Alaska, 2016: Day 1

Everything went pretty smoothly after the peanut butter incident in Oakland. I arrived at the Fairbanks airport at about 4:45 PM that same day—Monday, March 21, 2016—and was picked up by my host, a friend of my aunt’s from college, who we’ll call Terri. That first day was pretty uneventful; I was dog-tired from all the travel, but I was able to stay awake long enough to grab sushi for dinner with Terri and her son. I visited the University of Alaska the following day—Tuesday, March 22—and met with a selection of geology professors, transfer specialists, and administrators starting as early as 9:00 AM.

Okay, 9:00 AM isn’t that early, but I had to wake up three hours prior in order to consume caffeine, eat something, and walk from Terri’s house to campus. It was at least two miles, so, at least an hour’s walk, but I didn’t have any other option—I couldn’t rent a car because I didn’t have my driver’s license yet, and even if I did have my license, I was still too young to rent a car; I suppose I could’ve woken Terri and asked for a ride, but I didn’t really know her all that well. So, I walked.

The air temperature was 8° Fahrenheit when I left Terri’s house that morning, and by the time I got to campus, it had only risen to about 10°. Just before reaching campus, I passed a small farm, upon which were grazing a group of reindeer. I stopped to watch them for a moment and realized that they were all disfigured in some way—one had three legs, another had only one antler—and I decided they were photo-worthy. As I pulled out my phone to snap a few photos of them, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the dark screen. I had to do a double-take, and then turned on selfie mode to be certain I wasn’t just seeing things, but, indeed—my face was paler than I thought possible for a living person, and my lips had turned a dark purple from the cold. I realized I was going to need some other means of transportation, or at the very least, extra layers.

The reindeer ranch!

Despite waking up three hours early, I was late to my first meeting on campus. Luckily, I was the only campus visitor that day, and when I walked in sporting that corpselike pallor, the administrator immediately got to his feet and asked if I wanted some hot chocolate or tea—both of which I declined—and then gave me a free University of Alaska, Fairbanks “Nanook Nation” beanie, insisting that I put it on. He went on to say that he had been starting to worry about my lateness, and kept asking if the temperature was comfortable in the meeting room.

He either really wants me to go to this school, or he thinks I’m a pussy, I thought, observing his short-sleeved button-up.

I don’t remember much of the tour or the subsequent meetings, probably because I was far from being interested in the academic aspect of moving to Fairbanks. I did pay careful attention to the sports complex—namely, the indoor climbing gym, and the outdoor climbing wall, which was actually an ice-climbing wall for most of the year, since the cold, northern air allowed things to stay frozen for a long, long time. I also found out that the school has its own cross-country ski park at the back of campus. The ski park is, according to one of the administrators I met with, a nice place to go for an easy winter hike, since you didn’t have to wear snowshoes—so many skiers slide over the trails that the snow gets packed as tightly as asphalt, he assured me.

After my tours and meetings were over, I wandered around campus for a little while, and then decided to check out the ski par. It was nice—the trails, flanked by birch trees, surrounded a small lake, which was frozen over and covered with snow.

Me on a frozen lake

When I was done enjoying the peaceful scene, I started to head back through campus to make my way back to Terri’s place, when I heard music blasting out of an open garage near the student housing area.

It was the student-run bike co-op.

I stopped walking, noticing a sign that announced something about renting bikes. They had mountain bikes, road bikes, fat bikes—

“Can I help you?”

I looked up. A young man covered in bike grease, wielding an Alan wrench, was squinting at me through the sun.

“Oh, uh,” I blubbered, “I’m looking for, uh; do you guys have, uh, good bikes…for riding in the snow?” I winced. I was a road-bike person, not a mountain-bike person, at that point in my life, but I knew how bikes worked. I knew what I bike was. I wasn’t as naïve as I’d just made myself sound.

He smiled, clearly amused. “We sure do.”

“I’m on a tight budget,” I added suddenly, surprising myself. “How much are your rentals?”

His smile broadened. “We’ll figure something out,” he said. “Why don’t you come in and take a look?”

An hour or so later, I was riding back to Terri’s on a mountain bike with studded tires. Studded tires on a bike is an underappreciated feat of engineering, I must say—I didn’t slide once on the ice-sheets that served as roads during the winter months in Fairbanks. The best part about the bike? The guy didn’t charge me a cent, and I had it through Thursday afternoon.

My noble steed

The studs in the tires!

How I felt, riding home

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