A heated conversation: Hot tubs are OK, but hot tents are another story

Voices Of The Clarion

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2008

There's e-mails: "Dropped down to minus 10 here today, so I had to put on a face mask when I skied."

There's the stories told at family reunions: "It was minus 20 and no matter how much wood we put in the wood stove, we could not get the cabin above zero."

One of the benefits of living in Alaska is referring to cold in a casual way in order to easily impress friends and family in the Lower 48.

Now that I've lived here 10 years, though, I'm discovering there's an ugly little flip side to getting comfortable with cold I'm now an unquestioned wuss when it comes to warm weather.

Growing up in Wisconsin, I was never a fan of the hot, humid summer days, but those days never stopped me from doing anything, either. It just meant changing T-shirts and showering two or three times per day.

That all changed recently.

I had just returned from five nights in a cabin at Tolovana Hot Springs, which is located a couple hours out of Fairbanks.

With cut firewood, hot tubs and delicious spring water, the place is winter paradise. The problem is you have to pay the piper to get there.

The snowshoe trip in from the road is 11 miles long and comes with a week's worth of gear in tow. The trek also includes a saunter across the Tolovana Hot Springs Dome, which is totally exposed and often extremely windy.

On the trip in, a high pressure system that had kept the area locked in at minus 40 was on its way out and milder temperatures were on their way in. This meant make-you-stagger gusts of wind on the dome with an ambient air temperature of minus 14.

It wasn't a big deal, though. I just wrapped my head in my parka and kept walking like I'd done countless times before. Disrobing to get in the hot tub at minus 20? Just put the cold out of your mind for a minute and get in the tub. You'll warm right up.

Dealing with such conditions generally makes me feel tough. This time, that feeling lasted all of a day when I returned to Kenai and my girlfriend wanted to plan a vacation to the Southwest.

The Grand Canyon and all the rock formations sounded astounding. The hikes sounded almost as good as many of the hikes we have right here on the peninsula. The history of the place was intriguing.

I couldn't get over the thought of camping in a place that was that warm. Crawling out of a boiling tent in the morning is one of the most miserable feelings I know. She's dealt with mosquitoes, moose and bears on many a hike, but she couldn't get over all the various reptiles and extremely large bugs the warm temps had in store for her.

So, as of now, that vacation's on hold.

Don't tell my friends and family in the Lower 48, OK?

Jeff Helminiak is the sports editor at the Clarion. He can be reached at jeff.helminiak@peninsulaclarion.com.

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