Sunday, April 22, 2007

Weekend in the city

Flying is a strange experience. It's similar to an endurance event in a lot of ways. I usually spend my day wrapped in varying levels of anxiety, subsisting on Power Bars and Advil and copious amounts of caffeine. And just when I'm locked in the most uncomfortable position, head spinning as cramps crawl up my legs, I look out the window and see views like this - a crisp moment of clarity that convinces me it's time to just quit my job and toss my Advil and devote my life to mountaineering.

Of course, it's too easy to feel this way from the seat of a plane, even cramping and a little bit airsick, I'm still in a bubble of relative safety, warm and dry. This is similar to the work conference I attended this weekend, in a lot of ways. It was the Alaska Press Club conference, or "J-Week (J for journalism)" to the wide-eyed reporters who attend. It's a rallying cry for those of us who are trying to convince ourselves the newspaper industry isn't dying. We talk about ethics and community responsibility. We give ourselves awards and cheer on the work we do for the greater good. It's easy for us to believe in the comfort and safety of our conference group, and it feels great to do so, but the knowledge feels different when I step out onto the terrifyingly unnavigable one-way streets of life ... or downtown Anchorage.

Because I live in a small town on the outskirts of Alaska, I always have this sense of the smallness of civilization versus the hugeness of wilderness. But in Anchorage, a small city by most standards, the opposite feels true - civilization is bearing down and the wilderness is slipping further away. I had a whirlwind weekend trying to connect with everyone I know in the city. It seemed like one second I was meeting old names but new faces at a slide show in the Mat-Su Valley and the next I was at a random Anchorage watering hole, lapping up the gossip of a place I no longer live with a boss I no longer work for. I slept about four hours total each night and didn't work out for three days. That's right. Three days rest. By day three, I don't know that my gimp knee ever felt worse.

I'm not quite sure what to think about that. I have this theory about sitting in chairs and cars, and the way that can keep my knee at bad angles, generating fluids and other such waste products that just sit there, festering and swelling. But I don't think that theory has any medical backing. I finally got out for a hike this morning with two hardcore adventure-race types/Ultrasport veteran cyclists who are coincidentally also dealing with knee problems right now. (I won't mention names, because there seemed to be some concern about Internet anonymity :-) We went on a "gimp hike" somewhere in the front range. I didn't pack any clothing for outdoor activity, so when I took this picture, it was about 40 degrees with 30 mph-wind gusts, and all I was wearing was a single layer with a cotton hoodie pulled over my ears. I didn't even have gloves. It felt great. Like I was draining out all of the gunk - not that that's a real treatment ... and it probably did help that I was coming out of three days of terrible nutrition, sloth and sleeplessness that probably needed its own share of draining.

Now I'm back. It feels like a crazy long time lapse, when in fact it's only been a few days. I was surprised to come home and see some snow on the ground still. It seems like weeks should have passed. But I think all I need is some sleep and a good long day in grayness to snap me back to reality.