The “Front Door to ____” Urban Ultra Series

Excerpt from the full article published on

My 20s were littered with Alaskan adventures. Things like 100+ mile off-trail multi-sport wilderness races, obscure marathons and ultras year round, bikepacking on glaciers and climbing frozen waterfalls. Growing up in Alaska’s interior is sort of like growing up ultra-Orthodox in Williamsburg, at some point during adolescence you start to comprehend that choices made by an earlier generation put your most crucial years of development in an all-immersive environment several deviations from the norm. Just like growing up in an insular Hasidic community, an Alaskan upbringing has its pros and cons. The obvious pros include a closeness to raw wilderness, big mountains, and unadulterated exploration. There are other pros too, like a deep sense of individuality and you can play the drums at 2 a.m. without upsetting your neighbors – because you don’t have any. The cons include grocery store produce so devoid of nutrients you’ll probably develop scurvy, being disconnected from everything that’s actually happening in the world, and air that assaults your skin 8 months out of the year.

When I left Alaska to get a PhD in Glaciology in northeast England, it was a rude awakening that: (1) social skills are key to human survival and (2) life outside of Alaska is absurdly mundane, to the point of attempting to eat a Tide Pod just so there’s something to talk about. I’m convinced that relentless political news cycles, televised sports, holiday traditions, and all other time-intensive mainstays of typical life are placeholders – filling time before the next Alaskan adventure. Unfortunately, most people, and now me as well, are likely going to be in this holding pattern for a lifetime. But this article isn’t a paid advertisement for the Alaska Tourism Bureau, it’s about how I’ve made life in the mundane work while keeping the detergent in the washing machine.

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Sam Herreid
Sam Herreid
glaciologist, runner, musician, writer

My research interests include rock debris on glaciers, advancing regional to global scale glacier modeling and restructuring the financing of climate science.