Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 in photos, part 2

The year 2010 started for me on a clear, strikingly cold night in downtown Juneau, Alaska, as a small group of friends and I walked out of the Alaskan Bar and Hotel shortly after midnight. As the chill bit in to my meager layers, I gazed up at Douglas Island ridge; its sharp edge loomed beneath an explosion of stars. I remember thinking about the possibilities that might lie beyond that ridge — a life less constricted by geography, job obligations and the shadows of personal failures. I thought about the world to the northwest. I thought about the rest of Alaska, about Anchorage. I wondered if that world would reveal itself to me in 2010. I did not yet have any concept of the adventure I was about to embark on — an incredible journey through an incredible year.

January, "Winter of Discontent:" Through the scope of the year now behind me, I view January as a desert I had no choice but to cross. January was a difficult month. I was ambivalent about my life in Juneau, busier at work than I had ever been, and finally starting to really process the failure of my relationship that ended seven months earlier. I fell into what I can only define now as a bout of depression. I came down with the flu and used it as an excuse to essentially stop riding my bike for more than three weeks. I forced myself to get out when I could, but my loss of interest in cycling was a revelatory symptom of my state of mind, and the dose of reality I needed to start thinking more clearly about making changes in my life.

February, "Toward the Light:" A ski vacation to Banff and strategically-placed bouts of warm weather and sunshine helped lift my spirits, but my professional life remained difficult — more draining than challenging — and I continued to feel isolated by Juneau's remote location and the fact that most of my local friends were also mutual friends of my ex-boyfriend, making uncomfortable situations almost impossible to avoid. For his part, my ex maintained a friendly relationship with me. We even occasionally got out for fun hikes in the mountains, although the honesty of hindsight has helped me see how this was also unhealthy for my state of mind. February continued to dole out one amazing mountain outing after the other, which only conflicted my conviction that I needed to make significant changes.

March, "Leave the City:" A breaking point finally came when my employer laid off yet more co-workers and my boss held me on the edge of his own extreme stress as both our work loads became unsustainably excessive. Early in the month, with no real plan for the future, I put in my 30-day notice at the newspaper and announced to my friends that I planned to move to Anchorage in the beginning of April. My last month in Juneau was satisfying if a bit unproductive. I went into a frenzy — trying to leave my job as smoothly as possibly, attempting to experience everything I loved about the region, and continuing to ignore my need to train for the White Mountains 100. Over the spring equinox, I traveled to Fairbanks to ride my Pugsley in the incredibly scenic but frigid 100-mile snow bike race. I finished with a decent time, but undertraining left me with knee pain that lingered for weeks.

April, "Go Anchorage:" By April 7, I had moved my cat, four bicycles, a Geo Prism-full of clothing and gear and myself into a friend's apartment in Anchorage. Thanks to purposeful "funemployment," I had plenty of time to explore the city by bicycle, hike in the Chugach Mountains and work on my Tour Divide book. I spent most of the month visiting my family in Utah and California. While in Utah, not even a full week after I moved to the big city, another friend sent me the online job listing for Adventure Cycling Association. I consulted my friends and family about the prospect of moving to Montana before I even sent in a resume, and for the first time considered the prospect of leaving Alaska altogether.

May, "Return to Homer:" Having applied for the job at ACA, my mindset shifted from "I really need to work to make a go of it in Anchorage" to "I might actually land a job outside Alaska." Thus, instead of buckling down and working on writing projects as I promised myself I would do, I dedicated the entire month of May to traveling and exploring different parts of Alaska. Early in the month, I returned to Homer for the first time since I lived there in 2006. It was a gratifying trip — I believe I never see myself more clearly than I do while examining the pieces of my past. I realized that I loved Alaska but I did have the ability to leave it behind. I traveled to Denali National Park, biked the Denali Highway, and visited Fairbanks, where I learned I had received the job offer in Montana.

June, "Warm Welcome:" My last weeks in Anchorage were as crazed as those in Juneau, as I tried to visit all my Southcentral friends one last time, pack, ship my belongings south, travel to Cordova and hike as many Chugach peaks as I could squeeze in. I loaded up my Geo yet again and drove 2,700 miles to Missoula, arriving on the summer solstice. After a record-breaking wet spring in Southwestern Montana, the sun peeked out the day after I arrived and stayed that way for most of three months. My first 10 days in Missoula were jaw-dropping in their progression — the pieces fell into place very quickly and effortlessly. I got started at my new job, met new friends, cultivated new riding partners, discovered fun mountain biking trails and an expanse of logging roads, explored amazing and hard-to-access places like Blue Point and Stuart Peak, and enjoyed 10 spectacular sunsets while riding or hiking in the mountains. Montana was incredibly good to me in the early days.

July, "Flowing Over:" My spring indulgence in all things Alaska didn't even skip a beat as I submerged myself fully into outdoor life in Montana. My weekdays were marked by a routine of quick morning coffee and bike commuting, eight hours at the office, three- and four-hour evening "training rides" in the mountains surrounding Missoula — often with new friends — returning with the 10 p.m. sunset, late-evening dinner and collapsing into bed after midnight. I was often too exhausted to even realize how blissed-out I was. My need to train for TransRockies brought on long bike explorations on the weekends. A friend of a friend who I had never before met, Danni, invited me along for stunningly beautiful weekend in Glacier National Park. We instantly connected and I knew I had found a good new friend despite living two hours apart. Danni also immediately did two things that had a monumental effect on my life: as a self-proclaimed "lazy ultrarunner," she convinced me that I might enjoy long-distance running; and as a race director for the Swan Crest 100, she invited me to volunteer for the ultramarathon at the end of July, where I met a California runner named Beat.

August, "Lone Peak:" August brought the TransRockies mountain bike race, where my friend from Banff, Keith, and I rode together in seven increasing gruelling but beautiful stages across the Canadian Rockies. The stage race was a fun vacation — a fully-supported mountain bike tour from Fernie, British Columbia, to Canmore, Alberta, with the added bonus of challenging riding and enough hike-a-bikes to fill a year. After TransRockies, I immediately started a routine of trail running along with biking, in an effort to introduce my legs to the impact of running. The failing health of both of my grandfathers also prompted the first of several trips back to Salt Lake City to be with my family. I hiked to Lone Peak and contemplated my relationship with my grandfather, the ever-expanding scope of our lives, and our tendencies to return to our beginnings, in the end.

September, "Long Roads:" September was filled with fun adventures: Traversing a high mountain ridge in Glacier National Park, a Labor Day snow ride in the Swan Mountains, hiking with my sister in Utah, and climbing the highest mountain in Idaho with friends from Missoula. In the middle of the month I traveled to Las Vegas for the national bicycle industry conference, Interbike. This was a startlingly negative experience for me — the combination of long hours, bad food, no exercise, no sleep, smog, heat, crushing crowds and other pressures left me feeling frazzled to the point of mental exhaustion by the end of the week. I all but stuck out my thumb to find an early exit from Vegas, as part of a convoluted scheme to meet Beat in northern Utah during the Bear 100. The daunting maze of logistics fell serendipitously into place and I showed up at the mile 50 checkpoint in Logan Canyon mere minutes before Beat arrived. Having no idea what to expect and no real plan, I agreed to join him for the remainder of the race as a "pacer," although the real intention for both of us was a chance to share engaging conversations, a physically challenging effort and heart-rending mountain beauty as we got to know each other. Running and hiking 50 miles and nearly 12,000 vertical feet in the process would have felt effortless had I not developed semi-debilitating pain on the bottom of my right foot. Regardless, I still view it as the most romantic first date ever.

October, "Autumn:" October was a blaze of warm colors and light. I can truly appreciate a Rocky Mountain autumn now that I've spent four autumns in Juneau, where October brings an average of 16 inches of rain in one continuous cold, gray, month-long drizzle. (Southeast Alaskans don't measure their hardiness by how many winters they survived, but in how many autumns they've survived.) Beat and I worked to develop a weekend relationship, where our weeks were still filled with regular life obligations, work and training, but weekends provided opportunities to explore each other's worlds. I took him for night bicycle rides in Montana, a climb to Lolo Peak and a run in Blodgett Canyon. He introduced me to the Silicon Valley and planned a backpacking trip in the very rainy Yosemite National Park (a small taste of autumn in Southeast Alaska, and more than enough of a reminder.)

November, "New Ground:" Beat and I started the month by signing up for the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow, a mountain bike race in Hurricane, Utah. Despite having even less experience on a mountain bike than I have as a runner, Beat put in an impressive six laps and 78 miles for Team Swiss Miss; I rode 10 laps and 130 miles. I cemented a admittedly misguided resolve to participate in the Susitna 100 on foot, and shortly after began more focused running training. My early efforts were dogged by small injuries, and I struggled. Beat continued to visit Missoula on weekends as temperatures dipped below zero degrees, a harsh inception for Beat's first real experience with winter in more than a decade. We traveled to Banff for Thanksgiving, marking my seventh visit to my third "home" (behind Salt Lake City and wherever I happen to live at the time.)

December, "Runaround:" December was a crazed month, with six-hour training runs, a trip to Seattle, traveling home for Christmas, and my first official ultramarathon, a 50K trail run in Rodeo Beach, California. Busy at work, busy for the holidays, busy packing and unpacking, and preparing for whatever comes next. As December draws to a close, I'm struck by how markedly different this last month of the year has been from the first — January was quiet, contemplative and sad. December has been a whirlwind of new experiences, emotions and possibilities, with scarcely enough extra room to breathe let alone process events as they happen. If I used a single word to describe 2010, it would be "Change." I had at my fingertips a life that I knew, beneath the darkness, I really did love. But in an effort to move away from the darkness, I chose to leave it all behind and strike out into the unknown with no plan or insight into how it would all turn out. I loved Juneau and Alaska but I don't regret leaving. 2010 taught me that as long as I open my heart to change, beauty and love will follow wherever I wander. 2011 can only bring more change, more new adventures, and I'm excited about the endless possibilities. To the new year!