Alli Harvey: When the going gets tough, the tough get grit

Alli Harvey

Some people are naturally beautiful out on the trail. 

Their clothing fits and falls perfectly, their cheeks are a healthy, uniform pink, and they smile through every activity, no matter how grueling.

Then there's me.

I get to a point on the trail where I'm very cold and very hot all at the same time. I'm sweating and my cheeks are the bright, embarrassing red of overexertion. I'm thirsty, hungry, tired -- whatever the problem, it's in this moment that I feel hopelessly inept. My creature discomforts add up to a point where I feel trapped out there, moving around this so-called great outdoors, which feels more like a miserable, never-ending slog.

The thing is, I typically hit this point when there is still trail -- a lot of trail -- left to go. So I have a choice.

I can: a) whine, rage, and otherwise throw a temper tantrum for the duration of the grueling excursion (which frankly is sometimes the only way out), or b) if I can hack it, I can trick myself into liking what I'm doing again.

I've found several strategies for getting through the occasional -- OK, frequent -- miseries of getting outside in the winter.


Acceptance is the final of seven stages of grief, yet the first stage of willpower.

Acceptance is about saying, "why yes, I am hungry," or "a tiny zipper on my snow pant is rubbing against my calf and I might stab my own leg with my ski pole in order to get it to stop. I hate my life this is awful."

There is pressure from columnists and so-called "outdoorsy people" like me to have nothing but blissful fireworks feelings immediately upon stepping outdoors.

With so many things that can go wrong, how could this ever be true? With all your momentum calling you back to the couch, why would you immediately fall in love with the schlepping, sweating, heaving awkwardness of winter outdoor activity?

I have had so many mid-trail meltdowns, internal and external, that I've lost count. It's fine. Well, it's sort of fine. It's all part of the willpower thing -- just seeing that you're unhappy, calling it out, and trudging miserably for a little while through the feeling until it passes. It does pass. Usually.

Bring awesome things

Even grit needs fortification.

Peanut M&Ms. Dried fruit. This stuff called "water."

I hate to say it, but you might just end up as one of those folks with a fanny pack on the trail. Those are truly a worthwhile investment because you can reach into your back pocket (read: above your fanny, hence the clever name) and there is both water and M&Ms waiting for you. Amazing.

Leave warm, dry clothes in the car to change into when your clothes are wet (they will be wet, and you will think of those warm, dry clothes on the trail).

And if you have forgotten to bring fortifications, you must promise yourself -- at least for the duration of your outdoor activity -- that there is something great waiting for you at home. Whether it's beer in the fridge, a hot bath, or reading Us Weekly, it doesn't matter -- just that it's out there somewhere, and you're thinking about it as part of your willpower summons.

Get back

The worst thing any of us can do for our careers as happy outdoorsy people is to go too long, too hard. I once had a DJ tell me that "you gotta leave the party while it's still going," when people are sad to see you leave. You need to get off the trail while you are still reasonably happy or the only thing you will remember is being unhappy.

At some point, if you are truly miserable, you need to take measures to make yourself not miserable. Take off the skis. Walk instead of run. Turn around.

One of the most incredible things about getting outside, especially in winter in a place as extreme as Alaska, is that you jolt yourself momentarily from who you are and what you are normally all about. For a little while, you subject yourself to a climate that is not controlled by a dial. This experience can be full of delightful, and not so delightful, unpredictability.

Willpower is about getting through discomfort while tricking yourself into focusing on the good parts, imagined or real, so that you'll want to get outside again and again. In the end, you don't get any of the experiences, good or bad, if you don't get out there.

Alli Harvey lives, works and plays in Anchorage.


By Alli Harvey
Daily News correspondent