Discomfort and unpredictability can be constant companions on outdoor excursions. But participating is almost always worth it.

What’s amazing to me is that newness never stops being hard.

I’m talking about a specific type of novelty: being outside.

There are different levels, of course. Bundling and lacing up and going outside for a leisurely walk is an easier “hurdle” to surmount than untangling the jangly, cold microspikes and hauling up a steep icy mountainside. Grabbing the years-old, beat-up puffy and foot warmers to go stand around a bonfire and gab with friends requires far less motivation than gearing up for a long day of fat tire biking.

You get the gist: being outside, no matter what, requires some level of work. What’s enjoyable about it is its unpredictability — I’ll be in a slightly uncomfortable, volatile, sometimes nearly or completely inhospitable environment, which means I can’t predict exactly how things will go. The heightened state of awareness coupled with pushing myself to do something I’m not entirely comfortable with makes me more present and aware of the moment and my surroundings. I take in all that newness, from the vulnerability of being (literally) slightly or very outside my element, and it just hits different than the rest of my mostly indoor life.

Being inside is so comfortable, after all, but after a while the experience of it kind of all bleeds together. There are those same walls. This is my same preferred seated position. Let me adjust the temperature.

Outside slaps me out of it, but I dread that moment and experience as much as I continue to pursue it.

I was thinking about this because of something as simple and seemingly easy as a prework cross-country ski.


On the scale of couch (0) to winter backpacking (10), I give this activity a solid 2. I have all of the clothing I need, the trail that’s nearest to me is lovely and groomed, and the weather these days has been delightfully, fully March bluebird. Classic skiing is also, on the scale of things, easy.

Still. Setting an alarm? Getting out the door while the sun is still rising? To go be in the cold? For fun?

I made the plan, but a part of me dreaded it even as I knew I wouldn’t back out. The payoff would be worth overcoming my absolutely incredible (but I think, also, pretty normal) laziness.

I thought about this in the heat of the car, winding our way up Hatcher Pass (our new extended backyard after a recent move). I thought about how beautiful the pink and orange sunrise looked.

From through the window.

This is satisfying to most people, I thought. Why am I not most people? Why can’t I be more like that, just content?

We got to Archangel trailhead, and our skis and poles clattered right out of the car. I scooped mine up, and kicked my way up the short, steep ice hill to the start of the trail.

The first thing I noticed was the air temperature. Even at 7:30 a.m., it felt balmy — a pleasant low 30s with no breeze.

The second thing I noticed was the dog poop frozen at the start of the classic tracks. Cool, Alaskans. Thanks.

But then as I skied on (past the poop) in the lovely, crisp-sided classic tracks, my eyes widened at the very idea that this — this! — is our extended backyard. And yes, Hatcher Pass is specifically where I live right now, but there is access to this kind of world-class wonder across Alaska. These little jaunts for us are once-in-a-lifetime experiences for many people, and I can just get in my dang car, drive for 10 minutes, and be right here in the middle of it.

The amphitheater of cool blue snow-laden mountains sprawled all around us, whitening slowly under the rising sun, and my skis squeaked slightly as I glided my way through the vast scene.

One thing I love about Alaska is how the sunrises and sunsets are so very slow. It’s not like that in other places. We skied for 15 minutes before the sky shifted into full morning blue and light.

It wasn’t a super long ski. We were back at the car after 40 minutes, because we still needed to head home, shower, eat, and head to work.

But — speaking of work — wasn’t it worth it? I have to remind myself that I have access to these unparalleled experiences of being outdoors, many of which require minimal sweat equity on my part.

I have to push myself to overcome the slight potential discomforts; the newness that somehow still intimidates and tires me before I’ve even given it a shot. Even for something as casual and straightforward as a midweek, early morning ski.

After it’s done, though, I feel better. I didn’t know I felt worse, but I feel more full and more ready for anything else that’s to come. I feel lucky to have seen and felt a bit of the sometimes brutal, but untamable magic of the Alaskan outdoors, and to have survived to do something as mundane as office work. I sit down, in the indoor-ness of it, and am grateful that I got those 40 minutes and experience in. Just as the newness never stops being hard, I also never regret it.

Alli Harvey

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.