Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I see a darkness

Feathers of sunlight escaped a quilt of clouds in the early afternoon. I used my usual half-hour lunch break to wander the streets of downtown Missoula, soaking in a bit of daylight before the clouds closed in and it was time to return to the desk, until 5 p.m., when the sun sets. That's when I planned to go back out for my two-hour run.

"The winter darkness is hitting me harder this year than it did last year," I confessed to a co-worker later in the afternoon.

"How is that?" he asked. "Last year, you lived in Alaska. It's lighter and warmer in Missoula."

"Actually, it's not either," I replied. "Well, I guess there's technically more daylight here. But I don't often see any of it. I go to work just after the sun rises and leave just before it sets. When I lived in Juneau, the sun set at 2:30, which was also about the time I went to work. So I had all of the daylight hours to myself, every single day. I miss that schedule. Whoever decided 9-to-5 should be standard work hours is not a friend of mine."

And the more I think about it, the more I realize how much this work schedule has affected me. At first, going out after sunset had a novelty to it. The trees carved spooky silhouettes, and darkness and moonlight cast familiar trails in new ways. I acquired a fancy new bicycle headlight, a new headlamp, a slew of batteries and red blinkies, and resolved to make the most of my new, dark world. But then the novelty wore off, replaced by a discouraging sameness. I realized there was little more to see than the narrow island of my headlamp beam, and blinking red lights from distant towers on the mountains. I started leaving my camera at home, because there was nothing to photograph. This was a telling gauge of my enthusiasm. Biking — and running — isn't necessarily about exercise or fitness for me, it's my way of exploring the world. When my camera stays at home, so does my motivation. I feel less excited and more fatigued. I look for excuses to turn around. It doesn't bother me that it's 10 degrees out as I run through wafting snow. I genuinely don't mind going out in the cold. What I'm discovering about myself is that I don't necessarily enjoy going out in the dark.

This is actually a big reason I decided to take up running, which involves less prep time, and less overall time for similar fitness benefits. Then I picked an impossible goal like the Susitna 100 to serve as my main motivator. I know I have a long winter in front of me. Perhaps I will grow to love the night, appreciating the tiny details — the mounds of snow, the flecks of ice — as much as I used to relish expansive views and blaze blue sky. Somehow, I doubt it. But I am thankful for healthy legs to carry me through the snow, for an iPod to stave off the creeping boredom, for my boyfriend and Missoula friends who are often willing to keep me company in the dark cold, and for a camera with a self-timer for those occasional creative impulses that allow me replace actual photo opportunities with personal experimentation.

It's all biking and running, and it's all good, even in the winter.