Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rubber Boots, Vocab, and lots of Parenthetical Explanations

It's "breakup" in Homer, Alaska. 'Breakup' is what the rest of the English-speaking world calls 'spring,' but Alaskans like to have code words for everything, presumably to tell who has been here a while, and who hasn't survived a winter yet. For example: Trucks are called "rigs," newcomers are called "cheechakos," and everywhere besides Alaska is called "outside." (That last one gets confusing if you are indoors and start talking about 'going outside'.)
But, back to breakup: The basic explanation behind this term refers to when the weather gets warm enough to thaw lakes and rivers and the ice "breaks up," something that in ye olde days (in Alaska, that's 50 years ago) was really a herald of spring for those living in the 'bush' (term Alaskans use for wilderness way far away from roads, supply stores, or a cineplex showing the latest Harry Potter film) who relied on waterways for their supplies, and the first boat of Spring was much anticipated. Now, a lot of bush communities rely on airplanes to get most of their stuff, and thus have all the Mountain Dew and Cheez-Its they want throughout the winter. But, we keep using the term 'breakup', and we even bet on when certain bodies of water will defrost, most notably, in Nenana, where the Annual Ice Classic has a tome of rules and pays out a big cash prize.
In my life, 'breakup' means a lot of things, but most emphatically, and without exception, it means that I should be wearing rubber boots (referred to as "breakup boots" in some parts of Alaska, but in brand-conscious Homer, only "Xtra Tufs" are acceptable), even when it seems like overkill.
I haven't been here very long, and sometimes I try to get around this rule in the name of fashion, comfort, or practicality. It only shows my cheechako-ness. There are occasions during breakup where I decide not to wear rubber boots, for example, during my morning jog: Then I slip on a patch of ice and go skidding off the bike path into the sludge filled ditch. Should have been wearing rubber boots.
Or, a trip to the gas station to fill your car with $4.17/gallon gas: My car is inevitably caked with springtime mud, and I will decide to use the window squeegee to try and get a free car wash while the pump runs. The water from the squeegee will collect all the mud in its path and then ooze off the car onto my leather fashion boots. Should have been wearing rubber boots.
Or, your friends throw a dress-up party, and invite you to play kickball (this dichotomy is already an advanced wardrobe quandary, without introducing a weather element): Kickball seems like a sneakers event. Their yard is half snow and half mud. Even though you are wearing a festive party dress, your only reasonable footwear choice should be rubber boots.

The trickiest footwear decision was for the annual Sea to Ski Triathlon. I did the ski portion of the event for my team, "Vitamin B3".  In most springtime triathlons around the country, the races go downhill. In Homer, we have more than our share of competitive athletes, and I think this is the reason that our whole race goes straight up the bluff. Breakup has been warm this year, and the snow on the ski trails is already fading away. Thus, the last 100 yards of the trail were down to bare road. Instead of ending the race 100 yards sooner, on the snowpack, the ultra-competitives in Homer decided racers would take off their skis and run for the finish. It makes sense that I was wearing my ski boots at the end of the 5 km ski, but sliding along the muddy road to the finish line, I realized that breakup got me again: I should have been wearing rubber boots.

No comments: