Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Top of the World - Barrow!

Yep.... Kikkan and I went to the Top of the World... Just another amazing opportunity that skiing presents us with! 

A couple months ago our friend Mike Hajdukovich, director of Challenge Life, emailed us asking if we'd be interested in going to Barrow to kick of the Barrow Nordic Ski Club. The answer, "OF COURSE!" The opportunity to experience new parts of Alaska has always interested me.  However, it's extremely expensive to go on your own (esp to rural parts) and it's always nice to have a purpose. Years ago I did extensive field work in many small villages in Alaska: Galena, Fort Yukon, Kotzebue, Shemya (Island at the END of the Aleutian Chain!)  Weird enough I was doing historical research and a phase I study for an "unexploded ordnance clean up."  Funny to think where I am now in comparison .... but I digress. 

Barrow is the "hub" of the North Slope Arctic Borough. It has approximately 5000 residents and of these 5k, THIRTY SEVEN different nationalities are represented!  Many are attracted by work - often affiliated with the strong Native Corporations and the oil field of course. Barrow, like many other communities in Alaska struggle with obesity and making healthy lifestyle choices are difficult.  It's dark, cold & windy.  A small box of oranges cost $22 dollars and it's way to easy to grab a Monster energy drink and the Nintendo. Thus, Kikkan and I traveled north to make school visits and kick off the Barrow Nordic Ski Club. We had a PACKED schedule including 7 school visits, workouts with the high school teams, a community wide clinic, a public radio interview, and some "meet and greets."  Nonetheless, we got to take a quick tour of the town itself and play "tourist."  We are from Anchorage after all :) 

Our event: 

Our event poster (Thanks to the sponsors!) 

On the way to Barrow we took what Mike called the "Milk Run."  We flew in small planes from Anchorage to Fairbanks to Deadhorse to Nuiqsut to Barrow. It was awesome to look down on the ice roads and get a small glimpse of North Slope life.  Also fun to see how integral transportation & cargo is to the Slope. I saw lots of Carlile trucks! (My biggest sponsor!) 

Kikkan upon arrival in Barrow...! 

Many of our USST teammates so happened to be in Costa Rica for a surf vacation. We couldn't resist taking a beach shot of our own.  Our beach just happens to be the ice-covered Arctic Ocean and the palm tree leaves are baleen harvested from the local whaling hunts! 

 We also found an igloo and couldn't resist this touristy picture :) 

 There are some odd living arrangements in Barrow. However, I must say, structures look a bit rough on the outside but then are often really nice on the interior. Much of this is directly related to the climate. In Barrow cold weather is one thing but they are also effected by extremely high winds. 

We spoke with 5 middle school classes.... we showed them our equipment to introduce the concept of XC skiing, told them our personal stories, talked about opportunity and all the ways participation in sports have positively affected our lives.  We also talked about nutrition, sleep, and all that healthy stuff :) But, perhaps the highlight of each presentation was when we shared out Tayler Swift Trouble video with the kids. They LOVED IT! Oh - and Simi, the close up of you singing your heart out always got the biggest laugh. It's my favorite part too! 

32 ounces of YUCK front and center at the Barrow grocery store. 

 One of my many highlights was meeting the Barrow girl's cross country running team.  We joined these girls for their core workout and hung out with other high school athletes in the weight room.  "Insanity" the workout craze is pretty popular amongst Barrow high school athletes and I have to say, my muscles are thanking me for missing out on that one! 
(Being spring I would have been too sore to get on the plane)

Mexican Food at the Top of the World? Why not?!

Then it came time for the marque event of the trip - the community wide clinic.  Now, the day we flew it was gorgeous - blue bird.  The night of the clinic was not. It was grey, snowing, and blowing HARD. We had been inviting people all day but had no idea who would show up.  Well.... everyone showed up. It was a wonderful overwhelming chaotic mess. Young, old, complete novice, old pro.  The ski room was a mix of 20 year old fish scale skis and new equipment that was just purchased with a grant.  The poles hadn't been cut yet so they were all 160cm. We had a narrow selection of boots. Nothing was marked with sizes - yet. The line was across the gym. I was trying to help everyone individually until it became so overwhelming that I finally threw all available boots on the gym floor and invited people to quote, "FIND SOMETHING THAT FITS!"  

It was awesome how positive and patient everyone was.  We had too many people and not enough equipment. While I hated the fact that not everyone could go out, I loved the fact that we were overwhelmed by the number of people that came out to ski with us in 30 mph wind! 

I had trouble loading the video of the actual skiing part but trust me. It was a SH** show; but a wonderful one. It was blowing so load I couldn't talk. 75% of the people didn't know how to put their skis on. There were kids in jeans, without gloves, poles over their heads.... many had no idea how to stand on skis let alone move on them. When they'd try to move they'd step on their other ski and crash to the wind-blown ground. Then they'd have no idea how to get back up. It was comical, chaotic, and wonderful all at the same time. 

A couple members of the newly minted Barrow ski club - complete with USST women's team poster upper left! 

 Despite the "challenging" many of the kids stayed out for over TWO HOURS. It was awesome to see improvement and great to see the enthusiasm.  In fact, the best part is that today, I got a message from Steve G, teacher/coach at the middle & high school and he told me that the kids were skiing on their own today!!!! You always worry that people might loose interest when you leave so I was ecstatic to hear this news! 

 These guys stayed out for hours! 

I couldn't surpass this photo opportunity. Have you ever seen a playground INSIDE like this? #onlyinalaska! 

I must say, this trip was awesome. Thanks so much to Mike & Challenge Life for making it happen, Tino and Crystalynn for welcoming us like family into their homes.  Steve Gillaspie at the middle & high school, Mike at the Rec Center, Geoff, Marie Carol, Charlotte, Christian, Kama, and many, many more!  Barrow is a wonderful community and I feel lucky to have made the trip North. I hope that enthusiasm for skiing sticks around as I'd love to see an organized club on my next visit to the Top of the World! 

Until next time, make it count! 
Holly :) 

Friday, April 19, 2013

On Boston...

This article was taken directly from

It was written by a friend and XC Ski enthusiast, Andrew Gardner.  Terrorists attacks are always tragic and personal..... but at attack such as the one in Boston on Monday was new territory... Running, skiing, and exercise in general is an escape from the realities of the "real world" for many people and the Boston Marathon is one of those sacred events where people come together to celebrate healthy, lifelong goals. This just goes to show that no one is exempt - no matter where you are, or who you are. 

Just one more reason to approach everyday like it's your last!  Tell the people you love that you love 'em and don't leave your bucket list untouched for too long! 

Have a fabulous weekend everyone, 

On Boston

(graphic by Tyler Littwin of Blake Ink United)
There were two times today that I felt tears well up deep in the back of my eyes. I was almost surprised when it happened, but there I sat in my car listening to an interview with longtime Boston Marathon announcer and runner, Katherine Switzer. Switzer talked from the race headquarters, a hotel overlooking one of the 12 blocks still on lockdown from the attack yesterday. She described her feeling of loss by way of describing the scene that typically follows an event like the Boston Marathon, the seas of people, the participants hugging, the contentment- not unlike what happened at the NCAA Nordic Skiing championships at Middlebury last month, or the Super Tour races that closed out the season on the other side of the country last week, or any other race from the Sugarloaf Marathon to the Pole, Pedal, Paddle Incarnations. That contentment Switzer described is the closest thing I understand to post-spiritual enlightenment, that euphoric release of not just the physical parts of an effort- those endorphins that are too often revered. Rather, Switzer described the emotional release that happens when an athlete returns to normal life following the suspended reality that competition allows. Switzer painted a picture of the fraternity of sport, the inevitable connection from that effort. She described people “handing you orange slices, telling you how well you’ve done.”
If you read Johnny Klister, you’ve tasted, or handed those orange slices, you know what that means. You know how that feels. Then Switzer explained what she saw out her window and that was the part that got me. She said she saw…nothing. Empty streets. “A sinister absence.” is what she saw. I got very frustrated and felt very lonely. The horrifying images of lost limbs, blood, death were painful, unsettling and frighteningly close. But it was the loss of that post-sport ceremony, the bedrock on which I’ve based the only faith I have, that gutted me. I know how unjust this is- how there have been, continue to be, tragedies that are more unjust than terrorism at the marathon. Larger losses of life. Greater inequities committed against people. Yet sport remains my faith. Sport remains my church and the breaking of that post-event contentment is a hollowing terror to me. My own nervous system runs hot. Contentment, most of the time, is an abstraction, something that happens at the end of a long work project, at weddings, at high peak campfires. I do find contentment most regularly, however, in the wake of events like the Boston Marathon, or theFitchburg Stage Race or Junior Nationals. I find that contentment whether I’m competing or not. That makes yesterday’s tragedy very personal feeling.
So do my connections to the city: I continue to road race for a Boston-based cycling team and I spend a lot of time there. I have family friends who stood in the path of those blasts just a few minutes before they happened. I was worried and then relieved when the texts and Facebook feeds and tweets rendered them unharmed.
The second time I cried today was different. Still in my car, this time waiting for a meeting to start, I sat with my phone watching an interview with a Boston police officer, who looked exactly how you are imagining a Boston police officer. Mustache. (check) Paunchy, short. (check) Deep set lines resembling a T-map, acquired only on the face of a Boston police officer. (check) He was asked to describe what was next for Boston and the Boston PD and he mumbled the type of uncomplicated platitudes that a decade of post-911 official-speak creates, “We’re gonnah bring these people tah justice. We’re gonnah…” Then he stopped and he started to break up a bit. He was near tears as he said, “I won’t croy. If I croy then thah terrahrists win, that’s what they want.”
It’s easy to turn the cop into satire: the thick, ruddy accent, the squashed vulnerability, the puffery pressed out against the wave of sadness covering Boston. Yet, I didn’t feel anything but connection with the cop. “I won’t croy.” I said alone in my car. I felt my teeth clench and I dug into a place not unlike the last third of a marathon: painful, determined, and filled with the longing of sport and the collective movement of the people pressing forward towards the release and enduring happiness of a finish line.

Andrew Gardner

Friday, April 12, 2013

Home sweet home

My plane was due into Anchorage literally TWO minutes before Rob's birthday!  I was excited to make it home in time to celebrate his special day.  Here is our celebratory birthday bike ride: 

Nothing says welcome home to Alaska like brown, goopey, breakup.  Everything was a shade of brown or grey - the ski, the streets, the cars, everything. Considering I was still jet-lagged and incredibly tired I'm not sure I was much fun but I think it meant a lot to him to have me back.  At some point during my 5-month absence it struck me that skiing on the World Cup is almost like a deployment.... lots of time away from home and loved ones.... I lived out of a duffel bag, dealt with the 10-hour time change, and very sparse communication riddled with technical difficulties and frustration. 

During World Cup Finals I made the difficult decision to skip Super Tour Finals/Spring Nationals.  The races were a week later than usual and participating in the event would extend my season by more than two weeks. Having not stepped foot in the US since Nov 10th - and having a total of 2 visits with my husband in that time I decided to forgo races in California.  

After such a long season I also wanted to make sure I had ample time to rest this spring.  With next year being an Olympic year I don't want to take any chances with going into the new training year fatigued - physically or mentally.  The first official USST camp begins mid-May and when it's time to pack my ski bag and step on the plane I want to make sure I'm 110% ready to go! 
A HUGE congrats to my APU teammates for bringing home the club trophy! 

It's funny but after five months on the road it's the small, mundane things that feel really, darn good.  I read the newspaper, did laundry (!) cooked my favorite meals and wore my pajama pants until 3 in the afternoon. 
Huevos Rancheros!!! 

Most skiers flock to tropical locales for "spring break" and wearing a swim suit and sitting on the beach is a great way to detox from a long winter on the road.  However, this year the closest I will come to "sitting on the beach" is eating a pineapple in front of a wood stove (check!)  My plan is to stay in Alaska this spring.  One of my goals was to do a ski trip with Rob. While its still SKIING it's great to get out on different kinds of skis and take some time to look around at the scenery.  I also took the liberty of spending some time away from my computer which was refreshing.... 

Here are some pics from our recent ski trip: 

 Winter camping! 
 Can you spot Rob? 

 On the Snow Glacier 

 "Beach Time!" 

I wore my French National team suit for the trip!  Thanks for the trade Aurora! 

Nothing like a greasy restaurant meal after a long back country trip! 

What?!? Alpine skiing?! 

What next? Well, it just keeps on snowing in Alaska.  Today, for exercise I found myself shoveling nearly a foot of fresh snow out of my driveway and backyard. Ironically it's some of the best skiing of the entire year.  Part of me feels like I should ship off to the beach to get away from it all and the other part of me wants to ski everyday.  My plan is to be active when I want, doing what I want.  There will be no feeling of obligation to get out the door. I'm not looking at my watch, I'm getting lots of sleep and oh yes - I'm eating that extra bowl of ice cream. It's important to let your body rest and be outside of "performance mode" each spring. Rest and rejuvenation is just as important as the training itself, in fact it's PART of it. If you don't believe me, read ultra-runner Geoff Roes's recent article on his battle with over training: 

Happy Spring! 
Thanks for reading, 
Holly :) 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Alaskan Crust!

written a week or so ago.... 

Alaskan Crust and my bed are calling!!!

The ski racing season is coming to a close and my bed in Airport Heights is finally within sight. It’s officially been one hundred and thirty days since I left Alaska and I haven’t stepped foot in the USA since. As I write this I am sitting in the Oslo Airport, waiting to fly to Stockholm.  Tomorrow we kick off the first race of World Cup Finals; a city sprint on the Palace steps.  Not only does the race circumnavigate the royal palace but the Swedish Prince and Princess are usually in attendance, hoping, and waiting to crown a Swedish Victor!  Following Stockholm the entire World Cup will bus three hours North to Falun for the last three races of the International season. By this point in the year everyone is on their last legs and “tanks,” including my own, are running on near empty. 

This year, similar to last, has been an experiment for me. How long can I live in Europe and race well? How much travel can my body and mind sustain? My goal is to find the perfect balance of travel, training and racing – all while keeping a sound mind and body.

With my parents in Seattle! 

Ironically enough, I experienced the highlight of my World Cup season literally the very first weekend of the winter in Gallivare, Sweden.  This included an individual fifth place, my personal PR, just 2.9 seconds from the first distance podium ever by a US Women.  The following day I skied the scramble leg for the first women’s 4x5k relay medal.  Since Gallivare I completed my second Tour de Ski, flown to Sochi and back, and qualified for World Cup Finals. I’ve raced 27 World Cups in eight different countries.  I’ve seen the Northern Lights in Finland, consumed horse and fondue in France, became a bronze medalist at Swiss National Championships and made new friends from Sweden, Germany, Slovenia, Italy and Norway.

The TEAM thanks you! 

I’ve learned a ton this year; both about what I need to succeed as a racer and what I need in order to be happy living on the road. I’m excited to institute some changes for next year’s Olympic year, fine tuning my training and coming up with a schedule to optimize my best performance come next February.  In the meantime I’m really looking forward to some spicy Mexican food, time with Rob & Buggz (my husband & cat) and some fantastic crust skis in my home state of Alaska.

Thanks to everyone who has followed the US Ski Team’s racing this year.  Your words of encouragement and support have been critical to our success. The ten-hour time change is tough but blogs, Facebook and Twitter have been great tools to stay in touch. 
I hope to see you all at Portage (for a crust ski) this spring!

Holly :) 

Can't wait to spend some time with these guys.... 
Rob :) 

 Buggz :) 

Happy Easter!