Nice Ice Baby: Last Weekend in Alaska
Mon., Jan. 2. 2006 2:07am EST
Well, we've finally played all 50 states! They call Alaska "The Final Frontier," and that's certainly what it was for us in terms of the United States. It took almost 14 years, but we made up for lost time, playing three concerts in Soldotna, Anchorage, and Fairbanks, giving us a total of 103 concerts in 34 states in 2005. Hey, we were on the fast track. It took the United States 173 years to add Alaska to its list of states and 174 years to get all 50; we did it in less than one tenth of the time!
It was well worth the wait. Alaska was every bit as beautiful as we'd been cold ... er ... told. Actually, although all of Alaska was snowy, Soldotna and Anchorage were relatively mild, not much worse than it was back in our hometown of Pittsburgh. In fact, the kids in Soldotna were wearing shorts and flip flops to our concert Thursday night!
Now, our final stop, Fairbanks, had the Alaska weather you'd expect -- 8 degrees below zero and snow everywhere. To top it off, the concert was sponsored by North Pole Christian School! The second-largest city in Alaska, Fairbanks is eight hours north of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city. Ironically, they tell us that Fairbanks can get warmer than Anchorage in the summer, with temperatures as high as 90 degrees, because Anchorage's location near the ocean keeps the temperatures more moderate.
Speaking of the ocean, we got to see plenty of that on our way to Soldotna for our first Alaskan concert. Soldotna is located on the Kenai Peninsula, and there's only one road there, with mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. It would be less than hour from Anchorage if you could drive it directly, but the rough terrain makes that impossible.
They tell us that the road to Soldotna is usually is packed with ice covered by a layer of snow this time of year, but unseasonably warm weather made it not quite so bad. That's comforting, because they say the locals drive the same speed on that road whether it's ice-and-snow-covered or not. There was still plenty of snow, rain, slush, and ice to contend with, however -- not to mention early nightfall (this time of year, there's only a few hours of sunlight), and narrow and winding roads -- and the drive took three hours.
By the time the last two band members (we took different flights because of holiday schedules and limited seating) arrived in Soldotna, there was a long line of people waiting to get in, although the weather didn't seem to bother them. Soldotna was "sold-out-now." Youth pastor Thad White, who coordinated the show, had told us several weeks ago that not many national bands, Christian or otherwise, make it up to Anchorage, let alone Soldotna, and that we wouldn't play for a more enthusiastic crowd, and he was correct. We've since learned that Audio Adrenaline will be playing in the area in the near future, so we're glad to be trendsetters.
After the Soldotna show, we stayed at the host church's lodge, which was a great experience. They even had a gourmet chef (no, that wasn't part of our contract demands) come in and make us a magnificent Alaska breakfast of eggs, sourdough pancakes, and more bacon then you've ever seen in your life. The lodge had a genuine bear rug on the wall, and genuine moose prints in the snow outside the window. Some of our party got to see moose in the wild on the drive back to Anchorage on Friday. The rest of of us saw two moose walking across the freeway in downtown Anchorage the same day!
We learned quite a bit more about Alaska while we were in Anchorage on Friday. Pastor Jim Brenn, whose church hosted the concert, informed us that Minnesota's boast of 10,000 lakes has nothing on Alaska, which has 3 million lakes larger than 20 acres! He jokingly noted that he likes to remind Texans that the Alaskans might just split their state in half someday so there will be two states that are bigger than Texas, rather than just one :) Pastor Jim was also the chaplain for the Washington Redskins in the early 1980's, encompassing their trips to Super Bowls XVII and XVIII, and he has an autographed picture of Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs in his office.
We carried on a New Year's Eve tradition of bringing our wives (Krista Haynie, Bonnie Hubauer, Lisa Jackson, Deb Messner, and Eve Tanner) along, no matter how distant the venue. Before we had so many children in our families it was lot easier for our wives to come to many concerts, but these days, most of the concerts they get to attend are the ones in Western Pennsylvania and occasionally in surrounding states.
We also carried on an unintentional streak started of playing eight straight New Year's Eve concerts in eight different states. Since 1998, we've played New Year's Eve in Baltimore MD, Houston TX, Philadelphia PA, Rochester NY, Seattle WA, Belle Fourche SD, Smithland KY, and now Fairbanks AK.
On the way home, the Jacksons and Haynies flew out early in the morning, followed by the Hubauers, and then the Messners and Tanners in the afternoon. During a five-hour layover in Anchorage, Messners and Tanners were picked up by ApologetiX fan Frank Curry and treated to a gourmet dinner by another gourmet chef named Richard, who had been at Friday's concert. He and his wife, Cari, held the meal at their house, and others from the Friday concert were also in attendance. After that, they took Messners and Tanners on a driving tour of Anchorage, wrapping it up with a visit to the 16-foot snowman in some guy's yard!
It really blew our minds to find long-time ApologetiX fans at each of our three Alaska tour stops. We even met a fan, Kathy Rudolph, on our flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage, and she came to Friday's concert. But the prize for longest-time fan has to go to Kim Eames, who has been a fan so long that she was a newsletter subscriber back when we sent it with stamps! Her first ApologetiX album was the "Radical History Tour" cassette! Kim and her husband, Dennis, have been waiting to see us for over a decade. Kim works as a customer service agent for Alaska Airlines and was there to greet us when we arrived in Fairbanks. Not only that, she sent us home with a huge Copper River salmon Dennis caught himself. Thanks for everything, Kim, and thanks for the fish, Dennis!
As we told Kim, when we first heard from her years ago, we never dreamed we'd ever make it to Alaska, let alone all 50 states. God is amazing and is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Thank you, Lord!
Thanks also to:
- Thad, Michal, Riley and the amazing Tyler White and Pastor Alan & Miriam Humphries for sponsoring our Soldotna concert and for acting as our chauffeurs and tour guides.
- Dave Taylor and Pastor Jim Brenn for sponsoring our Anchorage concert and for bringing Karl's guitar to the airport the next morning when we discovered it was missing! Also to Glen Pruitt for opening for us.
- Chuck & Donna Lincoln and North Pole Christian School for sponsoring our Fairbanks concert and running the ApologetiX shuttle to and from the hotel, the restaurant, and the airport.
- Thanks to our wives for their help at the CD table, too.
We also took lots of pictures, and some are online already, with more to come soon. Things look promising for a return trip to Alaska, so if you missed us this time around, we hope to see you next time. And if you saw us this time, we definitely want to see you again!