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Summer solstice (the longest day of the year on June 21) brings with it a host of events and activities fueled by the midnight sun.
More than just a running race, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Midnight Sun Run is a uniquely Alaskan event that has attracted participants from all over the world for over 20 years. Despite its late evening start at 10 p.m., there's no need to bring flashlights or wear headlamps, as the summer sun shines brightly overhead. In recent years, the race has attracted over 3,000 participants, from the elite runners who are aiming to set a record or personal best, to back-of-the-pack strollers simply out visit and enjoy themselves.
Even those who don't enter the race have opportunities to enjoy the event. The race course, which starts at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Patty Center and ends at Pioneer Park, meanders though a number of Fairbanks neighborhoods, where spectators camped out on lawns rooting on the participants. Each year, a Couch Potato Award is given to the best cheering section.
While most runners prefer to wear shorts and a t-shirt, others choose rather unconventional clothing, such as a cow costume or a canoe. The costumed division is perhaps one of the most anticipated highlights of the race.
Dating back close to 50 years, the Yukon 800 Boat Race is billed as the longest, roughest and toughest speed boat race in the world. This high-speed 2-day 800-mile race runs on the Chena, Tanana, and Yukon Rivers, traveling through hundreds of miles of vast Alaskan wilderness. Unpredictable conditions - high winds, rain and hail, blowing sand from river sandbars, glare, floating debris, and fog - play havoc with visibility and safety.
Competitors build low-slung 24 foot long boats from scratch from Sitka Spruce and plywood, and are powered with 50 horsepower motors that ramp up to 70 miles an hour. Boats continue to be faster and lighter, looking to get more power and speed out of their motors.
The race course runs to the village of Galena on the Yukon River as the half way point where competitors spend the night and return the next day. The three-person crew must be in sync to calculate the wind, water, mechanics and tactics for success. The course record is just shy of 12 hours.
"What began nearly 100 years ago on a bet between two local bars has evolved into one of baseball's unique natural events. The Midnight Sun Game, played in Fairbanks on the summer solstice every year since 1906, is played in the middle of the night with only natural light." - Baseball America's 12 'Must-See' Events
The Alaska Goldpanners, the farthest north baseball club, begins this widely acclaimed contest at 10:30 p.m. each summer solstice at Growden Park. Never once have artificial lights been used nor has the "high noon at midnight" classic ever been postponed or delayed because of darkness. As always, play is stopped at the half-inning nearest midnight for the traditional singing by the crowd of the Alaska Flag Song.
With Fairbanks a mere 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the sun is just beginning to set to the north as the game gets underway and, at its conclusion some three hours later, the sun begins to rise again - also to the north.
As Alaska's largest single-day event, the 12-hour Midnight Sun Festival attracts thousands of locals and visitors alike downtown year after year and is free to the public. From noon to midnight, there are typically 150 booths, tons of fabulous food, 3 stages of live entertainment with over 30 performing artists, a three on three basketball tournament, rock climbing wall, gold panning,, petting zoo, and pony rides.