Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Birthday America

This holiday always makes me think of my Grandma Patrick, the way she used blackcats to wake up my uncles or call my grandfather home for dinner, the big bags of fireworks the came one after another out of the house on the 4th, and that crisp day in February when we said goodbye to her by throwing lit firecrackers into her grave instead of roses. She loved explosions of all kinds and passed that love  on to me.

The Chinese invented fireworks. Their most respected minds mixed and burned the explosives for festivals. Marco Polo brought that technology back to Europe. The Europeans used the technology to make weapons. Reflect on that for a sec.

Done? All right. Here in AK fireworks are mostly just loud in the summer. The ever-present sun fades the burning of the magnesium and calcium so everything looks yellow. We save most of our fireworks displays to brighten up our winter nights.

Instead on Independence Day, Alaskans honor what may be the coolest bar bet ever. A couple of sourdoughs were having a pint in Seward. One of them said he could run from the tavern to the top of Mount Isabelle and back in under an hour. Word spread, bets were placed, and a tradition was born.

Today is the 81st running of the Mount Marathon Race. Our hero finished the first race in 62 minutes, which is damn impressive. He climbed a 3022' mountain over a distance of 3.1 miles in heavy boots and woolies. He lost the bet though, and had to buy drinks for everyone in the tavern. 

Top finishers usually finish in the high forties or low fifties these days. Bill Spencer set the course record in 1981 with a time of 43 minutes, 23 seconds. The record may fall this year because there is lots of snow on the course. 

The race is won on the downhill section by the person with the biggest balls. Scree and rocks slide along with the competitors as they try to haul ass and keep control. I got a scouting report from one of the competitors, Kyle Kelly, last night. He said that there is a virtual luge course cut in the snow from people practicing. Whoever can put fear the furthest back in his mind will win this year barring a fall on the bottom third of the race.

People scatter all along the course to watch, root, cheer, and hand out waters. But the best place to get a feel for the race is the first aid tent. Runners hold dressing on cuts that won't stop bleeding while EMTs pick rocks out of gashes with huge forceps. Good luck, Kyle.

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