Saturday, August 21, 2010

Anchorage Tourists

The next day I check the METAR to determine the temperature, and then dress accordingly to go for a run. Anchorage in June (yeah that's how far behind I am in blogging!) is really comfortable. The whole city is more or less the temperature of an air conditioned gym. As I run through the streets around the hotel, I imagine someone coming here from somewhere down south where air conditioners run year round. It would be an amazing thing to such a person to have the outdoors be a comfortable temperature for physical exercise. Or perhaps they would think it was shivering cold; I'm sure they would be appalled by winter temperatures, even though Anchorage is right on the sea, so the winter lows aren't that bad. I'll bet the airframe icing is horrendous in the spring and fall, though.

The suburbs I'm running through are pretty much the same as suburbs in any other American city. Paved streets, sidewalks, painted crosswalks, wooden fences in good repair, landscaping, houses of various styles, tame dogs in yards, late model cars with windshields and glass windows all the way around, blue mailboxes, a school--I think it even had a sign proclaiming it to be a drug-free zone. Most of you are probably reading that wondering what sort of idiot I am expecting anything else. I wasn't really, but I was prepared for it to be a few steps towards Nunavut on the comfort and civilization continuum, not indistinguishable from Boise, Idaho. Alaska has stereotypes to uphold!

There's a park I could run through, and if I have my geography right it goes towards Hood Lake, but the trail is really rocky and I don't want to turn an ankle while I'm running, so I stay on the sidewalks and turn back to the hotel for breakfast. While I'm in the lobby eating my muffin and Cheerios, a tourist points out a moose in the bushes beside the parking lot. It's just hanging out there eating. I suppose there are moose in Boise, too, but this one is here, fulfilling the Alaska stereotype. Thanks, moose.

The client's head office wasn't prepared for us to be done this mission on a Sunday, so they haven't made all the necessary arrangements, giving us a couple of days opportunity for being tourists. We drive around and start checking out the tourist spots.

Downtown Anchorage is a tourist town, easy to walk around with lots of cafes, restaurants, art galleries and souvenir shops. We visit, for example, the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers' Co-operative. It's part educational display, part store. Musk oxen live as far north as Cambridge Bay in Canada, but were hunted to extinction in Alaska, so their herds descend from domesticated animals brought from Greenland. I admit that I am baffled as to how such a large ungulate can derive sufficient calories from the sparse winter vegetation in the wild, but they do. They clearly need exceptionally warm wool. I imagine the Inuit, or Eskimos as they are still called here, have used musk ox wool for millennia but these aren't really traditional native crafts. They comb hair out of domestic musk oxen during the spring shedding season and then ship it to Asia to be carded and spun. The resulting yarn is sent out to knitters in the communities who make it into garments which the coop then sells. It's very soft and warm, like cashmere, and with prices to match.

We also go to the Ulu knife factory. It's in an industrial area across the canal and we drive there with me navigating. We have to turn left on Ship Creek, that's Ship Creek. I wonder if it was named that on purpose, for the double entendre. They don't sell paddles, just knives and cutting boards. An ulu knife has a semicircular blade with a handle on the top, and is a modern version of a native all-purpose stone tool. I bought one with a bone handle, after first making sure that it wasn't made from an endangered or protected species. They had some with handles made of petrified whale bone, and I wasn't sure if it would be legal to import into Canada. Whale products can't be imported, but does petrified bone count as being made out of whale or stone? I didn't chance getting arrested having it confiscated to find out. My favourite sculpture from the galleries we saw was made from a long-weathered whale vertebra. The bone demineralizes over time--or maybe the whale died with advanced osteoporosis--leaving a beatiful porous texture. I can't find a picture of the sort of sclupture I admired most, but here is someone else's work showing the texture. The ones I liked had less detail and were abstract, just playing with the existing shape and texture of the vertebrae. They even had petrified mammoth bone as an ulu handle choice, but cool as it is to think of having a part of an extinct arctic elephant, I didn't find it very attractive.

There are a lot of really fine restaurants in Anchorage, and we took advantage of the opportunity not to eat boring chain restaurant food. We had Pacific salmon, Alaska king crab, arctic char, and reindeer (it's illegal to sell caribou meat in Alaska, so they farm reindeer. They're the same species, just a different lineage). My favourite dish, however, wasn't local at all. It was a beef tips in coconut curry with basil at a restaurant named Ginger. It was so good I wanted to stick my face in the bowl to lick it clean.

One of our clients was in a store today buying supplies, and the clerk asked him where he was headed. He answered with the name of our next destination and two unrelated customers within earshot both groaned in sympathy, and the clerk said, "Oh, I'm sorry." It sounds as if Alaska may have places akin to Attiwapiskat, after all. Every time we check the weather there is is IFR or at best marginal VFR with low cloud or mist, and raining.

Also we will have to haul close to a thousand pounds of our clients' gear to the remote site. They usually drive it, but there are no roads that lead where we are going. I call around looking for cargo tiedown anchors to fit our seatrails, but no joy. I swear these things are migratory, and someday I will find where they all go and harvest them. Honestly, has anyone ever broken a cargo tiedown? No. They just wander off.


Devil in the Drain said...

When I was there, Anchorage sported grizzly-proof trash cans. Boise doesn't, does it?

Was a tourist too -- still have my Oomingmak T-shirt.

Geekzilla said...

Thank you for a virtual tour of Anchorage! I've never been there, but you certainly make it sound interesting and appealing!

Frank Van Haste said...

Dear Trix:

Re: "He answered with the name of our next destination and two unrelated customers within earshot both groaned in sympathy, and the clerk said, 'Oh, I'm sorry.'"

Please tell me you weren't going to Shemya.


D.B. said...

The clients can drive, speak English, and don't elicit squeals of horror from shop clerks.

Darn it, so much for my aliens theory. Still, one correction. In the South, we don't run our A/C year round - it runs about May/Oct, 5 months. And we can (if we wish) run outside in January/February without the risk of frostbite. During the summer months, most people are out exercising or dog walking either first thing in the morning, or after sunset.

Expecting 39C today - phew!

ea757grrl said...

Early last month I went from 100+ daily temperatures and liquid-air humidity here in the Carolinas, to Alaska and lovely days in the 70s. The only word to describe it is "glorious." When I came back home, the humidity rolling down the jetway was horrific. I immediately wanted to go back!

(Oh, and there's an old saying about Anchorage: "a remarkable city, only half an hour from Alaska.") :)

BTW, if you ever have time, the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum (, right next to Lake Hood, is well worth a visit. One of the neatest aviation museums I've visited.

Aviatrix said...

Devil in the Drain: In my experience, most mountain towns have bear-resistant garbage receptacles of one sort or another. They're common enough to me that I didn't notice them to remark on in Anchorage and while I've been to Boise, it was just a fuel stop and I didn't see any garbage bins at all.

Anyone from Boise know?

ea757grrl: A remarkable city, only half an hour from Alaska. I did not hear that saying while I was there, but I understand and agree with it completely. Thanks for summing it up so well.

Aviatrix said...

D.B.: Did I say "client"? I mean "client's assistant." I think maybe I should update my "My Job" posting to correspond with this new group theory.

Noella said...

Our family has a special link with Anchorage. My elderly Aunt (Australian, and of whom I am legal guardian) has lived there for over 50 years. We have made several trips to see her in the last decade.

I love Alaska, perhaps because it is so remote like we are and has plenty of wide, open spaces. The climate is the opposite to ours though!

I enjoyed your description of Anchorage.

Perth, Western Australia

Kent Wien said...

Having grown up in Anchorage, I'd love to take a shot at guessing the town you're headed to.

Let's see, Bethel? Dutch Harbor? Maybe Fairbanks, but it's not so bad (full disclosure-I was born there).

You're killing me Aviatrix. Hope to find out.