second-most Alaskan comment I’ve ever heard. A couple of years ago, I added a fat-tire bike to my quiver, hoping to ride some trails when the snow fell. That hasn’t exactly worked out as there hasn’t been much in the way of snowfall over the last two winters, and glare ice is still a little too far out of my comfort zone, so I mostly ride my fat bike on the beach all winter.
However, a month or so ago, we stopped for a bite to eat in Cooper Landing and bumped into a group of friends just leaving. We were chit-chatting about the day’s adventures when one of them said, “Will, I’ve got a ride you’ve got to do on your fat bike — you just need a pair of hip-waders”
I believe my response was something along the lines of “wait … what?” and my first thought was “that’s crazy.”
The ride in question, from what I understand, would follow a mostly gravel river bed (I didn’t quite catch which one) but the hip-waders were necessary for the parts where the river bed was more river. The more I think about it, it actually sounds less crazy and more fun.
There seems to be a fine line between crazy and fun, and it seems that the longer you live in Alaska, the more likely you are to blur that line. And when you’re new to the state, it can seem like everyone here is a little crazy.
Seventeen years ago, I never would have envisioned myself bombing down the Resurrection Pass trail on a mountain bike (OK, I don’t really bomb down trails; I’m more of a cautious descender and fully utilize my bike’s fancy disc breaks, but some of the people I ride with are crazier than me). When I encourage people to come try the Thursday evening mountain bike races at Tsalteshi Trails, or ask if they want to come along on a trail ride, the response is frequently, “I’m not crazy like you.”
There was a time when I might have taken that as an insult — if you know your limits mountain biking isn’t any crazier than driving a car. And I might’ve told them that they need to toughen up a little, get out and try something new.
But I think I’ve got an even better response now, and it might eventually make my list of most Alaskan comments: “You’re not crazy like me? Don’t worry, if you live here long enough, you will be.”
Reach Clarion editor Will Morrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.