Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Locking myself inside

I have really been trying to buckle down and work. And no, that work hasn’t involved too many job applications … yet. Because what I really want to do first, why I’m here, open-ended in Anchorage, is to try to sell my book. And write a few articles. And maybe finally buy a Mac and software and see if I can pick up freelance graphics jobs, like posters and brochures. That kind of thing. It’s so hard to be self-motivated, though. So hard. And Anchorage has to be one of the most distracting places I could possibly be right now. There are bikeable roads going everywhere, big mountains and ridges to explore, free time to travel to farther corners of Alaska, and pretty soon, the mountain bike trails are going to dry out and the sun is going to be up until midnight and, oh boy, I am in trouble.

At the same time, it can be emotionally difficult to deal with unstructured time. This is probably why unemployed people end up spending whole days plopped on their couches in front of the Food Network. There really is so much to do that they don’t even know what to do with themselves. I admit I often think about tucking my tail between my legs and slinking back to Juneau and the open arms of the Empire. I do miss my friends and co-workers, my familiar mountains and roads. I realize that as time passes, that potential warm welcome is going to grow more cold. At the same time, I know I should stick this out at least through the homesick phase, and maybe even the poverty phase. (Don’t worry, Mom, that’s not coming any time soon.) I am facing a new homeless phase here pretty soon, which reminds me - does anyone know of a small apartment for rent in Anchorage, cat-friendly, preferably cheap? My roommate is talking seriously of moving and I will need a new place to live soon. This reality is difficult, because I feel like I have been perpetually homeless for more than a year. At the same time, these are the decisions I made, and I made them purposely to avoid anchoring myself to any one place, so transience is what I must live with.

The playing is still going well, though. These photos are all from a “run” I did on Bird Ridge the other day. I am still toying with the idea of entering a few mountain races this summer. I did not get into Mount Marathon, which was not a huge surprise (payment at registration and a low-chance lottery. That race is such a racket.) But there are still others. One of them goes up Bird Ridge. I tackled the trail on Sunday afternoon, just to see how it felt to run up a mountain. I can’t remember the last thing I did that was so horrifically painful. First of all, I wore the absolute worst shoes (Montrail hiking boots are great for snow, which I thought the trail would be covered with, but horrible for hard, dry dirt, which was the actual condition of the trail.) I started up the steep slope at what felt like a mellow jog, but after 10 minutes I was doubled over gasping, clawing up rocks and urging myself not to slow down. After 20 minutes, I was only about a mile (and 1,400 vertical feet) into the 2.5-mile trail. My feet were wrapped in searing blisters, my lungs felt like they were being pinched with hundreds of tiny tweezers, and my legs and knees ached so badly that they shook. Mountain running? Seriously hard! I limped the rest of the way up to the 3,500-foot point on the ridge, just so I wouldn’t feel so bad about myself. But I was beat. I walked slowly and took a lot of breaks. In the end, it would have been faster just to do the whole thing at my normal hiking pace rather than try to “run” the first mile. But I guess that’s what training is for. Will I train to run mountains? I don’t know. It’s nothing like training to ride a bike all day. It hurts more. A lot more.

But I guess that’s half the fun.

23 comments:

  1. Anonymous12:50 AM

    It's nice the see that Anchorage and environs is pretty spectacular. We only ever spent a few days there (back in 1982, arranging for things to be shipped to Juneau after we left the Bush village my wife taught school in).

    The closest we got after that was was in 1997, as we were exploring the interior by car with our daughter, just before she headed to Belgium as an exchange student. We drove from the East thru the strip mall that is Palmer and turned right, up the Parks Highway. I had no interest in turning south into Anchorage. I am not a fan of big, busy cities.

    BTW, we found the route up Hawthorn Ridge and hiked up to the snow line (we didn't have time for more). That's a pretty well traveled trail, at least until you get into the brush above the trees.

    MikeS
    Juneau

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  2. Good to hear from you, Mike! I think Palmer gets a bad rap. It's actually quite a beautiful location, with a fun little downtown area. I could live there.

    Wasilla, on the other hand ... ;-)

    I honestly think I could be happy living nearly anywhere in Alaska. I enjoyed Fairbanks the short two times I visited. Even McGrath had its charm. I'd love to visit southwestern Alaska someday. What I like about Anchorage is the easier access it offers to all of these places. Plus, it's not a bad city as cities go. It has a fantastic greenbelt and sushi, real sushi (OK, Seongs is pretty good, too.)

    You should definitely go back up Hawthorne; it just gets better as it goes. You're right about it being a well-defined trail, so maybe it is not that huge of a secret. Although I've never seen it on any map, and there's certainly no trailhead.

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  3. Time to invest in some proper trail and mountain running shoes Jill? They are seriously lightweight and you'll feel like you are flying when you are wearing them! A pair with regular soles for ordinary trail running on hardpack and a pair with more aggressive soles for better grip in muddy/snowy conditions. Oh, and some Kahtoola microspikes for icey conditions too ;-) Don't forget some proper trail running socks too. Oh lord, the list could go on!

    Have fun over there!

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  4. Just hang in there. :) Every day I look forward to reading your blog for the pictures and the well-written blogs and I hope that you're able to get through this temporary setback. And I think sticking with Anchorage for a while might be a good idea. Sometimes you have to live in a big city for the experience.

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  5. I'm dreading the lack of structure that is upon me now that grad school is over. Much as I hate to admit it, I don't do well with too much free time.

    Ack.

    Good luck with the book.

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  6. Anonymous9:13 AM

    I think we could have lived in Fairbanks we spent a summer there looking for work after we left the Bush (Goodnews Bay, where my wife was a teacher for three years) - though the mountains are so-o-o far away. The mosquitoes were pretty intense, too. I was amused by some of the bike routes. One in particular -- I should send you a picture.

    My impression of Palmer was probably colored by the desire to get back out in the countryside. We were aiming for Talkeetna, that day. And, there was a huge road project near the junction with the Parks -- traffic chaos.

    Oops. Gotta head to the radio station. Studio furniture getting installed, this morning.

    MikeS
    Juneau AK

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  7. Even if you expect some snow, trail runners are what you want for light and fast. A little cold/sog is okay for a few hours, so long as you have warmth waiting. Gaitors plus gore-tex runners stay dry for a while in deeper snow/longer adventures.

    You've offered so much of your cold/wet weather biking gear knowledge, to my great advantage, so I am compelled to offer a few tid bits of what works for me ;)

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  8. I actually could use some mountain running footgear tips! Here's my issue:

    I used to hike in wet shoes all the time in Juneau; I was avidly anti-boot, even in the winter. Then I got frostbite on my right foot in March 2009, and now those toes become cold must faster, start to hurt, and eventually go numb when I hike in wet shoes, even in the summer. When I'm biking in wet conditions, I wear large shoes (At least a size too big), vapor barrier socks and thick wool socks. I've tried this set-up running and it chafes a bit, but would definitely be preferable to hard boots.

    Any tips on shoes that may be more insulated - not necessarily waterproof, but just able to provide more warmth than the typical trail runner? Thanks in advance!

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  9. kshif2:16 PM

    Great pics as always! Every time I see 'em I want to rush up there with my bike, skis, camping gear, and all the other outdoor stuff I own!

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  10. Careful, more so than other areas of the Chugach, that area typically has numerous spring bears hanging around because the snow melts early. Always run with a partner, someone slower than you ;-)

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  11. Julie in Alaska9:20 PM

    And Jill, you know of course to stay off the mudflats? I remember how you enjoyed biking on them in Juneau and I wrote to tell you of how people die in the mudflats in Anchorage. I feel compelled to mention it in my usual "I feel like Jill's mother" role! Sorry about that......don't mean to be insulting.

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  12. Running? Zzzzzzzzzz.

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  13. The thing with mountain running is that even in very cold conditions, running through snow and slush, you are continually pumping blood to your feet - they are continually in motion - unlike when you are biking when they are pretty much fixed in one position. So you have a better chance of warding off Reynaud's symptoms. It's v important to wear synthetic wicking socks (I use X-sock Speed Ones (www.x-socks.com) but Sealskinz are also v good) and shoes that expel water easily (usually via a mesh upper - don't for goodness sake buy Goretex trail running shoes which trap all wet and moisture inside!). New Balance have some good models and also Adidas, but here in UK, INOV-8 have cornered the market! Don't know if they distribute over your way yet. Oh, and you can also get some pretty neat little gaiters for running shoes which help keep snow and grit out of your shoes!

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  14. Bingo! www.skinnyraven.com, 800 H Street, Anchorage Tel: 907-274-7222 - distribute Inov-8 stuff. Check them out :-)

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  15. nice skier12:46 PM

    I once did a solo bike tour from Haines to Delta Junction, down the Richardson Hwy to Valdez, then ferried across to Whittier and ended in Seward - a little over 900 miles in a little over a week. I was also training that summer to run the Chilkoot Trail with a friend, which I did about two months later. Needless to say, I felt pretty strong when I reached Seward where I met my friend and Alaska trail running legend Nancy Pease (Mt. Marathon multiple winner, Crow Pass multiple winner - one year she tied for the overall win with Olympian Bill Spencer!). She wanted to show me the Mt. Marathon course so of course I said yes. I just about died trying to run uphill with her, but when we finally reached a small cairn high up on the ridge that looked like the turnaround point, I hopefully gasped "is that the top?". She took a moment to look at me wonderingly and spit out - "no! that's the JUNIOR turnaround!!!" That's when I realized that running mountains was a whole different game involving pain and suffering on a level I could barely comprehend. Good luck.

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  17. Cinthia9:28 PM

    Hi Jill!
    Welcome to Anchorage.
    Here's a tip for someone who did both Mt. Marathon and Bird Ridge last year: You don't actually run the whole mountain. Basically it's a fast power hike. Even the top "runners" don't run. I know this for a fact because I have pics of the top of the men's race, and even the fast contenders were straggling the last half mile. Too funny! So don't feel bad. I'm sure you could whip my butt but that's cool 'cause we're totally in different age groups.

    And oh yeah, I heard you were hanging out with my co-worker Victoria Barber at the Press Club Awards last weekend. She's super cool.

    Cheers and enjoy the mountains,
    Cinthia

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  18. I have only recently discovered your blog. I must say, I've always dreamed of seeing Alaska, and hopefully one day will, but until then, your blog is definitely the next best thing to being there. Wonderful photography from an inspirational photographer. Thank you for all that you share.

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  19. Good luck with the whole homelessness thing... I know how that goes, and it is not an enjoyable feeling. But still, with mountains like those to climb, all is well in the world!

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  20. Anonymous5:04 PM

    Move back to Juneau, your blog was more interesting when you lived there. Your writing is still great but a city of 300000 is just a less-interesting setting. Good luck with whatever direction you take, you'll do great I am sure.

    PS Watch out for bears biking this summer. Still can't believe they allowed a 24h bike race in Campbell Tract in 2008! Use caution and common sense!

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  21. Holy buckets! Your description is so vivid, I was practically huffing and puffing my way up that mountain with you. I climbed a mountain once along the sea of cortez in baja california. I was so delirious from deyhdration and exhaustion, I started hallucinating on the way down a wash with the sun setting quickly. Kinda cool, actually. Not so cool for my guide. Ooops.

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  22. Unlock the door Jill and go and play.

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