Saturday, July 06, 2013

Summertime blues

I have a mild case of summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, more commonly referred to as the "summertime blues." I've always been susceptible to this — overly sensitive to sun, allergic to lots of green things and bugs, find heat oppressive and too easily lapse into lethargy. "Most people are summer people but some of us genuinely are winter people," I try to explain, but am more often then not met with confused stares, especially now that I live in the Golden State. "Who doesn't like summer?"

I don't not like summer. I just struggle when it's 90 or 100 degrees and my favorite activity, going outside, becomes a chore. Outside isn't as much of a sanctuary for me in the depth of summer; it burns my skin, blisters my lips, dries out my throat, wears me down. I slow down and feel unreasonably stale. I spend days working indoors with beads of sweat clinging to my arms and legs, looking grimly out the open patio door at the white-washed sky and dreading whatever short outdoor activity I have planned for the afternoon. Because of my knee injury, I haven't run in two weeks. Occasionally I force myself out the door to ride my bike because low-impact movement really is therapeutic; it helps keep the joint loose and seemingly pushes out some of the inflammation or whatever tightness is causing pain — in other words, I feel worse after a long day of sitting and better after riding. But the rides are pretty sad; they just have no power, no heart. Truth is, if I didn't think light exercise was helping my knee, I might not even bother. Yeah, might as well curl up on my couch in a pool of my own sweat with a tub of ice cream and a spoon. It's that time of year.

But, I'm not despondent. I recognize this for what it is, a bit of SAD, not at all anchored in reality. I have awesome adventures coming up. I don't even really care if I'm a tub of melted goo because just being there will be an amazing experience. Anyway, past experience has shown that my fitness doesn't fluctuate all that much, and perhaps doesn't even matter when it comes to multi-day adventures. After about twelve hours of continuous activity, I'm the same tub of goo no matter how much ass I kicked in the months leading up to the grand adventure. It's all maintenance after that. Endurance I have.

Not having much power in my left knee means I've avoided riding my mountain bike, which really is more of a task-master than the gentle spin of the road bike. Beat had to work over the holiday weekend so I had some solo time and potential for quiet trails that I didn't want to waste, so I resolved to set out on Thursday.

Because the high that day was 98 degrees, I waited until as late as I possibly could and still squeeze in a three-hour ride before dark. Problem is, that time was 6 p.m., which is usually around the time we eat dinner. Creatures of habit sometimes forget their emergency trail snacks. A surprisingly flexible knee spurred me to climb hard, relishing in that searing sensation coursing through my legs for the first time in what feels like weeks. Of course, by 7:15 p.m. at the top of Monte Bello, I hit the bonk wall. Meaning, I actually felt reasonably light-headed. Temperatures were still in the high 80s; I'd been shedding so much sweat that my top tube was soaked, and this was hard work. I did not have a snack. But, like SAD, I know that bonking is largely an emotional response — especially at my lower wattage capabilities — and it's usually more satisfying to keep powering through.

I climbed over Black Mountain with the saturated light of late afternoon, as dry grass swayed in a gentle breeze that finally wicked the sticky layer of sweat from my skin. Without extra energy I couldn't concentrate on much besides the spinning pedals, the crackle of tires on loose dirt, the warm breeze on my cheeks. Living in the present. Curtains of marine fog poured over the mountains, sucked inland by a high-pressure vacuum of heat. Normally in my SAD state of mind I would think, "Wow, I live so close to the coast. Why don't I just go there? I could just lay on the beach until I start shivering. But it's like two hours of driving. If it wasn't for these dumb mountains blocking the way." But on this afternoon, reduced by low blood sugar to a simpler, more animal state of mind, I simply thought, "Wow."

I launched into the singletrack descent, dried by weeks of no rain and churned into a slippery, gravelly chunder. Normally I fret about these conditions and actually dislike mountain biking during the depths of summer in California, as summer is when I experience my worst slip-out crashes. But on this day, I just flew, flowing with the loose trail, leaning into curves without losing my traction and grinning with the flickering golden sunlight. Time no longer registered, only moments — trees in varying shades of green, deer loping through the tall golden grass, long shadows stretching across the hillside. "Sometimes," I thought later, "I just need to get out of my head." Most times? At least outside, in motion, I operate so much better in the present.

Living in the present — not anchored in time, not imprisoned in a season, just experiencing the world one moment at a time. I needed that.


  1. The more I work out and ride my bike, the more I like winter. I never thought I would say that.

  2. Now might be the time to try that snow bike of yours out on the beach, no?

  3. You're not too far from the ocean. Throw your bike on top of the car and go in search of ocean breezes.

  4. Try living in Tucson. Last August, one day it reached 112F with 88% humidity. This is a great place to bike in the early morning, but I can't wait until winter.

  5. I grew up on SoCal in the oppressive heat. I learned that unless I did my "workout" and finished before 9 or 10am at the latest, there was no point. I take it you are not a morning person? Otherwise, get up at like 5 or 6.
    If I had to ride my bike in the afternoon/evening I would hydrate like crazy all day and take lots of sports drink on the bike. I too have fair skin and burn easily and I had to work harder than most people to make sure I didn't bonk in the heat.

  6. Lightheadedness during exercise can be from dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, or the first signs of heat exhaustion.

    It's amazing that you've been riding and running this long and you still seem to make these beginner mistakes all the time. It's like you're not learning from past mistakes, and keep repeating them over and over. The other thing that's amazing is how much whining you do all the time. You need to pull your head out your ass with your self-reflective thoughts and just get with the game. Maybe "living in the moment" is the only thing that keeps you from being so obsessed with yourself and your mood swings.

    If you don't like getting sweated up during an indoor workout, and it's too hot to go outside, why don't you take up indoor swimming for exercise ?. It's a no-impact sport and you won't get sweated up doing it.

  7. What the heck anonymous? Lay off.

    I'm with you Jill. I'm lucky to live at 9,000 feet and have a few small glaciers nearby to get my winter fix in, but down in Boulder it's downright hot. Days are getting shorter though, and it will be fall soon.

    A couple years ago we went up to Denail in late August, and that place was in full-on fall. It even snowed one day. So pretty. Maybe sneak up there! Speaking of which, how's that Google office in Anchorage coming?

  8. You may want to consult with a licensed mental health practioner, such as a bartender or pedicurist.

    I did, and their advice changed my life. I learned that struggling to be happy in my SAD season was counter-productive. My failed attempts to lighten up just made me more depressed.

    Instead, I learned to pursue unhappiness all year round. It's just easier to kill a buzz, or deflate a hope. Gosh darn it, I'm good at it. I can be proud of my successes. I enjoy an even keel of relentless depression. No more mood swings for me.

    Put the power of negative thinking to work for you.

  9. Having ridden with Mr. Yore, I can attest he puts the carp in carpe diem.

    I think you need the opposite of a light box to treat summer SAD. Something cool and dark and comfortably confined.

    How about spelunking?

  10. I think a tent fort in the living room. Get one of those big ice blocks and a fan and pretend you're in an igloo.

  11. Hi Jill--I just finished Be Brave, Be Strong--I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it!! So inspirational, so fun to read. I don't think I've ever read a book so quickly. You certainly made me feel like a wimp, but I am kicking it up a notch now....

    John from Missoula

  12. I just realized seasonal affective disorder is SAD and summer onset seasonal affective disorder is
    I like the indoor swimming's a great workout!


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