Alaska is a truly wild and magnificent place! I decided tomove up here three years ago, thinking it would be aninteresting city to live in while I attended school. The spring aftermy first year at college I decided to jump in with two feet. Imoved most of my belongings up, bought a car, and got asmall apartment on the APU campus. One thing I havelearned is that you can’t truly get “Alaskan” experiences inAnchorage; you have to drive at least 20 miles from the cityin any direction. Luckily in my sweet old truck that only takesabout a half hour. I feel very fortunate to live in such a sweetplace and I’m really enjoying almost every second I spend uphere. Last week I traveled up to the northwestern part of thestate in the NANA region and had myself another wonderfulAlaskan experience that I’d like to share with you.
These two pictures are from
the flight up there.
NANA Nordic, an organization that I have beeninvolved with the last couple years, made this trip possible. Iwent up north with three other cross-country athletes. Webrought 30 pairs of skis, two boxes of food, sleeping bags,and the goal to teach kids how to nordic ski. Ambler, thesmall and very beautiful village we visited has about 300residents. The village is above the Arctic Circle and most of theresidents are Alaska Natives. The village has a smallgrocery store, a community center, a church, and a school. Alot of the houses are one story and pretty well worn out fromthe harsh environment and the limited funds to upkeep them.The school had about 80 students, kindergarten through12th grade. Residents get around on snowmobiles and fourwheelers; luckily the village is no bigger than a couplesquare miles, because the price of gas is around 11 dollars agallon. The village lies between the Kobuk River and theBrooks Mountain Range. Apparently the river is packed fullof fish and the forest is full of wildlife, so the residents have amix of living off the land and the very expensivegroceries that are flown in. The village is in a very beautifullocation. With a few more activities and a lot easier access itcould be a tourist hotspot, but that is not at all the case. Infact, I don’t think the residents see new faces very often.
We arrived Monday morning and set up camp in theschool gym. From Tuesday through Friday we taught skilessons from 9am- 7pm. It was soo much fun for me and sorewarding too! It’s a great feeling to pass on a skill that oftentimes feels like a selfish activity. I’ve never met such a nicegroup of kids. The kids were really polite, friendly, andCRAZY tough! Most of them were not what I would considerappropriately dressed for below 0 degree weather, but notonce did I hear any of them complain. Every kid in the schoolgot a chance to come skiing with us and they seem to reallyloved it. The first day they just learned how to clip into thebindings and they struggled to get around the school. I wasso amazed, some of those kids probably fell over a 100times that first day. I kept thinking to myself, oh that kidsgoing to give up, he’s spent more time on the ground then onhis feet… but they never did. They just enjoyed doingsomething new with new friends. By the end of the weekmost of the kids were skiing out to the airport, a couple milesfrom the school.
I tried to be more than just a teacher to these kids. Iended up learning most of the kids names and felt aconnection with almost all of them by the end of the week.They seemed to open up to me after spending just a fewhours together. I heard a lot of personal stories and some ofthem were very concerning. The village was nice and thepeople were welcoming but it for sure has its problems. It’sno secret that there is a BAD alcohol and drug abuseproblem. These kids are so strong; the majority of them learnto grow up on their own with not a lot of good role modelsaround. Young kids would be out late at night playing withoutadult supervision. Some of the families have issues andschool was a place for them to get away from it. It’s one ofthe first times I’ve seen kids lining up for the school doors toopen and practically having to be dragged out at night.
A poster hanging in the school made by one of the youngerstudents.
This trip makes me realize even more that I’m so luckyto have such a great family and community to support me.I’ve had so many opportunities and this trip was a goodreality check after year filled with traveling and success. Ihad a really sad feeling when I flew out of the village onFriday night, these people deserve better. I honestly thinkNANA Nordic can change the lives of kids in this area andI’m just honored and happy to be a part of it.