Monday, March 29, 2010

As I gaze into your skies

As the reality sets in that this is my last week in Juneau, I find myself obsessing about the surrounding mountains. If the clouds lift just enough to reveal steep, spruce-clogged hillsides and snowy ridgelines, I can't take my eyes off them. In fact, if you live in Juneau and at any time during the next week happen to see a red Geo Prism with four tires strapped to the roof driving down the highway, you should probably just swerve well clear, because there is a good chance I am not looking at the road, but rather gazing up at the towering skyline.

These oh-so-accessible and yet mysterious mountains have long been my favorite thing about living in Juneau. A friend and I went out Saturday night, and I was trying to explain to her my "Juneau Burnout," which I insisted not only existed in my job and living situation, but even singed the edges of my favorite recreational activities.

"That makes a lot of sense," she said. "I mean, how many times can you climb Mount Jumbo, really?"

The statement suddenly struck me, because although I feel almost irreconcilably worn out by the same old roads and the same old trails, part of me feels like I could run up Mount Jumbo 100 times — and, if I count all my partial ascents on training runs, my own four-year total is probably at least half that — and still love it every time. I'm going to miss Mount Jumbo, along with every cornice and sloping contour that I have come to know so well.

My hope before I left town was to climb as many "my" mountains as possible. Since I came back from Fairbanks, reality has set in that I have neither the time nor the physical health to bid these mountains a proper goodbye. My knee is coming around, but it's still stiff. Today I went for a mellow run up the Salmon Creek trail to loosen it up. It probably seems strange that while I cope with an overuse injury commonly called "Runner's Knee," I can run but not ride a bicycle. The problem with my knee isn't an impact thing, it's an angle thing — namely acute angles. The knee starts to hurt when I bend it beyond about 75 degrees. Cycling demands sharper angles with every rotation, while the only time runners bend that much is when they're sprinting or trying to clear hurdles. (Note: I took this photo at the midway point of the trail where I stopped to do some stretches. The leg I'm successfully bending is my left i.e. "good" knee.)

Today, as I shuffled up Salmon Creek, a beautiful blue sucker hole revealed the looming mass of Observation Peak. That 5,000-foot, broad pyramid of rock is a place I have wanted to visit for four years now, but weather or time limitations have thwarted every attempt. And now, with one bad knee and no hope of going there in the next week, I could only stare wistfully at Observation, now a monument to missed opportunity, mocking my narrow definition of Burnout.

"You think you've been everywhere in Juneau," the mountain whispered. "You haven't been anywhere. You haven't seen anything."

And I could only breathe loudly in resigned agreement. Much of my self-identity, and much of my happiness, is based in discovery. And much of my excitement about moving has little to do with the location and more to do with the fact that everything will be entirely new — new roads, new trails. New mountains. And yet the more I discover, the more I understand that there is infinitely more to be discovered — as Ani Difranco sings, "Try to keep your eye on the big picture; the picture just keeps getting bigger."

I am not done with Juneau, not by a long shot. But I do feel strongly that I need to step away for a while, if only to appreciate all of the spaces I'll never truly know.