Friday, February 12, 2016

North Korea to Mongolia on Skis.....

North Korea to Mongolia on Skis..... 

(This report was written for the Alaska Dispatch News and can be ready on their website too HERE although this post will include more pictures!)

Over the past 6 years I’ve been away almost more than I’ve been home. Chasing the World Cup and my Olympic dream often necessitated living out of a duffle bag. Yet, despite my extensive travel schedule I had never been to Asia.  This year, I decided, it was time for that to change.

When you think of Asia you most likely do not think of it being a Nordic skiing hotbed.  Yet, if you were to pull out a map and locate the next two Olympic venues you would notice something funny.  The 2018 and 2022 games are a relative “stone’s throw away” from one another when considering world geography. Just two years from now winter sport athletes will converge in PyeongChang, South Korea and four years later, Beijing, China. Yes, you read that right, Beijing, home to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Needless to say, the combination of upcoming Olympic interest and China’s prominence in international news headlines combined with my appetite for adventure sent me to the 2016 Tour de Ski China.

Food is always an adventure in a foreign place

The Tour de Ski (TdS) China consisted of 5 races in 3 venues and competitors from nine different countries including China, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Finland, Canada, the USA and Venezuela.  The first stop on the Tour was a city called Yanji which was oddly reminiscent of Sochi, Russia.  The hotel and surrounding area was 80% new, 10% active construction zone, and 10% dilapidated.  The five-minute walk from the hotel to the race venue featured piles of garbage, old tires, and pyramids of black coal, ripe for burning in the conveniently located power plant with fumes that wafted over to the gravel pit-turned-skate sprint course. Of interest at the race venue were Chinese soldiers handing out Red Bull, drones flying 5 feet overhead during the races, and horse-drawn sled rides. The other notable fact about Yanji is that it’s 20 kilometers from the North Korean border and we missed the supposed Hydrogen bomb by a mere 72 hours. All of the schools in Yanji were evacuated due to “seismic activity” we later read in the English version of the China Daily newspaper.

The Yanji sprint venue

Warming stations inside of the non-ventilated "warming hut"

The highlight of the second venue, Changchun, was most definitely the Chinese Vassaloppet, a long distance classic ski marathon inspired by the original event in Sweden.  While the Swedish version trumps in participation, the Chinese prevail in grandeur and jaw-dropping awe.  Magnificent snow sculptures, some as tall as five story buildings lined the race stadium.  It was difficult to maintain composure and focus when double poling past fire-breathing monkeys, lines of elephants, and a dove with the wing span of half of a football field!  The sculptures were carved to perfection and when asked for a design, one of the workers pulled a crumpled napkin from his back pocket. I’ve been to Olympic stadiums and raced marathons around the world and believe me, this one was one to write home about.

A highlight of the trip was being surprised by my Czech friend Petr & Adela who came for the Chinese VASA. They knew I was going to be there but didn't tell me and just showed up! 

Our final race venue necessitated a 17-hour bus ride from Changchun to Xiwuqi in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia (just south of Mongolia the country).  Most of the land we traveled through was arid and flat but I was pleasantly surprised to see at least three solid hours of wind turbines generating some of the energy for the 1.3 billion Chinese.

Xiwuqi hosted the final two races of the tour including a sprint race where I literally wore my warm up pants over my race suit because it was -15F and windy. While the ski races were a blast, the real highlight were the camel races. I felt as if I stepped into a National Geographic photo shoot with locals dressed head-to-toe in bright colors.  The camels were covered in thick coats of fur and looked very regal, yet were very wild. We watched relay races that included passing a spear from one teammate to the next. We even saw a man get bucked off a camel as if it were a rodeo. Of course I had to try too…

Camels looking very regal... .

With one of the locals :) 

A shot from the podium

At the completion of the races the excitement didn’t end. We hung around Beijing to see the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. We had crystal-clear weather for both occasions after Beijing’s horrendous air quality made international news over Christmas.  Time after time we were told how incredibly lucky we were.

The Great Wall 

 Having fun in the Forbidden City! (We had been to a Kung Fu show the night before....)

All and all the Tour de Ski China was a complete blast. I continue to be amazed by the opportunities my sport of cross country skiing grants me.  Now that I’ve finally been to Asia I’m curious to watch China build their cross country program for PyeongChang, Beijing and beyond. Luckily my visa is good for ten years so where there’s a will there is a way!

Benedicte and I had a great time riding in this 3-wheeler across Beijing. Our driver only got lost 5 times... 

Last but not least, a huge thank you to Torbjorn and Janne from Nordic Ways who made the trip happen. These two are awesome! If you want to learn more about Nordic ways or better yet see Inner Mongolia for yourself their company leads some awesome supported Bike Tours in the area! Check out their website HERE for more info. 

Until next time! 
Holly :) 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Hype without the pressure... Mount Marathon 2015

Eventhough I'm not racing this year somehow I have a ton of Mount Marathon obligations... I don't mean this in a bad way but I suppose it just goes to show how much this race permeates Alaskan culture and illustrates how hard it is to get away!

The past couple of weeks I've been telling people that I won't be at the race because "it's hard to watch a race you really want to be a part of" but over the last couple of days I've changed my mind - I can't stay away.  This year's running is going to be too exciting to miss, even if I have to stand on the side of the mountain as a spectator/cheerleader extraordinaire.

The "out of town guests" team Salomon left to right Emelie Forsberg, Kilian Jornet, me & Ricky Gates

What's all this hype you might ask? Well, first there was the premiere of the 3022 movie, the documentary that followed last year's race. The premiere was two back to back shows at the Beartooth, complete with athlete panel and embarrassing ice breaker games & schwag.  The movie (compliments to Max Romey and Natalie Fedak) was given 4 stars by the local paper and consequently, three more sold out shows were added. And.... then three more, towards the end of the month.... ! (Wow!)  If you want to check out the website do so HERE but I'll warn you, it's not available online due to future film festival plans :)

With Jeebs at the Premiere

3022 got more stars than Avengers: Age of Ultron or Cinderella?!?!?! 

While I cringed at the close ups of my bad bangs (sorry but bad hair is relevant and embarressing) Max and Natalie did a fantastic job explaining the lore of the mountain and told the story of the racers. Also, for a race that is extremely hard to spectate, the cinematography was awesome and you really get a feel for all 3022 feet of the course.

Monday night's Q&A compliments of Salomon and Skinny Raven

3022 on Alaska Public Radio: 

Max in the studio.... 

The latest KTVA story on Eric Strabel and Denali Foldager - not Strabel (!) "Love Story" 

The wedding cake - complete with a piece of Mt. Marathon on top - whatever happened to the bride and groom? 

Today's ADN article about the lottery process to get into Mt. Marathon: 

ADN preview of the women's race: 

Watch for our segment on KTVA's show, Frontier showing Sunday morning and replaying Sunday evening.... 
Me and Clint (and let it be known that I'm a proud graduation of the "McCool School!")

By now you probably get the point. One could literally waste hours upon hours reading all this stuff, making predictions about the race, etc, etc.  There are certainly worse ways to spend time :) There is a reason Mt. Marathon is the "Olympics or Super Bowl of Alaska."  I just love the fact that a mountain running race, of all things in the biggest sporting event in AK aside from the Iditarod!  

True to my theme of "branching out" Rob and I are taking off on a 2-day packraft trip early tomorrow morning.  The river, Clear Creek, has been on our to-do list for at least five years and tomorrow we're doing it! It's literally been years since I've been in my boat so I hope I remember how to do it!  Rob got me a new skirt for my birthday this past April so I'm excited to put that to use. (Spray skirt that is!)

On Saturday I hope to be all over that mountain cheering at the top of my lungs, finding another use for Olympic clothing (hello patriotic red, white and blue) and handing out water. It's going to be a different year but I look forward to watching others put it all on the line. 

In other brief non-Mount Marathon news we celebrated our official "cabin warming" in Hope on Solstice. This project has been "Rob's Olympics" the past five years and he did an amazing job!  We still live in an 800 square foot shack in Anchorage but Hope sure turned out nice!  

Solstice crowns & bunny ears! 

The backside of the "Hope Hamptons" compliments of Matt Waliszek's camera.... 

Cheers to an exciting, SAFE race for everyone who has the honor of taking the 3022 challenge. And to the rest of you, Happy Fourth of July, however you may choose to celebrate it. 


Monday, June 8, 2015

11 Marathons is enough for me...

Eleven Marathons is enough for me…. 

As some of you know this past winter I traveled the world competing in ski marathons. Over the course of 5 months I competed in 11 ski marathons sprinkled throughout 10 countries. My final race took me all the way to Siberia and the season went three weeks longer than usual. Needless to say, I was tired - I am tired and consequently there will be no Mount Marathon 2015 in my future. 

Here I am post finish line last year.... not my best look... 

Believe me, I am disappointed. It's bound to be a flag-ship, exciting year with Internationally ranked "celebrity" competition (Emelie Forsberg & Killian Jornet) plus the move of Allie Ostrander to the senior race. Course records seem to be falling right and left this year and I wouldn't be surprised to see some blazing times in Seward with the depth of competition in both the men's and women's races. 

Over the years I've harnessed a very personal, palpable relationship with Mount Marathon. I credit the race and my 2009 trip to the ER with my move towards becoming a professional athlete.  For the past seven summers it's been the poignant date in the summer months.  Somehow there is "pre-Mount Marathon" and "post-Mount Marathon" each year.  In the past few years the race has resulted in the disappearance of Michael LeMaitre, traumatic brain injuries, cuts, scraps and bruises.  And - for some reason, people still fight for the opportunity to hurl themselves 3022 feet up & down the mountain. For these reasons, I suppose it makes sense Mount Marathon holds the nick-name, "the Olympics of Alaska."  

2009 where it took nearly an hour to start in IV... 
I don't feel like I need to make excuses for my absence but I realize that it's easier to offer a full explanation behind my decision. I know the effort that is required for me to be safe and competitive in this race..... One needs to be seething with motivation, and your/my killer instinct needs to be sharp and ready to go. I've been in that zone in the past and I just don't have the energy (physical, emotional, mental) for it this year.

Post race ice cream bars, 2011

So, good luck to everyone that plans and hopes to race this year!!! I'll miss it dearly but I know it's the right call for me. In the meantime, if you have the Mount Marathon fever or are alternatively curious to learn more about the race and/or get an inside peak into the minds of race competitors don't miss the premiere of 3022ft Everyone's got mountains to climb - a full length documentary made about last year's race at the Beartooth!  There will be two showings June 24th complete with schwag and an athlete panel. 


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Spring powder, peaks, family & friends....

Well, the hiatus, procrastination and silence is over!  Perhaps you've noticed a trend in my blog...... when things go well, I generally post more often. When things don't go well there is often a period of silence. I've tried to break this habit as there is always something to say, even if it's a simple lesson learned but easier said that done. 

My last FIS Marathon Cup race in Russia was over a month and a half ago and needless to say, it did not go well. In fact, I don't think I've ever been that tired in a race and/or skied so poorly.  The two weeks leading up to the race I wasn't physically sick but could barely get out of bed. Maybe it was a low-level virus that took its toll or maybe it was just the 5-month accumulation of international travel, living out of a duffel bag, and racing too many 50ks! All said and done I raced 18 races, 11 of which were marathons in 10 different countries. In hindsight the racing, combined with the travel was too much but live and learn, right? 

 3rd place in the FIS Marathon Cup 

So far my spring (and early summer now) have been dedicated to recovery and spending some time doing things that I've put on the back burner for a while now. The past five years have been a big push towards my competition goals and they have required a lot of dedication, commitment and sacrifice. Don't worry - they haven't been without fun too! But, I've done some fun trips this spring, just returned from an extended trip down to Washington to see my family, and am now enjoying setting up my routine here at home. 

Here are a few pictures for a quick update: 

Birthday presents: roses and personalized license plate decals 

In lieu of Hawaii or a tropical beach I opted to stay in Alaska for my spring vacation. 

Luckily the weather was on our side and so where the conditions 

 We had an awesome group which included Katie & Justin Libby & Zoe Roy

The accoms weren't too shabby either! 

My Salomon Q115 where the perfect ski for the killer conditions! 

Rob soaking up the last rays of sunshine and powder before being picked up by Talkeetna Air Taxi! 

School visits - this time Teeland Middle School in Wasilla 

 Perfect Spring Alaskan Days 

 Preschool graduation? Caps and gowns? What is the world coming too? 

 Talking about my marathon season on KTVA's Daybreak 

The boys! 

 Beach bike ride on Fat Tires - why not? 

Keynote at the Girl Scouts Young Women of Distinction Luncheon

A successful climb up Tikishla

High school graduation parties! 

 Alaska with friends

 More of Alaska with friends 

 Floral explosion in Seattle 

 A dedication of a new stone wall and structure at my Dad's garden in Seattle, Kubota Gardens 

 Family hiking trip in the North Cascades. Four days of rain but it was gorgeous and we made it to the top of Castle Peak which is my dad's 99th peak in his quest to climb the top 100 peak in Washington! (w/400 feet of prominence. He's already completed the top 100 "Bulgar List.")
Rob & his sister, Heather. Their first outdoor trip together in 13 years!?

Dad pointing at the top of Castle.... this is the only good look we had the whole time. Otherwise it was foggy with nearly zero viz... 

Then we went to Shaw Island to help my brother on his next "tiny house."  He's helped us in Hope and it was our turn to return the favor in the form of roofing, wiring, and insulating. 

Two fire fighters on Shaw Island: Scott shows Rob some of the Shaw Island volunteer fire fighter regalia. Scott keeps a pretty fun blog which you can check out HERE if at all interested. 

And more recently a new set of wheels compliments of Kendall Toyota of Anchorage. I upgraded to heated seats which I used today - June 2nd! :( 

That's it for now. Hopefully I'll get back to writing about something with substance rather than just posting pictures.... but no one ever complains about pictures. 

What's on tap for the summer you might ask? School!  I'm taking 2.5 graduate classes towards my Masters in Counseling Psychology. I have one course remaining this fall + internship (which is a substantial 600 hours!) then graduation. More on this later. 

 This past winter was a true test of endurance in many ways: physically, emotionally, mentally & logistically. I know I'm brushing over the synopsis here but perhaps I'll feel more inclined to write about it in detail later. Thanks so much for the cheers, support, and words of encouragement.

Until then, enjoy your June, wherever you may be. 

Holly :)