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 ...