Tuesday, July 29, 2008

SAD-light summer

Date: July 28
Mileage: 38.2
July mileage: 631.5
Temperature: 48

I felt just over the blah side of awful on my morning ride today - couldn't turn my legs over very fast; couldn't climb; couldn't zone away the general malaise after several miles of warm-up. Every time I have a bad ride like that, I look for reasons why. Overtraining? Hardly. I'm not even training right now. Too much time on the bike? My bike time is barely half what it was in May, and likely would be less if I had more opportunities to go hiking. So, I concluded, the struggle must be psychological.

It's sinking in, this summer. My friend confided that he had resorted to cooking himself all of his most desperate winter comfort foods. Several people have told me they dug their full-spectrum SAD lights out of storage and switched them on. Then today, I was walking by a cubicle when I was hit with a blinding flash of white. "What is that bright light?" I wondered, and squinted toward it. "Oh, it's a SAD light. How sad." The jokes about pot roasts and SAD lights in July were pretty funny, until they weren't jokes.

I know I have no mandate to complain about the weather. No one in Alaska moves here for the weather, and I distinctly signed up for Southeast Alaska knowing full well what I was getting myself into. But my status as a former desert baby and northern country expat means I have no background to draw on when the coping gets tough. We are products of our environment, and it's been a long time since my last vitamin D fix. So I joked about how ready I am for summer to be over already so snow can rescue us from some of this rain, and it was pretty funny, until it wasn't a joke.

During the dark winter, I always believed that getting outside every day would help me push through seasonal malaise. Until now, it always did. But that's not so much the case this summer. I actually feel worse when I'm outside, and start to feel a bit better as the work day drags on, when my eyes are fixed on a computer screen and my back to the window. Maybe the fact that it is summer makes coping harder. Deep down I know that September and October are coming, and there will be no respite or relief. Geoff has been hinting that he's not coming back to Juneau after the Wasatch 100 in September. His plans for extracting himself from this place made for pretty funny jokes, until they weren't jokes.

But just because I'm a little blue right now doesn't mean I'm ready to follow him out. I still love this area, in the same way I'll still love my cat even when she's old and smelly and can't always make it to the litter box. I always knew we'd come to a tipping point. But why did it have to be July?


  1. Those kayaks look like they could be fun. Maybe that would give you one more activity to help you pass thru your SAD period.

    Just a thought.

    Nigity - "Always keep a smile in your heart."

  2. Jimmy Buffet says: "Take the weather with you"

    I say, you are the conductor of your own good time.

    Now, you can sit around feeling down about things that you have no control over, OR you can figure out a way to have fun regardless of the circumstances. It is raining, so what, life goes on.

    Having spent several years in the Army in the PAcific NW I know the weather you are dealing with. But I also know anyone mentally tough enough to complete a 350 mile race the way you did is strong enough to make your own sunshine.

  3. Hey Jill
    Stumbled onto your blog while searching for some on the ground voice during your power emergency from the avalanche. Did not find what I was looking for but found your site and what a jewel. Your thoughts and reflections along with your stunning photos of your interaction in the Juneau area are priceless, you have a gift thanks for sharing it.
    I was in Alaska a year ago but did not have time to really get out and see the country side but through your blog I get a taste of what I missed.
    Your post struck a cord with me today when you mentioned "tipping points". Seems every six to twelve months there comes a point where I have to chose a new trail I could go down or stay the course I have been on. The dichotomy of the joy I feel for where I am now and the sorrow for the path I did not take does not escape me, it is part of being human and I acknowledge both. But key is a sense of "place" for me and the joy I feel no matter what, to know that I belong there. Makes me wonder if SAD is a subconscious doubt played out through our emotions.
    Well enough phycso babel, again a great blog and thanks.


    Henry David Thoreau:

    Our circumstances answer to our expectations and the demand of our natures.

  4. In those dark suffering moments, a hebrew proverb has always kept me going.

    "this too shall pass"

    It is of comfort to me in low times it may help?

  5. The grass is greener all over the world, but where you endure is home. So just ride, the wheels will keep turning, and then you will get home. As of today you are right where you were meant to be ... and tomorrow, we will see.

  6. Alot of people wouldn't be able to handle the unrelenting dreariness of living in a place where the weather is miserable most of the time. That part of Alaska seems to have two seasons....the rain season, and the snow season.

    If I had to live in a place like that I'd be trying to be as active as I could, just to keep my mind occupied. I'd be like a hamster running constantly on his exercise wheel, just to keep from going stir crazy by from being cooped up all the time.

  7. Funny. We moved up here to get away from the violent weather in SE Texas. Had 3 100 yr. floods in 5 yrs. Had a farm on which I can't tell you how many times we had to float our baby goats (about 150 each spring) out to high land from getting 18 inches of rain in a 12 hr. period. Fireants, heat, humidity, Houston traffic, and maybe worst of all, no one who could speak english anymore. :-) My tipping point was at the 16 yr. mark. Sometimes you have to leave a place and there's no dishonor in it. Just remember if you do go, try to remember to peel the moss off of your back first or everybody will know from whence you came. haha
    in the Valley

  8. There has been a running theme in your blog lately. As awesome as Juneau is and as deep as your capacity for outdoor adventures in God-awful conditions, it seems like you're ready for new environs. Geoff's been ready. Has Jill made a decision that she has not yet admitted to herself? Or perhaps you know and you're slowly preparing your loyal readers?

    Where in North America can you get a fair share of sweet sunshine, lots and lots of snow, not too many people and spectacular mountain scenery and that also has a thriving newspaper that needs an award winning graphic designer?

    I won't be surprised if you stick it out in AK for a few more years because I know you love it and intensely harsh conditions are no deterrent for Jill from Juneau. But it would be exciting to follow you (and Geoff) to a new situation and location. You deserve to be paid well and to get your vitamin D on the trail.

    As long as you keep blogging we'll keep reading no matter what your background picture is! :-)

  9. Beautiful pictures, good texts, nice blog! Really nice.

  10. Jill. It is 12:40pm on Tuesday. Go outside right now! It's sunny! I swear I can see the Towers and the glacier from my office window and there is definitely blue sky! Hurry up and get your fix...Woohoo!
    What a relief (no matter how brief it may be.)

  11. Heh, Jill spoke too soon :) Looks like it will be nice out for the next few days.

  12. Jill, I did indeed recharge my SAD light visor and it's helped a lot. I now have pep, vim and vigor. It's a drag not to have that wonderful vitality we normally take for granted. Hope you get yours back. Good luck in determining where on earth you need to be. I think there's something very useful in staying put for a while...but I have to admit, Juneau? Not for me....you've made it seem do-able, though. Too much mold in the walls, there, though, for me. And yes, I've been out today in the sun, creating new freckles! WooHoo!

  13. Hey Jill -- don't let anyone tell you that SAD is a state of mind or that it's some ramification of thoughts tucked off in the recesses of your brain.

    SAD is as physiological as is any other illness, condition or disease (do people tell a diabetic it's all in his/her head??)...it's not clear cut what causes it, but an overproduction of melatonin may be the culprit (that's the hormone that prepares one's body for sleep) -- it doesn't shut off when it should. The melatonin on/off switch is the eye's interpretation of light...if'n the eye doesn't find enough bright light, the switch stays on and you walk around physically tired and ready for bed...all day long.

    Deciding where to live based on the climate? More power to you! Go for the place that makes you alive and happy.

    My sister lives in Portland, OR...a cyclist's heaven, but my personal hell: a beautiful, lush place that is rainy and gray all the damned time. I hate it! There are a few times during the year that I'm ready to give Minnesota the boot as well.

    We all make those where-to-live decisions based on what makes us happy, what is comfortable and what is meaningful. No rationalization needed.


  14. Yo - If it's any consolation at all, I would gladly trade you your soggy days for my 100 degree, smokey (wildfires), hellish days I've been riding in. Also: when I was in Sitka I just went to the tanning booths for 10 minute sessions about once a week when I was feeling particularly dark and it always did the trick.

  15. aucillasinks,
    you are a very astute observer. you more or less summarized things pretty dead on. problem is that part you mention about "thriving newspaper"... there's got to be one or two of those left somewhere out there.

    it's easy for me to try to convince jill that she shouldn't let her job influence her life so much but for some people, that's just the way they roll, and jill would be the first to agree that she is one of those people and that i most certainly am not.

    yeah, Whitehorse is totally the answer but there's that whole problem of it being a different country.

  16. There's lots-o-sunshine here in UT—a little too much, actually. I've got a wicked-awesome farmer's tan to prove it.

    I'm you'd make a perfect contributor to the Daily Universe or the Deseret News. ;)

    In all seriousness, UT has a great economy. You can find a job pretty quickly. In fact my company is hiring!


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