The last cruise ship, the Seaborne Sojourner, pulled out of old Sitka Docks this afternoon. The visitors were treated to rare late September sunshine. While a few straggling tourists will still come in on individual tours (and we are glad to see them) the cruise season is over. The airplanes have backed off their summer schedule and the last of the salmon are running up the streams to spawn and die. School started a month ago. It’s the end of the season.
And for 25 years Sitka has celebrated the end of the tourist season with the “Running of the Boots.” It started as an on-air schtick in 1995 by Ken Fate, Raven Radio’s production manager. He was playing some Spanish music in honor of the “Running of the Bulls” at the annual San Fermin Festival in Spain and proposed a less dangerous, if racier, activity for Sitka. Instead of running down Lincoln street chased by bulls (where would we find them?) everyone in Sitka should don their “Sitka Sneakers” (the local term for XTRA TUFF boots) and nothing else to run down the streets naked waving good-by to the last shocked tourists and hello to the returning salmon. (It was a little earlier that year.) And he actually pulled it off — the power of radio. Except, of course, that folks wore clothes, zany costumes with their boots rather than wearing, well, nothing.
(Note, Anchorage does have it’s Running of the Reindeer. I suspect if we really wanted to make it interesting, we could have a “running of the bears.” I know where we can find some.)
From a kind of counter culture event ‘the running” has become mainstream. It is actually partially sponsored by XTRA TUFF boots. Now it is a benefit for the Sitka Local Foods Network and the Youth Advocates of Sitka and has big league sponsors, like the Cruise Lines International Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the town’s three seafood processors.
The celebration starts with a Farmer’s Market in Totem Square, music by the Sitka Blues Band, a parade of boots and costumes dancing and doing a conga line around the totem pole. Then there is the run. Down Lincoln Street and back. Afterwards the Chamber serves up hot dogs, hamburgers and pop. It’s free but they ask you to “pay it forward” with a two-dollar contribution to Youth Advocates. Rachel from the chamber was waiving a two-dollar bill.
There are prizes for the best costume, the best decorated boots and for the fastest boots. Actually, there are fastest prizes at each end of Lincoln Street. The first 8 runners to reach the Unicorn at one of Sitka’s two stop lights get a prize, and then they run back to try for the grand prize.
Here is a link to some boot close ups. “These Boots Are Made for Running”