Coastal Trail.

If you read my column last week, you know that U.S. Nationals, in Anchorage, Alaska, was an ordeal for all of us.

The pressure was on for everyone to ski fast, whether we were trying to qualify for World Cups like Rosie Brennan, age-group World Championships like Sophie Caldwell, auto-qualify for Junior Olympics like Steph Crocker, or just cement our place on the team.

Then races were canceled four of the five days they were scheduled. The temperature dropped to -20 or -25 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and during the day rarely passed the -4 degree mark that would make racing legal.

We always thought we’d be racing the next day, so we didn’t want to do any hard workouts. Instead we went stir-crazy because we had nothing to do.

Hannah Dreissigacker had made a goal “to go on an adventure every day that I was there.Not necessarily a huge big adventure, but just something to mix things up.” Most days we failed; if we made it out of the hotel to do anything besides ski, it was going to Starbucks for hot chocolate, which isn’t really an adventure.

The last day, though, we were lucky.

The temperature had been -17 in the stadium when the coaches went to check in, and for the first time, the race was canceled before we even left our hotel. Our afternoon was wide open, and there was nothing left to save our energy for.

There is a multi-use path called the Coastal Trail that runs from the race venue, Kincaid Park, to downtown Anchorage. It runs ten miles along the Pacific Ocean, right on the brim of the beach. All week, we had been hoping to ski the trail back to our hotel, which was only three blocks from the terminus. We had been waiting for a real adventure, and this was our one opportunity.

Hannah, of course, was the ringleader. She tried to convince everyone to come, but most of the girls were afraid of not having a bail-out option if we froze.

Alice Bradley, an Alaska native, said it would be “miserable. It’s 18 kilometers and -18 degrees.” (I think both are slight exaggerations)

However, Hannah, Ruth McGovern, and I were sick of skiing around in circles and wanted to go somewhere. We convinced Alice to come with us as a guide.

How do you stay warm skiing when it’s so cold? I wore two pairs of wool socks, spandex shorts, fleece tights, spandex race tights, wind-proof ski pants, two thermal shirts, a fleece vest, a training jacket, glove liners, gloves, handwarmers, a double-layer wool hat, and a fleece neck gaiter pulled up over my ears.

Honestly, I was about as nervous for this ski as I had been for the Birkebeiner ski marathon in Norway three years ago, even though that race was three times as long.

Looking back, says Hannah, “It was sort of funny how intimidated we all were by the cold.  We took forever getting ready to go, then started off like we were on a mission and if we stopped for a second, our feet would freeze off. I actually ended up getting hot.”

Once we hit the coast, the trail was flat and the skiing was easy. We cruised along silently, each of us thinking about everything Alaska had dealt us in the last week.

At one point we had to stop because there was a moose beside the trail, eating some bushes. Moose are pretty aggressive in Alaska, and they are bigger than the New England variety; a fair number of people are killed by moose every year, even if you don’t count car accidents. We stopped and assessed the situation, then crept by very slowly, making no sudden movements. As soon as we were past, we took off down the trail. The moose kept eating.

Every once in a while Alice would point out landmarks. We skied by the municipal dump and by the airport, where a plane took off literally right over our heads. We could see the tall buildings of downtown Anchorage for several miles before we reached them, and began to pass condos and houses, and a pond which was cleared for hockey and speed-skating.

And then, all of a sudden, the trail ended at a playground where a woman was building some sort of structure out of slabs of ice. “Is this it?” I asked, confused that the ski could be over. Yes. We took off our skis and walked up the hill and through downtown, where people in cars gave us funny looks.

The ski clocked in at an hour and twenty minutes, and we had beaten the other skiers back. We were all in great moods and took hot showers to fend off any remaining cold.

Hannah says, “In the end, I think that this ski was probably one of my only legitimate adventures.  It made me feel a little less lame.”

The week was awful, but at least we did something fun to cap it off.


When you watch a college game on the television, do you see the athletes getting off their buses and wonder what they do when they’re traveling?

Perhaps the best thing that happened to me the first four days in Anchorage, Alaska, was that I found myself standing in the street in my pajamas when it was -20 degrees, with a towel wrapped around my head. I was watching fireworks.

I am in Anchorage for the U.S. National Championships of nordic skiing. I had thought, Alaska! I’ve never been to Alaska! And it’s Nationals! This is going to be great!


It’s worse than freezing up here. The first training day was all right, cold but bearable. On the second day, the thermometer in the stadium read -13 Fahrenheit while we skied. While I survived without frostbite, it’s not the most enjoyable skiing I’ve ever done. Gliding is a joke when the snow is Styrofoam.

On the second day, the heaters in our hotel rooms began to fail. Mine, which I am sharing with Audrey Weber, is the only room for the entire women’s team that stays where we set it at 62 degrees. The rest of the girls are stuck in 50 degree rooms or colder. They come to visit us a lot.

Then came Saturday. The minimum legal temperature to hold a race is -4 degrees, and the forecasted high for the day was -7. We were supposed to be racing at 10 a.m., but the start was postponed until 11:30. Then at 11 it was postponed to 1:30. Then at 1 it was postponed to 2. Then at 1:30 it was postponed to Sunday.

Sunday was just like Saturday, except that the race was cancelled at noon instead of 1:30 and we never received bibs because the organizers never thought we’d actually race.

Needless to say, we’ve been doing a lot of sitting around. Sitting in our (cold) hotel rooms, sitting in the “chalet” at Kincaid Park wondering if we’ll ever get to race, sitting at dinner because there’s nothing else to do except go back to sitting in our rooms.

Why aren’t we doing our homework? The term started Monday and we don’t have any yet.

Why aren’t we sightseeing? We try. Audrey, Hannah Dreissigacker, Katie Bono and I went for a walk one day. After entering several shops simply because we were too cold to keep walking, we ended up at Alaska Native Arts, where we perused paintings and ceramics that we couldn’t afford. Some of my favorite pieces were clay tiles with impressions of leaves and feathers.

As for our coaches, Cami Thompson and Ruff Patterson, they’re in this strange loop too. I asked Ruff what they do all day, and he said, “We just brush skis over and over and over again, and then I get take pictures of the Sound, and then we brush skis over and over and over again. We talk to the other coaches about thermometers, and then we brush skis some more. You know.”

So we find ourselves, night after night, sitting in our hotel rooms. On Saturday we were watching “Little Miss Sunshine” when Brett Palm came over and mentioned that there would be fireworks in a few minutes. We all pretended to be excited, but nobody moved, and fifteen minutes went by.

Then, all of a sudden, there were crashes and booms. We raced out onto the balcony in our t-shirts, but couldn’t see anything. We raced to Brett’s room, where the balcony faced a different direction. Alex Schulz came out in his bare feet. I had just finished showering, so I had a towel-turban on my head. A building just barely blocked the view.

We took the elevator to the 14th floor, but the conference room windows faced the wrong way. We tried the external stairs, but yet again found ourselves facing the wrong direction. The door to the roof was locked.

The only option left was to actually go out on the street. After a few moments of hemming and hawing about the cold, we ran outside. We guessed if we ran we’d be warmer, and when we reached a giant crowd of people, we looked up. It was spectacular.

It turns out that this week was the 50th anniversary of Alaska statehood, which is a strange concept for someone from the New England. The Alaskans had decided that the best way to celebrate would obviously be to buy more fireworks than anyone had ever bought before, and set them off from the tops of buildings.

Drunken revelers shouted “50 years, everyone!” and screamed when the biggest bangs came around. We huddled together, completely unequipped for the cold. I took my towel-turban apart and reconfigured it as a shawl to cover my neck as well as my head. My hair was completely frozen.

Brett was wearing a flannel shirt, Carhartts, and no hat. “I’m fine except my ears,” he kept saying, to which I would reply, “too bad you don’t have a wet towel like I do!”

Katie and I almost retreated to the hotel several times because of the cold, but every time we started to leave, a bigger display would get going, and we’d be drawn back towards the crowd. We joked that we would all get sick and not be able to race, if racing ever even happened.

As Audrey noted, if we had planned to watch the event and worn our parkas, we would have complained about the cold anyway. This way it was like an adventure, and the excitement kept us from freezing. It might be the only interesting thing to happen all week.

The rest of the time, I guess, we’ll just be sitting.