After a week of forest fires – hundreds – all over the state, finally our skies have cleared to a lustrous blue. This past week was like living under a permanent fog bank. But it rained much of the weekend, then cleared up Sunday morning. Sunday evening, a friend invited us over for a dinner of fresh salmon caught in some obscure spot off the Copper River. It was a lovely time chatting with friends and helping ourselves to some of their rhubarb plants. People do grow vegetables up here; quite a lot, in fact.
Before the forest fires was the solstice. They sure party hardy here during Solstice and of course we were in the midst of it all. The first event was the Midnight Sun Run, which started on campus. I was not planning to do it, as it was a 10K (6.2 mile) race and I hadn’t done a 10K in more than 20 years. But Ollie wanted to try it, although she had no idea as to what was involved. So I plunked down $30 for each of us to get a bright orange T-shirt and bib number and so we showed up an hour early near the starting line on the lower campus at UAF. The place was a sea of orange shirts, which actually looked quite
pretty in the late evening sun which didn’t set until 12:47 a.m. The costume contest was a riot, as there were runners dressed up as Gandalf, Frodo and Saruman; a guy in a globe dressed as “global warming;” Glenda the Good Witch, Dorothy (carrying Toto) and other characters. The person who got the most applause (and laughter) showed up in a box with a lampshade on her head posing as a “one night stand.” Cute. Then at 10 pm, we were off. Ollie sprinted ahead of me, but she was flagging soon thereafter with a stitch in her side because of a piece of pizza she’d gulped down a few minutes before the race. Had warned her against that but sometimes they have to experience stuff before they get it, right? Now the two of us had hiked up and down Wickersham Dome the weekend before (a gorgeous hike in the White Mountains where you rise until you come out on a ridge with a 360º view.) And that was 7 miles. But this was on concrete and my legs were aching before long. Then we came out on a main highway and the sun (now at 10:45 pm or so) was this amazing florescent orange. I tried to catch it on film, but my iPhone only got a pale shadow.
Fortunately there were a lot of other walkers besides us. I had not realized how the everyone in town who was not running was sitting on the streets enroute cheering us on. There were lots and lots of house parties along the course with folks in lawn chairs standing there with hoses all too happy to douse us with cold water. Ollie especially liked running through every sprinkler she could find. Others handed us drinks. We were pretty slow; there were runners pushing strollers who were faster than us but
hey, when you’re 59 and pulling a 10-year-old alongside you who’s never run before, one cannot expect miracles. We ended up making it just under two hours (1:54:35 to be exact), then ate some free food at the finish line, then caught a bus back to campus. Bedtime was1:30 pm or so; we didn’t get up until 10:30 the next morning. By which time the actual solstice had occurred (at 8:39 a.m. when the sun’s zenith was at its furthest point away from the equator) even though the sun had risen at 2:58 a.m. Later that day, we went to a street fair in downtown Fairbanks where the temps were in the high 80s, so everyone was in shorts. So odd to experience hot and humid weather here.
The capstone of the solstice weekend was the Midnight Sun Game, an Interior baseball tradition dating back more than 100 years. We didn’t attend but it featured the Alaska Goldpanners vs. the Seattle Studs. The tradition is that no artificial lighting can be used. The best tickets sold out in April, plus Ollie had summer school the next day. Which she’s enjoying as it keeps her occupied in the mornings and adds structure to her day, as there aren’t any little friends on campus for her to play with. One of her friends comes back next week but we’ll be pushing out of Fairbanks the 15th or 16th and heading down to the Kenai peninsula for a few days, then onto the ferry to return to the lower 48. We’re feeling a bit melancholy about leaving in that we will miss it here. We’ve been running around visiting overlooks and gold mining fields and a rocket launch site run by UAF that sends rockets to explore the northern lights in the winter. One time I spent part of a hike gathering a plant called Labrador tea that only grows at high altitudes or latitudes so I could make a shortbread that used toasted Labrador tea leaves. Another time we hiked through a birch forest that felt like a scene out of Prince Caspian. It was so magical and truly in the middle of nowhere. There’s so much more to this region than meets the eye but you have to wait until the snow melts to explore a lot of it.
Before we jump on the multi-day ferry that will take us back to the Lower 48, Meanwhile, there’s lots of packing to do and details like changing health insurances (what I’d bought for Alaska won’t work in Washington state) plus jobhunting and tutoring Ollie in basic multiplication and division so she has a prayer of making it through fourth grade. The days are so long here, so one packs in as much as possible.