For most of Alaska's Olympians, the reality of their trips to Russia likely set in at some point in the middle of winter, as they rose through the rankings to secure their spots on the U.S. team.
For me, that moment occurred at about 3:10 a.m. on Jan. 22, when my cellphone started ringing next to my bed with a call from an 11-digit number that I learned belonged to Anton Prokhorenko -- the friendly media credential manager for the Sochi games. He clearly had no idea he was calling someone who at that moment was blissfully sleeping, 13 time zones away.
Anton informed me that because of a mistake the Olympic organizers had made -- putting my date of birth on my credential as Aug. 30, 2013 -- I'd have to acquire a Russian entry visa at some point before I arrived in Sochi about two weeks later. Not to worry, he informed me warmly -- this could be done in-person (no, not over the Web), at any of Russia's embassies scattered throughout the United States. No matter that the nearest one was 1,500 miles away in Seattle, with my $2,500 plane ticket already purchased.
That phone call early on a Wednesday morning was the moment the romance of my impending Olympic Games met the logistical reality of a trip to Russia, which, as planned, included five flights and a likely diversion in a Moscow airport to sort out what I'll now euphemistically refer to as The Visa Issue.
That's just to get to Sochi, where, if early reports are to be trusted, my experience could include undrinkable water, an unfinished hotel room (or even an unfinished hotel) and food that would beat the gruel served in the Gulag.
None of which is to say I'm not excited. In fact, I'm thrilled to be going. But if there's one thing I've learned in the few years I've been reporting on ski races in strange places, it's that when things get strange and unpleasant, they make for great stories for my friends and readers later -- even if I'm miserable at the time.
For the next three weeks, I plan to use this space to give readers a flavor of what the Olympics is like for me -- a 26-year-old American male who normally covers Anchorage city government.
Of course, the games are really about the athletes and the competitions -- and I'll spend the bulk of my time in Sochi telling you about those. But given that so many of the Olympic story lines so far seem to revolve around non-sports related issues, like politics, corruption, and security, it seems like it could be useful to occasionally offer a perspective from outside the field of play.
My focus up to now has been getting here -- a flight from Anchorage to Seattle, followed by a flight to Newark, then Brussels, then Moscow, and finally to Sochi.
I have $200 cash in my pocket -- half of which, my friend Anton tells me, will get me a Russian entry visa at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport. (The rest of the money is for emergencies -- I assume a bribe is out of my price range.)
I've purchased medical evacuation insurance, at my mother's behest. She also prevailed upon me to call the office of one of the senators from my former home state of Maine about the security threats to Sochi -- which I did. That was after the senator, Angus King, said during a CNN appearance that he wouldn't take his family to the Olympics because of the risks. Thanks, Angus -- that one really set off both my parents.
I have two jars of peanut butter -- a key part of my diet, and one that's also incredibly difficult to find in Europe. They're sealed in plastic bags, after I learned an unfortunate condiment-packing lesson involving some blackberry jam and a ski bag on a trip to Estonia a couple of years ago.
And, finally, I have a half-dozen notebooks and a set of pens -- the tools I plan to use to try capture the essence of the games to transmit back to readers in Anchorage. I hope you'll follow along.
Editor's note: Nat Herz did, in fact, arrive in Sochi on Thursday, Alaska time. Look for his reports in the Daily News and on adn.com.
Anchorage Daily News / fasterskier.com