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A Letter to The Past

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Sam Herreid

By: Sam Herreid

Sam Herreid is a glaciologist, runner, co-founder of the nonprofit Open Climate Research Collective, barista, and musician working on a genre of music that captures the culture of ultra trail running. Like surf music, but instead of “catch a wave”, it’s “catch a ridge and you’ll be running on top of the world.” Sam grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska and now lives in Bradley Beach, New Jersey.

Editor’s Note: You know Sam for the humor he has brought to Freetrail, but this time he brings something entirely different – fiction! This is a first for us and something we are excited to share with you. Let us know what you think – here’s to many more tales from Aleksei Marsov and the West Antarctic University.


January 25, 2521

Dear Aleksei Marsov,

We are pleased to inform you that OpenAIPlacement ranked the evaluation of your Cumulative data (CD) as a very high statistical fit for success at West Antarctic University. Our curriculum is suited to match your neuro-type (following CD 94-variate guidelines) with a prior of 92%. We are confident that the facilities here at WAU, specifically the Athletics Department, will produce an even higher posterior probability. Following your automatic acceptance to WAU, we invite you to complete the written portion of our matriculation protocol, without AI assistance, so we can further individualize your experience at WAU and optimize your postgraduate readiness.

Please write an essay response for two of the following three prompts below (word limit: 1000 each)

  1. Write a letter to your peers at some point in the past. What would you tell them about the future? What do you think is different between their time and yours? What do you think is similar? What advice would you have for them?
  2. Tell your story about the Interplanetary Nipha virus pandemic. Were you on Earth, the Moon Biome or Mars Domes? What did you do to minimize the impact of the 2 year lockdown?
  3. How will you contribute to the student body if you matriculate to West Antarctic University?

We look forward to receiving your submission,

Sylvia Cunningham

West Antarctic University Admissions

441 Ellsworth St.

Boennigburg, Marie Byrd Island, West Antarctica, Earth 

96598-00431

__________________________________________________________

WAU Matriculation Essays

Name: Aleksei Marsov

Age: 19

Highschool: Dome C Secondary

Submitted: February 20, 2521

Prompt 1: A letter to the past

To my fellow collegiate runners in 2025,

Most people think the moment in time they occupy is a pinnacle of historic importance. Usually it is not. But with the advantage of hindsight, I can confidently say you are alive during a pivotal era. The technological revolution you are bridging puts you in a unique situation, living a blend of primitive humanity and normal modern life. You’re living the last few decades where natural atmosphere cities cover all of planet Earth and C02 concentrations were a nominal 425 ppm. It’s also the last period before the blatantly precarious economic model of perpetual growth collapses leading, eventually, to Modern Economics and the EMMF (Earth Moon Mars Franc, we pronounce it “Em-eff”) following the NE (Near Extinction, we say “Nee”). The generations after you face the climate refugee crisis, The Yellowstone Eruption, the simultaneous bankruptcy of every country on the planet (so many countries!) and two world wars. 

World War III was mostly about ratings. The few stable governments left at the beginning of the NE staged a war to boost productivity and manufacture a focus on innovation. Sure, there were airstrikes and people starving, displaced and angry, but there was no real human-to-human instigation, very little innovation, and obviously no winners. World War IV was a real war. The first truly nuclear war. Those lucky enough, including my ancestors, had already joined a primitive settlement on Mars, avoiding straightforward annihilation, and also the 5-year radiation quarantine. After quarantine, the first climate adaptive cities were built in the regions formerly Alaska, Ellesmere Island, Greenland, Scandinavia and Siberia. These areas are now all under one governing body and collectively called the Subtropical Arctic (STA). The only other natural atmosphere country is West Antarctica. Outside of the poles, midlatitude settlements actually use first generation Mars dome technology, we call them, somewhat disparagingly, the flyover latitudes. Quantum computers had their moment, sort of the Bitcoin of computation, but after overcoming the Church-Turing thesis, Turning machines do just about everything.

The war and radiation quarantine virtually ended middle class running while everyone was stuck in tight concrete bunkers. The wealthy stayed in luxurious compounds, some with full size tracks. A few lucky elite runners were able to take advantage of those facilities  — Kiara Kosgei ran a sub 2:05 marathon — but running as a professional sport quickly declined as the pool of would-be elite runners simply vanished. 

My ancestors and those on Mars had it much better. Collegiate mountain runners trained on early Multi-form Machines. They are like your treadmill, but instead of a revolving belt, it’s a revolving angular terrain from a 3D printer that is rapidly cooled, and then heated and recycled immediately after you traverse it. Back then it was all a hard rubbery foam with an awful odor. Now they print textures like dirt, moss, snow and wet rock. The smell isn’t so bad, and in coupled-VR it’s hardly distinguishable from a real-life experience. I know you were already “Everesting” on your local mountains, but we can run and climb the actual routes on the Multi-form.

Mars running took a while to become legal. A lot of recreation-related deaths in the early dome days delayed civilian exploration for a few generations. Now we can run, but honestly, Mars is a road runner’s planet. The Jornet twins hold the supported 43 hour FKT on Olympus Mons, but after the initial pitches, it’s a colossal bore to run. Their FKT is in Mars gravity, all records specify a gravitational constant now. Some mountain runners come to Mars for training camps, the lower gravity reduces the stress load and you can safely increase your volume by around 30%. But most Martians aching to run on a real mountain and in their own skin leave for Earth’s poles at the first opportunity.

If I were to give some advice to mountain runners in 2025, it would be to enjoy the clean and below wet-bulb threshold air. Also don’t take for granted the camaraderie in the sport. After mountain running became an Olympic sport, money and doping turned the collective attitude into a grittier twin of Track and Field. Since the NE, the community ambiance is back, but at such a catastrophic cost; we all just feel lucky to be alive and able to run in some capacity. The sparkle in our eyes and the exhilaration after a long run is still exactly the same as it is for you. And, perhaps shockingly, Nike Vaporflys are still the industry standard!

Prompt 3: How will you contribute to the student body if you matriculate to West Antarctic University?

It goes without saying that WAU has the premiere athletics club in the Antarctic. While the New Ivys in the STA have dominated mountain running to date, Kangerlussuaq University in particular, the Antarctic has never before been so well poised to make a challenge for the ECAA Mountain Ultra Championships. While I have never been to Antarctica, or Earth, I have used the Multi-form to train on all of the 2523 season ECAA courses and in the process set an unofficial Multi-form CR on the Ames 100 kilometer route (101325 Pascals, synthetic). With 2522 set aside to redshirt and attend lectures remotely while traveling Earthbound, my Biomechanical Model Predictions (BMP) show that I will be entering μ=-0.1 of my Athletic Capacity Trajectory (ACT), meaning my 3 years of proudly wearing WAU green, white and blue will be the fastest of my life.

Lowering the true Ames CR (101325 Pascals) will be my first key objective to contribute points to WAU’s 2523 season. The notoriously difficult and diverse route is perfectly suited to my strengths. The first 20 km are gently downhill and exceedingly fast to the base of the Flood Range, perfect for my comfort with road running. The first climb up Mount Bursey is on fast trail but at a relentless incline, similar to first generation Multi-form hill training which I’ve often used when I can’t book time on the new models. The backside of Bursey is a quad killing technical descent to Forrest Pass leading to fifth class scrambling and wide switchbacks up to Lind Ridge finishing at the summit of Mount Kosciusko. The rock on Lind Ridge is a peralkaline rhyolite and is known to be pretty chossy. The Multi-form has a hard time reproducing crumbly rock so this will be the section I need to train on the most. I can’t express how excited I am that this course starts right from the streets Boennigburg and I feel quite confident that I can lower the Ames 100 CR of 8:42 (101325 Pascals) set in 2516 by Kangerlussuaq standout, Felicity Roche. It would be an honor to bring our backyard mountain CR back to WAU and I hope Ames is selected as the ECAA Mountain Ultra Championship course in 2524 for a proper competitive race!

Route of the Ames 100 from downtown Boennigburg to Mount Bursey and Mount Kosciusko (95 km, 4,990 m d+)
Route of the Ames 100 from downtown Boennigburg to Mount Bursey and Mount Kosciusko (95 km, 4,990 m d+)

Elevation profile of the Ames 100, starting from Boennigburg (95 km, 4,990 m d+)
Elevation profile of the Ames 100, starting from Boennigburg (95 km, 4,990 m d+)

I look forward to the shorter ECAA races, especially the Mount Sidley Crater VK in the Executive Committee Range, but I’m also excited about running on the mainland. While my collegiate racing comes first, I would like to begin training sections of the Transantarctic Mountains Trail with the dream of one day lowering the self supported FKT. Since mainland excursions are expensive and difficult to support between villages, I would like to establish the Transantarctic Mountains Trail Club, or TAM-TC, at WAU and bring fellow students of all physical levels to run and explore the longest continuous open air trail on Earth. The route has only been ice free since the 2450s and the views looking left down the Transantarctic Mountains to the West Antarctic Sea and right to the ice sheet are said to be stunning beyond even the most immersive VR digital twin — for 3,600 kilometers! It’s as if the Tromsø Skyrace (the oldest continuously held trail race in human history, 507 years, first run in 2014) met the dull, but long, and now unrunnable, Appalachian Trail of the former USA.

In addition to mountain running at WAU, I am excited for the opportunity to learn how to Nordic ski and participate in the annual non-competitive (but somehow still competitive) Vostokloppet. The last great ski traverse is a 1,500 km, 10 day stage “race” across the ice sheet commemorating the archaic sport. Everyone from Olympians to grandmas participate in the Vostokloppet and I would like to bring the spirit of WAU to this incredible celebration of human history and endurance.

On campus and in parallel to my studies, I want to write my bachelor’s thesis on pre-NE technology. I want to see if I can activate a program called Instagram from the old internet. My interest is in reconstructing what day-to-day life was like for a trail runner back when the sub 70 degree latitudes were inhabited in open air. I’m interested in how they were able to run well with such unspecific training and nutrition. I’m curious about the jokes that made them laugh and how everyone but the very top elites split training with unimaginable 40 hour work weeks and repetitive domestic tasks. Outside of sport and my studies, I plan on being an active member of the Boennigburg Hare Krishna temple. Even with everything we now know about our universe, a strong spiritual balance helps me be at peace with the moment in time we occupy.  

Thank you for reviewing my matriculation essays for enrollment at West Antarctic University. I look forward to joining you in person in 2523.

Sincerely, 

Aleksei Marsov

Transantarctic Mountains Trail: 3,600 km 105,580 m d+. Boennigburg, the capital of West Antarctica and location of WAU’s main campus is on Marie Byrd Island on the left.
Transantarctic Mountains Trail: 3,600 km 105,580 m d+. Boennigburg, the capital of West Antarctica and location of WAU’s main campus is on Marie Byrd Island on the left.

Elevation profile of the Transantarctic Mountains Trail (3,600 km 105,580 m d+).
Elevation profile of the Transantarctic Mountains Trail (3,600 km 105,580 m d+).

[Author’s Note: While this is a work of fiction, the Antarctic Ice Sheet extent and sea level shown is based on the best model predictions currently available for the year 2500 under a plausible climate scenario [1]. While the routes described are fictional and currently beneath several kilometers of ice, the topography is true following BedMachine Version 3, a bed topography/bathymetry map of Antarctica based on mass conservation, streamline diffusion, and other methods [2]. I would like to thank Dr. Sebastian Rosier for his expertise in Antarctic research and help making this article as scientifically accurate as possible.] 

  1. DeConto, R., Pollard, D. Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise. Nature 531, 591–597 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature17145
  1. Morlighem, M., Rignot, E., Binder, T. et al. Deep glacial troughs and stabilizing ridges unveiled beneath the margins of the Antarctic ice sheet. Nat. Geosci. 13, 132–137 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0510-8

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