Thursday, March 11, 2010

Leave the city, part 3

It broke my heart to know you waited
I had so many things to do
It's true as far as a lot of stuff
You could have had a little better luck
But with you, I'm not givin' up
Tonight I'm not givin' up

— Magnolia Electric Co. "Leave the City"

It's one of the great cliches in life coaching — if you had a million dollars, what would you do? It's the kind of question people usually laugh off, but if you are stalled out and genuinely unhappy about your situation, I think it's an important one. The answer has always been very easy for me — I would live in a place where I had access to a lot of different adventures — good singletrack, long open roads, mountains and extensive winter trails. This place would have a community of like-minded souls — snow bikers, endurance athletes and mountaineers — that I could look to and learn things from. It would preferably be a small town, but I could stomach a mid-sized city. If you think this sounds like Salt Lake City, you're right, but I have another, most important requirement — it has to be in Alaska.

And what would I do for a non-recreational occupation in this place? That answer is even easier. I'd write. I'd interview interesting people and attend intriguing events, and I'd write about them. I wouldn't spend a whole lot of time writing soul-sucking query letters seeking publication, but I'd probably do a little of that, because it's always more fun to write for an audience (Hence my four-plus years of keeping a public blog.) And I would buy a nice camera, and take photos. And I would buy an art store out of their pastels and markers and paper, and I would start drawing again. I'd probably also buy a piano and renew that hobby — just to really round things out.

But here's the next question — what if I didn't need a million dollars? Nix the piano, camera and pastels, because that stuff is pretty expensive. And just cut it down to the basics — a place where I can sleep, store my bicycles and house my cat. A few spare dollars for lube, tubes and gasoline. Enough left over to buy rice and beans and Sour Patch Kids. Not forever, but just for a while. Maybe those soul-sucking query letters would even help pad the rice-and-beans fund. But even that wouldn't be fully necessary — at least for a while. One of the great secrets of life is that it's actually quite simple to follow dreams — as long as you follow them simply.

So here is my plan: My last day at the Juneau Empire is March 31. From there I'm going to make my way north and west. I'm moving in with a friend in the big city — Anchorage. During the month of April, I plan to fly to Salt Lake City. I want to visit my sister and meet my first nephew, who was just born last month. I want to visit my baby sister in Huntington Beach, and a few friends in between, hopefully in the form of a bike tour. This will probably take up most of the month. After that, it will be springtime in Alaska. I'm not sure exactly what will happen. I'm going to just ride the wave and see where it takes me.

So why Anchorage? Because, for better or worse, Anchorage is the center of Alaska. The city offers easier and cheaper access to so many places, from the Kenai Peninsula to Denali to the Brooks Range. There are many things I want to see and do that, if I stay in Juneau and continue working 50 hours a week, I will probably never have a realistic chance to experience. Moving to Anchorage will also be easier than moving to a random city because I have several friends in the Anchorage area already, from Kim, who has agreed to take on my cat and me as roommates, to Craig and Amity, a couple of my oldest friends from Utah. Having several familiar faces in town definitely helps ease big transitions. And Anchorage does have a great community of cyclists.

Plus, Anchorage is the state's center of commerce, so there will be more opportunities for income should the funemployment fund run dry.

So why didn't I just do this a year ago, when I first said I was going to? Well, there are a lot of reasons I stayed after I first "quit" my job in November 2008. One is my passion for newspaper journalism and my loyalty to the Juneau Empire. I realize the newspaper business is a slowly sinking ship, and that by opting out of my current newspaper job, I may not find another opportunity to re-enter this market. The Empire has done a lot for me over the years and I feel guilt about leaving. Another big reason is that I genuinely love Juneau. It is definitely a little bit of a "love-hate" relationship, especially during long stretches of snain (similar to the one we're currently in.) But Juneau is a place that grows into you like moss, filling the bare surfaces of life with brilliant green beauty. I can definitely see myself returning someday. In fact, at this point, I'm all but counting on it.

So, then, why am I leaving? Because I have been unhappy for a while now. This series of blog posts have been the exploration of the root of my unhappiness. It may seem I'm blaming a lot of it on my environment, which of course isn't fair, but my environment does make it extraordinarily difficult for me to make any real changes in my life. When more casual acquaintances ask me why I'm leaving, I tell them it's because I "need a change of scenery." It sounds frivolous, but there a lot to that statement. The change of scenery I need is within the landscape of my own mind. If I continue to plow through my routine, and the only change I make is acquiring a Prozac prescription or taking up skiing, then I will always be haunted by the knowledge that I ignored an opportunity to make more meaningful change. The truth is, I don't really have a lot to lose.

As I discussed this move with my closer friends and family, no one was surprised. My closest friends in Juneau all said, essentially, "We'll miss you, but, yeah, you should do this." My family has expressed their unconditional support, even for my funemployment (which will be entirely self-supported and health-insured, by the way.) It means a lot to me that people who know me best have shown so much support, and has sharpened my belief that this is the right thing to do.

I am anxious and excited, nervous and scared. I am still planning to travel to Fairbanks next week for the White Mountains 100. I'm trying to buffer the expense by hitching a ride with a Juneau friend who's driving north for a crazy winter climbing trip. Then I will fly back to Juneau, solely so I can spend a week training my replacement (yes, this is purely for loyalty to the Empire, because it would be a whole lot easier just to drive north once.) I am hoping to get a few last mountain trips in Juneau before I go. I will truly, deeply miss this place.

But I have to go.