It goes without saying or writing, but I’m writing it anyway with a nod to a certain beloved Bay Area band: What a long strange trip it’s been — (at only six months).
Becca Rorabaugh (31), based in Anchorage and training with the APU Elite Team, has a creative tool set to assist with the grind we all find ourselves in. And she’s handled this trip with grace. Although art is associated with the right side of the brain, as a top-level cross-country skier, Rorabaugh harnesses the totality of the cerebral matrix. Symmetry in principle, however, does not categorically mean the balance persists in practice during trying times.
“I have been thinking about how art and the coronavirus have interacted this summer for me,” Rorabaugh said. “I think a good part of it has been that in the studio I feel like I can control everything. But even then, in my art, the unexpected things happen. And at first, it’s easy to be disappointed in work that does not match my intended outcome. But often you come back and look at it later and you see the value in it either as a learning experience or as something different. You actually can see that maybe there is a new direction there.”
With an undefined season likely coming this winter, Rorabaugh explained that her creative process, where outcomes are often unplanned, has helped her cope.
“I am trying to apply this line of thought to this coming ski season which might be valuable because I feel like it is going to look a little strange,” she added. “And when you are training it is nice to imagine the venue you are trying to aim for and be really focused in that way. It can be kind of tough when you don’t have that kind of direct progression. But, I feel like experiences in art like that, the unexpected things, will hopefully help me see value in it, in a different kind of ski racing season.”
Growing up in Fairbanks, Rorabaugh has skied and pursued art since she was a child. She took AP art classes in high school and has been designing ski race t-shirts for Fairbank’s town race series since she was 12.
Rorabaugh attends Dartmouth College where its quarter system allows for time away for the ski-focused student-athlete. She has only a single quarter left for her degree. However, there is a requirement that she spend her senior spring quarter on campus. As both a studio art and environmental studies major, she says she is in fact looking forward to that final on-campus residency. She’ll be part of a senior art showcase. Additionally, she has a set of grandparents living close to the school. Rorabaugh explained she opted for a studio art major since she plans on eventually attending architecture school, and at Dartmouth studio art is often the pathway to that career.
“So it has been a great excuse to do a lot of studio art courses,” said Rorabaugh.
For a time, as skiing became all-consuming, she deviated from her fine artwork. “I would say for a little while I lost track of my art while trying to be a mono-dimensional focused cross-country skier. But then I would say about 2016, and I have to say that Instagram probably helped with this, I started noticing the aesthetic qualities of the places we were training. And we were doing a lot more mountain running that summer. It was a real sunny summer in Anchorage, which is rare, and it was all beautiful mountain runs. I feel like social media makes you hunt for images subconsciously. I was spending more time noticing these aesthetically pleasing images and actually thinking I should paint this — this is valuable.”
Rorabaugh helps offset some of the cost of her training and race travel by selling art. In the past few years she has created Pandanas, essentially custom buffs featuring her art.
“The Pandanas are another kind of challenge because trying to come up with colors and patterns that work well wrinkled up and come together with a big image can be a puzzle,” Rorabaugh said.
This spring and summer, with the funkiness of Covid-time which allowed for more time at home, she has begun completing a series of pieces related to a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) residency project. In the fall of 2018, Rorabaugh was one of several creatives to be chosen for a BLM float down Birch Creek near the remote town of Central Alaska. During the float, she sketched, painted watercolors, and journaled about the experience. In return, when Rorabaugh is finished with her art inspired by the trip, the BLM will feature a selected art piece which will be on loan for a year. The BLM can, as Rorabaugh explained, reproduce the art and use the likeness in perpetuity.
That week-long trip in 2018 was planned as a recovery week. Yet the sedentary trip was a bit much. “It was a little bit surprising to me that I got antsy probably about halfway through,” said Rorabaugh. “I consider myself a less ansty skier, but it came out for sure. More so now since I have done it for so long – physical endorphins have become kind of addiction I guess. I definitely think that against my better judgment and perception of myself, I get cranky if I do not do a workout. I don’t think there is any way to avoid that after training for this long. Despite my best efforts.”
During a time when she and her APU teammates have modified large group training protocols, there is still the training grind. A process that becomes quotidian in the best of times. Art, Rorabaugh said, complements her training life as she finds a vision for her work.
“I like to think I can pursue realistic oil painting at the same time as graphic design and doing more abstract work for my senior seminar project at school,” she said. “I don’t think I have settled on a specific direction yet. The process of making art and the process of training are somewhat similar for me. It is a self-motivated and sometimes frustrating effort and I get really absorbed in what I’m doing and become focused in on it. Time slows down. It is a similar kind of process for both. I see a lot of parallels in how you go about it. Although for me, when I am doing artwork at home, it is more self-guided, I don’t have a training plan. I do think if I am focused too hard on ski training I lose touch a little bit with my creative side. I have to kind of decide to wake it up and use it again.”
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.