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.