Saturday, October 24, 2009

I'm in the photograph

It has been a rather dull weekend - dull meaning, mostly, that Juneau's normal autumn weather came back. It still has no real teeth to it ... a little rain, a little wind, nothing hurricane-ific. I rode 57 miles on Thursday, 27 miles today and did a 3.5-hour hike up Thunder Mountain on Friday.

The hike was inspired by a semi-sunny sucker hole that closed in very quickly. I decided to try out a new trail to the top. I located the trailhead on my map, and after about a quarter mile came to what looked like a three-way fork that was not on the map. I chose the path that went straight up the mountain, because that seemed like the most logical route. It petered out quickly and dumped me in a drainage - an obvious deer trail. But, bull-headed as I am, I continued to zig-zag between that drainage and another, bushwhacking through barren alder and blueberry bushes, until I was scrambling up a virtual waterfall, slipping all over the place and clutching devil's club stalks because they were everywhere, and consequently the only thing to hang on to. I'm still picking thorns out of my palms. By the time I crawled out of the jungle, I was nearly to the ridge, soaked in muddy runoff and frustration and determined to take the familiar Heinzelman Ridge trail back to civilization, even though it would have dumped me on the Glacier Highway, where I faced a four- or five-mile jog to my car. I didn't care. I traversed the ridge through sideways rain and gray-out fog. Upon return, I found the Thunder Mountain trail, which turned out to be a real trail, and also was nowhere near the place where I hiked up. Live and learn.

But I was disappointed by the lack of photographic inspiration this weekend, and even more disappointed by the way the gray sky and wet pavement seemed to strip away any motivation I had to ride. The 57-miler was the first truly tedious thing I've done in a long time. I stuck with it mostly because I had planned it. Then, after Friday's debacle of a hike, I had an even harder time coaxing myself out the door today.

It wasn't so much the weather - to be perfectly honest, I have been pretty lucky with the windows I've caught and I didn't even get rained on during both of my rides. But those gray drab landscapes were just uninspiring. It was cold and windy and I just wasn't feeling the same nervous energy that has propelled me to new heights this season. Instead of big dreams and realizations, my mind remained as gray and blank as the sky. I was just bored. And it was enlightening to realize the reason why I was so bored ...

There was nothing to photograph.

Despite my proliferation of pictures, photography hasn't been a major driving motivator for me in the past. There's a reason I still only own a single, simple digital point-and-shoot and photograph landscapes almost exclusively. I'm not a photographer on a bicycle, I'm a cyclist with a camera. My art isn't photography, it's the outdoors - or, more specifically, my enthusiasm for the outdoors, and my zeal for documenting the things I see and feel.

But the fact remains that I've become increasingly more attached to my camera as an outlet for my art. If I've had a particularly good day on a mountain, I won't let the thing out of my sight until all of the pictures have been downloaded. While I was riding the Great Divide, another touring cyclist in Colorado asked me what I'd rather lose - my camera or my wallet. I breathed a long pause and weighed the choice - my wallet, which was my only means for acquiring food and shelter and bike parts and really even continuing the ride; or my camera, which I received for free and had used to shoot hundreds of pictures from the previous 1,500 miles. I looked at him and answered, in all seriousness, "I'd rather lose the wallet."

Which basically means I care more about the past than the future.

But it also means I've become too focused on the visual side of my art — let's just call my art "creative cycling" (slash-beginner-mountaineering). I'd like to find ways to get back to the roots of expression - the way I used to experience the changes in my body and the startling movements in my mind. Part of me thinks it's about time for real training; that I need to find a concrete goal and drive full-bore toward it. Another part thinks it's time to plan another adventure, even if it's a long way off, and focus my outdoor activities in a way that helps me become more self-sufficient and better prepared for a wider range of demands.

I don't know. I know that right now, I go outside to go outside. And as rewarding as that has been and still is, sometimes it's just not enough.