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How to train for an adventurous vacation without really knowing it

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: May 29
  • Published May 29

I‘m on a true vacation for the first time in a long time, and I’m ready for it.

Obviously, right? Who needs to prepare for a vacation? It’s the easiest thing to slide into — no work, maybe a pool or beach-side lounge chair, an umbrella and a beverage that comes with a twisty straw.

I’ve discovered over time that my husband and I vacation a little differently from many people. As we were carefully and laboriously negotiating our way down from the 5,000-foot climb to the top of Mount Charleston in Las Vegas last week, I remarked that a big reason our marriage works is that we both consider this a rejuvenating and ultimately relaxing activity.

We had decided to make the climb on a whim. Had I not been “training” all through the Alaska winter with no particular goal, there is no way I would have made it to the top.

See? Ready for vacation.

While trucking along the trail with 100 pounds of sunscreen covering every exposed layer of skin under the high desert sun, I considered this past winter.

I remembered single-digit runs with the peppy audio coaching of the Nike running app chirping encouragements in my ear. Somehow, their guidance seemed designed more for a runner along New York’s west-side highway trail, or Anyplace USA suburban sidewalks or treadmills.

But, there I was, breathing through my damp-yet-also-ice-encrusted balaclava with my eyelashes increasingly frosty from the exerted moisture accumulating and immediately freezing, listening to Coach Sally explain the difference between my mile and 5K pace. I dutifully followed the guidance, week after week for about 30 minutes a pop of a speed run.

I remembered (while wearing a tank top and taking in a panorama of wide blue sky, stubby alpine pines and soft colored sun-baked ridge line) running in a shaded canyon covered in soft snow. A friend said this route got her in amazing running and hiking shape: it was up this same series of two hills, over and over again. The notorious Lazy Mountain wind scoured our faces as we went, and still — we went.

Training for what? Again, nothing in particular. Just trying to get and stay strong during the weird interstitial COVID-19 time when it seemed like there was no goal for anything because who knew when “normal” life would resume, if ever.

Countless 7 a.m. jump squats and lunges and burpees. I made it a habit to do at least one strength workout a week throughout the winter. Yes, I felt tired and challenged after each one, but it’s hard to believe or know if it’s actually adding up to anything in the day-by-day, week-by-week minutiae.

Enter: vacation, which apparently is characterized by my desire to be outside all day and probably pretty active throughout.

This makes sense from a purely evolutionary perspective. My body was not designed to hunch over a laptop all my live-long day, dodging the threat of email as my primal “fight or flight” response is triggered by a subject line that only exists in the internet but feels very real; hunting for whatever task I have to complete on any given day.

Of course, work is more meaningful than all that — but day by day, week by week, it adds up to feeling like I literally park myself down to plug myself in along with my laptop for an unhealthy number of hours. My body was meant to move, not hunch.

This vacation, which at three weeks is the longest I have ever taken, is happening out of a rented camper van. We are in Nevada the whole time, but there aren’t too many specifics beyond that. Every day, my husband and I figure out where to go and what to do.

Some days we do multiple things. Or we pick a gigantic mountain at altitude to climb. A couple hikes in the morning, followed by a quick run — sure! We get to experience a little more this way. We get to explore and take in the sights and smells, make our way back to the van and use a solar shower to scrub off the day’s sunscreen before cracking open a beer and cooking dinner.

The reason I’m able to pull this off? Jump squats and curtsy lunges; Nike running coaching during the darkest part of winter; brutal hill repeats with sandy-snow footing.

Apparently I was training for vacation all this time. It feels incredible and I am very grateful to be at a level of fitness that enables me to do the things I want to do without too much thought. This, to me, is a true sign of time off.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.