For my 17th birthday I received a pair of figure skates that are probably collecting dust somewhere. My new boyfriend (of nearly two weeks) gifted them to me for my February birthday. They were half a size too small, but I squeezed my feet into them and we went to a nearby frozen lake.
The problem was, he hadn’t gotten skates for himself. So, he watched from the side of the lake as I stumbled, fell and smiled, trying my hardest to not let an ounce of disappointment cross my face as I skated alone with cramped feet.
That new boyfriend is now an old boyfriend and the skate’s blades are definitely dull but February is here once again, and I’m another year older. What a time to reflect on how I ended up here, because I don’t think I could have imagined this while falling on that lake 12 years ago.
At 17, I figured those figure skates would be the closest I’d ever come to winter sports.
Now, nearing 29, my winter gear closet holds the whole gamut of winter sports.
I was able to enjoy a midseason ice skate along Upper Trail Lake on a pair of Nordic blades last week. This weekend, I traveled through the backcountry on my alpine touring skis, and in between I skate or classic skied around Seward.
I never thought this is how I would be spoiled, but spoiled I am. I figured that boyfriend and I would get married, live in a city and escape it once or twice a year with a trip to somewhere warm, lazy and nice.
Instead, I recently spent an afternoon skiing alone, trying to decide if my mom is happy I haven’t had kids yet or disappointed. The jury is still out.
I delineated from the trail. I took a detour that ended up being a lifestyle change and I’m still in Alaska four years later.
My 25th birthday party doubled as a going-away party where I hugged my friends and family, reassuring them that I’d only be gone a year.
A year has come and passed, and three others on top of it, and now my ski collection would be too large and pointless to bring back to New Jersey.
I spent my 26th birthday skate skiing, trying to master the only thing that was making me happy during the dreary Alaska winters.
On my 27th birthday, I skied some more, reminding myself that this was my home.
I spent my 28th birthday skiing into Tolovana Hot Springs, embracing the wild remoteness that is northern Alaska.
And now, I’m at my 29th and I don’t exactly know what this year will bring. The only certainties seem to be skiing (thank goodness for good snow) and this annual reflection that I partake in around my birthday.
My 28th year was marked by a global pandemic and some personal tumult. I don’t want more of that, but I also realized that I don’t have much say in the matter. I never have.
So, we’ll see what 29 has in store.
By KAT SORENSEN
For the Clarion