I often feel that my schedule is fighting plans to be outside. Meetings pop up when I want to run at lunch, evening events clog my workweek, and still dinner must somehow be created and consumed. Given the need to shower occasionally and look somewhat presentable at the office, it's amazing I get outside during the week at all.
I know other Alaskans who share the challenge of having a 40-plus-hour workweek and a desire to get outdoors as much as possible. After all, when we're left to ponder our memories later in life, what will we remember? Staring into a glowing screen and looking up YouTube videos on the concatenate function in Excel? Or gazing over Cook Inlet as it changes day by day -- sometimes glowing and spiked with volcanic peaks; other times nearly invisible under thick, cold fog?
With this in mind, I do as much as I can to juggle work and outdoor time.
Whether biking, running, skiing, or walking (or even walking to a bus stop to catch a ride), getting to and from the office presents an opportunity to be outside. The great part about commuting this way is that work provides a fixed incentive to be consistent about being active and outdoors. Look at it this way: If I don't make it to the office, I could stop getting a paycheck. How's that for lighting a fire under my butt to leave the comfort of home?
On the flip side, the worst part about commuting this way is that Alaska is not always sunny, balmy, and full of chirping birds. Sometimes it rains sideways, sleets, or nosedives into subzero temperatures. Perhaps these commutes make other days feel much more pleasant, but that's not what I think when enduring them.
For those times that I cave and drive myself or catch a ride to work, there are other options for getting outside.
Embarrassing myself out of the office
Some days, bracing for the outdoors is the last thing I want. Maybe I'm tired, anxious about something at work. Maybe the wind has shifted in the wrong direction. Maybe the moon is out of alignment with my running shoes, or I've convinced myself that I'm somehow overtrained (otherwise known as feeling lazy). After changing into my spandex and walking through the office, it's clear to colleagues what I plan to do. Then I must follow through.
Running is easiest, but sometimes I ride my bike, ski, or take a walk. Once I've shamed myself out of the office, I'm usually happy I did. Whatever nags at me to get back to my swivel chair and screen can wait.
The best part of kicking my butt outdoors is that it's a discrete step to change how my day is going. If I'm anxious, bored, or tired, I have this magic trick I can pull to own at least part of my day. Often I feel that I don't have time to get outside during the workweek, but frankly I don't have time not to do this. When I get back to work, I'm inevitably happier and calmer. I tiptoe through the office, hoping if I tread lightly nobody will notice me, blotchy and disheveled from exercise. I emerge from the restroom in my "professional adult costume," just the same as when I left save for maybe a stray hair and a much better mood.
Finally, the gym
Of course, if all I'm after is a workout, the simplest way to solve the exercise conundrum is to sign up for a gym membership. As the weather cools, it's tempting to duck into the cozy, humming, mechanical embrace of fitness centers.There is a workout there just waiting for me. If I press a button, my body will be made to keep up with the swaying elliptical machine, treadmill belt, or endlessly falling steps. When I'm done, a shower and towels are provided. I can slip back into my neatly pressed work clothes, carefully fasten my jewelry and slide my feet into smart, stylish, and non-scuffed shoes, and re-enter the professional world.
In that little fantasy, I imagine I'd also touch up my make up and be the kind of person who carries amazing solutions for various life problems in her purse, Mary Poppins-style. I envision a lint roller, antacids, and perhaps a little brush. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. The neatness of the gym workout doesn't give me the same good feeling as the unpredictable, sometimes uncomfortable challenge of getting outside in Alaska. I carry around various solutions for the dirtbag lifestyle in my bike pannier, like extra socks, deodorant, blinky lights, and dry shampoo. I don't think I've ever owned a lint roller, but I do buy clothing based almost solely on whether it's wrinkle proof.
Being outside in our challenging northern environment, even if it's nasty sometimes, brings highs and lows. And juggling responsibilities with a need to be outdoors makes me more confident about accomplishing my other tasks, both in my personal life and at work. After all, if I can bike to work on a cold, dark morning, surely I can figure out how to concatenate.
Alli Harvey lives, works and plays in Anchorage.