Get outside: Tips for coping with the cold and darkness

Daily News correspondentDecember 24, 2013 

The moon and headlamps light the way for coaches and skiers in the Junior Nordic League on Goose Lake in this on Thursday evening, November 29, 2012 file photos. Headlamps and an interest in the outdoors are just some of the ways to stay active during Anchorage long winters.

MARC LESTER — Anchorage Daily News / adn.com

Every person in Anchorage has a cute, pithy way of conveying his or her feelings about winter darkness.

"This is awful" or "All I do is sleep and watch Netflix" are a couple of the more common.

The sun drags itself out of bed late in the morning, casting strange, half-hearted light from just above the horizon before nodding off again early in the afternoon.

Yet, social norms and sanity demand that we, the good people of Anchorage, stay awake and productive longer than the sun is out. Even more challenging is our need to occasionally breath air fresher than that of our home or office. So how do we get outside when it feels as dark and inhospitable as, well, a subarctic climate in the middle of the winter?

It was summer once

If you listen closely, you can hear people wail from playgrounds, offices and tanning booths across Anchorage: "It will be dark like this forever! It will never be summer again!"

In the authoritative type font of the Anchorage Daily News I hereby issue an official reminder: this is not true.

Fact: it was summer several short months ago, and it will be summer once again several short months from now. Remember those days? We were outside at 11 p.m. on a sunny porch. We were outside conquering Rendezvous Peak for an after-work dinner picnic. We were outside taking the dog for a walk along Westchester Lagoon.

The trick is to remember those summer evenings when it's December, 5 p.m. and the couch promises hours of mildly entertaining things on YouTube. The shame of winter lethargy when compared to how full a summer evening could be should be enough to spark the first glimmering of a need to get outdoors.

But the gym!

Now that you've hoisted yourself off the couch, you might ask: why go outside at all? Why not just go to the gym, where it's always light and you can get some exercise?

The answer is simple: because the gym is a chore. You see the same thing every time at the gym. Sure, the TV screens flicker a little differently as the news changes from day to day, and sometimes there is a slightly new remix of a Britney song in spinning class. But overall, the view never changes.

Yes, the gym can serve its purpose -- routine, exercise, awkward naked encounters with colleagues in the locker room -- but it's still recycled indoor air. It's still not testing your mettle the way a negative-6 degree Anchorage evening will. Going to the gym is certainly not going to produce a uniquely Alaskan story to tell the grandkids, unless you like telling stories about trying new settings on the elliptical machine.

Shiny things

Getting outside when it's dark means it's difficult to see and be seen.

Anchorage offers many wonderful, shiny solutions to this problem. There are lights available that will burn spots into the retinas of anyone unlucky enough to come toward you. Headlamps, safety vests, red blinkers -- they come in all shapes and sizes, with all different price tags.

Nothing is more discouraging when it comes to getting outside in the dark than the prospect of getting hit by a car, which is why shiny things are nice. They offer a great big boost in visibility, for you and everyone else, and a leg up on safety. So get some shiny things.

The glory

Finally, the best way to get outside when it's dark is to simply revel in the true, direct, piercingly cold and expansively pitch-black glory of it all.

The world-class trails of Kincaid are lined with bright lights that illuminate the snow on the trails and trees, drawing your skis forward.

Bike tires crunch and groan along the sneaky paths cyclists have found to connect the dots in our snowy city.

The cold glazes our eyes, frosts our hair, pinches our thighs and crawls up our noses -- yet, we're outside. We look up into the Chugach range or out across the Cook Inlet and think about the many vast miles it extends beyond the place we are standing.

In case we'd forgotten, we are in the sparkling, humbling and relentless north, and we are surviving here. Even in the middle of the winter, in the absence of helpful life supports like sun and warmth, we are still hardy people who go outside. 

Alli Harvey lives, works and plays in Anchorage.

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