Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A lack of color

Date: Feb. 16
Details: Rest day

Date: Feb. 17
Mileage: 24
Time: 95 minutes
Weather: Steady rain, 38 degrees, southeast wind 15-25 mph
Details: Tempo ride; intensity 65-90 percent

So today I'm going to post about two things that I don't talk about very often on my blog - writing and discontent.

I feel like I have to preface this post because I'm not going to talk about bicycle riding, trekking or training today. It's actually still somewhat humorous to me that for the past four-plus years, I have been updating what is essentially a bicycle and photo blog. I found out recently that "Up in Alaska" was nominated for a "Best Sports Blog" Bloggie for the third time (I found out too late to solicit votes, but that's OK, because I didn't stand a chance of winning against Fat Cyclist and BikeSnobNYC anyway.) But, yeah, I have a sports blog. This idea still makes me giggle. And photography! I was essentially anti-photograph four and a half years ago, the kind of person who put her hand in front of her face when cameras came out and had only recently acquired a 2-megapixel Fuji digital camera because I was moving to Alaska and "you have to take photos of Alaska." No, if you asked me on Nov. 3, 2005, what I wanted to do with a personal blog, I would have said that I wanted to be a writer, without the drudgery of actually pursuing a career in writing.

Fast-forward four and a half years. Now I have a sports and photo blog with more than 1,000 posts and I spend some of my free time writing creative nonfiction that I develop in the form of books. Right now I'm in the process of finishing up the "2009 story." I've been polishing up the chapters I've written and for the most part I'm pretty happy with them - even the stuff I wrote while I had the flu, when I managed to evoke more than a few, ah, interesting metaphors (chalk that one up to Nyquil.) I really only have one more chapter to actually write, and I've been avoiding it. I pretty much know exactly what I want to do with this chapter; the reason I've avoided writing it is because I don't want this project to end. Oh sure, there's still tons of editing to do, and that horrible, laborious process of trying to get the thing published (I still haven't decided whether or not I'm going to try, to be honest.) But once Chapter 24 is actually written, that's it. The creative development that has provided me so much satisfaction will be done. There won't be any more opportunities to wholly immerse myself in words and images and shimmering pieces of the past until the present me, the one sprawled out on a bed in a dark little room in Fritz Cove, doesn't even exist anymore.

And this is the part where I want to talk about discontent. A vague restlessness has been needling at my senses ever since I stepped off the ferry on July 16 to rebuild my life in Juneau. This restlessness has been pronounced enough that I haven't tried very hard to actually rebuild my life here. I lived fully homeless until I finally rented my own room in mid-September (not an apartment, a room.) I've pushed away from or been unceremoniously pushed out of every new relationship I started. I won't even buy myself new hiking shoes or a trekking backpack - things I really, really need - because some mental block is preventing me from "accumulating stuff." And I have been surviving rather than thriving at work - mostly because I work at a newspaper in a bad economy; surviving is the most we can do. Meanwhile, I keep trying to do the things I love. I go to the mountains. I ride my bike. On rare nights off work, I go to parties and see movies. Life is still very good, very beautiful and very blessed. But something is missing. Something is definitely missing. I don't know what it is. If I was looking for an, ah, interesting metaphor, I would say that my life is like a half-eaten grapefruit. On the surface it's still whole and dimpled and delicious, but I've already mined the juicy center and what I have left on the inside is somewhat ... hollow.

I am happy when I'm in the mountains. I am happy when I ride my bicycle. I am happy in the company of friends. But if someone were to ask me that ever-vague question, "Are you happy?," my honest answer would be "no."

And I am blogging about this now just because it feels cathartic to admit it. I'm not necessarily looking for life coaching, although I always enjoy the random life-coach advice I receive (unsolicited comments are definitely the best part about keeping a blog, even if it can't be an "Award-Winning Blog" because it always gets stuck in the dang Sports Blog category.) But it is becoming obvious to me that I need to do something different. Make some kind of change. As they say, "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got."

I don't know what the solutions might be. They're as distant and daunting as the Great Divide, as close and uncomfortable as the prospect of finishing my book. My plan is to spend a lot of time in the mountains this weekend, thinking about it. I'm going to think about it.


  1. You are such a free spirit Jill that any life coaching comments that I could offer seem fatuous. Enjoy the journey on that unique path that is your own. Thanks for giving all of us the privilege of sharing parts of it with you.

  2. I must say you have some awesome accomplishments that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about. Hope you find answers on your mountain trip.

  3. I wish you well on your journey and hope that you in some way find the answers you are looking for.

    Advice...Change is good and sooner is better than later. You are young so do it now, don't wait 20+ years because it only gets more difficult.

    On the lighter side...You looked really good with those Canadian Rockies in the background, hey! I also felt that the photos complimented your blog quite nicely.

    You're an amazing person Jill with some amazing accomplishments. You will go far in life and I know you will find what you are seeking, but maybe not in Juneau, AK.

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

  4. Hmmm.
    By your own admission, your life is good, beautiful and blessed.
    But the feeling that 'something is missing' seems to be making you feel less than happy.
    Perhaps, though, what is getting in the way of happiness isn't what is missing, but what is there: that feeling.
    Change might be what you need, but there's no way to force it. It just happens. All the time. The only thing we can choose is how to deal with it.
    My point (finally) is this: We are part of it, not the other way around. And it ain't perfect. But it sure is better than nothing.
    Enjoy the mountains this weekend, and do be careful up there.

  5. Jill,

    I know we've only spent face time together once, but I completely understand what you are going through. I felt the same way in Homer last year. I feel a bit better this year in Nigeria, but I still feel like I have no goal or destination in mind ahead of me, especially since I'm a goal and destination kind of gal.

    You should come visit sometime. It's hot, bikes are not as fancy, but the photos are everywhere, and hiking is everywhere as well. Steph is here now and will be back in Juneau in April. You should ask her about her time here and considering a short fall jaunt. If not, send me your resume and I'll pass it along. I think you'd like it here, even if it was just a two week trip to the middle of nowhere Nigeria.

    Thinking of you. Dreaming of snow.

  6. Hi Jill, perhaps it's time to start a big, big travel by bike.

    Regards from Spain

  7. When you are in the mountains think about the mountains, their beauty, their majesty, and their purpose.

    In that you will find happiness if you truly listen to your body and willingly accept what it requires.

    Enjoy your weekend!

  8. Have you ever thought about leaving the bike at home and taking time away to go run around the world? It helps me figure things out in my life. But keep writing things down and eventually the question you're trying to solve will make it's way out of your fingers.

  9. Jill
    I would recommend you spend some time your local university library- specifically see if they have access to the Harvard Business Journal. Read the articles that discuss career paths and mapping a route to achieve your professional goals

    Mary from NC

  10. You've been sticking with Juneau out of loyalty and obstinance for a while now. Part of you never really returned there from Antelope Wells. F*ck it. Bail. Take us somewhere new and sunny.

  11. Like when you get writer's block trying to figure out how to write a chapter in one of your stories..Just think about this long enough and you will find the right answer to your question. So the mountains are a great idea for some serious thinking.

  12. Jill,
    Those are deep, personal questions and it doesn't seem right to just give you advice. What I can do is tell you how I've found meaning and purpose in life. First, I should say that I relate very much to your quest for adventure and just to be in the mountains soaking in their beauty, while pushing my body to new extremes. That feels like truly living, but it never lasts. While not as exhilarating, I've found more lasting satisfaction in relationships... my wife and kids, my friends and my God. And whenever I'm tempted to worship the beauty of nature and the mountains I remind myself that it is only a reflection of God, and seeking him and the life and relationships he has for me will bring more lasting satisfaction. And I'm free to just be thankful for all of beauty I'm blessed to experience.


  13. This sounds stupid but I'm serious -- do you take vitamin D? 5000-10,000 IU/day has made me much cheerier. Our northern sun, even when it shines, isn't enough to prevent vitamin D deficiency.

    It's at least worth considering. Alternatively, I am obsessing about an Annapurna trekking trip. That would cure all, yes?

  14. Maybe you should try going back to church. That might be the missing link. It can't hurt and if it doesn't work out bag it.

  15. Jill, you make your readers smile, laugh and envious of your endeavors. This comment may not contain any "answers", but it should indeed bring you happiness in knowing that you reach your readers in a magical sense...I look forward to reading about your self-discovery :-)

  16. We all have times when we need to change. What works for some people will not work for others. Unfortunately, you will have to figure it out on your own. But based on reading your blog for some time now, I have no doubt that you will figure it out. Just take us with you!

  17. I'm just some dumb 50 year old that makes donuts for a living.....but every time you've seemed really happy is when you are around family and friends.

    Heck, I've never met you, so I'm hardly qualified to give you life advice but my wife and I have a daughter a couple years younger then you and I'd tell her the same thing :-)

  18. Hi Jill, I just recently found your blog and have been enjoying it ever since. I actually found you from a reference Fatty ( made to your blog. I wish you good luck in finding the rest of your grapefruit. Mountains are an excellent place to find answers. I've spent many days contemplating life's many daunting questions in the mountains of Colorado. My best to you and your journey. :O)

  19. Few things....
    1) as a practicing Roman Catholic I can tell you God loves you dont worry about it.

    2) I nominated and voted for your blog. You're awesome.

    3) You need to get laid

    hope you find what you're looking for.

  20. Tough working in what is a dying industry - it must take its toll. Corny, but I've heard people need three things to be happy - something to do (job), someone to love, and something to hope for. Your job sounds less than ideal, you haven't found a good partner(s) yet. You do have something to hope for (outdoors stuff, races, etc.), but I know from experience that without the first two, the third feels a little hollow. Maybe time to move back to the lower 48 (or Canada) - lots of cool outdoorsy towns with more economic opportunities and more eligible guys. Plus being thrown into a new environment jump starts our brain cells, and enthusiasm. Sincerely - Joe

  21. Ditto the comment about Vitamin D. I thought I drank enough milk (OK, chocolate milk), but when both my wife and I screened here in Juneau for VitD level, we were astonishingly low. It took a few weeks of mega doses to catch up, and now a daily supplement, but both our energy levels and moods improved considerably.

    I would modify the comment about the three things we all need... rather than "something to do (job)," I would say 'some way to give back.' I have always had a high stress job that became nearly my entire self-identity. The best thing I ever did was to act on the realization that when you put all your eggs in one basket, there will come a day when bad things happen. So I joined Capital City Fire/Rescue at age 44 and became a volunteer firefighter. Getting involved with the community and returning good to the world around me has diversified my life portfolio, and the low points never seem as low as they did before. Religion does much the same thing for some folks...

    And you gotta have a partner.

    Seeya in the mountains,


  22. Para ser grande, sê inteiro: nada
    Teu exagera ou exclui.
    Sê todo em cada coisa. Põe quanto és
    No mínimo que fazes.
    Assim em cada lago a lua toda
    Brilha, porque alta vive

    To be large, be whole; nothing
    in yourself exagerate or exclude
    Be whole in everything. Put as much
    as you are
    On the minimum you do
    So shines the full moon on the lake
    Shines, because high it lives

  23. I'm no psychologist, but it sounds a lot like you are suffering from depression. It might do you some good to consult with a professional.

    Sorry if that was a bit blunt, but I think you have gotten enough "you're a free spirit, blah, blah, blah" comments that you should be able to handle it.

    Things happen in life, somrtimes, with which we need help. You've lost your partner, been spurned by potential partners, failed to accomplish a big goal, etc. etc in the past year, or so. It might be time to look beyond yourself for help dealing with things. There is no shame in that.

    Good luck with it.


  24. I'm on the vitamin D train too, Jill. Dunno if it makes a difference for me, but Ben says it has restored his ability to dream (while sleeping I mean) on occasion. I received this advice from a friend recently and I pass it on, well, to be another unsolicited therapist :)

    "Following your heart is the only way to find yourself anywhere the least bit interesting."

    Don't know what that means to you, but I get the impression that you are keenly listening to yourself and that's gotta be good.

  25. My $.02-- If there's something wrong with your environment, change that. If there's something wrong with you, change that. But don't confuse the two.

  26. I've thought a lot about your post regarding the discontent. I've been feeling that way, too, lately. On the exterior, everything is good: great partner, kids, job, and running is going well. Yet there's something missing and I can't put my finger on it. Its frustrating, in a way, but in a strange way I don't mind wading through it and letting whatever it is take its course. My guess is that the solution won't pop up anytime soon (if there is a solution). I just have the feeling that this is how life is sometimes. There's not necessarily anything to be done about it. It just makes us who we are.

  27. I'm convinced that happiness is a choice we make, not the result of the things we have or do. So why choose to be unhappy?

    I'm always happy. I insist on it!

    Happiness is a choice. Make it.

  28. Mountains and bikes are nice, but love trumps all. Love gives mountains and bikes meaning.

  29. Funny, but I felt that way when I lived in Sitka. I missed two things: the sun and variety, a chance to step into a different environment if you felt like it: the desert, the canyons, the river. In Southeast it is all the same unless you hop a jet. No way to get away from the same climate.

    So I moved to Oregon. Life is good.


  30. Jill, a wonderfully honest post. I admire you for writing it and sharing it. I thought Brian and Jon's comments were very apt. I've always wondered how satisfying it can be to be so focused on things like biking/racing/distance events when there is so much more of life to be lived. I always advocate finding a way to escape our own skin and serve others....and the comment on depression is also well worth considering (I have been known to be a sufferer. It saps the joy out of life!. Good luck, girl, in this quest. It is probably not what you are doing now but what you are not doing now that could help...And I don't mean big actions (new job, moving, new boyfriend) but instead, a new approach to life that establishes different goals because you have considered your true purpose in life. Yeah, we're all trying to figure that one out! Good luck, friend.

  31. Get out of your own head and self absorption, go to Haiti, see what suffering is really about, perhaps a focus on others will give you some insight and purpose.

  32. "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain

  33. You know... Utah has mountains too. And family :)

    I love you Jill. I want so much for you to be happy. I hope your mountain solace will assist you in making decisions that help you find it. You have so much talent and determination that inspire me. I'm sorry to hear you are having a rough time.

    I'm thinking about you and miss you!!

  34. Humm, this is the ‘second time’ you publicly ‘asked’, I didn’t bother reading all the ‘comments’ this time, shur there are some good 7 not so good ones

    Anyway--same basic answer for here--- if you can spend some real time your family, “touch home”, what ever that is to you . Then go from there

  35. Freakin' bizarre... Just about a half hour earlier I posted the same Mark Twain quote - that another commenter above did - to my Facebook page, mostly because I've also been thinking about something missing in my life, and that some change has to be made (think it might be the job in my case, but possibly a move). Then, for the first time in like 2 or 3 months, I come visit your blog, where you express the same kind of thing I'm feeling, and someone posts the same quote I just had from Mark Twain. Coincidence, I know, but weird...

  36. When I felt that way, about 18 years ago, it was time to leave rural Alaska for a while. It was the right decision :-) Back in AK now.

    The commenter a few posts back was a touch rude, but I like his idea: some time spent in service. Maybe Haiti, maybe Peace Corps? Talk about a potential for a shift in perspective.

    (If you go, take your camera!)

  37. The best way to feel good about yourself is to reach out and help others. You spend way too much time thinking about you.

  38. Taking care of yourself isn't selfish. You have to take care of yourself before you can focus on anyone or anything else. Keep your head and cadence up :-)

  39. Thanks for the comments everyone. Even the people who were needlessly rude. I feel like I post so little about my personal life on this blog, that I always get a kick out of the anons who seem to know me personally.

    I also find it interesting that no one mentioned anything about writing. A lot of my issues right now stem from this strong desire to be an "artist," which I have pushed on the backburner my entire adult life because it's not a practical way to live. But now I feel this desire more strongly than ever, and I have rebelled against its impracticality by living a fairly spartan lifestyle, as though I'm trying to prove to myself I can live on dirt so why should I be so focused on making a living?

    That, and I've been reading Thomas Wolfe again. "Where, Ben, where is the world? Nowhere, said Ben, you are your world."

    I'm not saying I'm going to quit my job and go live alone in the mountains and create art. I'm just shocked that, as much as I tried to fish for it, no one suggested it. :-)

    But I plan to delve more in depth later. I just wanted to respond.

  40. I was struck by the plethora of recent narcissistic self-portraits. Are you not happy because the universe is trying to tell you to let go of being absorbed with your own self? May you find your path to happiness!

  41. If your new book is anywhere near as good as Ghost Trails, I think you could definetly find a publisher. If I were you I'd ditch the desk job and become a travel writer, like Joe Kurmaskie. He travels on his bicycle all over the place and makes his living writing about his adventures. What could be better than that! Hang in there, the answers will come to you.

  42. I read your blog frequently, but that doesn't qualify as me really knowing you. Since you asked for it, my advice from a distance would be lighten up and stop over-thinking things. You do tend to try to wring every bit of meaning from every event that you write about. Life is wherever you are, doing whatever it is that you are doing. You might also try to diversify your activities. Spending hours on end on a bike or hike may be fun and challenging, but it's a pretty narrow focus and limits your interaction with other people and other activities. Finally, as one writer above noted, you need to get laid. Works wonders for the mind and body! Enjoy and good luck.

  43. I'm a little late to the party here, but it seems to me that less than a year ago your whole life was turned upside down...not just a relationship, but how you defined yourself and everything that you envisioned for the future. That's a major kick in the gut for anyone and a person doesn't get over that and re-orient your whole life in a short time. Some things take time and have no shortcuts. I would suggest that you not make big decisions quickly right now. And as some others have alluded, I believe it takes a genuine relationship with your Creator (not just 'going to church') that gives you the real joy in life that lasts and carries you through. That's been my experience anyway. I want to see you succeed in life and find the satisfaction that you seek.

  44. Jill, you've got skills. You've got drive, curiosity, humility, beauty, talent, a loving family, many friends and thousands of loyal followers. You are good at prioritizing and balancing your career with your personal interests and accomplishing an impressive amount in each. You have placed yourself in one of earth's most beautiful places which has so much to offer to a trekker/biker/photographer/adventurer such as yourself. There is still much to do there but you HAVE done Juneau justice and earned the right to call it your home. You've managed to survive and excel in an industry that is shrinking in pain. In addition to your job and adventures you manage to write books and finish them! You have been honing your writing/journalism/photography/internet skills to position yourself for your dream gig(s). You're doing great!

    (Now for the stranger giving advice portion of this comment)
    Being humble while having a strong drive is good. But maybe you need to be more proud and take greater satisfaction of your accomplishments and experiences.

    Having true love and building your own family is not an overrated concept. Those of us lucky enough to have that would not trade it for all the peaks in Nepal - especially if we had amazing adventures en route. If you're out there making a good go at life, keeping an open mind and brushing your teeth regularly then you're doing all that you can do to find true love. If you believe in your beauty and sensuality then you will be.

    There is truth that to give selflessly is one of the most rewarding things you can do. The trails are sweeter when you've done your part. People who live their life in a way that brings joy or kindness to everyone around them have a twinkle in their eye that you can't get otherwise.

    I suspect you will continue to find inspiration and intrigue with your current situation but you're also ripe for change. You are uniquely qualified to travel the world doing extreme races and to make a living publishing your accounts. Or you could keep a cabin just outside of Escalante and freelance to Outside magazine about dive trips in the Bay Islands and mountain bike treks in Patagonia. Dream big and go for it sooner rather than later because what's the worst that can happen if the situations don’t pan out?

    What the hell gives me the right to dispense advice to you like I know you? Your blog does by definition. And I do know everything that you have chosen to share about yourself in this journal your book which I know is NOT the same as knowing you in the real world but is quite a bit just the same. It’s enough to inspire me to rattle on way too long when you do one of your rare personal reach outs but since this is not the most recent post I'm thinking few people will have to endure it, perhaps even yourself.

    Good luck Jill of Juneau. I will be with you as long as you keep us along for the ride.


  45. very complex photograph, beautiful tones, lighting and angles. Reminds me of a character out of Mad Max. No one is ever truly happy

  46. Jill, I think everyone avoided talking about writing because you already are a writer. I just assume that you will always be writing. It's not a separate compartment, is it? I know you will always find a way to write, and in fact have been doing it a long time now! I think that's why no one called it out in response to you in this post. There's Being a Writer and writing. You are a writer. Simple.

  47. My advice to me is my advice to you: bail on the career, it will never fill your void. Find something that fills your day with purpose. Go back to school, find a new career, become a camp counselor or a hiking guide, go to medical school, become a teacher, etc, etc, etc. Or write somewhere in an environment that isn't just about surviving.

    Bagging peaks and crazy adventures are sweetest when reflecting on them from a position where you life would still be full without them. Sucky jobs suck and filling your life with awesome around the edges of the suck hole doesn't cover the suck.


  48. I think you are maturing. Your carefree 20's are giving way to your 30's. You are asking what do I want out of life? I would think this would include a relationship, home and possibly children.

    I noticed that a lot of the 30 something Olympic competitors had a spouse, home and some a child. They still managed to be at the top of their game. A spouse that will support your loves is invaluable.

    Maturing is not a bad thing.

  49. I love that you asked your readers to comment on what they thought would make you happy and then criticized your readers for not validating your desire to be an artist. If you want to be an artist, be an artist - why the need for external validation? Only you know what will make you happy. It sounds like the question you really wanted to ask was whether your readers thought you could succeed at being an artist? If so, another stupid question. Do what makes you happy. The rest will follow.

  50. You can only know happiness when it doesn't matter anymore. The rest of the time your like a dog chassing its tail. Could it be that simple...


Feedback is always appreciated!