Saturday, December 15, 2007

A little bit SAD

Date: Dec. 14 and 15
Mileage: 33.4 and 31
Hours: 3:00 and 3:00
December mileage: 375.8
Temperature upon departure: 36 and 35
Precipitation: .54"

I think just about every Alaskan - at least once during the winter - experiences a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a depressive condition cause not by cold, but by lack of sunlight. Here in Juneau, we have a more daylight than points north of here, but it is arguable we see even less sunlight. As solstice nears, with the low sun barely scraping above the peaks of Admiralty Island and a thick, thick cloud cover refusing to budge, Juneau appears to be locked in perpetual twilight - like the Arctic Circle, but without the long sunsets.

Darkness takes its toll. I love winter and spend a fair amount of time outside, so SAD has never hit me that hard. But when it does, I know exactly what's happening. I sense it in the morning, when I wake up with an enduring junk fatigue - not the satisfying fatigue that one feels when returning from a long ride, but the empty fatigue one feels after sleeping too long and spending the whole day on the couch. This kind of fatigue is self-perpetuating, I and know this, so I try to force myself to shimmy into all of my bike gear and head out on the long ride I have planned. I hoped for five hours on Friday. I made it nearly three, slogging the entire time, before I had one of those "%$&! this" moments and turned promptly for home, where I proceeded to consume every carbohydrate-laden snack in the house (even chips. I never eat chips.) The evening was filled with false starts and at night my cat decided to start screaming like a murderous banshee (cat screams are very humanlike ... terrifying.) I jolted out of a deep sleep and spent the next several hours in bleary-eyed weariness, staring out the window, waiting for some semblance of light, any light, to appear in the sky.

I had been simmering in moodiness for two hours when Geoff woke up. He blamed my bad mood on training and told me I should take a day off. But I knew sitting around the house watching snow fall and stuffing my face with chips and spoonfuls of jam would only stoke the grump, so I grudgingly suited up and headed out into the ice storm.

The road was covered in new, heavy snow, which made the pedaling slow-going and strenuous. It helped take my mind off carbohydrates and screaming cats, and focus more on my breathing, and the sharp way my quads burned, and the soft drumming of low-volume music on my headphones. I didn't even think that much time had passed when I approached Geoff, who was 10 miles into his weekly long run, looking sopping wet and completely ragged. "That's how I must look, too," I thought.

Later, I veered off the road to the Mendenhall Wetlands, a long mudflat at low tide, thinly blanketed in snow. This kind of terrain is difficult at best, impossible at worst, and I locked into the single-minded pursuit of staying upright amid shallow channels of water, snow-covered clumps of grass, sudden steep banks and pockets of sand so deep it felt as though someone had lassoed my back wheel and was trying to pull me backwards. The landscape was so barren and yet so intricately detailed. My goggles had long since become uselessly wet, and I squinted against the sharp snowflakes, focusing on abstract shapes through my blinking tunnel vision until I lost all concept of where the ground ended and my bike began. Then, suddenly, like a white explosion, a flock of seagulls erupted from the snow right in front of me. I jumped off my bike, completely startled, and paused a moment to let my heart rate slow as the birds swirled and tumbled and settled again on the snow.

And I realized that I felt better.