Photo: Attilio Pregnolato/Shutterstock

18 Things About Alaska Only Locals Understand

by Jennifer Gracey Nov 15, 2016

1. The connection between a moose’s tooth and pizza.

Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria is our very own pizza pie heaven. We’ve even been known to ship them frozen to out-of-state Alaskans who are badly in need of a little slice of home.

2. What a bear paw and summer festivals have in common.

Founded in the mid 1980s, Eagle River’s annual Bear Paw Festival has grown into a full-fledged Alaskan affair. With a marathon race, a parade, a pageant, delicious food and games, it’s one of summer’s must-join community events. Bear Paw brings out some of the best things small town Alaska has to offer and puts them in a place easily accessible by residents of the greater Anchorage area and the Valley.

3. Talkeetna is a special place.

To Alaskans, Talkeetna is the definition of quirky, quaint small town Alaska. It becomes even more so when you realize the town mayor is a cat. Yes, a cat. His name is Stubbs and his mayorship began in 1997.

4. Attending a festival to celebrate crap is a socially acceptable Alaskan summertime activity.

For a reason no human can explain, Alaskans love talking about crap — moose droppings (aka moose nuggets) to be clear. Thanks to the clever, twinkly-eyed folks up in Talkeetna, Alaska has something called the Moose Dropping Festival. Founded in the early 1970s as a means of attracting tourist traffic, this summer event is one bonafide load of crap everyone can wrap their head around and truly have good clean fun with.

5. “Unalaska” doesn’t mean “not Alaskan like.”

It refers to the largest city in the Aleutian Islands and also happens to be located on Unalaska Island. Non-Alaskans may be more familiar with Unalaska by another name: Dutch Harbor. The main stage for the television show Deadliest Catch about Alaska’s crabbing industry.

6. When we say “Nome” we are not talking about a garden ornament or lawn decoration.

We are, however, talking about the end game for “The Last Great Race.” We’re also talking about Alaskan history rooted in the gold rush era and a diphtheria outbreak in 1925. Nome is now one of Alaska’s bright shining “belle of the ball,” lighting up the dark depths of February each year when all eyes in the state look Nome-ward to tell us who’s top dog.

7. The Iditarod is all about top dogs.

The Iditarod is Alaska’s greatest winter “hurrah” before spring rolls in. A ten-day (on average) grueling race through the bowels of winter from Anchorage to Nome, the official Iditarod trail is over 1,000-mile long. In terms of sports in Land of the Midnight Sun, Alaska’s mushers are the de facto athletic celebrities and the dogs, our gold medalists. After completing an Iditarod, no one will argue whether or not they’ve earned the notoriety.

8. Iron Dog has nothing to do with dogs.

In the mid 1980s, a snowmobile race was born out at Big Lake. That snowmobile race has undergone several transformations leading to what it is today, “The World’s Longest Toughest Snowmobile Race.” Clocking in at over 2,000 miles, through some of the planet’s most extreme arctic terrain and following the Iditarod trail, it’s easy to see how the Iron Dog got its name.

9. Snowmobiles are not things we ride.

Speaking of fast-moving vehicles that glide atop the snow — no self-respecting Alaskan actually calls them “snowmobiles.” They are and forever will be known as “snow-machines.” It’s one of the ways we keep track of who the true Alaskans are in a crowd.

10. Having a summer job in Dillingham means…

…spending the better part of three months up to your elbows in fish guts, getting repetitive motion injuries on zero sleep while fueled by the strongest cups of joe you can get your hands on. Also, the parfum naturel de poisson will leach from your pores until Christmas. But everyone knows the money is worth it so, you’ll swiftly be forgiven for stinking up the room.

11. Working on “the slope” means you’re only home 50% of the time.

That’s right — oil people of Alaska, unite. Slaving away from home half of the time in Alaska’s popsicle-ville is more than made up for by the fact that twelve-to-sixteen-hour work days give way to no-work-all stay-cations the other fifty percent of the time. Slope jobs! Who doesn’t want one of those? The most extreme work-life balance a body can find!

12. Someone on the trail hollering, “Bear!” actually means, “If you don’t get your move on, the definition of a ‘problem’ is about to find you.”

It’s especially jolting to hear, “Bear!” when you’re smack in the middle of a rushing river and trying to land a salmon. The choices quickly become few: save your own bacon or serve up haute cuisine à la saumon frais to the business end of Ursus arctos. Against their own better judgement, many diehard Alaskans will insist on bringing that fish in before heading to higher ground. Bear or no bear, in Alaska, somehow it always comes down to the salmon.

13. “The lights are out” doesn’t mean there’s been a power outage.

It is the subtle Alaskan signal to immediately stop what you’re doing and go take a peek outside. Why? Because the Northern Lights are lighting up the night in all their fabulous dancing glory and you’re a fool to miss the free show.

14. A call home saying, “I got stuck in a ditch, come get me out”, means, “I’m up to my eyeballs in the ditch and had to crawl out of the vehicle through a window. It’s probably gonna take a few hours to get unstuck. Bring your Carhartt overalls and throw on a pair of long-johns just in case.”

It also means, “Bring an extra shovel (or two), the truck with the winch, and the new heavy-duty webbing strap we bought last week.” Most importantly, “Don’t you dare ask how this happened. I don’t want to talk about it.”

15. “It’s break up” has nothing to do with relationships.

It does however have everything to do with spring. And this makes every Alaskan happy as a clam. Except on the days when you’re in a hurry and the parking lot at your nearest grocery store has turned into an ice rink on account of the thaw-freeze-thaw-freeze neurosis that is spring in the big bad north country.

16. Qiviut is Alaskan for “luxury.”

Softer than cashmere, lighter than down, the under wool from the belly of the Arctic muskox is simply heavenly. There’s a reason qiviut items are coined “heirloom” pieces and once you go qiviut, there’s no turning back.

17. The Mt. McKinley vs. Denali confusion and controversy.

Denali was the original native name of the mountain until it got changed to Mt. McKinley back in the early 1900s. For many years the state park was known as Denali National Park and Preserve while the mountain remained known as Mt. McKinley. In summer 2015, President Obama announced the official renaming of the mountain and it reverted back to Denali. Some of us still call it Mt. McKinley purely out of habit. Regardless of what we call it, it’s still the largest mountain in North America and we’re proud it’s ours.

18. Club49 has nothing to do with a bar or dancing.

But it does have everything to do with being Alaskan and being special. Thanks, Alaska Airlines! We love you and we really love Club49!

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