Note: I mean no disrespect to the No Shamin’ Lady-Jacks calling them “girls” in my title. I’m simply like assonance and the “burling girls” sounded good.

On Saturday, I was heading to town to buy groceries when I noticed parked cars lining the road on either side of Farmers Loop Road near Ballaine Lake. Earlier in the week, cars had stopped in the road to let a mama moose and her two babies cross the highway. It was a sunny afternoon and my curiosity was piqued, so I pulled over and parked my car among the others.

Cyclists and pedestrians had stopped to watch, too. I could see a crowd of people sitting on the hill near the lake.

I looked down and I saw two men manning either end of a long birch log and two women balancing on it, trying to stay on as it moved. One fell off and into the icy water. Yes, there was a thin layer of ice on the lake. I don’t know the official temperature. Let’s just call it darn cold. And despite the ice, some of the men competed in shorts only; many women wore tank tops. I ran back to my car to get my camera.

I learned that I’d stumbled onto the 13th annual Farthest North Forest Sports Festival. Burling is the last event in a day-long competition  at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The festival is sponsored by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Sciences and the Resource Management Society, a student organization. There are several events, including bow and crosscut sawing, ax throwing, pulp tossing, log rolling (not the same as burling) fire building and burling.

When I returned, I made my way to the shore and a group of rowdy, noisy women wearing suspenders and signature orange caught my eye..and ears.

“We’re the No Shamin’ Lady-Jacks,” said Emily Schwing, 27, a natural resources management major. Sporting braids, a wool hat and a skirt held in place by red suspenders, Megan Perry, 26, a major in fisheries and biology, sat beside Emily and answered all my questions. The women and men compete for the titles of Belle and Bull of the Wood, respectively.

Erin Trochin, 27, a hydro engineering major, was the No Shamin’ Lady-Jack’s best shot at the title. She’d made it to the semi-finals; she credited her success to her lucky purple unicorn socks. Megan tied an orange band around Erin’s bicep before she went back into the water to meet her challenger.

Erin defeated last year’s reigning champ in the semifinals then entered the icy lake one last time. The No Shamin’ Lady-Jacks were on their feet, cheering and screaming encouragement as Erin tottered and teetered, trying to stay on the log. She fell before her competitor lost her balance.

“I thought we were going to win that,” Megan said.

“I should have just run her,” she said, referring to her competitor in the finals.

After the event, competitors warmed their feet by a fire and changed into dry clothes before the awards ceremony.

As they passed out the medals, the No Shamin’ Lady-Jacks traded good-natured grumbles.

“I’m disgruntled,” Megan said. Their team didn’t win any awards.

“Team spirit award? Most spirited? Most orange?” Emily said, suggesting awards the Lady-Jacks might take home.

“It was the highest placing all-women’s team,” a woman said.

“Were we the only all-women’s team?” Megan asked.

Yep.  No shame in that. And more power to you, No Shamin’ Lady-Jacks.

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