It’s 1:00 p.m. U.S. Mountain Time and I quickly pause the first episode of the Eco-Challenge reboot. I messed up on my first attempt at WhatsApp and instead dialed direct to Barbados. Aly Allen (née Venti) gave a pleasant answer and apologized for not knowing about the Eco-Challenge. “I don’t know anything going on in the world,” she admitted while staring out the window at the Atlantic Ocean. She has her hands full, literally. The 38-year-old is a mom to three, all under the age of three, and 10-month-old Elle is cooing in her lap. Elle’s twin sister, Naomi, would grab the phone and find a way to dial me the next day.
Allen, then Venti, won the 2016 Badwater 135 and was already living in Barbados at the time. Four years later she’s still at the far southern end of the Caribbean. She married Teddy Allen shortly after that Badwater win and the two PhDs, she in oceanography and he in meteorology, are totally in love with island life. Both their three-year-old daughter, Wynnie, and the 10-month-old twins were born on the island and are Barbadian citizens. Teddy works at a Caribbean meteorological institute and Aly is on maternity leave from teaching at a local university. The couple stay on the island on Teddy’s annual contract being renewed, and the girls benefit from free health care and access to public schools, among other island opportunities. Wynnie will start preschool this year and they just finished back-to-school shopping for the required uniform.
“I’m looking at the ocean; it’s 100 meters away, maybe 200. We’re on a steep hill and it’s a two-minute walk down,” Allen gushes, eager to share. “We’re on the east coast. This is not where the tourists are. It’s rugged, rocky rugged coast, so there’s surf.” I spotted a picture of her on a surfboard earlier and she instead proudly deflects. “I surf, but my husband is very good. There’s always a wave to surf here, on the Atlantic side of the island.” They don’t have a boat, but it’s not the best coastline for a boat anyway with the typically high surf. “You don’t want to own a boat, you want to have a friend who has a boat,” she cheers. All of her kids were in the water at a week old. “There are a lot of tide pools at low tide; it’s great for babies and toddlers. Just a sandy pool, a foot or two feet deep to splash in,” she says of the kids’ beach time.
Island life is good and Allen speaks about it with a lot of passion, frequently emphasizing her adjectives. “It’s a beautiful place to raise kids. It’s so much more laid back, a simpler way of life. And the ocean, we could not afford to live so close to the ocean in the U.S. I think we’re much happier here,” she shared. I press on differences from life in the U.S., and goods versus services is an easy contrast. “I could deliver a baby without insurance here cheaper than I could in the U.S. with insurance. It costs $30 to go to the dentist, but a jar of jelly might cost $25. When we moved here the cheapest car on the island for sale was $5,000 and nothing on the dash worked, not the gas gauge, speedometer, nothing.” She generalized that gas in Barbados was the most expensive in the world, and she was close. I think Hong Kong is more expensive, but it is true that Barbadian gas is more than twice as much as in the U.S. Fortunately there isn’t a ton of driving to be done. Barbados is among the most densely populated Caribbean islands with some 287,000 people on a 167-square-mile spread.
Anyone with kids knows how helpful grandparents can be and Allen shares in the significance of this absence. “I miss those you love; we’ve got three kids with no grandparents nearby,” she answered, though also pointing that visits happen as frequently as they can. “I miss the convenience of things,” she added. “If your trash day is Monday and Monday is a holiday, in the U.S. you’re sure that it’ll be picked up on Tuesday. It’s not like that here. There are things you take for granted, like how well paved roads are, or how efficiently things happen.” None of that’s a complaint though and Allen accepts some of these misses as part of the greater experience.
And island life isn’t just beach time either, for a long-distance runner like Allen. “My husband is very patient, I do get to run. I’m not training, nothing too fast but I’m trying to get back into it,” and she explained that Barbados isn’t a pancake-flat island either. “The roads are steep, but they’re not long hills. The hill we live on is 16% grade.” And as with everything in her life right now, Allen’s happy, and happy with her current timeline too. It shows in her voice for the entirety of our hour-long call. “Racing can be selfish, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. But being a mother is very selfless,” she reflected. “My headspace is not there yet, I get to run for fun. I do hope to get back to racing when the time is right.” A long run right now might be as much as 19 miles, going round trip to change an air filter on a piece of scientific equipment, and she frequently jumps rope on the back porch of their home, a former Chattel house. She explains that it was a movable house, one without a foundation. While historic, their structure has since been attached to a permanent foundation. “Oh no, no,” she quickly stomps down my question on air conditioning though. It’s around 80-degrees Fahrenheit right now as we’re speaking, but even without air conditioning, Allen says it never feels bad there thanks to the trade winds.
Allen was incredibly welcoming in sharing about life in Barbados, and followed up with even more pictures a day later. And then she expertly summed up her recent years. “My life since the 2016 Badwater has been fun runs and babies. Oh my God, I’m lucky to raise my kids here. I don’t have the stresses of parenting in the U.S. We just go down to the beach,” she says brightly.
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