Friday, February 09, 2018

Jump into the fog

 I've felt melancholy this week. It's not the same as the jittery dread one might expect to feel when anticipating an upcoming challenge. This feeling is more like resignation. Dull, gray resignation. But when I step outside of myself for brief intervals, I can see that thin veneer of fog clouding a dynamic landscape of emotions. "This is not mine," I think about the melancholy. But denying its validity doesn't make the fog any less turbid.

 There was a moment on Wednesday, about an hour into a five-hour run. Maybe I should be done with long runs now. I don't know. My legs feel good. My shoulders and arms are strong. Most everything about my body seems dialed. But right now, there's a subtle sputtering. I'd like to blame this on overtraining. That would make it easy. But I can't convince myself. It's difficult to explain the difference between fatigue, and this ... feeling like the engine is running well, but the fuel lines are partially blocked. This feeling is nothing major. I can convince myself of this. The dizziness and breathing desperation haven't returned ... yet. But my fuse has definitely shortened.

Wednesday's trails were ruled by hard, practically blue ice, and rocks of course. Unlike my fancy-footwork success the previous week, I could barely stay upright while wearing microspikes. I slipped and slammed my knee into a nearby tree. "Good, I hope I'm injured," was the only coherent thought that broke through the initial flood of white-hot adrenaline rage. Then, after rage subsided and I realized I was fine, humor made a brief appearance ... "Ha! Where did that come from?" This faded to a highly disproportionate despair, and I had a good cry ... which is, yes, the second time I've cried on a trail for no real reason this month.

"This is October all over again," I thought. Later, I looked up the date of a similarly emotionally-charged bike ride that I titled "Forest Road 509 made me cry." October 13. By the end of October, I was kind of a mess. My breathing was rough enough that I barely pulled myself out of that crater in Maui. But no, there's no such thing as this four-month hormone cycle. You made that up, I told myself. You put this terrible idea in your own head. But the rash and the sleep interruptions and the night sweats and the heart rate spikes ... those are convincingly tangible.

I was a bit dazed as I wheeled down the aisles of Trader Joes on Thursday, picking up the remaining food for my Iditarod drop bags. We're allowed only five pounds for two different pick-up spots along the 350-mile route. Five pounds is really only about two days' worth of food, for sections that could take me as long as four. Yes, there will be a handful of meals along the way to supplement. And of course I can start the race with extra calories, and intend to. But it was important to keep all food as efficient as possible — meaning reasonably nutritious, shelf-stable, non-freezing, and calorie dense. A kind fan of my books, Linda from Iowa, mailed me a delicious trail mix filled with nuts, seeds, and locally sourced chocolate. I supplemented with my own trail mix — nuts, fruit and mini peanut-butter cups as "quick carb" fuel, and then bars, tuna, jerky, meat sticks, and freeze-dried meals.

So I went through the aisles, filling a cart with junk food for both me and Beat, and hesitated at the mini peanut butter cups. "Maybe I won't send in my boxes," I thought. "Maybe it's just that easy."

Then, just as I had the day prior after whacking my knee and hoping I was injured, I wondered where this childish defiance had come from. Even if I'm not the best version of myself, I still want to be out there — a tiny speck amid a white expanse, pressing deeper into the wilderness. There's truth and peace in such an endeavor, and I crave the intensity of emotion and depth of satisfaction that I find in cold, harsh, and beautiful places. But here, in the fog, I run into hesitation. I suppose this is natural.

 On Friday, I went back to town to drop off the boxes. At home, the February sun cast harsh shadows on dry ground. Trees swayed in the gusting wind. It was 55 degrees. I was going to run before heading out, but changed my mind. What does running have to do with my actual fitness, anyway? As I turned onto Flagstaff Road, I was listening to "No Rain" by Blind Melon, which was my favorite song when I was 13 years old. It's also enjoyable for a moody 38-year-old, who still ponders the proverbial "why I start to complain when there's no rain." That's when I noticed the cloud ceiling blanketing the plains.

Within increments measured in quarters of miles, the temperature plummeted — 47 degrees, then 34, then 28. I pulled over at Flagstaff Mountain, right where the edge of the fog skimmed the ground. I was dressed to go to the gym — a short running skirt and T-shirt — when I stepped out of the car into bitingly frosty, humid air.

 I did not have good layers for the weather, and had full knowledge that just a few hundred feet higher, it was nearly 30 degrees warmer. But this was the place I wanted to be. I went for a short walk on the trails — just long enough for my bare legs to turn bright red and my shoulders to tremble gently. With that, I suddenly felt giddy about the prospect of dropping off my boxes. They were going to Alaska, where I would be in just two weeks. Then I went to the gym and increased all of my weights — a few substantially, including my nemesis, the shoulder press — because damn it, I'm going to be as strong as I want to be.

By the time I returned to Flagstaff Mountain, the cloud level had climbed. A few hundred feet higher, the road was so shrouded that I could barely see the headlights of oncoming traffic as they passed. Here, the fog was still gentle, glittering with tiny snow flurries. The temperature had fallen to 20 degrees, and my short skirt and T-shirt that were now mildly damp with sweat. But I still took another walk, enjoying the beautiful contrast of gray on gray. It was a gorgeous early evening. I was grateful I had a chance to experience this place, rather than taking the easy road — chickening out on delivering my boxes, and staying at home where it was sunny and warm.

I've ridden my health rollercoaster long enough that I no longer cling to an illusion that I am in control. I think I get what I get, including some of my more shallow emotions. But beneath the surface are the same passions I've long held, the same truths I've long known. Maybe this is all I need. 


  1. Some of the photos are melancholy inducing. Still beautiful though. It feels wrong to see mountains with so little snow. The same in the Sierras.

  2. We take the same food for trips. Though I am jealous of TJ in your town. I think I've broken through my slump...I know you will too.


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