1. Practiced survival skills.
Let’s face it, if you grew up in Alaska, you grew up learning how to tie knots, build fires, catch and kill your own food, make shelters and utilize all associated tools of the Alaskan wilderness survival trade. What you saw the adults and big kids do on a regular basis, you replicated in spades via bouts of “Let’s play pretend….” You captured invisible bad guys, saved loved ones from ferocious bears, rescued hypothermic friends out of ice-covered lakes, traversed molten rivers of lava and survived cataclysmic earthquakes. You knew early on that life in Alaska was a precarious business and surviving it was literally child’s play.
2. Built forts.
Along with the survival skills, it was easy to pretend you were back in the gold rush era with Alaska’s pioneers. You expertly engineered forts high up in the trees and constructed them with lumber stolen from dad’s scrap pile. Every so often you stumble across the remains of a dilapidated fort and you — and the entire neighborhood gang — climbed up a ladder of 2x4s which were precariously hammered into the side of a tree using rusty nails. How none of you lost your footing and fell into the adjacent devil’s club patch remains an unsolved mystery.
3. Paddled around the nearest lake in a dinghy.
Nothing made one of Alaska’s long summer days better than a sleepy afternoon spent paddling around in a cheap blow up dinghy. Aside from the fact you spent most of your time turning that stupid boat in circles, you tried nearly every combination of rowing known to man. You argued over whose turn it was to steer the boat and came up with genius ideas like ‘the boat swap’ — an idiotic undertaking that involved everyone from boat A getting into boat B and vice versa. This transition occurred while both boats continued moving along at the same speed. Each summer, at least one person ended up in the drink with a near drowning experience chalked up on the books.
4. Biked (or rollerbladed) everywhere.
The second the snow melted enough to drag your bikes out of winter storage, you were off for adventures aplenty. The best of which always included plowing through mammoth mud-puddles and creating tsunami-like water spray that left the last guy in line soaked from head to toe. Hoofing it to the top of the biggest hills around, you would ride down at lightning speed with feet off the pedals and (occasionally) both hands off the handle bars. Lazy afternoon bike rides sans adults to the nearest corner store for Slurpees or ice cream was a rite of passage every bit as much as severe road rash. Post wipe out, you’d be picking gravel out of your palms for the rest of the summer.
5. ‘Mom Shuttle’ sledding
Sledding in Alaska is a major deal. With at least three or four neighborhood ‘mom shuttles’ in operation, the entire neighborhood would participate. Via SUV’s chock full of sleds and kids dressed in enough snow gear to withstand the next ice age, you’d hurl yourselves off the top of the sledding hill down well over a mile to the pick up station below. Expertly navigating the windy trail of snow covered tree stumps, low hanging evergreen tree branches, and jagged rocks, you’d pull off impressive sliding rolls out of your sled at the finish line and be immediately ready for another round. How you managed to avoid killing yourselves is a miracle of miracles. Why the parents thought of this as a wholesome kid safe activity leaves one to wonder.
6. Drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows.
Good anytime, Swiss Miss hot chocolate — with all the trimmings — never tasted quite as good as it did after a successful sledding expedition. You licked the sticky melted marshmallow mustache off your face and replenished your spent self with a sugar high. Sitting next to a hot fire with steaming chocolatey goodness in hand was the perfect setting for you to reenact various jumps, epic crashes, tally up how many times you rode down the sledding hill backwards and tease the guy/gal who hit a tree and knocked the wind out of themself for the second time in a row.
7. Building igloos and snow tunnels.
On the days mums would kick you out of the house to “go burn off some energy” you’d rally the neighborhood clan and morph into an engineering crew. You’d scout out the yard with the most snow and the highest snow piles and go to work. You’d build entire villages under the snow with ice cave bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and snow tunnels to shuttle you back and forth between each. You’d also freak yourselves out wondering if the whole thing would collapse on your heads and cause you to disappear without a trace until spring.
Whether practicing casting techniques in the yard, playing pretend, or actually going out and fishing for real, the reality was friends don’t grow up together in Alaska without at least one shared experience involving fish. Simply put, it’s how we roll.