Kristin Jones, NAU Swimming and Diving’s Alaskan Adventurer
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Kristin Jones takes activity to another level. In between 40-mile bike rides and Triathlon competitions, Jones is one of the top returners for the 2010-11 Northern Arizona swimming and diving team. This past summer, she returned to her hometown of Juneau, Alaska, guiding the Bike and Brew Tours for Cycle Alaska, an uncommon summer job for most college students but a perfect fit a 20-year old outdoor fanatic.
Entering her junior year, Jones has proven she can compete with the best swimmers in the West claiming three All-Western Athletic Conference (WAC) selections in her freshman and sophomore seasons. Her summer leading bike tours in Alaska was an experience most 20 year olds could only dream of. But for Jones, it was an opportunity to train while doing something new and exciting.
"It was an incredible experience, and it was a great way to stay in shape over the summer," Jones said of the 20-mile bike tours she embarked on each day. "This was my first summer doing these tours. At first, it was kind of difficult because you have to talk for basically four hours. You have to keep tourists entertained and engaged while talking to them about Juneau. That was difficult."
Groups of 20-30 tourists traveled through Juneau with Jones on her headset supplying cultural, historical, and contemporary information as well as highlighting the numerous geographic and historical landmarks throughout the city.
"We would drive through Juneau until we reached the valley area where our biking began," she said. "The drive was about 25 minutes and the whole time I would talk about Juneau and what they were seeing. They could ask questions and I would do my best to answer them. Since I lived there my whole life, I knew a lot about Juneau and I was able to talk about everything they saw along the way. Once we got out to the University of Alaska Juneau campus there is a little log chapel where we could see the [Mendenhall] glacier that is over the lake. We went over some safety stuff then put them on the bikes and started biking. It was about a nine-mile ride."
Jones spent her summer this way. She was the lead guide heading tours from the docks, where tourists would arrive on cruise liners, through Alaska's capitol, to mountain bike trails and roadside strips with the backdrop of Juneau's picturesque landscape throughout. She was out there in the sun, the rain, and any other weather system the rainforest climate of Juneau would unleash. She handled groups of all ages ranging from children to senior citizens keeping everyone in line and out of harm's way.
"The people that came on our tours were mostly older people who liked biking and wanted to get out and experience Alaska, but we dealt with all ages," Jones said. "We did these tours rain or shine. On the nice days when it was sunny those were a lot of fun, but there were tours where I was drenched all day. The hard part was doing tours when it was pouring rain. Some of the other tours [the cruise offered] would be cancelled for bad weather so they would come to us and ask, 'Hey, do you have extra room,' and we would get another van of tourists."
Jones would lead two tours a day, roughly four and a half hour rides distanced nine to 10 miles. Cycle Alaska provides two different tours to the Mendenhall Glacier, which is roughly 12 miles long located in the Mendenhall Valley just outside of Juneau.
The groups' capacity was 24 people for a single guide. Half the trip was roadside biking so tours holding more than 24 individuals would have multiple guides. The trips, considered moderate level biking, can produce potentially unsafe situations if not run and monitored properly so it was up to Jones and other guides to keep tourists safe and on the right path.
"There was one tour I went on that was a special tour with over 30 people that was 20 miles," Jones said. "At one point, they were doing lots of construction and had set up a detour sign. I was in the back of the group and we were supposed to keep going straight. We had radios to communicate so all of a sudden I get a call on my radio that said I needed to be at the front of the group crossing people so no one took the detour and got lost. So I got down and sprinted to the front of that group of 30 and crossed them in time. That was a very challenging tour and we had some close calls this summer but I never lost anyone."
Jones' experience this summer also aided in her offseason training efforts. She is part of the Tri-Jacks Club Team at NAU and has competed nationally as a tri-athlete finishing 183rd out of 328 graduate and undergraduate competitors at the Collegiate USA Triathlon 2010 National Championships in Lubbock, Texas in April. But Jones admits biking as a tour guide did more to increase the intensity of her offseason workouts.
"It tied into training which was awesome," Jones said. "I am the type of person that can do other things to enhance my swimming. Triathlons help me become a better swimmer and this job did the same thing. Plus, it was such a fun job. I was outside all day teaching tourists about Juneau and doing fun stuff outdoors.
"Last summer, I worked at the pool all day and swam a few hours too. That is a long time to be at the pool. Normally, I would swim four or five days a week then run and weight train with the club team back home. This summer, I did most training on my own. I would swim three or four times a week, plus I weight trained, ran, and biked every day. I was biking between 10 and 20 miles a day. Offseason, I like to do different things so the biking really helped in terms of cross training but also helped to keep me motivated to get back and swim."
The work Jones put in this offseason will be tested right away as NAU swimming and diving opens the 2010-11 season with three meets in three days. The Lumberjacks travel to Idaho for the Vandal Relays on Nov. 11 followed by meets at Washington State on Friday, Nov. 12 and Idaho on Saturday, Nov. 13. The Lumberjacks first home meet this season is against 2010 WAC Champion, Boise State, on Nov. 20.
Jones' experience heading bike tours for Cycle Alaska may lead to improvements in the pool, but in the meantime, she can reflect on a summer of sharing her native Juneau, Alaska, with others and creating thousands of lasting memories along the way.