I’ve never walked the shores of sunny Spain
I’ve still got a hankering for the ice and snow of Anchorage -
I’m happiest when Rondy comes again . . .”
“And though it’s cold as hell out here all standing in our underwear,
Waiting for the Rondy to begin –
We’re running with the reindeer, running with the reindeer
In Spain they’ve got the bulls I know,
But that’s not wild enough, and so it’s reindeer . . “ – Hobo Jim, ‘Running with the Reindeer’
Like Hobo Jim, I’ve never been to the Running of the Bulls in Spain. So I could be wrong about the differences between that event and the Alaska version. But I’m going to guess that the running of the bulls doesn’t have an announcer openly rooting for the animals to ‘take someone out. ‘
I’m also going to go ahead and assume that, when actual goring is a risk, drinking is discouraged. In Anchorage . . . well. It’s cold. And people are standing around in skimpy costumes, waiting to try and outrun Santa’s helpers. Drinking is probably the only way this makes sense.
The event is part of the Fur Rendezvous Festival, aka Rondy – an end-of-winter celebration held in late February and early March. The event grew out of the traditional fur-trapper swap meets. A ‘Winter Sports Carnival’ was added on in the 1930’s. Now it’s two weeks that include snow carving, pond hockey, dog sledding sprint races, a Alaska Native arts market, and carnival rides – and yes, still fur selling.
Oh, and the opportunity to dash through downtown Anchorage with some reindeer.
The runners are given a bit of a head start. They’re divided into 4 heats, for men, women, groups, and ‘tourists’ – anyone from the lower 48. Costumes range from sparkly tutus to video game characters to strategically placed fur bikinis. Some have prop swords and axes, for reasons I can’t quite make out. Others have cell phones in hand, attempting mid-race selfies.
After the runners, the reindeer are released. They’re surprisingly agile creatures, and weave through the crowded street easily. One of the best parts of the race is watching the faces of racers as they realize the runner who just sideswiped them has 4 feet and horns.
Between rounds the reindeer, held on what look like standard dog leashes, are petted by children and calmly let people pose for reindeer selfies. Sometimes they dig their hooves in and refuse to be led to the starting line – the pens at the finish, after all, are where their food is kept. But the keepers manage to coax them along.Reindeer are a smaller, domesticated version of caribou. They generally either like people or ignore them. One more way this isn’t exactly the Running of the Bulls – there’s no death-defying thrills here.
That’s okay. It isn’t what the crowd is looking for. This is an excuse for people who are sick of winter to get dressed up and have a party. You can howl along with the music, out-jog the reindeer, raise money for charity, and celebrate being very, very Alaskan.