Monthly Archives: February 2019

First Friday at Turnagain Brewing Company and Iditarod Start

Iditarod oil painting by Alaskan artist Scott Clendaniel

The saying goes, “Strike while the iron is hot!”  That’s exactly what we’ll be doing this weekend, as thousands of people arrive to Anchorage for the Iditarod start this Saturday.  The ceremonial start of the race will begin at 10am sharp, on 4th Avenue, right in front of the building where out studio is located.  So we decided this would be a good time to turn the studio into a pop-up gallery for the day, and invite people to visit.  There will also be a craft fair inside the building, making it an amusing place to warm up.  After the Iditarod start, one of the most popular Fur Rondy events is happening — Running of the Reindeer at 4pm.  Our studio will be open 10 – 5pm.  Stop by for a home-baked cookie, and check out my art, not to mention our great view of the carnival (and maybe Denali).

This week is First Friday, and I’m having an art opening at Turnagain Brewing Company, which is a new-to-me venue.  I created four large splatter beer paintings inspired by Jackson Pollock for this art show.  I’ll be there 5 – 8pm this Friday, March 1.  If you haven’t been to this brewery yet, I highly recommend it, especially if you like sour beer.  If that’s not your thing, the brewery also offers traditional beer styles in a cozy atmosphere.  Click here to see the Facebook event.

splatter beer paintings by Alaskan beer artist Scott Clendaniel

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Are you Ready to Rondy?!

Let’s Rondy! 36″x18″, oil on panel.

February 15th 1935, 24 years before Alaska was even a state, Anchorage local Vern Johnson started the first ever Anchorage Fur Rendezvous!  Miners and trappers were already in town awakening from the hibernation months of December and January with the hopes of restocking supplies and selling some of their recent harvest.  Only three days long, the original Fur Rondy hosted hockey, basketball, skiing, boxing and children’s sled dog races, and not much else.  

The event has grown over the last 84 years and people have come to expect a grand time during this traditional Alaskan celebration.  I remember Rondys of the past — the festival used to last three whole weeks and we got a day off from school just to enjoy the festivities.  My mom would bundle us all up in our snow gear and we would trudge off to downtown Anchorage to ride the Ferris wheel, eat elephant ears, and watch super cool events.  I remember the party kicking off with the amazing fireworks extravaganza!  Some of my favorite classic events as a kid were the Grand Prix Auto Race, World Championship Sled Dog Races, the blanket toss, snowshoe softball, the amazing Rondy Grand Parade, and one not to be missed — the snow sculptures. 

The festival was shortened from three weeks to ten days in 2008 due to budget constraints.  We don’t have the Grand Prix anymore, but we still race sled dogs down 4th Avenue and slam beers at every base during snowshoe softball.  Another popular event is the Miners and Trappers Ball, with a beard contest and many costumes made from blue tarps, duct tape and Carhartts.  The outhouse races are always a highlight, and of course the new favorite is the Running of the Reindeer.  A bunch of Rondy participants dress in costumes and brave running with a pack of horned reindeer.  I always wonder if the reindeer are infuriated by the hotdog stands lining the street, selling famous reindeer dogs.  Another new tradition is Anchorage Brewing Company’s Rondy Brew. This year it is a delicious NEIPA brewed with 100% Strata hops, which taste like passion fruit!  

Real Art is Better is strategically located in the 4th Avenue Marketplace, across the street from Rondy Headquarters, in the NW corner of the building.  We clean it up and convert it to a small retail space for the weekend.  There is also a craft fair inside the building.  I invite you to stop in and check out my newest work and take in the view of the Rondy Carnival from our amazing Inlet view window.  We’ll be open Saturday and Sunday, 11am – 6pm.  I have several new art cards never before released, and many new paintings.  I bake cookies for the event and there are great snacks to be found at the craft fair.  The studio is a great place to warm up after watching the mushers, or making the trek down the hill to 2nd Avenue to see the snow sculptures.  The blanket toss and fur auction are right across the street in the 3rd Avenue parking lot.  

If you are getting fed up with Alaska style cabin fever, Rondy is the remedy.  This is the biggest social event of the winter!  Celebrate the end of hibernation season and get ready to PARTY!  Dust off those styling furs and show off Anchorage style!

Wear your Rondy pin, or risk jail time!

Susitna 100: Death of a Dream, or When Quitting is a Good Idea

Growing up in Alaska I always loved Hobo Jim’s iconic song I Did the Iditarod Trail.  I’m not a dog handler, so I always figured that mushing 1,049 miles to Nome was not in the cards for me.  In 2007 we flew to Nome to see the end of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and when I was there I met a guy who had skied the trail all the way to Nome, which took him about a month.  I bought him a beer and listened to his adventurous tale.  I thought he was a total badass, and told him he could sing Hobo Jim’s song without sounding like a poser.  A few years later I went to a lecture given by Roger Cowles about his ride to Nome on what he called a six pack bicycle, which is a mountain bike that had been modified to have three tires on the front and back, on three wheels that were welded together and had spokes that laced them all together.  His lecture was really inspirational to me and I felt like I would like to do something like that someday.  Then fat bikes came along, and I finally bit the bullet and got one in 2015, selling my fancy summer bike to help fund the purchase.  I told my wife about my plan to ride to Nome and she suggested I do it in an organized race with safety precautions, check points, and supply drops.  The race to Nome is called the ITI 1000 Iditarod Trail Invitational.  It starts in Knik and follows the Iditarod trail all the way to Nome.  It takes people about 30 days to complete and costs a small fortune.  You can’t just sign up for the ITI 1000,  you have to qualify by completing shorter races.  First you have to do two 100-mile winter endurance races, then you can sign up for the ITI 350, which ends in McGrath.  After that you can sign up for the bike race to Nome.  People also walk and ski this event. 

This year I entered the Susitna 100 with the intent of starting the process of qualifying for the ITI 1000.  I learned a lot about the race in advance: there would be tasty food all the way at the checkpoints, that a jar of peanut butter qualified for the 3000-calorie food requirement, and that 100 miles is a long way in the winter wilderness.  I started the race just fine.  Riding the first 22 miles to the first checkpoint at Point McKenzie was easy — I’d been riding a lot and 22 miles was about the length of my average long ride.  I should mention that it started snowing as the race began, and that there was already new snow on the trail from a previous snowfall.  The 12 miler trip up the swamp to Flathorn Lake was grueling and many people started to walk their bikes.  I arrived shaken and feeling a little sick to my stomach, but the spaghetti put me back into a pretty good feeling and I headed back out into the snowstorm.  The next 14 miles were worse, and I walked a good deal of the way, arriving at dark to mile 49 at the Five Star Tent checkpoint, which was just a tent.  After a nice rest and holding back my urges to puke, I stumbled out back onto the trail.  I was able to ride at a nice 5 mph pace, and in four more hours I arrived to Eagle Quest Lodge at mile 63.  I was feeling the BONK at this point.  I had fallen off the bike a few times from sheer fatigue.  When I arrived it was still snowing, and dark around 10pm.  I felt terrible — my knees were feeling pretty used up, and my legs were rubber.  I ate a delicious bacon and egg sandwich for dinner, which helped my stomach feel a bit better, before resting inside a heated cabin for a few hours.  I made several trips to the outhouse with an upset stomach, and kept my sandwich down, but I was feeling pretty weak.  It kept snowing and I could hardly walk after resting for a few hours.  At 2am I was thinking, “Do I want to do this for 30 days straight if I bike to Nome?”  That’s when it occurred to me that I surely didn’t. 

There were 37 miles remaining in the race and the weather report was for a ton more snow (approximately 12-18 inches).   I looked at my bike and saw that it was buried in new snow.  Fat bikes are good for winter biking, but when it’s snowing that much snowshoes and skis are really a better option (or a dog sled), as pushing a fully loaded bike through new snow is hard work at any distance.  I knew that when I was pushing my bike I was hitting 2 mph.  At that pace it would take me about 20 hours to complete the race.  It was right then that I decided to scratch the race.  My stomach was protesting, my knees and legs were done, and I didn’t even want to ride to Nome any more.  I called Maria, and she drove to get me on Sunday morning.  I officially scratched, my dream of riding to Nome was dead.  I later learned that 59 other racers also scratched, and only 39 hardy souls finished the race. 

I’m glad I learned this lesson so early in this endeavor.  I spent a lot of money just for the 100 mile race.  I had to buy new boots, new bags for my bike, a bivy sack, a ton more gear, and the entry fee was cheap at only $250.  The longer races are much more expensive.  The ITI 150 is $750, and I don’t even know how much the ITI 350 costs, as it isn’t even listed on the website.  I figured when all was said and done I would have spent $25,000 riding to Nome.  That’s a lot of money to do something that no one has really heard about, but the bragging rights would have been nice.  The price isn’t even the biggest problem.  The biggest expense is the sheer pain and discomfort that the trip would entail, not to mention possible loss of fingers, toes and/or other medical problems that this type of behavior brings about. 

I won’t be able to sing Hobo Jim’s song with the same gusto ever again.  Yet, I am so thankful I learned this lesson this weekend.  I have way more respect for adventure sports athletes than I did before.  The people who finished are athletes of a different caliber than this city-boy-artist.  I will never never never plan to ride more than 37 miles in winter, and I’ll skip the blizzards, thank you very much.  The death of a dream is a good thing when completing the goal is a bad idea.  Sometimes you gotta know when to quit and I am so glad I didn’t waste any more time with an idea that was poison.  Had the conditions been great and I finished the race easily, I may have made worse decisions that could have ended badly.  And hey, for $25,000, I could buy a snow-machine and ride it to Nome, or at least have a pretty good time doing something really fun instead!  I won’t quit fat biking, because I love doing that, but seriously, endurance racing is out!  Much respect to the finishers — may your recovery go smoothly!