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When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Weird


May 13, 2009

Ketchikan, Alaska - Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for what are often called "offbeat" or "weird" stories.

jpg Dave Kiffer

Dave Kiffer

I can't pass up a website that offers those sort of "man bites dog" or "politician NOT in jail" stories.

Don't tell me about "brush fires" in California or "tornados" in Oklahoma, I'd much rather read about something that doesn't happen all the time.

Like "ice storms" in Tahiti or "sunstroke" in Ketchikan.

So, I was naturally perusing a website advertising "weird stories of the week" recently and came across - drum roll please - the "Nenana Ice Classic."

Maybe I've lived in Alaska too long.

But I don't think it's that "weird" of a thing to stick up pole up in the ice and take bets on when it will fall over as the ice melts.

Come on, humans will bet on anything. If you lock up two guys in prison, they'll bet on whether or one cockroach is faster than another.

Even primitive man had a betting urge.

"Hey Homo Habilis, I wanna bet you something."

"What's that, Homo Erectus?"

"I bet that stalactite on the left will reach the ground first."

"You're on, you evolutionary dead end!"

It's genetic. Or else there wouldn't be bingo.

Anyway, there are other "weirder" contests out there than waiting for a ice-encrusted stick to fall over.

In Mongolia, they have a "goat grabbing" contest. Okay, it's probably no "weirder" than a "greased pig" contest at any state fair. It's just that "goat grabbing" sounds weirder. Especially to the goat.

In Devonshire, England they have a "carry the burning tar barrel" contest in which contestants take turns holding a burning tar barrel until it gets either too heavy or too hot to handle. (That would be about half a second for me, but then I'm not British).

In Colombia, they shoot pistols into the air and stand on the ground and wait for the bullet to come back. The one whose bullet lands closest to him is the winner. Unless, the bullet actually hits him, of course.

Now, those are truly "weird" contest because the true measure of a "weird" contest is that it must engender the following reaction.


Whenever you have to ask yourself "why in the world someone would do such a thing," then the contest is truly weird. Betting on an ice breakup is not weird at all, really.

So that leads one to think, just what sort of contest in Alaska would really be "weird?"

I'm so glad you asked.

At first I thought that "bear grabbing" would be one. But heck, every year several idiots ( uh, I mean visitors) in the Brooks Range, Katmai or Admiralty Island seem to come to grief doing just that. Probably not that unusual enough though the "why" factor remains in play.

"Alaska Man" Carrying

Okay, Finland has this really lamo-sexist contest in which a husband has to carry his wife (must be 49 kgs or bigger!) over an obstacle course. The winner gets his wife's weight in beer.

Perhaps, we should have a contest in which a woman has to "carry" an Alaskan man. That means she has to cook for him, clean for him and do all those things that real Alaskan men are incapable of doing for themselves.

After all, "real" Alaskan men aren't capable of doing anything beyond couch napping, beer tab pulling, and bitching about their taxes.


Now this one has some "juice" to it. First of all, unlike grizzly bears - which come to you - there would have to be a fair amount of chasing involved before one could get close enough to actually "pluck" an eagle.

Ice Sculpting.

Yeah, I know, big deal. They do it with chain saws all the time.

But how about merging "Ice Sculpting" with "Call to Nature." Now, that would be a lot more unusual. And a lot more visually interesting for all those poor Lower 48 women folk who are still hoping to come north and snag an "Alaska Man." (see above)

Of course, I'm not sure how valuable an Alaska Man with that sort of frostbite would be, but as always "you takes your chances."

Besides, we're already betting on frozen poles anyway.



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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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