Monday, August 10, 2009

Thunder Mountain

A landlord called and cancelled an appointment on me today because she already rented her apartment out to someone who weaseled their way in before me. I am beginning to get that "I'm going to be homeless forever" feeling in my gut, and honestly, it's not for lack of trying. I could be trying harder, and I could be less picky or more willing to blow all of my income down a rent hole. Sometimes I think about just pitching my tent in campsite No. 5 at the Mendenhall Lake Campground, which was my first "place" in Juneau. I've been thinking a lot lately about my first days in Juneau, because they were exactly three years ago, and they were filled with a lot of the same desires and uncertainties. But those days, those rainy homeless days in August 2006, were also filled with hope. Sometimes I feel like this second go-around is lacking in that regard.

I had planned to spend the morning dealing with my housing issues, but that call and another discouraging e-mail took all the wind out of my sails. I looked out the window to see sunlight filtering through a thin bank of fog, and beyond that was a surprisingly large patch of blue sky. "Screw it," I thought. "I'll just go hiking."

I headed to the Heinzleman Ridge trailhead. Heinzleman Ridge trail is a place I like to go when I'm in the mood for feeling lost, without the scary prospect of actually being lost. I have never found my way up to the ridge on the actual trail. I always end up wandering up a faint spur in a maze of bear trails at some point and bushwhacking through devil's club and blueberry bushes for a mile or so until I reach the meadow. As I plow through the vegetation, I grab handfuls of bright blueberries and talk to the unseen bears as I fill my mouth with juicy sour goodness. A fun way to travel, even if I would genuinely appreciate it if I stumbled across the real trail one of these days.

My recent longer hikes and bike rides have been alternately exhilarating and depressing. Exhilarating because I really am happiest in the mountains, skimming alpine ridges above a huge populated world that hardly notices me. And depressing because I my life currently is uncertain and unsettled, and I find myself slipping into that feared dark head space and its windows that feature me front and center on a downward spiral.

When Geoff first broke up with me, two days before we left Juneau for our summerlong trip down south, I immediately lost all interest in biking. I really did. Zero passion. Biking, like the mountains, is a place I go to soak in space and solitude; at that point in time, that place was dark and filled with thoughts that made me feel really bad about myself. One of the few things that kept me riding during those last weeks in April and early May was a wavering conviction to continue training for the Great Divide (I didn't admit this to many people, but I mentally pulled the plug on that dream up until very close to the actual race, stopping the drain only long enough to maintain an excuse to stay in Utah and continue "training" by going on fun trips to the desert.) I remember just dreading going out for rides during our trip down the Cassier Highway and the Pacific Coast - even though we were traveling through beautiful places and bike rides were often my only opportunity to spend some time alone. I don't think I ever blogged much about that aspect of the road trip. It really was pretty miserable.

Anyway, summer marched onward and things got better. The fun desert "training" proved successful in that I rediscovered my passion for cycling. Then I actually showed up for the start of the Tour Divide, and, even more shockingly, eventually finished. Honestly, if you asked me a week before the race what my chances were, I would have just shaken my head. I had frostbite that kept me off my feet for most of March. I was working 70-hour weeks to make up for my upcoming vacation through April, and the breakup kept me preoccupied and demotivated in May. May turned out to be the biggest obstacle I would have to overcome. That I found the healthy head space to actually stick out the Tour Divide is even more amazing to me than the fact I managed to physically get through it despite my admittedly inadequate training.

But, I guess the point I'm working up to is that I am falling back into a dark head space, which was expected, but frustrating nonetheless. I guess Tour Divide stood to cure me only if I could keep up that "bike-eat-sleep-bike-eat-sleep" mindset all the time, which is obviously impossible. I knew I would eventually end up back here, confronting the hard things I left behind. At least I have places like Thunder Mountain that can still serve as escape, and a newfound optimism that, even if my mind isn't always along for the ride, as long as I keep plugging toward my goals, I'll eventually get there.


  1. Hello People, I was on a holiday for a month just passing by read this interesting post its great to see that every thing here is getting more lively...thanks a lot for these keep them coming....


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  2. FWIW
    Warmth and sunshine can fix a lot of that darkness. I'm a bit older than you (only a little) and have made a life's mission out of following good weather, planning adventures, however small, around those places, and truly enjoying the cold as a break from it all, which makes me enjoy the nice sunny days all that much more when I get back to them. It's all good. Try it, especially with those toes....

  3. You can roll that stone
    To the top of the hill
    Drag your ball and chain behind you

    You can carry that weight
    With an iron will
    Or let the pain remain behind you

    Chip away the stone
    Chip away the stone
    Make the burden lighter
    If you must roll that rock alone

    You can drive those wheels
    To the end of the road
    You will still find the past right behind you

  4. Mmmmm...if I were in your shoes...I think I'd have a Pepsi and a couple bowls of ice cream.

    Kinda sucks not having a place to call your own though.

    Will things get better (apartment-wise) once it gets colder?

    You can always have our spare room...the only problem is that we are about 5000 miles away from where you are:-(

  5. Don't discount simple physiology for some of your darkness. Many times after a big event is over, one experiences a "let down." Happens to me. I'm not discounting your difficulties, but, personally, I would always blame outside forces until I got through the gutter, got the activity level up and felt better. Best to just realize this as at least a magnifier and push through the negativity until you get those endorphines going again. We are addicts, you know. Was that unsolicited advice...oops, sorry.

  6. "Girl keep your head up!"


  7. "...and a newfound optimism that, even if my mind isn't always along for the ride, as long as I keep plugging toward my goals, I'll eventually get there."

    That's the biggest benefit of succeeding at endurance events. Oh sure, there is that endorphin high, the toys, those bragging rights, but most importantly you learn that if you just keep 'plugging' away, in time you'll be seeing all this from a long way off.

    I try to remind myself not to get too attached to the present, it will soon be in the past.

    Yr Pal Dr Codfish

  8. I think you're on the right track getting outside. If you have to face things anywhere, face them with the wind in your hair, the sun on your face and beauty before you. It will be hard to forget the ultimate joy of living.

    P.S. What kind of camera do you use? Your photos are always phenomenal.


  9. Craig has a good point, even if it may have been unsolicited. Hehe..

    Anyway, having a place to call your own is helpful, especially when going through what you are describing. We've been through our own challenge finding this place just recently and I very much hope that the opportunity for a place you deem worthy to throw rent money at comes your way soon!

    Keep on keeping on as best you are able in the mean time and you will be ready. :)

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  11. Got the quote wrong the first time. Should have been:

    "If you're going through Hell, keep going" - Winston Churchill

  12. I'd guess you are going through a good old-fashioned depression. We can't always keep that at bay despite bike rides, thousands of miles of peddling, leaving town, stopping work, getting out, getting on with our lives, immersing ourselves in things bigger than ourselves, or whatever. It's a chemical brain imbalance. You can get help for that, even medical help, if you fear for your own well-being. Your post seems like a call for help....consider getting some aside from what you are trying. Just some more unsolicited advice, Jill. Gritting it out doesn't always yield the best results....

  13. you'll feel better once you get a place, i bet.

  14. I am right there with you in the housing department in Juneau. It is really a weird year...I've never had this much trouble finding a place before. I will pass along anything I hear about that is too small us us 3.
    I could point you in the right direction for the two trails up thunder if you want...
    Best to keep heading for the hills. Picking/eating berries helps too.

  15. I was in a similar place seven or eight years ago. I had been completely blindsided by the demise of a 5 year relationship which left me homeless. I was at the mercy of my friends and family, staying a night here and a night there, and I definitely think it made things that much worse.

    I could say a bunch of things that sound trite and meaningless and the truth is, nothing but time will probably make you feel any better. As lame as it sounds, you just have to keep going until you get through it.

    I know many of us presume a lot by feeling like we know you just because we read your blog. Even so, I do feel like I know a little piece of you from the thoughts and experiences you've shared here. One thing I feel confident about is that you're really good at finishing things, and I believe that perseverance will help you make it to the other side of this crap.

    As always, thanks for sharing.

  16. I remember long ago, arriving at the top of a local hill while my companions were riding in circles waiting for when one of them pointed at his bike and said :"my sanity machine". It sure has been for me.

    You are a brilliant and talented person which, alas, doesn't seem to help much with dealing with life's bumps and bruises. I have gotten much pleasure reading your blog. I hope you get some breaks -soon. Life will get better. Hang in there. Get enough rest.


  17. I just thought of something....

    Wouldn't it be ironic if your blog popularized Juneau to the point that it brought a whole bunch of new people into town looking to live there, and you were one responsible for creating your own housing crisis ?. :-)

  18. I have found the most significant contributor to stress/depression for me is uncertainty. Controlled change with expected outcomes is fine... change where you don't know what will happen next tends to make me spiral down.

    Just know that this is a transition phase for you, that is will pass, and that you will find your way to Heinzleman Ridge!

  19. Read Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser.
    How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow.
    I picked it up by chance at the airport. It is an excellent book. Just what I needed.

  20. once again beautiful words and images from a beautiful woman.. you will find a place to settle into.

  21. Lightening storms, life storms...

    Strength is Forever!

    good thoughts your way!

  22. Thanks Leslie, you're awesome.

    Deb, I was curious if you have heard from Nicole at all regarding her apartment. I've called her twice, but haven't heard back. Also, we should go hiking soon. Maybe you can show me the proper Heinzelman trail. (I know its general direction and that I should keep walking laterally along the mountain, but I always manage to turn left too soon.)

    And thanks to all for the kind words and advice. To those who might be concerned I am clinically depressed, I just wanted to say that I am not even near that level of malaise. Just a little low from time to time - I think a natural reaction of standing on the other side of any kind of upheaval.

  23. Jill, I know someone trying to rent their condo (it's available 9/1) You can contact her at 723-6356, you might need a roommate to help with the rent and it is in the valley. May not be what you are looking for but just passing this on......


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