Thursday, March 06, 2014


Recovery is an interesting thing. You can stay on the move for eighteen-plus hours a day and somehow feel a few notches stronger every day — the aching hamstrings and stiff knees stop their protests; the sore back, wrenched by dozens of miles of sled-halting roots and rocks, also gives up the fight; and shin pain, which at times became excruciating, just needs a few minutes of walking to "warm up." Even hurty feet that always hurt stop occupying every other thought. Bodies somehow find an equilibrium that is neither fresh nor stale. It's just shelf-stable: Your body is a walking machine, that's its job, and with a determined brain at the helm, it will do what you ask it to do. A friend once put it, "Your legs are the dogs and your brain is the musher." I echoed that phrase a lot out on the Iditarod Trail. "Mush, legs, mush."

And then, somewhere in there, your brain tells your legs it's time to stop. It could be seven hours, it could be seven days, maybe it could even be seven weeks — but somehow the thought "I'm done" sets off a chain reaction of physical events that are difficult to quantify. Suddenly I can't sleep more than two hours without waking up drenched in sweat, so much that I have to change my clothes, presumably because my body is flushing out an enormous buildup of toxins. The hurty feet that always hurt again become very good at reminding you they hurt, so much that you hobble around and hold your bladder to the brink of emergency just to avoid the unsavory task of walking. The legs stiffen up and fatigue sets in so deep that not even long-neglected appetites have enough spark to spur you to action. "I walked fifty miles yesterday without issue, what happened?" I'd think. Suddenly I couldn't fathom walking another step. Why? Because I told myself I didn't have to walk anymore.

And thus, I flew back to Anchorage in a daze on Monday evening, watching through the last light of sunset as the Kuskokwim River Valley, the Alaska Range, and the Susitna River Valley unfolded beneath me in a blink. Ever since then, it's been a scramble to put together enough cognitive energy to catch up on obligations and work, and try to set a plan for the next month. Even just one week out in the wild in "walking machine" mode makes it difficult to return to regular life routines, and I feel overwhelmed by the simplest tasks. I made all these plans out on the trail for a book proposal I want to write, and I can't remember any of them — of course — but I sit at my computer staring at a blank screen all the same, willing them to come back. There was a full day of deadline work on Tuesday that I thought would be simple enough, but somehow felt so stressful that the night sweats came back even though I was awake.

All desire to move was gone for two days, but that didn't take long to come back. Today I set out for a bike ride along the Chester Creek and Coastal Trails. Surprisingly, or maybe predictably, I felt fine, and ended up spinning twenty miles out to Point Woronzof and back. The feet were irked at being stuffed into hard-sided boots, but beyond that, there were no problems or even muscle fatigue. I was sleepy when I got home, but then again I might just be sleepy because I haven't been sleeping well. The night sweats are finally gone, but I still wake up with a startle every two hours, mind racing with thoughts of "time to go."

So where does recovery begin and end? There are people that did the same thing I did every day for a week, and they're still out there, pressing deeper into the wilderness. I stayed off my feet for three days, so I should feel even stronger than them, that much more recovered. But somehow the recovery process moved my body from shelf-stable to stale. I'm like Pilot Bread that got left out by a hot wood stove a bit too long.

Through it all, I haven't even attempted to start a race report. I value my habit of keeping a prompt and fresh journal, but it all just feels too far away right now, and it's still a puzzling challenge just to decide what groceries to buy at the store. So it may be a while yet, if too much else gets in the way. I don't know. Maybe if I just start walking again, it will all come back ...


  1. your photo looking back at my hometown from the Coastal trail is gorgeous.

    I hope each day brings refreshing and that you are able to update us on your experience soon. Til then it's something wonderful to look forward to.

  2. Take your time, Jill. Unlike snow, will not melt away.

    1. That was supposed to be "we will not melt away".


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