Whoa There! It’s finally winter in the Last Frontier at -30!

Today’s Location: At home in Fairbanks, Alaska
Temperature: -23 today
Sunrise/Sunset: I’m losing track… Somewhere around 10am and 4pm
Listening to: Country Christmas radio on Pandora – yes, it’s that time already
Success of the Day: Morning circuit workout at 630am, after my car barely started despite being plugged in

Well, the long autumn weather was very nice indeed, but it seems long gone! The snow hit on Halloween, and it has been here to stay. Fairbanks had an unusual snow storm last week with 50mph winds. 15,000 homes went without power last Wednsday night and as of today, over a week later, 150 homes are still without power. The nice thing about the snow is that I have been able to get out and cross country ski! The small mountains we have to snowboard and downhill ski are beginning to open as well. The good things about winter are setting in! But, the temperatures have finally dropped! Personally, my cutoff to get out and play is around -20, and to go running it’s -10.

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As us Fairbanksans and other Alaskans around the state (some places warmer than us and very few colder) plug in our cars every night, warm them up every morning, and gear up like Randy from A Christmas Story to do even the smallest of outdoor and in town tasks, I’d like to share a fun little email I received this morning. Afterall, temperature is all relative, right?

  • 65 above zero: Floridians turn on the heat. People in Alaska plant gardens.
  • 60 above zero: Californians shiver uncontrollably. People in Alaska sunbathe.
  • 50 above zero: Italian & English cars won’t start. People in Alaska drive with the windows down.
  • 40 above zero: Georgians don coats, thermal underwear, gloves, and wool hats.People in Alaska throw on a hoodie.
  • 35 above zero: New York landlords finally turn up the heat. People in Alaska have the last cookout before it gets cold.
  • 20 above zero: People in Miami all die. People in Alaska close the windows.
  • Zero: Californians fly away to Mexico. People in Alaska get out their winter coats.
  • 10 below zero: Hollywood disintegrates. The Girl Scouts in Alaska are selling cookies door to door.
  • 20 below zero: Washington DC runs out of hot air. People in Alaska let the dogs sleep indoors.
  • 30 below zero: Santa Claus abandons the North Pole. People in Alaska get upset because they can’t start their snow machine.
  • 40 below zero: ALL atomic motion stops. People in Alaska start saying…””Cold enough for ya?””
  • 50 below zero: Hell freezes over. Alaska public schools will open 2 hours late”
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Fitness on the Go – Arctic Style

Today’s Location: Barrow, Alaska
Temperature: 10F, 23mph W = -9 with windchill
Sunrise/Sunset: 10:54am/3:26pm (4:31 of daylight today!)
Listening to: Workout Radio on Pandora – post-workout in itinerate housing 
Success of the Day: Finding a cool geocache with my co-workers

photoAs my recent post revealed, I get to venture up to Barrow every few months for work. My stays here used to be short, 2-3 days, but now they are 5-7. When you have a 6 day a week fitness routine, it becomes hard to figure out how to manage that when you are traveling, especially during the Alaskan winter months. I seem to have discovered that more than ever on this trip up North, and I am vowing to make a “Fitness Plan B” for myself.

First I’ll share a little about my adventures trying to stay fit in Barrow. I really hate treadmills, and recently had turned away from the traditional gyms (not that there really is one up here).  But there is a recreational center that, tucked away in the corner of the basketball court, has a small weight area, two treadmills, an elliptical, and stairclimber. So, basically when you get there, you should hope that no one is on the equipment you want to use. There is also a rock climbing wall that you can use, if one of the employees who is belay certified is there to assist you. It’s worth mentioning that the high school has a pool and gym that is open to the public, but you have to check the times for public use.

I’ve used the rec. center a few times here, but you have to take a taxi over, pay to use the facility and take a taxi back. It all seems pretty time consuming to me, since I really love being able to throw my shoes on and go run as soon as a step outside the door. After a beautiful summer in Fairbanks, it’s also something I’ve gotten used to. Personally, I love running outside wherever I go on my travels. Rain, snow, or shine. Well in the instance of Barrow, its wind. Ooooh the wind. It really can cut right through you. Now I have fond memories of running along the oceanside in Barrow in the early morning during the summer, with the sun shining bright and a rainbow ahead. That view is forever imbedded in my mind. But this week, it has been hit or miss with how enjoyable my runs might be.

Now mind you, no matter what time of year I’ve gone running here, I’ve had some fear in me that I might get hit by someone driving. I always take extra precaution – pedestrians only sort of have the right of way here. I’ve only seen the high school kids out as a group running once – so I’ve always assumed that I might be viewed as a strange specimen to be out running, on my own, and voluntarily. Knowing I’d be running with no sunlight this trip, I came with reflective gear and a headlamp. Tuesday morning I headed out early, and the wind was cutting through me, but I kept on. Most of Barrow is well lit with street lights, so when I realized I forgot my headlamp, I wasn’t too concerned. I was concerned with the route I took, passing between two lagoons that I realized half way through had quite the snow drift across them and there was a decreasing space for cars to pass. Unfortunately, this was an out-and-back, so I’d had to turn around and come back this way at some point. I made it back safely by stopping to allow people to pass, which only made me colder in the wind. I vowed not to run this way again on the trip!

Wednesday, yesterday, I headed out a different route, towards the hospital and looping in and out of streets. If it were windy, I might have some protection via the homes. I remembered my headlamp (yay!) and it seemed to deter people from driving so close to me. Headlamps are my new best friend! My other new best friend? Ice Cleats.photo-1Seriously, I feel like Superman running with these on my shoes! People were headed to work, buses were picking up children, and the stars were out in the sky, which by the end of my run was a deep, cloudy blue. It turned out to be 10 degrees with no wind, it was a great run!

This morning however, it was bone-chilling cold and windy again. Hovering 0 and 30mph winds make for a nasty negative temp with wind chill. I just couldn’t motivate myself to do it. This is where the difficulty comes in. When you want to be out running, but fear being blown into a lagoon or buried in a snow drift, what do you do? This afternoon I realized my not-in-my-fitness-routine crabbiness was creeping in. I miss my longer runs and running group, I miss my circuit training, heck I miss my own bed and Americanos at this point!

I am hoping tomorrow will not be windy and by some magic, I’ll wake up early to go run and be greeted by the northern lights that I just barely missed last night (thus is my life, missing the northern lights ALL the time). But, you have to find ways to stay fit, anywhere, anytime with one simple routine. This is my new goal – to find this routine. Tonight I searched around, knowing I needed something to get my HR up a little, and did this:

50 reps of each (you could also do 5×10 if you like multiple vs one set of each)

  • Jumping Jacks (if you do 5×10, do 50 of these first and skip during the rest of 5×10)
  • Body-weight Air Squats
  • Push Ups (modified if needed)
  • Sit Ups
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Walking Lunges
  • Bicycle Crunches
  • Reclined Hip Extension (double or single leg)
  • Burpees
  • Prone Back Extensions aka “Superman”

The reality is, this is barely what my warm-up is for my regular workouts at Elite Urban Fitness. BUT it is something! Because you have to keep moving! Always always do something over nothing. Today, I had to remind myself of that. So, to the few readers I have out there, send you ideas my way, or at the least I hope I’ve encouraged you to keep moving, no matter where you are!

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Working In the Arctic

Today’s Location: Barrow, Alaska
Temperature: 7 degrees
Sunrise/Sunset: 10:48am/3:33pm (4:45 minutes of daylight today!)
Listening to: Mumford & Sons Pandora Radio
Success of the Day: Ran 2 miles this morning under the stars of the Arctic, and no one hit me! Yay for ice cleats and head lamps!

1454637_327971007342589_490307271_nEvery few months, I find myself on the Top of the World for my job… aka Barrow, Alaska. If you’ve never been here, its worth the venture. Personally, I’m a mountains and valley girl, so this tundra and frozen-ocean-half-the-year kind of stuff has convinced me throughout my travels here that I may not prefer to live here. However, I have loved my work here, and the culture here. The change of pace (that somehow, is slower than Fairbanks!) becomes an eye opener and once you get used to it, a break away from your everyday run around. In other words, its refreshing! Well, at least for the first couple of days…

My boyfriend continues to remind me that this isn’t a village though, which it really isn’t. Villages in Alaska are small, with 100-500 people in them. Barrow, Alaska is a hub community in Alaska of roughly 5,000 people complete with a police department, schools, a (brand new) hospital, fire department, hotels, restaurants, and a fairly new recreational center that is currently being expanded. Things and people come into Barrow and then go out to one of the outlying 7 villages (hence the term “hub”) on the North Slope. There are daily flights in and out on commercial airlines, some of which have to go through Deadhorse first (many know Deadhorse’s fame from “Ice Road Truckers.”)

Barrow is literally the Top of the World, the northern most town in the Nation, way above the Arctic Circle and with more dark in the winter and light in the summer than the rest of Alaska. Parts of the year, you can watch the sun rise and set in the same spot right along the horizon within moments of one another. It is 1,300 miles south of the North Pole (the real one, not the town outside of Fairbanks) and 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Oddly enough, residents here have said we come from the cold place (aka Fairbanks) because of our record -60 temps in the dead of the winter, however the wind here will chill you to the bone and we don’t have anything like that in Fairbanks. It reminds you that weather is a matter of perspective.

So, you must be asking yourself, “Can you drive to Barrow?” The answer is NO. Well, sort of yes, but mostly no. Some residents will get vehicles here from Fairbanks in the Spring, on the ice road during the one month gap when its safe to do so, in the years its safe to do so. But really, no, you can’t drive here. Barrow is off the Alaska road system. Which makes everything meow expensive and it makes amazon.com with free shipping even more awesome. There are a surprising amount of restaurants here, and with the cost of groceries, sometimes I think it would be cheaper to just eat out all the time if you lived here. Every restaurant serves every kind of food, which I used to find odd, but I really don’t anymore. There isn’t much I find odd anymore. When it comes to food as an occasional traveler here, I’ve learned to pack groceries and bring them here.

Pack groceries? That sounds crazy, right? Well, Alaskans get 3 free checked bags when we fly. Alaska Airlines knows how it is in rural Alaska, and when those from rural Alaska travel to Fairbanks, Anchorage or outside (aka the Lower 48), they will take empty tubs to fill up and fly back. Why? Because Sam’s Club and Costco are a blessing of cheaper goods! A gallon of milk in Barrow is $10+, fresh fruit is sparse and expensive, most things are 2-3 times the price they are in Fairbanks, and things in Fairbanks are more expensive than they are in Anchorage, and things in Anchorage are more expensive than they are in the lower 48. SO, if you live in the lower 48, I can only imagine what your jaw would look like if you went into the grocery store in Barrow! What a site! Well, when I say grocery store, I actually just mean “the store” aka AC.

The craziest thing I’ve seen someone bring back to Barrow or to a village: McDonald’s. LOTS of McDonald’s. There are no fast food or chain restaurants here, obviously. I hate the smell of McDonald’s, so I always hope that person isn’t in my row on the plane, but I understand it. One resident here told me they went to McDonald’s and asked them for a bag of frozen fries to take home. Yesterday, I discovered from a friend living here that if you call Papa Murphy’s in Anchorage early enough and order pizza, it will be delivered – via plane. WHAT?! That seems like quite an advancement to me.

The time lapse known as Barrow. I have certainly learned that when you have an appointment set with someone here, you should be on time, but really, no one will notice if you are late. Everyone is on “Barrow time” which is essentially 10-15 minutes later than “Fairbanks time.” All of these are commonly known as “Alaska time.” it is also our excellent excuse for being late anywhere, forgetting to return phone calls, changing appointments and meetings around, and that is why – this one is to my dear family and friends – birthday cards and presents are always late to arrive to the East Coast. I could blame the Post Office but lets face it, with flat rate boxes, stuff gets around pretty quickly nowadays. (On that note, USPS DOES still lose mail… quite often – insurance is your friend). But I digress! Barrow time can be a wonderful thing, if you are running a few minutes late to something or  if you feel the need to go with the flow and not set a schedule for your trip, which is what often happens. What comes along with that is you are always available, and you can and will be hunted down wherever you are in this small town when you are needed by someone. It also means when someone sets an appointment with you, they may likely forget, or show up on Barrow time. Its all part of the Barrow working flow. I have enjoyed being in a random place, like a restaurant or agency, where you think no one knows where you are, and someone will call and ask for you. You think I’m kidding, but it’s happened to my co-worker – numerous times. You cannot hide in a small place. NOPE. But it’s all part of the fun. Your days are filled with … well, you really don’t know what they’ll be filled with, but you’ll figure it out as it comes.

Transportation is another fun adventure. OH the taxi ride stories me and co-workers have. We once rented a car. That was the worst thing we could have done. For one, it was the middle of the winter, and cold enough to be plugging in cars. The plug they gave us didn’t gave a light to tell us it was plugged in and working, like most do. So we plugged it in, and asked the hotel worker about the plug. He said it was probably working if it was plugged in, but we knew if it wasn’t that the car wouldn’t start in the morning. Well, we parked the car and I got out. My co-worker was still in the driver’s seat. I plugged in the car, and SPARK! Well, I didn’t get shocked, but the spark about blinded me. We hoped it worked, which thankfully it did. That same trip, we discovered that no one actually uses the road names to get anywhere. No two houses or buildings have the same number, so if someone gives you an address, they literally tell you a number – no street name. Google maps gives you correct directions to NOWHERE here, and after getting lost several times, never sure if the car was plugged in or would shock me, and the joys of trying to drive among the other drivers in Barrow (and we thought Fairbanks was “fun” in the winter to drive around), we decided never to rent a car here again. Transport via taxi it was! It’s been much easier to get around since then, but the adventures have not stopped.

The adventures of Barrow cannot be contained in one post. I think back over all of my time spent here, and wonder why I haven’t had a blog dedicated just to my Arctic adventures! You learn so much about yourself by working in remote places of the world (or just this state, for that matter) and you certainly become humbled in many ways. Not to mention, you go home with a new appreciation of all of the amenities you have and remember that there is so much that you can live without if you have to!

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More to come on adventures working the Arctic!
Stay Tuned for: Running Adventures in the Arctic!