A balanced diet: Talkeetna, reindeer sausage, amateur MMA
Yesterday, Friday, was another great day. I got up when I felt like it and headed out for Talkeetna around 10:30. I got surprisingly good radio reception on the way and rocked out to mostly classic rock, though there was some top 40 stuff thrown in there. And while it was a coldish, overcast day, I was cozy in the rental and in my new hiking boots, which are not just warm, but TOASTY. Like Quiznos. Like having my feet inside two heated hoagies. Yesterday was the perfect day/way to break them in a little.
The drive was uneventful, sometimes along desolate stretches and sometimes around lots of civilization, if you can call Lowes and a big line of car dealerships “civilization.” There’s a town called Wasilla along the way that looked really cute, and if I had made more time, I would have checked it out. Alaskans really seem to love their coffee; there were probably a dozen friendly little drive-through coffee and espresso shacks along the ~100-mile route. I also saw a couple RV parks and even a bed and breakfast or two. (Boy, if you want alone time with your mate, there’s nothing like staying in a bed and breakfast in the heart of Alaska. And then slowly going insane as you run out of things to say, look at, do, feel.) The route was north deeper into the heart of Alaska on Interstate 1 and Interstate 3. Funny that there are interstates in Alaska. They have them in Hawaii too, as I recall.
I stopped at the visitors’ center on the edge of town. They were closed, but I liked the sign:
Talkeetna itself is a cute little village. I keep using the word “rugged” to describe things in Alaska, but it seems to fit. There’s just a lot of log cabin-looking construction, lots of flannel, nylon, and hair on the people, and a general sense of heartiness, if that makes any sense. It was a rainy day, in the 50s, probably, though the sun managed to peek out once or twice before going under cover again.
Here is a little something I saw at the parking lot that will give Marcel his daily conniption (there shouldn't be an apostrophe in the word "fees"):
I walked into town, stopping in a little general store for postcards and having another random BJJ-related chat with the kid behind the counter. It may come as a surprise to those of you who don’t know me (being facetious here), but those of you who do know me know that I’m not very, um, put together. I still haven’t fixed the awful haircut I’ve been complaining about for weeks, my hands and feet are totally jacked from jiu jitsu (no mani-pedis for me), my makeup regimen consists of eyeliner and Chapstik, and I wear the same 3 t-shirts and pairs of shorts or jeans all the freaking time. I’m not a fashion plate. I never was even when I had a job, although the Polish cleaning lady at my office used to tell me she loved my clothes (and this lady drove a Beemer and had serious jewelry when she was off duty). But then again, I also heard from other women at the office that she complimented them on their clothes too. So I’m sticking to my original story: not a fashion plate.
So the “purse” I carry is actually the drawstring bag that my Keiko Raca gi came in. It has the logo on it and is quite handy for toting around my camera, wallet, BJJ notebook, etc. And it also turns out to be quite the little conversation starter. This time, the kid behind the counter in the general store told me he liked my bag and asked if I train BJJ. I said yes, and it turns out he is a judo player who just moved to Talkeetna from Bozeman, MT. I told him about Gracie Barra Alaska in Anchorage and he seemed excited to hear it. So maybe I’ve made a connection for the kid. I hope so. He looked like he wasn’t thrilled to be behind the counter selling souvenirs and coffee to busloads of Japanese tourists.
The day was a little rainy but not too bad. I wandered down one street looking at cute restaurants and souvenir shops until I saw it: Talkeetna’s version of the hot dog stand. Instead of the pushcart and brusque service you might expect in NYC, picture a dude with a big mustache and beard hanging out under one of those white tents with a picnic table, a collarless dog running around sniffing the customers, and Phish playing on a boom box. Plus, the hot dog options included reindeer sausage and buffalo brats. (As an aside, there was also a cute little kid who reminded me of my niece: he was covered in mud from literally throwing himself into the puddles that had formed when it started to rain, but that didn't bother him. No, he only started to cry when the mud got on his hands. My niece doesn't like dirty hands either and will go to my sister for her to wipe off grass stains, etc. Kid logic rules!)
As I was deciding what to get, a couple guys started giving me advice about what tasted good. I ended up with a reindeer sausage that had cheddar and jalapenos in it, and decided not to go for the usual relish and mustard (gilding the lily). It was delicious. Tasted just like chicken. (Not really. But honestly delicious.)
I ended up talking to my two menu advisors, Jake and Kyle, for about 2 hours. They are both really interesting characters, doing their own thing and really living the way they want to. I was all proud to tell them that I have been on the road for 6 weeks and joked that I live out of my car. Well, Jake has been on the road for 6 YEARS (with some summer and other multiple month stints in various places), and truly does live out of his car. Sleeps in it. When I talked to him later that night after we had parted ways, he was parked under a bridge, fishing in the dark. Whoa.
We talked about TONS of things, ranging from the social commentary and toilet humor of South Park, to life in small towns, to organized religion, to eco-friendly energy, to relationships. But my favorite part of the conversation was when we talked about people’s reaction to our respective lifestyles. Jake has had the conversation with far more people than I have about how he lives his life traveling and just doing whatever he wants to do. When I commented that lots of people must tell him, “Oh, I wish I could do what you’re doing,” he said he gets that all the time. And his response to that comment is amazing: when people say they wish they could do what he’s doing, he says, “No you don’t. Because if you did, you would.”
Wow. Maybe kind of jarring, but definitely true. I like it!
So there’s some tough love from Jake, my new friend, whose last name I don’t know, and whom I may or may not see in Juneau next week, or ever again. But that’s the stuff that this trip is about: meeting people I wouldn’t otherwise, having conversations I wouldn’t otherwise, and making connections in the most random places, while enjoying delicious reindeer sausage.
So Talkeetna was a rousing success. I didn’t even end up seeing much of the town, but I got out of it what I was supposed to. Thanks, Jake! I do hope to see and talk to you again soon! Keep me posted on your exploits on the way to Virginia.
In other news, here’s an obligatory moose:
The trip back from Talkeetna to Anchorage was kind of a drag. There were TWO traffic jams resulting from two accidents. Fortunately, nobody was really injured, but it threw my schedule off, and I ended up being late for class at Gracie Barra. I also apparently missed meeting Ted Stickel, the black belt who runs the place! Drat. Well, I ended up suiting up for class for about an hour, and the group did a cool problem solving session, with Pat leading the discussion. I joined in and shared some ideas too, and it was a great thing! That kind of thing happens informally at most academies, but I thought it was a terrific idea to have it be part of the actual curriculum. So if you’re having a problem, you know that on Tuesday at 8pm you can bring your question and the whole group will work on it with you. Very cool!
Oh, and as an aside, Pat looks and sounds pretty much exactly like Forrest Griffin, who is an Ultimate Fighting Championships fighter. All his teammates agreed!
I left class early so I could check out an MMA event Xtreme Fighting Championships, at the Egan Center, kind of a civic center in downtown Anchorage. Close to my hotel, which was handy. Dan, a BJJ player I know from jiujitsugear.com, was supposed to be in Anchorage refereeing at this event, but he is on the injured list and is home in Portland. So I went solo. The event was held in a huge darkened room, like a banquet hall, with rows of long tables and circular tables on either side of The Octagon (rather than a boxing ring).
I enjoyed it, though of course there was much armchair quarterbacking on my part. About the fights, but also about the emcee. One of my job “ideas”(“ideas” is in quotes because the only thing I do to make this job a reality is complain about how it’s not a reality) is to be a commentator for the UFC. One of the guys who does it now, Mike Goldberg, is a sort of unctuous, glib dude who I don’t think even trains any martial art. And yet he makes huge money. My thought is: I’m smarter and funnier than Mike Goldberg, and if you don’t need any martial arts background to be a commentator, then I am OVERqualified. So I want his job, basically. He wasn’t the announcer for this event, but hearing the announcer, who wasn’t very good (forgetting names, yelling things like, “Let’s see some VIOLENCE!” which isn’t really good for MMA’s image, etc.) reminded me that I have a superiority complex and want a job like that.
There were some good fights and there were some low rent showings. (Again, I have never competed in mixed martial arts and never will, but if Mike Goldberg can comment, so can I.) I did see a lot of jiu jitsu: submission attempts, takedowns, mounts, etc, and that made me happy. But this audience didn’t seem to appreciate that aspect of it, yelling, “Stand the f*ck up and punch him!” “Choking is for p*ssies!” “Don’t do that jee-ooh jitsu crap!” You get a lot of that, where people don’t appreciate BJJ because they don’t know what they’re looking at or for. But all in all it was fun, and it’s always huge for people to compete. This is why I felt bad for one dude, whose nickname is The Ogre. He lost, pretty decisively, to his opponent, and when the announcer said, “Let’s give it up for The Ogre!” a guy sitting in front of me who had obviously been enjoying some of Alaska's finest alcohol yelled, “The Ogre sucks!” (I don’t think that’s what he meant.)
Just for fun, here’s the fight card:
And then it was off to sleep. Next entry will be about today: training, pizza and beer with Gracie Barra guys, driving to Girdwood, BRIEFLY checking out the Renewable Resource Fair, and getting ready for my super early flight to Juneau.