Live from Alaska: Frozen pipes, bachelors on credit and suggestive pizza.

Scenes from our trip to the Talkeetna Bachelors Auction and Wilderness Woman Competition:

We arrived late Friday afternoon, driving directly into a blizzard. But after watching the Parade of Lights we knew we’d be able to get back out of town on Sunday: Among the vehicles in the parade were eight snowplows.

Room 12 was one-half of the top floor of the Latitude 62 Hotel. It had a microwave and a mini-fridge, but no hot water. Nancy, one of the owners, checked the line: frozen. She changed out the heat tape and offered the key to a vacant room so we could shower.

This reminded me of a previous year, when several women had booked Room 11, the other half of the top floor. It developed that they had hot water in the shower but their toilet was frozen, whereas our room had a functioning toilet but (again) no hot water. So we threw open the door between 11 and 12 and shared the facilities.

We also shared snacks. Theirs were better than ours.

This year’s treats were pretty good, ranging from homemade banana bread to high-end chocolate with a touch of chile. My own contribution: a bag of dried cherries, a free-after-rebate can of cashews, and several flavors of M&Ms that cost 75 cents to $1 thanks to coupons and in-store rebates. Gotta keep my frugal edge.

Five women on vacation can tear through a lot of goodies. The mint M&Ms went fastest. If you haven’t tried them yet, do.

How to get cheap accommodations

As of 10:30 a.m. Saturday, still no hot water. We weren’t charged for Friday night.

On a counter in the hotel entryway was a Nativity scene hand-painted by Nancy’s sister. The baby Jesus had been stolen. Perhaps to compensate, someone had placed a small pink-and-purple dinosaur in among the camels and angels. I think it’s an ankylosaurus.

As we left the hotel on Saturday morning I noticed someone had placed the saurid in a compromising position with one of the angels. I’m betting it was a bar customer, since beer makes people stupid. Also sacreligious.

Then again, we laughed – and we’d been drinking nothing but Diet Coke.

We laughed some more when we read Saturday’s special at Mountain High Pizza Pie in downtown Talkeetna. Made with dill-flavored crust and topped with salmon, it had a most unfortunate name: Salmon Dill Dough.

(If you’re not laughing, or blushing, read it out loud. Then read it faster.)

The waitress swears that no one noticed this until it was too late. Frankly, we didn’t believe her.

But the combo was pretty tasty even though I’ve never been much for fish on pizza. And no, I couldn’t resist asking whether Salmon Dill Dough had a stuffed crust. You would have done the same.

Stuffed ourselves, we wandered the balmy streets of beautiful downtown Talkeetna, which is about three blocks long. The temperature had shot up to 25 degrees by midday. Even so, the bachelors had set up a tall burn barrel and kept it ablaze.

Speaking of shot up: One woman recounted a remote ski trip during which the organizer couldn’t get the burn barrel to stay lit. It seemed he’d forgotten to drill holes near the bottom so that the barrel would draw. He solved the problem in a typically Alaskan way: Whipped out a handgun and blew a few holes around the bottom edge. It worked fine after that.

A canine paradise

Dogs were everywhere and off-leash in downtown Talkeetna: Large and small, timid and aggressive, happy purebreds and jumped-the-fence mixes. This place is dog heaven. Twice I spotted mutts trotting down the street while cars, pickups or snowmachines poked along behind, as though the dogs were vehicles, too.

(Which they are, sometimes: On the way in and out of Talkeetna we saw dog teams on training runs.)

I was kicking myself for forgetting to bring dog treats. Naturally I would have asked permission before feeding anyone’s pet, but I do like to have meaty bits handy. I briefly considered buying some in town but prices are a little scary. I picked up a can at random in the general store: 29 ounces of solid-pack pumpkin, $7.59.

Best dog moment: Flurry, a huge white German Shepherd, seemed to be taking the bachelor weekend to heart because he tried to hump any female who stood still long enough. His owner scolded, “Flurry! No shagging!”

‘I planned to take a shower anyway’

The first event of the Wilderness Woman Competition separates the women from the girls: Run to the end of the block with empty buckets, exchange them for full ones and return as fast as possible while spilling as little as possible. The top five finishers got to run the rest of the course.

It had been four years since I’d seen the Wilderness Woman Competition and I noticed some changes, probably for liability reasons. The water carry no longer has to be done in clunky, awkward bunny boots. The “moose” now gets shot with a Nerf toy rather than a paintball gun. The fishing pole used to cast for Styrofoam salmon is equipped not with hooks but with a Velcro-covered ball.

The fishing ball created its own new challenge: A couple of times unleashed dogs raced for the sphere when it landed on the snowy street. They were headed off in time, however. Come to think of it, watching the contestants trying to reel them back in would have been fun.

Part of the competition is to bring a sandwich and beer to a bachelor. Often the contestants throw the goods on the guy, so the volunteer is usually swathed in Visqueen. This year’s bachelor declined the protective cover, saying he’d “man up” and accept the splashy consequences.

Was he aware of just how frothy and mustardy he might become?

“That’s OK,” he said. “I planned to take a shower anyway.”

Love on the installment plan

Most – but not necessarily all – of the bachelors do shower before the auction. And we appreciate it.

This year’s event featured 38 men, at least two of whom are gay. (Quick aside to the ladies who bid: There may be a reason your date was a perfect gentleman.)

“Date” is not really the right word. A winning bid gets you a drink and a dance; anything else is negotiable. Talkeetna lore has it that one bachelor took his new female friend out for a snowmachine ride and the two went through the creek ice. So he did what any red-blooded Alaska man would do: Saved the snowmachine. That romance apparently died aborning.

Two emcees shared the stage: a tall, slim woman in black with a bright yellow flower jammed in her hair, and a young man wearing a powder-blue tuxedo that just screamed “1970s” – borrowed, he told me, from a friend who was “quite a bit older” than he was. (Hint: My junior prom dress was the same color.)

Another change: The auction now accepts credit cards. “You can buy a bachelor tonight and pay for him over the next 30 years,” the male emcee noted.

However, since the auction had partnered with the non-profit Talkeetna Historical Society, “all the men you buy here tonight are tax-deductible.”

Cheers erupted.

Beefcake, bakery cake

The bachelors, who ranged in age from 22 to 70, were attired in just about anything you could imagine: Coveralls, chest waders, a bright-red union suit, snowmachine gear, a sharkskin jacket. One young man wore nothing at all except a fur G-string and a slightly abashed smile, much to the delight of the approximately 120 women in the audience.

This bachelor didn’t do the “foxtail dance” of previous years, i.e., sashaying through the crowd using the foxtail to tickle those would permit it. But the bidding went on long enough that the women got a good look at his not inconsiderable charms.

“I got a picture of his heinie,” reported one member of my party.

Well, the winning bidder got a picture of herself and the nearly nekkid man posing prom-like in front of a blue backdrop. Wonder if she showed the photo around the office on Monday? For all I know, it’s already on Facebook.

Some bachelors offered bid-on-me incentives: Dinners out, fishing trips, paintings, bottles of Jack Daniels (smooth!), flight-sees (Mt. McKinley, tallest peak in North America, is right next door), a free chimney cleaning, a raspberry truffle cake. One guy played the banjo to drum up interest. Another toted a box of wine, which the female emcee noted was “a $40 value here in Talkeetna.” (And you thought pumpkin was expensive!)

It’s worth noting that the woman who successfully bid for the dude-and-cake combo took the cake before taking his arm.

Then there was the bachelor who showed up in black tie and tails, cradling two bottles of wine. As the bidding topped $1,600 he spoke: “Do you know what goes with fine wine? Fine cheese. I have in my possession…the finest aerosol cheese.” He withdrew a can of Easy Cheese from his tux jacket. The crowd roared.

He went for $2,000. The winning bidder: His girlfriend. Apparently not all Talkeetna men are cheap and easy. Even if their cheese is.


32 Comments

  1. Glad you had a good time, though if you can’t scare up some fun in TKA, you may just not be alive! =D Which did Linda bid on????

    • Donna Freedman

      @Leah: The guy she usually goes after had to be out of state on business, so she bid on the president of the Bachelor Society, Richard Crain. Turns out they were in a play together in Anchorage waaaay back in the early 1970s. Alaska is the biggest small town I’ve ever lived in.

  2. Hilarious!

    And… I want some mint mnms.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Nicole: We were actually hoping to get the pretzel M&Ms but they were all out. Mint was the second choice, along with almond and plain ones. Now I wish I’d bought all mint, because dang, they’re good. Especially when they’re a dollar or less for a 9.9-ounce bag. If you’re gonna wreck your teeth, wreck them frugally, I always say.
      Thanks for reading.

  3. lostAnnfound

    “Salmon Dill Dough”!! I had tea shooting out my nose this morning!

  4. What a fantastic time it sounds you’re having! Nothing better than a trip with friends! I’ve got to get to Alaska, high on my list!

    • Donna Freedman

      @SimplyForties: Try to get here the first week of December 2011. We’ll leave the light on for you. :-)
      Although May and June are, in my opinion, the best months to visit.
      Thanks for reading.

  5. I am commenting here, because I couldn’t comment on the Smart SPending post that you did about “rich whiners.” Your implication is that if people pay a fortune to go to school, get good jobs, and work hard, then they have no right to complain about being taxed unfairly. My income is less than $30,000 per year, and I am barely getting by. My sister’s income is (combined with her husband’s) at least 5 times mine, and they are barely getting by. Why? Because they pay more every month in student loans than I make. Add income taxes, property taxes for a small two bedroom home they own and share with their 2 children, as well as all other bills, and they are barely getting by. To suggest that those who work hard and can afford to buy lattes shouldn’t complain about being asked to shoulder a huge portion of taxes is baloney. We all know that if you want something, you have to earn it. Just because someone makes more money than you doesn’t mean that they didn’t earn it.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Sara: I wasn’t talking about taxes or student loans, nor did I suggest that “just because someone makes more money than you doesn’t mean that they didn’t earn it.”
      I also didn’t use the phrase “rich whiners.” You did.
      I was writing about people who are hale and hearty and careless with their funds.
      Re student loans and taxes: It doesn’t matter whether you think these are unfair. This is the way things are. Until both situations change in this country, people have to learn to live within their means — i.e., the means that are left over after paying student loans and basic living expenses.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  6. “As we left the hotel on Saturday morning I noticed someone had placed the saurid in a compromising position with one of the angels. I’m betting it was a bar customer, since beer makes people stupid. Also sacreligious.”-My girl friend’s Jesus went missing(one of her little boys must have taken it) and she replaced it with a GI Joe. He very Catholic husband was NOT happy. I laughed.
    And I would have been asking for more dill on my dough!!! This sounds like too much fun. I’m so glad that you had a great time. And it made for a wonderful read!!!

  7. Amanda Randles

    Thanks for the write-up and we’re glad you had such a good time!

    One tiny clarification: the changes in the Wilderness Woman competition are not so much for liability as practicality. wrustling up 20+ pair of bunny boots in women’s sizes is tricky; the velcro fish simply works better, and we went to nerf instead of paintballs because paintballs freeze. Frozen paintballs can hurt our volunteer bachelor-moose, and they also burst and jam the gun with ice. It’s messy.

    I hope you come back next year!

    Amanda Randles,
    TBS

    • Donna Freedman

      @Amanda: Thanks for clarifying. I will be there next year, and hope to bring more wild wimmen along.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Amanda: Thanks for clarifying. I will be back next year, and with luck will bring even more wild wimmen. I always have a good time in Talkeetna.

  8. Thanks for coming Donna! Hope to see you again next year.

  9. Pam Rannals

    Glad you girls had a good time. It was good to see you. I stayed home all day on Sunday, just to pooped to get out of the house. I am too old for all this fun. Next year will be bigger and better….see you then.

  10. linda vojtech

    They stole baby jesus!!!!!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Linda Vojtech: Shocking, huh? But it’s apparently not uncommon. Some churches are actually using technology to recover the stolen infants.
      Yes: They’re lojacking the Baby Jesus.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  11. Donna-To quote your article-
    “Which brings me to that law professor and all the other complainers out there.
    Whiners: Stop whining If I hear one more person grousing about being “broke” while drinking a latte and sending and receiving texts, I may pour the coffee over that person’s head. ”
    This professor didn’t mention lattes or sending and receiving text messages. What he said was that after paying all the money he paid in taxes, he’d like to see it do some good. He also said that between taxes, his mortgage and all his other bills, he had a few hundred dollars left over at the end of the month. From the bills he listed, it didn’t seem to me that he was spending on lattes and unlimited texts. It seems that once people saw that $250,000, they stopped listening, and began responding with scorn, and you were no exception. There was a certain amount of animosity in your post that was leveled at anyone who makes money, that I don’t understand. I get the feeling, from many of your previous posts, that you exaggerate the poverty in your stories, as a way to make your point. Why would a woman who is 87 and on oxygen NOT get her check direct deposit, when social security is trying to push people that way? And why wouldn’t she use senior services, available in almost every town, as a way to get to the bank? Doesn’t she have any neighbors who would help? I’m sure she does. I live in a small town, myself, and there are more services for seniors here than there are for the low-income single mothers.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Sara: The professor and his wife are no doubt being hammered by city and state taxes as well as federal ones. But they have made certain budget choices — large house in a pricey neighborhood, private schools, housekeeper, yard guy, cable TV, two cars, et al. — that strain their remaining dollars.
      That’s what I want them to stop whining about: The consequences of those choices. It’s OK to have these things if you’re willing to pay the freight. If you’re not, then you need to decide whether it’s really the best use of your funds.
      I pay a self-employment tax. That’s one of the consequences of deciding to work independently. Do I wish I didn’t have to pay more? Of course I do. But I don’t get to complain about it because I chose to work this way.
      His costs are higher because he and his wife chose to buy a large home near their workplaces. Convenient? You bet. Expensive? Yep.
      If you “get the feeling” that I’m exaggerating poverty in these stories…well, that’s on you. Not on me. I don’t have to exaggerate my aunt’s situation. It’s very real.
      I’ve got nothing against people who make money, incidentally. Compared to minimum-wage earners, I’m doing pretty well. But I pay my quarterly taxes promptly (while wishing I didn’t pay at a higher rate), I pay for my own health insurance (while wishing it didn’t take such a bite out of my earnings), I donate to nonprofits and charity, I send money to a couple of relatives who are struggling. These are all choices. If they became onerous, I wouldn’t complain about how expensive it was — I’d simply have to choose where to cut back.
      The professor and his wife have this option, too. They’re just not using it.
      Thanks for reading.

  12. Next year I might just need to pretend I’m single to partake in the festivities.!
    Thank you for sharing your adventures. It’s always nice to be transported away to Alaska without leaving my office chair (on my lunch break, of course).

    • Donna Freedman

      @Lindy: One member of the group with whom I traveled is married. I was married during all my previous visits. You don’t have to admire the merchandise, let alone sample it, to have a good time.
      Join us next year. I double-dog-dare you. :-)

  13. Donna, you make Alaska sound like such a blast! And I LOATHE the cold. I just might have to make it out there next year.

  14. Salmon Dill Dough pizza? LOL…choked on chocolate pound cake while reading that! My feet are so cold here in N AL that I want Bunny Boots, and I am inside my house. Reckon they make those in sandals since I cannot stand boots laced on me?

    I really, really want to go. I will bring good snacks and cheap, too.

  15. It sounds like you had such a fun time!!! I loved reading about your trip!!! I hope next year’s as fun for you!!!

  16. Sounds like you had a great time! I’ll have to try that pizza recipe some time. Fish on pizza is new to me… And I wonder if I could say the name with a straight face!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Bashtree: The only other fish I’ve ever heard of on pizza is anchovies. :-P
      And yeah, imagine being the waitress that day. I expect she heard every possible play on those words. At least we tipped well to compensate for my “stuffed crust” question.

  17. Melanie A

    Hi Donna….
    Just catching up on my blog reading while ticking time off the Friday afternoon clock….I’m glad you had a great time – I certainly did. I have been telling people all week that it was hands-down the best time I’ve ever had when I was mostly sober. I hope we can make this a tradition.

    Also, I have pictures. The camera is still covered in sticky but the pictures are cute.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Melanie: I think I should let readers know that the “sticky” has nothing to do with the pizza. :-P It’s from the “girly drinks” from the Fairview.
      The best time you’ve ever had when you were “mostly sober”? Woo hoo! If that doesn’t get others to attend with us next year, what will???

  18. I don’t know how I missed this post earlier in the week. I’m glad nicole linked back to it in her roundup.

    Ah, I would love a girl’s weekend but most of us have small kids right now so it’s tough to coordinate. Maybe a girl’s day.

    Although about 100 things in this post were hilarious, I haven’t heard the word heinie in years. And now I hear it twice in 24 hours. I’m glad that word is making a comeback. I must incorporate it into conversation more. It’s much more fun than bum.

  19. Fun article — thanks for sharing. Any chance they could replace “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” with “Donna Freedman’s Alaska”? Yours seems to involve less shooting and more laughing.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Richard: Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll have my people call her people. ;-)
      I am not a fan of Sarah Palin. However, I was once in a shotgun tournament with her.
      (She didn’t win that time, either.)

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