Instead, I went to Juneau. Yes, Juneau is a good place to go and be sad. I remember it well. The short version of my history with Juneau is that I lived here from 2006 to 2010, and worked for the local newspaper in an increasingly demanding and demeaning position. After my former relationship ended, I kept a tenuous grip for another year until the rain and isolation drove me away. On my life's timeline, Juneau was brief but impactful. I’ve visited three times since I left seven years ago, and each time I settle into Juneau like a worn coat. The town fits so well that I become alarmed when I realize I’ve forgotten the name of the corner store, or wander up a street to see different bars and restaurants taking the place of favorite haunts. Seven years later, there’s still a part of me that never left.
Right now I’m happiest when I’m walking. Especially the kind of walking involved in a snowshoe slog, which strains my muscles but not my heart. The rhythmic motion allows me to slip into relaxed thoughts that are difficult to achieve elsewhere (my recent mental state fluctuates between brain fog and a strange hyper-attentiveness that still fails to focus on any one thing.)
As I climbed higher into the fog, my snowshoes sank into knee-deep powder on top of a bulletproof crust. "If I was up here yesterday, I could have ridden Pugsley," I thought. That was genuinely a thought that I had, when I was in Anchorage yesterday and haven't owned a Pugsley since 2012. When I snapped back to the present, I thought, "Damn, I really do have dementia."
On Friday I went for a short hike with my ex-boyfriend, Geoff. We don't keep much contact anymore, so it was nice to catch up. He's been dealing with strange health issues for five years now, and the sum of them really look like an autoimmune disease. Geoff has become one of the headline cases for overtraining syndrome among ultrarunners. Given his symptoms, I don't buy into that community-driven diagnosis. Training may have set off whatever he has (just like sickness and overexertion during the Tour Divide may be what triggered my thyroid disease.) Still, Geoff spent years searching for a cause, and never found answers. Since it just happened to start while he was winning races, overtraining it is. Right now, he's happy to live and let live — getting out when he feels good, and staying still when he does not. I admire that attitude. I was working toward acceptance before I was diagnosed with Grave's Disease. The treatable nature of this condition should have given me hope, but instead I was pulled away from acceptance and back into uncertainty. There's hope, of course; I just need to find it.
The weather had cleared, which often brings terrible Taku winds. Geoff suggested trying for West Peak, starting just one canyon over from the avalanche gully that the city was bombarding with howitzer blasts. Meanwhile, 50mph wind gusts raced down the ridge as we climbed above treeline. We trudged and crouched as clouds of spindrift swirled around us. All that time, Geoff told a story about helping rescue friends on that same mountain, when the wind was so bad that they couldn't return on their own. After about twenty minutes we both said, "screw this," pretty much at the same time, and turned around. I thought about the ITI racers on Ptarmigan Pass, and how slogging through 50mph wind gusts was exactly what I'd been wistfully pining for. But it's not the same. It's difficult to describe why the journey is not the sum of its parts, the parts alone are not necessarily meaningful, and it's just not the same thing. Plus, wind sucks.
It may be another few years before I return to Juneau. The Mendenhall Glacier may have receded above lake level by then, the heavy rains may shift to spring and autumn will become warm and dry. Everything will have changed, but it will still feel like an instant.