Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Anticipating winter

Date: Oct. 10
Mileage: 23.1
October mileage: 188.2
Temperature upon departure: 42
Rainfall: .51"

Before my lung-busting climb and nose-freezing descent of the Eaglecrest road this morning, I noticed several heating oil trucks parked along the North Douglas highway. Homeowners stood outside with gray looks on their faces, watching hundreds of their dollars being pumped away into rusty holding tanks.

This afternoon at work, my boss - who happens to sit in the desk next to mine - decided to set up his full-spectrum therapy light. We’ll both be happily clicking away at our computers until he turns to answer the phone, and suddenly I’m blinded by hundreds of watts of Seasonal-Affective-Disorder-blasting brightness.

Winter is coming. Am I the only one who’s happy about this?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the unlimited daylight and marginally warmer temperatures of summer as much as the next person. But winter! Winter with its promise of snow-swept skylines and crisp air and trails frozen to smooth perfection. Winter with its boundaryless bike rides and powder-carving snowboard descents and trail-blazing snowshoe tracks. Winter is coming! How could you be anything be excited?

Of course, winter also is the season of 2 p.m. sunsets and sleet storms and endless days of 35-degrees-and-raining. But summer has mosquitoes and sunburns and seemingly endless days of daylight-induced insomnia. If I had to weigh all of the good and the bad, and was completely honest with myself, there’s a good chance I’d still choose Alaska winters over summers.

I’m beginning to think there might be something wrong with me.

Some people go to sleep at night thinking about tropical shorelines and warm sand and the calm rhythm of the ocean. When I dream, I see frozen expanses of muskeg lined with black spruce that bend and twist like great Gothic sculptures ... an environment just as foreign to me as as a palm tree paradise, and just as quieting. Interior Alaska in the winter.

I look forward to winter. Winter is a time of peace and solitude, of retreat and reflection. At the same time, winter demands constant attention and vigilance. There are times of unexpected hardship that rattle my emotions to their core. Winter forces me to toss introspection aside and focus solely on the necessities of survival. A return to instinct ... something pure.

I crave these cold landscapes and I’m not entirely sure why. Sometimes I wake up from another muskeg dream and I wonder where this obsession comes from. Maybe it’s because there’s meditation in the emptiness. There’s challenge in the extreme. But mostly, there’s beauty in the environment ... places so lonely, you’re certain you must be the first person to ever set foot there; places so quiet, you begin to wonder if maybe the world finally ended, and nobody let you know.

I want this winter to be the best winter yet. I want to travel the Yukon; I want to travel the Tetons; I want to travel the Alaska Range. And if I have to suffer a bunch to make any of it so, all the better ...


  1. There may be a screw loose, but as long as it didn't hold anything important in place, who cares?

    I am glad I don't live in Alaska, I must admit. I think the rain would, from the sounds of it, drive me mad.

  2. You would love the Pigeon Falls of the last few weeks.

  3. Girl, we are wired 100% differently but I love your enthusiasm and your ability to suffer happily through weather that would make me hide in bed with a good book, a bottle of wine and an entire chocolate cake.

  4. It sounds like it would be absolutely beautiful beyond words, but I don't like to be cold, so, I'll come back and see it here.

  5. Hell yeah! Winter kicks summer's ass. Tetons eh? I was wondering how the mountain biking might be in Yellowstone in the winter...they have all those stinking snowmobile trails. Might as well make some use of them.

  6. Jill, have you read Dick Proenneke's book, One Man's Wilderness? Beyond being by far my favorite Alaska book and one of my favorite 'run away and live in the woods' books, Dick was a HUGE fan of Winter. Recommended.

  7. I love winter. Here it means sunsets at 4, lots of fog and nights of rain.

  8. I'm with you Jill. People think I'm nuts, but I long for the months of temperatures hovering around 10 degrees. I wish it would snow everyday from now until March. Summer is nice, but winter is what living in Alaska is all about.

  9. Hey Jill-
    If you find your way up to Fairbanks this winter and need a warm place to crash, just let me know...
    Your blog makes me miss Juneau - say hello to everyone at work!
    p.s. isn't it a little early for the sad lights to come out?!

  10. Best winter riding is in Fairbanks -imho- Just find a mushing trail, a snowmachine trail, a frozen river, and GO FOR IT!

  11. It hurts my bones to think about winter.

  12. Love the blog! Makes winter sound so lovely. Actually, I love winter too, maybe because I was literally born in a blizzard. This will be my first winter on bike, and I'm sure I'll be questioning my sanity somewhere on the trail!

  13. You are definitely not the only one--I'm psyched for winter and to see the snow line move down the mountains!

  14. I definitely like cold weather better than 90F and HUMIDITY...yuck!!
    We are just now having some great fall weather days and people make comment because, I am still wearing tank-tops...yes, this is a nice temperatures (60-70F)

  15. I love winter, too, though don't think I could handle 2pm sunsets. When I used to tell people that I moved here from Minnesota, I'd almost always get the same comment in response: "I'll bet you don't miss those winters, huh?" Actually, the winters didn't bother me at all; it was the summers with sweltering heat, intense humidity, and scads of mosquitos that I'd suffer through (though I do miss my time at the lakes...).

    In the winter, the world was mine! We used to live across from a suburban nature park called Lone Lake Park. It was very popular among area residents in the summer, but in the winter I owned that place. I'd go hiking over there on a winter evening with my dog, Pooch, and NEVER did we see another soul over there. I guess most Minnesotans, despite bragging of their hardiness, can't stand to be out in the dark of night when it's 10 degrees (or -10 degrees). The crisp air, the solitude - I loved it.

    The one thing I both like and don't like about living where we do now is the lack of consistent winter weather. We'll get a huge snowstorm, but then two days later it's 50 again, and it all melts away. I like having snow stick around a while. On the other hand, it's nice being able to ride my road bike outside through the winter, and I only have to head west a couple hours for some decent skiing and snowshoeing. That, or just head up Pikes Peak a ways...

    Great post - now you have me jonesin' for winter! :)


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