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Save your sanity on Thanksgiving by escaping to the outdoors

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: November 22, 2017
  • Published November 22, 2017

For many people this holiday season, getting outside will take the form of escape. Maybe Aunt Sally is in the kitchen gesturing with a knife in an unnerving way, or Dad just won't stop badgering Uncle Peter about the turkey.

Last year, during a heated family argument in Massachusetts, my brother-in-law grabbed the Razor scooter that had been sitting in the garage for 10 years. He scooted a mile to Walgreens to buy cigarettes, and by the time he got home things were a little more settled.

Luckily there are plenty of ways to get outside during Thanksgiving week that don't involve scooting, chain-smoking, or hiding in a tool shed.


Thanksgiving officially kicks off the most wonderful time of the year — unless you're in an airport, which many (many) people will be.

How do you hang onto your sanity while surrounded by the worst of humanity, all clawing their way to family gatherings they are — at least partially — dreading?

If you're taking a red-eye flight out of Alaska, it's a smart move to do something outdoors before your trip. The name of the game is to get tired enough to sleep on the flight. If, like me, you're fairly superstitious about the link between the outdoors and immunity, the outdoors "dose" also serves as a kind of mental inoculation against the person sneezing behind you in Row 10.

I'll meet up with a friend sometime before the flight and go for a run. If I plan ahead and have my gear with me, skiing or snow biking is also possible. Even just going for a walk is better than nothing.

Logistically, it's a little bit of a pain to have wet clothes and sneakers afterward – but anything I don't need for the trip I can leave in the car as a special gift to myself in the future. I bring a grocery bag for my sneakers and add them to my checked luggage to deal with later.

Turkey trot races

Many cities host a "turkey trot" footrace on Thanksgiving morning. A typical race length is 5 kilometers, or roughly three miles.

Signing up for a turkey trot, especially while traveling, is a great way to bank sanity. First of all, it keeps you out of the kitchen at crunch hour.

Kristin Thompson celebrates finishing the Skinny Raven Turkey Trot at the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 2015. Thompson ran with her entire family of seven. When she was asked if her costume was homemade, Thompson laughed that she bought it on Amazon. (Scott Jensen / ADN archive 2015)

Secondly, you get at least 5 kilometers' worth of peace and quiet (or Kesha, if that's what you need – I usually do).

Third, turkey trots are adorable! It's fun to see people  running on the holiday, often in costumes or dorky T-shirts. Everyone's running from their families, so you find yourself in good company.

It also gets you good and ready to stuff your face — the most lasting and agreeable tenet of Turkey Day, in my humble opinion.

Skinny Raven organizes a Turkey Trot in Anchorage and accepts food donations for the Alaska Food Bank. Last year, runners donated 1,200 pounds of food.


Of course, many Alaskans will spend time with their chosen families on Thanksgiving.

"Friendsgivings" are some of the most fun holidays I've ever spent. It's all the food and coziness without (much) drama. Piles of food are cooked and consumed, giant Costco-sized bottles of wine are busted out, and the evening ends in Cards Against Humanity. At least, that's my experience.

The best part about Friendsgiving? Nothing is traditional. I can decide exactly what my day looks like, because I'm beholden to nobody and nothing.

For me in Alaska, I revel in spending Thanksgiving morning on Spencer Loop on cross-country skis, trekking up the front range of the Chugach or rolling around on my fat bike.

While the rest of the country is lolling about watching the Macy's whatever on TV, Alaska is just up here being incredible. Many times on Thanksgiving morning the trails are eerily quiet. But the people you run into share the same thing: giddiness at being outdoors on a holiday that focuses so much inward.

It's a stellar contrast: being cold and pushing hard in the snow while knowing that ahead are warmth, food and great people.


Then there's REI's Black Friday tradition to ditch the sales and instead head outside. The company has led this campaign for three years, closing its stores entirely for Black Friday and encouraging employees and would-be shoppers to get outdoors and post to social media using the #OptOutside hashtag.

I don't need to tell Alaskans that a Thanksgiving dinner is great fuel for a day out in the mountains. If you need some inspiration, scroll through #OptOutside hashtags to see what others across the country are doing. It's always fun to show up some Floridian or Hawaiian's tropical post with frosty eyelashes and snow.

Make time to be outdoors this Thanksgiving, no matter where you are or who you're with. Your friends, family and sanity will thank you.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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