Military wife Jillian Blum learned a valuable lesson when she first PCSed to Alaska: “The tundra will kick your butt.”
Blum, whose husband is a Marine-turned-airman, had grown up in warm and sunny Arizona riding quads, shooting guns and building forts in the desert. So it was a rough introduction in 2019 when she had to spend her first two winters in the Final Frontier alone while her husband was overseas.
“When you’re in the military, everybody understands that you don’t get to pick where you’re at, and that the secret is making the best of where you’re at,” Blum said. “It’s clinically shown that getting outside and socializing with others who are supportive is beneficial for your mental and physical health.”
She tried to do just that. But Blum soon discovered that the arctic climate and topography aren’t the most rookie-friendly, especially when you’re a native desert dweller. Not to mention that most of the time, she had a toddler in tow and couldn’t find anyone who wanted to recreate with her outdoors.
Blum was lonely, cold, unsure of her harsh-weather skills and isolated. So she began brainstorming.
The result was Rove Co, an outdoor education and community group for anyone in the Fairbanks or south-central Alaska areas.
“There was just this moment where I was like, ‘Screw it, there needs to be more accessible places for more people to find community and be outside,’ especially in a harsh place like where we live,” Blum said.
Adventure is out there
Rove Co officially started in 2022 with an apparel line and a schedule of community meet-ups. The goal was to get cooped-up Alaskans outdoors in a safe, connective, kid-friendly way. Attendees might snowshoe, cross-country ski or hike while hanging out together.
The groups quickly grew in popularity, so much so that Blum began offering meetups in multiple locations, alongside adults-only overnight trips in the Alaskan wilderness.
“I found my community and started to feel confident and in a good place myself as a mother taking my child into the outdoors,” she said. “I felt like I could be in a position where I could keep creating this community for others, too.”
Blum ensured that Rove Co’s multi-day adventures heavily emphasized outdoor education. Campers might learn about avalanche safety, backpacking in the backcountry, cold weather preparation, mountaineering or a host of other Alaska-specific topics. Thus far, it seems to be working; every trip Rove Co has offered has sold out.
“I didn’t want people to not have opportunities to get outside with other people,” Blum said. “I’m not naïve. I definitely understand how dangerous Alaska is, so to be able to recreate safely is something that everyone here needs to understand.”
Rove Co & military motivation
That group includes military families, many of whom Blum often heard complaining about their duty assignment. She also noticed many military members and their spouses appeared terrified to leave base, or even their houses. While open to everyone, including civilians, Rove Co has a vision of changing that attitude.
To reach that goal, the company has volunteer ambassadors who spread the word about Rove Co events, lend their outdoor expertise at meetups and on trips and create their own outdoor communities — even if they’re not living in Alaska.
Locally, Rove Co has ambassadors on both Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force bases who encourage their neighbors to get some fresh air.
“The whole reason I am trying so hard to get people outside is so they can have a better quality of life,” Blum said. “We have suicide rates in Alaska I’m not comfortable with, and we’re advocating for ways to have better mental health through outdoor recreation with Rove Co.”
Suicide is among the Top 10 causes of death in Alaska, according to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
In 2023, Blum would like to establish working relationships with the military bases in her adopted state. If more military families knew about Rove Co, she believes that more would come to meetups and even on adventures.
Perhaps then, she dreams, they will know the joy of hanging out with 40 friends on the winter solstice, the thermometer registering a chilly -37 degrees.
“It’s pretty cool knowing how many people continue their growth in whatever outdoor recreation area because of a Rove Co event,” Blum said. “I know nine people who came to one of our early winter meetups and now ski four times a week on their own.”
“That all started because of a Rove Co meetup.”