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 :)