We are on our first ever Hafertepe family vacation this week, just us, spending a few days in the Smokies of North Carolina. These mountains have me reminiscing about the three years we lived in Alaska and the start of my running journey.
When we got stationed in Cordova, Alaska in July of 2013, I was in a total state of culture shock. (For an idea of where I’m from, check out my “Me” page.) I’ll never forget the ride from the (TINY) airport- it was a sunny day (thank goodness, as those are somewhat rare in the temperate rainforest). My mouth hung open for the entire 13 miles into town, gazing in awe at my new home in the Chugach National Forest– trees, wildflowers, water, mountains, and glimpses of glaciers. We were 4,000 miles from anything and anyone familiar. What on earth was I going to do?
At the local yarn and gift shop called The Net Loft, I signed up for a knitting class. Sadly, instead of discovering a new hobby, I found it impossibly frustrating. As a high school teacher, I knew exactly what my former students would do in my situation; I excused myself to go to the restroom and never went back. Oops!
The Ombudsman for the ship, Tara (who is now a good friend of mine), sent an email about training for the Humpy 5k of the Alaska Salmon Runs. These were the only regular races in town at the time, and they are part of the Copper River Salmon Jam music and arts festival that takes place on the ski hill every summer in Cordova. (Add this to your bucket list!) I had never been much of a runner, but I thought, why not? Somehow, though, I had not packed any tennis shoes, and there’s no such thing as two-day delivery up there. Shopping is an adventure. Finally, in the upstairs room of the Asian foods & more store, I found a pair of old-school Columbia Azuric trail shoes in my size. The rest is history!
Over our three year tour, I ran the Humpy 5k, the Sockeye Half Marathon, and the Coho 10k (named after types of salmon- there’s the King Salmon Marathon distance, as well). Almost everyone walks to race start at the medical center, and a bus takes racers “out the road.” The lone road that runs out of town takes you to the airport (or to areas for hiking, kayaking, camping, fishing, hunting, and ATV-riding) before it ends at the non-functional “Million Dollar Bridge.” The buses drop racers off before the end of the road in waves, at the starting points for each race, and racers simply run back to town. The course is flat and fast with beautiful scenery. The Sockeye Half in 2014 was my second half marathon race, and with encouragement from a visiting cousin (who decided to run with me on a whim, with no training!!), I ran it in 2:07. It was awesome!
Even though the only way to travel in and out of Cordova is by air or sea (their famous slogan is “No Road”), I traveled all over the vast state for work and church. I was able to run near the arctic circle in Nome, on the Kenai Peninsula not far from smoking volcanoes, race “the hardest 10k you will ever do” on Anchorage trails (narrowly avoiding an angry moose), race with a cousin I’d never met in Juneau, and run in several other towns, each one unique and interesting.
Running quickly became an important part of my life. I ran in wind, rain, snow, on ice, in a full-body shark costume, too close to dangerous wildlife, and with friends who are still very special to me. I also hiked, climbed, kayaked, backpacked, camped, and pretty much became a different (better, I hope) person, more willing to step out of my comfort zone. I fell in love with Alaska, and I could fill an album with beautiful photos that still wouldn’t do the scenery justice. I am thankful that running, which started as something to pass the time and make friends, has become a permanent part of my life and serves as a reminder that I can acclimate to anywhere and anything!