Who knew that one week would bring so many new experiences. Grateful to be back in Alaska and all that comes with it.
After Colorado I headed back to Alaska. I landed late Friday night and the next day made plans to get out with Charlotte and Lang. Lang asked what we were feeling and I said something that wouldn’t require skate skiing as during the race the side of my foot had ended up with a nasty blister. We opted for a tour in the front range because of conditions and we wanted to check out a line for later. We met early and caught up on the adventures they had had over the past month. Charlotte showed off her sweet new ski poles that she got in France and I showed her my bibs I got when all my stuff got lost in Canada. We headed onto the trail and talked about what we were feeling, anywhere from 11-15 miles. With the wind expectations we opted for the 11 miles to have a bit more coverage. We skinned for a while, talking about future lines. The slope was gradual until just the last bit, which had a steeper angle (but not really anything over 25 degrees if that). It was icy enough though that we joked we should have brought ski crampons and made our way to what looked like softer snow to grip our skins. We got to the top and the wind was raging. We took our skis off so we could get behind some rocks to check out a line- we questioned if our skis would actually stay with the wind.
I put mine up next to some rocks so if they moved they maybe wouldn’t get blown off the cliff. We tucked in the rocks which gave us only a little more protection and looked at the line. We talked about the best approach and what it would look like. While this was happening I was putting on all my layers, while not actively snowing the wind was whipping the snow up and accumulation was starting to build on my pack.
We decided to get down and then we’d stop to drink and eat something. Transitioning was challenging as the wind kept whipping my skins around as I tried to wrangle them to protect and fold them away. We headed down, I headed skiers left as it seemed the easiest line for me to traverse down. Lang and Charlotte went right and I immediately regretted the split. It’s not a habit I want to get into but I had eyes on them the whole time and I watched my slope to cut it at a low angle. We met up down below on more of the flat surface and talked about how terrible the snow conditions were — it was like we had forgotten how to ski. Because of the low angle slope we mostly shuffled/double poled for a while. We did get to a spot that allowed us to get some turns before crossing the river and putting our skins back on to get out.
On Sunday I met a friend to cross country ski (never too early to start training for the Gothic- ha). We ended up catching up for a while and I had therapy at 12 so squeezed in about a 30 minute ski but it was nice to at least get some movement. I then disregarded unpacking and went and caught up with more friends, promising that I would do more later that evening. Instead I got a text from an old co-worker letting me know the northern lights were going to be out (he knew it was on my list to see them this year). I met up with him around 7pm and we headed out of town with blankets and extra layers.
As we were driving we started to see some dancing, we found an empty pull off away from the highway and started to watch. The lights ebb and flow in their intensity. Sometimes dancing across the sky and at other times, retreating until there is only a glimpse to the naked eye. I sat in complete wonder and awe and stared. This is incredible, I took it all in.
Eric had brought a tripod so was able to take some good photos, I didn’t even try. I thought back to the Maah Daah Hey and had a similar feeling, is this mine to keep forever. We sat out for a few hours and then realizing the 5am wake up call I’d have headed back to town but pulled over once again when they came back out.
The lights were good enough that people saw them from Anchorage without much trouble. I woke up early again and thought of heading outside but still felt satisfied from the night before so instead turned on my sun lamp and started my work day.
I met Charlotte later that day for a little after work ski on the local trails. I used my race boots and still felt some aggravation from my race blister.
I headed up to Fairbanks early Wednesday morning for an all day meeting. I thought about taking my ski stuff but returning Thursday afternoon felt like it would have been a lot to pack in. I did shove in my yoga clothes just in case.
I arrived in Fairbanks and it reminded me of the Black Hills, with small rolling hills and heavy trees, oh this is nice. I had meeting all day and then the friend I was staying with was teaching yoga so caught a ride and met her at the studio, then we stayed for another yoga class and cooked dinner and did a lot of debriefing of our lives.
The next morning I spent mostly prepping for my presentation. I went to the meetings, the focus being on the international perspective of things. One of the early speakers, Deenaalii, talked about grounding, they posed two questions to the audience, what are you bringing to this meeting and how do you embrace change. How do I embrace change I thought and we had to discuss to a person we didn’t know. I thought about this and probably overshared with this stranger giving a lot more detail but the just was but that I was embracing change in a way I did prior to COVID-19. After the talk I went up to Deenaalii, knowing them, and chatted for a bit talking about my answer they gave me the wisdom to say don’t get addicted to the feeling of things changing constantly and to seek grounding. Woof.
I gave my presentation which I won’t bore you with the details but I’m incredibly grateful that I get to work on the things that I feel such drive and passion for– I know a lot of people who don’t feel that in their jobs and I wake up everyday saying a statement of gratitude that I get to have a job I love and live in a place I love. After that I had just enough time to squeeze in a trip to the Museum of the North before my flight.
Back in Anchorage I started unpacking and joked with my roommate that I felt like I was finally ready to emerge from my cocoon that I had created in my room (more like forest ferrel creature) after all the sideways things that have happened over the past few months (again book material, not blog material). I went skiing with Hailey, who gave me pointers on skate skiing form and we got back to the car to find my window was smashed in. This is a very common occurrence in Anchorage. Unfortunately, they only took Hailey’s things and left all of mine. The biggest inconvenience was having to vacuum up all the glass but now The Truc is ghetto fabulous for the next few weeks. I thought about passing on skiing the next day but woke up early enough to take care of all the insurance things and Lang offered to drive so we could be a bit warmer.
We headed out to Hatcher’s with a plan to try and ski a couloir. When telling someone that I was going couloir hunting, he joked that I didn’t really annunciate well and thought I was going ‘cooler hunting’ for the Yeti’s that had washed up on shore previously this year. I assured him that I have a terrible time with the spoken word as everyone thinks Alvin’s name is actually Elvin when they hear it from me.
We headed out and decided to go towards Lost Couiloir since it seemed the safest bet in the conditions– figuring it would be tracked out but thinking that was a better bet in case we had to bail and ski something else.
We headed up and skinned our way to the bottom and looked up, no one had been here. How is this possible? We skinned up until we were at a good spot and dug a pit to see what the snow pack looked like.
We both felt good with what we had seen and headed up to the point where we had to stop skinning and start boot packing. My boot packing skills are quite comical as I would basically just sink further deeper into the snow. Lang gave me some tips, like heels down, knee in, drop your butt, all the things to disperse weight over the surface, and we made it to the top, maybe an hour after we had started. Mind you it was only about 400-500 yards.
We still couldn’t believe that no one had been up here. Lang offered to go first, even though we felt good about the potential avy risk (it was very low, mom) he would get some of the sluff out that was on the top layer.
He went down first and I waited at the top, watching his line to see how the snow was cutting. I waited until he got to our discussed meet up point and then flipped my boots into ski mode. At some point I realized I would have to go down, which I know what you’re thinking, isn’t that the point, yes obviously, mostly. But I also really enjoy ascending so sometimes I get to the top and then I’m like oh yeah how do I get down.
I pushed off, trying to make sure I did not tumble and lose a ski right away like I had done the weekend before. I cut into the slope and the snow felt amazing. I cut back and started following a similar line of Lang’s down. I kept cutting down, anticipating hitting terrible snow at some point but it never came and I started to relax into the turns, plant poll, and turn, I kept repeating as I kept turning. I made it down to the bottom and my quads were on fire, it was probably the steepest and longest run that I’ve done this season and coming off close to a month of no skiing I certainly felt it. I met up with Lang and we debriefed quickly about our respective runs. We started heading out and then decided to head up towards a small pitch to get a faster track back to the car.
We skinned up and then quickly transitioned talking about which aspect to go down both settling on a cardinal direction that was not prone to avalanches (I’m terrible at naming cardinal directions and am mostly like it’s this direction and the other one was that direction). I went first and pushed off, trying to make longer and steeper turns. I was feeling overly confident when my ski looped a bit too far around and I tumbled, I got up laughing, of course. Both skis were still attached so I pushed back off again and made my way down to the skin track. Meeting up with Lang he asked if I had hit a rock, and I said no, just my large ego. He said he definitely thought I had hit a rock and I was like we’ll just go with that.
It was my first time skiing a couloir and was really grateful that Lang was game to take me. I feel like I’m becoming more confident in my skiing abilities and was telling Lang that I’m grateful for partners this year who take me out and keep giving me pointers. We’re rapidly approaching spring skiing season in Alaska and I’m very excited for what’s on the horizon.
In another first, this week I’ll be telling a story at Arctic Entires. It’ll be the second time since my brain injury that I will present without notes (I don’t typically use notes when I present but they serve as a nice safety blanket). After that I got to DC for two days and then I’ll back in Anchorage for a good chunk.
I joke that sometimes when I have a new experience I call them Fisher Price Moments, like bebe’s first experience. Grateful, again for all the new experiences that keep coming my way. Okay, now back to finishing unpacking so I can repack.