“... And then we had an outside Christmas,” my colleague said over Zoom, looking bewildered.
She clarified: “It was surprisingly nice.”
The strangeness of seeing friends and family distantly and outdoors, particularly at key events, is still acute even almost a year into the pandemic.
It’s also cold. Quite cold, sometimes — and just like my layers of clothing, outdoors-only socializing wears thin over time. It’s time for some fresh ideas for ways to see friends safely and outdoors.
When I lived in Anchorage, I would frequently go ice skating during lunch or after work.
Southcentral Alaska has had plenty of freeze-thaw cycles, and that means ice. The Municipality of Anchorage routinely hot-mops the ice skating rinks it maintains.
Over New Year’s, already bored of the idea of yet another bonfire, my husband and I drove to Anchorage with our skates. Close friends met us. After scarfing down our necessary Bear Tooth takeout, we skated at each of the three ice skating rinks maintained by the municipality — first the Cuddy Midtown oval, then Westchester Lagoon and finally Cheney Lake.
There were plenty of people about but few crowds, and what gatherings there were, we could avoid. We were able to skate together, distantly, but still talking and teasing one another when we hit a crack.
After skating “wild” ice in the Valley, the smooth, smooth surfaces of hot-mopped ice was a treat. Surprisingly, so was having a fully sober New Year’s. This was the first New Year’s Eve in memory that I clearly remember.
And I would do it again. We rang in the new year at Cheney Lake, fireworks going off all around and a feeling of excitement in the cold air.
Remember sledding? If you’re a parent you do, because you just went last week.
If you’re a semi-parent like me (to a teenage stepdaughter who primarily lives in the Lower 48), sledding is mostly an activity for people with young kids.
If the idea is to socialize, getting outside with sleds is perfect. There is a focused activity. It’s doesn’t take a long time. The comfort and, if needed, warmth of a car is right there.
And there’s a spectacle to focus on — my husband racing backwards and nearly breaking his neck, for instance. And friends can chat and catch up in between rounds.
It’s also a way to take in a new view of familiar terrain. Last year, we did a tour of sledding hills in Palmer and Wasilla. It was fun to see other people out having fun and to get a new view of my community through their eyes.
It’s an activity I’ll remember more clearly than countless dinners around a table, though I’m certainly not knocking those. But this pandemic necessitates creativity, which makes for sharper memories. I’ll give it that.
Separate cabins, shared fire pit
It’s a bummer not being able to safely go on trips with friends. I really, really want to get away.
A remedy? Find lodging with separate quarters but a shared outdoor fire space. It takes some sleuthing online, but if you can find rooms or cabins provided by the same owner, chances are there’s often a shared outdoor space.
We’re heading to Homer this week. And by “we” I mean my husband and me, and another couple. We’re traveling separately and we each scored lodging at the Baycrest Lodge, which I’ve stayed at before during the pandemic and fully trust. Private hot tubs? Yes. Shared fire pit? Yes. Score!
I can’t wait.
Even as I feel the weight of the pandemic dragging on into what was billed as a “New Year, New Me,” I know now is not the time to become complacent. We humans are so creative when we want to be, and even though it’s cold out, Alaska provides amazing opportunities to be outside. It ain’t all about the bonfire.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.