My fifth trip took me to the far north. Really far north. Anchorage, Alaska in fact.
The primary purpose of this visit was to see and spend time with family. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t find time for adventure. And in fact, it was my family this time that designed and delivered the adventure to me. Which ultimately concluded in my living out a dream of being a real Alaska Lumberjack. Or Lumberjill, if we are being precise.
The first adventure came from Katie, who suggested we attend the Alaska State Fair. I am a fan of State Fairs in general and always try to attend if one is nearby. They offer incredible opportunity to find unique items and crafts all while stuffing your face full of fried anything. Shows and displays are always going to be interesting, because its very likely going to be something you have never seen before, or something that is uncommon in your normal life.
Unfortunately I have not found a way to make fried food look appealing in a photo. That skill seems to be beyond me. You are just going to have to trust me on this, its all very tasty. Since I cant focus on the food, let me highlight my two favorite activities from the Fair.
The Flower, Crop, and Plant Exhibits
Stick with me here for a second, this is not as dull as the title may imply. Alaska has a reputation for growing huge, almost freakish plants and vegetables, which are on display during the fair. They take great pride in this feat and they should. Alaska is cold and frozen most of the time (just my impressions, not based on scientific data). So how they manage to grow anything, much less giant veggies and bright perky flowers is beyond me.
In a giant barn type building (very dull on the outside) at the end of a giant room filled with livestock you find the plant section. It may be the contrast after having just spent time in a room with so many live, smelly animals but walking into this room smells amazing. Its fresh and fragrant. That alone is worth stopping to see.
I saw my first Lumberjack show in 2009, when Katie and I took an Alaska cruise. It was a novelty show which I thought might be interesting, though to be honest the major appeal at that time was that it was an event that would let me sit for a hour. Katie is very athletic and while I am doing better now, in 2009 I was lazy. So Katie filled our schedule with activities involving movement and I filled my portion with things where we could sit. It worked out in my favor though because I loved the Lumberjack show. Very much. I have been a fan of these events ever since and seek out any opportunity to see them.
These men, and women, are very impressive. I think its partly because this is a skill that I just don’t see in my day to day life. I don’t think I know anyone who can climb a 60 foot tree with only an axe and a rope. Seeing someone else do something that is so completely outside the realm of what I am capable of doing is fascinating to me.
Now, before I was a Lumberjack expert, I would have thought a Lumberjack Competition involved cutting down a tree. And well that doesnt sound very interesting. But it is so much more than that. Events can vary from region to region but what you will typically find is this:
Also called Birling, is a personal favorite of mine. Each Lumberjack stands on a log which is floating in water and they do whatever they can to stay on longer than their opponent. This involves bouncing, spinning, runing, and a whole lot of frantic arm waving.
Sometimes called Hot Saw, is using a huge chainsaw to cut through about 14 inches of Aspen as quickly as possible.
The Pole Climb
Another personal favorite of mine, the Pole Climb is a one of the more dangerous events. Lumberjacks speed climb up, and then back down, a 60 foot pole using only a rope and some spiky shoes.
Axe Throwing is a simple but a crowd favorite event that involves the Lumberjacks throwing axes at a target. The closer you are to the center of the target, the more points you earn.
This event has the competitors notching a tree with an axe, sticking a thin board into that notch, then standing on the board to chop of the top of the log.
There are more events, but since I am sure after all my raving, you are going to rush right out to see a Lumberjack Show I’ll refrain from listing the rest here. I want you to have a few surprises left, after all.
This was the Fred Scheer’s Lumberjack Show’s 25th year at the Alaska State Fair. In that time it has established itself as a crowd favorite and a fair staple, right up there with the funnel cakes. This year however, I got to experience a Lumberjill for the very first time. This lady is Tina Scheer and she is a badass.
Being a Lumberjack
The next adventure came from Jason. I don’t think he had any idea at the time what he was suggesting. He had recently bought a chainsaw to use to manage the trees on his land. There were a few dead ones in the yard that needed to come down and he jokingly asked if I wanted to go cut down the trees.
Fresh off my high from the Lumberjack show I was very excited about this possibility.
Now, lets have some real talk. Lumberjacking is hard work. Very hard work and its not for amateurs. I don’t think I ever really stopped to think it through, but in my mind I must have imagined that cutting down a tree with a chainsaw would be pretty easy. It cuts through just like butter, right?
Nope. Trees are stubborn. The minute you touch the blade to the tree, the whole contraption starts to vibrate. And if you are lacking in upper body strength (as I am), very soon your arms start to vibrate as well. You have to try to resist. To force your will upon nature and machinery. To hold the blade steady so that it can cut evenly. Well in my case I failed and my whole body just started vibrating along with my arms. And then I got the chainsaw stuck in the tree. I mean really stuck. This kind of thing doesn’t happen in the Lumberjack Shows.
Eventually I was successful, with much help from Jason, in cutting the tree down. I now have an even greater appreciation for the people who make a living with this kind of work. And I greatly appreciate Jason for coming up with this idea and in the process crushing any illusions I may have had of running off to Alaska to join a logging crew.
Final Night Bonfire
To celebrate our hard work in cutting down the tree and clearing the debris we built a huge bonfire. We ate dinner outside and had drinks as we watched the wood we had gathered during the day burn away.
Extra points to Alaska by the way. I spent the day using dangerous equipment I was not qualified to use and then building a huge fire and none of the neighbors were the least bit bothered by it.
I picked up a valuable life lesson this trip. You don’t have to go far to have a grand adventure, visiting family can often be enough. I love solo travel, but its also important that you don’t overlook friends and family. They can contribute ideas and activities that you will never come up with on your own.
The Quest leads to becoming a Lumberjack