Watch out Alaska! (Here I come)

Alice Xie, Copy Editor

   On the evening of March 1, I boarded a 7 p.m. Anchorage-bound Alaska Airlines flight, the first of two flights scheduled to take me to Fairbanks, Alaska. As a student athlete, my journey was as much a tourist trip as it was a business trip for my ice hockey team to qualify in Alaska’s District Championships in order to move on to Nationals.

   Exactly twelve hours after my initial flight from Los Angeles, I landed in Fairbanks, officially beginning my weekend of new experiences. Aside from the initial excitement of seeing snow for the first time in years, I found my first experience at the Fairbanks Hotel’s breakfast buffet: reindeer sausage.

   The hunger from flying weighed more than my desire to refrain from eating Rudolph’s cousins, so I found myself trying reindeer sausage for the first time. I’m a little disappointed to report that reindeer sausage tastes almost exactly like regular sausage, except with more salt and spice. If I hadn’t known it was made of reindeer, I simply would’ve thought it a funky tasting sausage.

   I spent the rest of the day digesting reindeer sausage and embarking on a quest for the perfect snow to build a snowman. Although snow is quite literally everywhere in Fairbanks, unfortunately, none of it was sticky enough to piece together a snowy friend. The view, however, compensated for the lack of snowmen, since it allowed me to accomplish my dream of walking through a winter wonderland. As my adventure buddy and teammate Reese Niemela said, “Something that caught my eye was all the snow and the ice and how the scenery is astronomically gorgeous.”

   March 3 was our first day of the Alaska District Tournament. In order to move on to the National Championships, my team needed to advance to the semi-finals at the end of the weekend and then prevail in the final game. Ironically, the first two games we played were against another Californian team from San Jose⁠—we won the first one 1-0 and the second 3-2, with the latter one ending in an extremely anxiety-inducing shootout.

   Following our first two wins, we had a full day off, which I used to visit the North Pole with a few teammates. While karaoking aggressively in the backseat, I noticed that on the way to Santa’s workshop, the roads were lined with candy canes and holiday lights. The town of the North Pole is the epitome of an eternal Christmas, which made me extremely happy as I have a history of leaving Christmas decorations up all year round.

   The first thing that caught my eye at the North Pole was the humongous statue of Santa. The attraction was rather terrifying, but I still took a photo in front of said Santa in order to be able to brag about the fact that I’ve been to the infamous workshop of every child’s dreams. Similarly, Niemela added that “a perk of the trip was seeing the North Pole because now I can tell people I went to the North Pole and they’ll be jealous because I’ve seen Santa’s workshop.” Priorities, right?

   The actual workshop is both an attraction and a gift shop. While half of the building consists of a set-up of props that would make Santa proud to call it his workshop, the other half includes a large gift shop, including an ice cream bar with exclusive North Pole flavors. Although I didn’t eat any ice cream, I did get some postcards to send back to my house, which, when sent from the North Pole, are stamped with an official “Santa’s Workshop” approval.

   After our visit to the North Pole, my teammates and I played a scrimmage on an outdoor rink located in Hez Ray Park. Even though I spent a majority of my time building snowmen in the middle of the rink, using the outdoor ice was a very freeing experience: I felt like constantly screaming at the top of my lungs. It was quite therapeutic.

   The next day, March 5, we continued our tournament by playing two games against a team from Alaska. After getting pummeled in the morning and losing with a grand score of 5-0, my team and I went to get Subway for the umpteenth time that weekend. After an energizing meal, our team came back in the second game to win 2-1, guaranteeing us a spot in the final game against the same team from Alaska.

   To celebrate, we went to a fancy hibachi grill as a team, causing a ruckus and general disorderliness among the restaurant, as hungry children do. Not only was the food great and satisfactory to our post-game hunger, the chef’s groovy cooking skills were a fun addition to the dinner: I especially enjoyed the fire.

   And later that night, I checked “see the Northern Lights” off the top of my bucket list. At 10 p.m., my dad and I bundled up, loaded into our truck, and drove down an extremely creepy and deserted dirt road to a small cabin in the middle of nowhere. The watch station was in the midst of a field, so that the view of the sky was as clear as possible.

   Once inside, we were given an information session, supposedly to kill time until the lights came out. The five categories of Northern Lights are quiet, unsettled, active, minor storm and major storm. It just so happened that the night I went was one of the first minor storms of the season, meaning that the lights would glow with visible color.

   The lights, although faint to begin with, began darkening and shaping around midnight, so I left the warmth of the cabin and cookies and instead sacrificed my fingers to the numbing cold in order to take a bunch of photos. Standing under the sky really made me feel insignificant, but it was perhaps the first time in a while that I truly felt speechless. The whole experience was ethereal, and made me appreciate the wonders of the night sky. I’d say it was definitely worth the frostbite and sleep deprivation.

   The day after we witnessed the Northern Lights, I played in the championship game. Was it a good idea to stay up all night and watch the lights before a big game? No. Did I still do it? Of course. And maybe it was good luck, because we won our final championship game 3-1 against the team from Alaska, securing us a spot at Nationals and an additional month of hockey. We won ourselves a snazzy banner with our names on it, and everyone got their own medal. Emotions were high, sentimental words were exchanged, tears were shed and a trip to the ice cream parlor was needed.

   Indeed, my trip to Alaska was a thriller. And a memorable experience for the sites I visited, and the moments I shared with my team. As our team’s unofficial captain Ruthie Schmidt summarized, “My favorite things about the trip was scoring in the Alaska game, seeing the Northern Lights, spending time with the team away from the rink and winning! This tournament shows a lot of growth.”

   Although my adventure ended a day later when I touched down at LAX on March 6, Alaska has definitely been one of my favorite trips this season. But alas, adventure is always calling, so maybe you’ll catch me on another one soon.

   P.S.: I definitely recommend going to Alaska: the food is great and the lights are quite exquisite from such an angle.