Wednesday, August 13, 2008

An extra seven hour drive? Why not? Welcome to Fairbanks.

Today was supposed to be uneventful. Get in the car, leave Denali, and drive back to Anchorage. Somehow, we started talking about how close (a relative term in Alaska) we were to Fairbanks -- the second largest city in the state. One thing lead to another. I lightly hinted and making a run up there, and Sarah accepted with alacrity.

It was another three hours in the opposite direction of home to get there from Denali, but we heard about this great riverboat tour and decided to go for it.
The trip was great. Fairbanks is actually quite beautiful on a sunny, summer day.

Winter though, is another story. Fairbanks has stretches at -40°F every year. It has been almost a decade since I last made it up to Fairbanks, and this year at the outdoor fairgrounds they had a new tourist attraction called "Alaska at 40 Below." You can guess where this is going. You walk through their store, and out back you find a small cabin that is really just a nice facade on a giant air conditioner -- which has been cranked down to 45°F below zero. The objective is to go inside and see how long you can last before you succumb to the mind-numbing cold, while the natives laugh at you hysterically because you paid money to be put in a situation from which they're constantly trying to escape every winter.

Of course we would never participate in anything so ridiculous.

Being the "real Alaskan" (I haven't lived there in more than a decade) I had to show off by taking off my parka and - in the way that boys decide to eat an insect or jump over a campfire - my shirt.
I've faced the onset of frostbite numerous times in my life, including last year's mountain excursion, but never has it happened so quickly. As soon as my fingers touched the metal of the thermometer (which I could have just pointed to on the wall) they immediately began to freeze. It felt like someone was holding a torch to them. The burning lasted for the rest of the day.

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