It's hard to imagine a better partner in this crazy endeavor than Lars Hansen. I met Lars at the very beginning of our first year at UAF, and we became fast friends. I like to think that I'm a bit like Lars, but Lars is, uh, more so. Allow me to explain.
Lars is always making something. Now a brewer of excellent beer, he made wines in his dorm room at Nerland Hall. A few of his wines were pretty good, including a strawberry wine and, surprisingly, a batch made from a bag of frozen, mixed berries. Most of his wines were terrible, however, because he was forever experimenting with strange and new concoctions. Two of his more dismal failures were banana wine and rhubarb wine. Always one to make the best of any situation, he would pour the undrinkable batches into a stainless steel bowl and place the bowl outside to freeze on cold, Fairbanks nights. After skimming off the ice a few times, the remaining everclear was bottled for future use as a mixer or as a combustible for one of his famous party tricks.
Over the last few years he has built his own house, called Belfair, near Fairbanks. The four story, plywood palace features a secret door; a room with a dome ceiling; a dual axis, steel framed, spiral staircase; a room ("the West Wing Theater") suspended over open air between the house proper and a nearby hillside; and a fifty foot long, two story wood shed. During early phases of construction, there was a half-pipe in the living room.
Lars is strong. He used to walk around the dorm on his hands, even up and down stairs. When his high school (junior high?) gym teacher noticed his muscles, the teacher asked, "Lars, do you lift weights?"
"No, I lift rocks!" he replied enthusiastically.
Lars is enthusiastic about, well, absolutely everything. While visiting Belfair last year, everyone in the house settled down for an afternoon nap one day. After we all woke up, Lars said, "Isn't it great to be awake again?" He meant it. Late at night at Nerland Hall he would knock on my door and say, "Let's go slogging through the snow!" You simply can't turn down an invitation like that, so I'd put on my slogging boots and my warmest clothes, and out we'd go out into the sub-zero midnight just to find the nearest, untouched field of three foot deep snow and trudge through it as hard as we could. You can count on getting plenty of exercise when you hang out with Lars.
His tolerance for cold weather is unparalleled. People used to stare in amazement as he ran from class to class in -20°F weather wearing shorts, birkenstocks, socks, a jean jacket, and a sheepskin hat. Partly he's just tough-skinned, but I think the main reason he was capable of running around like that was his amazing metabolism. He eats more than anyone I've ever known yet is skinny as can be. When friends didn't clean their plates at Lola's, Lars would scrape the remnants off every plate onto a big pile on his own and chow down.
Terrifyingly thrifty, Lars never lets anything go to waste. Generally this is quite admirable, but I have witnessed the dark side of the tendency from time to time. Once Lars brought a home-made rhubarb pie to a party at school. It was grey. I asked, "Lars, was that rhubarb, uh, used?"
"Yes!" he proudly replied, "it was left over after making the rhubarb wine!" I'm sure I was the only person to eat a whole piece of that pie (except perhaps Lars, himself, who is capable of superhuman feats of ingestion). Never have I suffered more just to be polite.
Every day spent with Lars is another story. Sometimes the story is bizarre, sometimes it is touching, and sometimes it is downright amazing; but it is always a story worth telling. I want the ice clock to work, and I can't imagine anyone more ingenious and fun to work with while "freezing and suffering" (his words) through the competition. Mostly, though, I want this experience to be a good story, whatever the outcome. With Lars along for the ride, it can't help but be a story worth telling.