Thousands of people attended Juneau’s 23rd Annual Gold Rush Days at Savikko Park in Douglas, including some of the best logging competitors in Southeast, Alaska.
Alea Oien has been competing in Gold Rush Days for 17 years. Haines-resident Ashley Sage has been competing in logging competitions for 30 years. Together they make up the seventh pair in the women’s team hand bucking contest on Sunday morning.
This contest involves a two-man cross-cut M-tooth saw, otherwise known as a racing saw. This isn’t an ordinary saw. Most of these types come from a company in New Zealand. They cost over one-thousand dollars and, once you order one, it will take up to a year to get. People don’t buy this saw for logging.
“There are some people who are just die hard competitors in this and the best way to keep an edge on everybody is practice, practice, practice,” says Jesse Hay. He’s off to the side watching, waiting for his turn to compete later on. Hay owns three saws but doesn’t have an M-tooth race saw yet. He says it’s in the budget. “Both me and the wife are competing so it’s an investment”
Hay has been helping out with Gold Rush Days since 1992 and started competing ten years ago. His wife Anna has been competing for four. Together they’ve racked up substantial prize money in the past and they’re hoping for the same this year.
“You never know who’s going to show up. Some years it’s a little lean on competitors. Other years, there’s a bunch of them. It’s the luck of the draw and a lot of skill and a little bit of preparation,” says Hay.
According to Gold Rush Commission member Jerry Harmon, this year’s competition is stiff.
We have guys here that compete on the national circuit. They’re around. They’re here today. They come and go. They’ll compete for a while. Prize money is pretty good this year so they’re probably over here trying to get some of that and they will.”
But Gold Rush Days isn’t just about the money. It’s a celebration of mining and logging and of the people who do this work. “We let people know we have families, we drive cars, we fish, we cry, we laugh. We’re just like anybody else and it’s our job to mine and log,” Harmon explains.
Back at the women’s team hand bucking contest, Oien and Sage cut through a 13-inch log in 23 seconds. They get first place. Their secret, says Oien, is “experience.”
Sage says it’s about getting the right rhythm. “Back and forth, and back and forth, and faster, faster, faster and hopefully it’s done real soon.”
As first place winners in this event, Oein and Sage will share a prize of $150. That’s just one contest. There are six more logging events in the day and Oein is competing in all of them.
If Gold Rush Days doesn’t fulfill everyone’s thirst for winning, there’s always next month’s logging competition in Haines.