This past April, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Alaska for USAD Nationals. Although the competition itself was also exciting (I met fellow decathletes from around the world, all of whom were very nice), the few days we spent before and after the actual testing days were most invigorating.
“The Last Frontier:” Right from arrival, I could feel the majestic land living up to this state nickname. I first noticed that my cell signal was provided by GCI, a company unique to Alaska, and not the typical T-Mobile (however, sometimes T-Mobile showed instead). Second, there are operating Blockbusters in Alaska! In 2016!!!
The afternoon after our arrival, our team took a “wilderness trip” to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. As the age-old adage goes, the journey is more important than the destination; it definitely applied to this trip! The breathtaking Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm (named as such when one of Captain Cook’s fellow explorers was disappointed in the dead end and decided to turn again) kept me awake–monstrous mountains jutting right out of the ocean spanning miles, further than the eye can behold, a fierce rain slamming against our poorly-dressed bodies, the deadly coolness and stillness lingering in the air–brought out a distinct first impression of Alaska.
Guiding us was Kevin, a very knowledgeable Wisconsinite (albeit without the adorable accent that typically accompanies), who definitely treated us kinder than the weather! (Fun fact: Prior to guiding tours, he was a German teacher.) From him I learned that the murkiness of the waters wasn’t from light effects or typical sediment, but rather from a special glacial silt that inhabits the Cook Inlet and its many arms and sells for high prices due to its cosmetic effects. He also told us about the best restaurants in Anchorage, including the Moose’s Tooth, Simon Seaforts, and Crow’s Nest, the restaurant on top of Hotel Captain Cook that used to be the only establishment in the area to require a dress code. The drive was fun and informative, a combination the world needs more of. Even though the sun was not to be seen behind all the grey clouds and dreary rain, Kevin shone on.
As any Discovery Channel junkie may know, there are a plethora of shows filming out of Alaska, and those of us in the lower 48 most want to see large wild animals when we are watching about Alaska. Therefore, it comes to no surprise that Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet was filming the day we came to the center, and so we were the only general visitors admitted. No wonder the animals seemed extra lethargic–there were no innocent tourists to flaunt to!
We saw many different animals, some of whose names I can’t recall. My favorite by far was Hugo, the female grizzly bear. Even in this grim weather, she decided that she needed a mental health day and gave herself a nice bath in the stream.
Later on in the week, at the Egan Convention Center, where all the testing and subjective events occurred, our team met Keith Cox, a professor at University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), alum of our high school and co-owner of Seafood Analytics, which tests seafood products for quality of fatty acids, how long the product will last on shelves, etc. It is the first company to offer such technology! He was actually an Interview judge for the competition, for which we are eternally grateful.
After the competition was over, the Saturday and Sunday we had left was for natural excursions nearby, the most vivid of all being Flattop Mtn. At 3,510 feet, this mountain soars into the sky. Climbing this beast was quite the challenge, the most physical exercise I have exerted in years; through this experience, I’ve learned a few lessons…
- Life can become difficult unexpectedly: The first few minutes of the hike were relatively easy-going, with gentle slopes, cleared paths, and a cute husky trotting back and forth. However, after this portion came a steep hill that I chose to climb (who knows why). All of a sudden, tiny pellets of snow came hurling down forcefully, and the slippery snow on the ground was no help either. The howling wind ripped at my face, clawing and scratching… like a “hangry” toddler after his Cheerios spill. Nevertheless, I persevered, only to meet another, even-larger challenge ahead of me.
- One can make life more difficult than necessary: As in the little knoll, on the actual mountain, I most certainly chose paths that others did not take–the snugly-placed footsteps were wooing me to walk away from my current path, but to no avail, as I was too far away from the beaten path. Thus, I continued, but it was truly painful, especially if you’re afraid of heights and barely hanging onto a near-90-degree-gradient cliff like me! Going down, I chose easier paths and had a better time climbing down… But, that isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy my way up. Sometimes the hardest paths are the most rewarding. I’d say, if I hadn’t taken such an arduous path up, I wouldn’t be writing this blogpost at all!
- As true to the byline of my blog, take life one step at a time: on my way up Flattop, I couldn’t help but plan only my next few steps. It was painful to see so much ground ahead of me, but as I carefully managed to take the journey step-by-step, sooner than later, I reached the top of the peak, which took my breath away literally. 3,510 feet dwindled down to a few inches by using this technique.
As you can see, the trek was definitely worth it! These views will stick with me for a lifetime. I undoubtedly enjoyed my few days in our 49th state and hope to come back again.