Of all of the places I've lived, Juneau still holds the deepest level of affection in my heart. In many ways, Juneau feels more like home than Salt Lake City. In spite of myself I often bring up Juneau in casual conversation, enough so that most of my new friends have at some point asked me why I ever left. I tell them I had to leave because my life there just wasn't working. I felt I had given my best effort to make it work, but it came to a point where I needed drastic change, the kind that just can't happen in an isolated community of 30,000 wedged on a narrow strip of land between ice-capped mountains and the sea. Leaving Juneau was one of the most difficult decisions I've made, and also one of the best. I don't regret that I left, but I miss it, sometimes achingly, all the same.
At the height of my unhappiness there, I was still struggling to cope with the breakup of a long-term relationship, working 50- and 60-hour weeks just to barely hold together my section of the local newspaper, living in a small room of a house owned by a fussy landlady, cycling through the awkward realities of dating again, hanging out with my ex too often to be healthy, avoiding some of our mutual friends because of awkwardness caused by the breakup, feeling under the weather all the time, losing interest in cycling and generally showing early signs of a potential onset of depression. It was a rough time in my life, and there were a few months in there where my only source of happiness was the mountains. I've mostly let memories of those bad months fade behind everything I loved about Juneau, but I still hold on to images of those snow-bound peaks. I couldn't wait to visit them again. There was only one little kink in my plan: The Susitna 100.
During this time, Abby invited me to join her at what would become my first trail race, the Mount Roberts Tram Run. We started out jogging together near the back of the pack when she said, "Is it all right if I run ahead?" At the time I only understood that she was somewhat faster than me, so I replied, "Of course, go win the race!" I was joking about the winning part, but then she went on to scorch the 4-mile, 1,800-feet-of-climbing course and win the overall race, beating all of the guys. Turns out she's a lot faster than me, but she made an effort to include me in some of her training runs all the same. Abby is awesome, and I'm lucky to have had such a great running ambassador during my novice year.