It's that time of year when even the most exuberant outdoor enthusiast can struggle to get outside. Once-brilliant foliage litters the ground, brown and rotting. The last of the high-bush cranberries are frozen on the plant, yet the Anchorage Bowl ski trails are still mostly dirt.
With daylight and temperature decreasing daily, it can be challenging to maintain outdoor routines. One way to give yourself a boost: Get social.
Humans are social creatures and we can use motivation, support and pressure to nudge us out the door. Whether you're the type who likes to follow a schedule or prefers to be spontaneous, here are some social ways to stay active outside in this autumn-winter bridge.
For schedule lovers
Since early September, Tuesdays have been my running night. I always know Anchorage Parks and Recreation has the Bonny Sosa race series well-planned, and I can count on an exciting trail, plenty of other runners and SteamDot hot chocolate after the race (well, except for that extra-exciting trail that had runners looping lost through the forest; no hot chocolate that time).
There's something great about having that night pegged as running night. Runners know the race will go on no matter the weather, and they're likely to run into friends and acquaintances. It's not too late to join the last family-friendly Tuesday Night Race Series trail run of the season on Nov. 4. A pizza dinner and dessert potluck will follow.
Even after that, Tuesday can remain a social running night with the Skinny Raven's year-round Pub Runs. The 5-kilometer course weaves through downtown Anchorage to finish near several local eateries that offer post-race caloric replenishment. At first, McGinley's Pub handled the crowd of runners, but due to dramatic increase in participation, Flattop and Snow Goose have joined in.
According to one of the Pub Run's founders, Emma Bohman, the goal is to make the free race fun and keep reaching new runners, no matter their ability.
Bowman said 300 runners turned out for one of the weekly runs earlier this month, and she expects a steady group throughout winter.
"Even when it's 10 below, there will still be 70-100 runners," Bohman said. "Knowing they can come here and have friends they've made through the Pub Run or friends from work that they're meeting here, then it's not so bad. When you know someone's waiting for you, it makes it easier."
Bohman believes it comes down to accountability.
"It's like if you have a trainer waiting at the gym, you're going to go work out. If you have a friend that's going to do Pub Run, then you're going to go, even if it's raining and blowing sideways," she said.
Of course you don't have to go, but you are going to have some explaining to do if you flake. That may be enough motivation to lace up your shoes and leave your cozy house. Better yet, bring running gear to work and race before returning home.
If you're more drawn to hiking, the Alaska Outdoors group leads excursions every Monday and Thursday year-round. Leader Toshihide Hamazaki emails the trail head meeting points in advance. Monday tends to be more family-friendly trails, whereas Thursday is anybody's guess. No special equipment is needed, only hiking boots and weather-appropriate clothing. Hikes are free after a $20 yearly membership, or $1 per hike for non-members.
If you don't want to deal with large groups, simply having a plan with a friend makes it more likely you'll follow through. Set a regular day to meet, even if only for a half-hour walk, good weather or bad. As a friend likes to say, "Change your gear, don't change your plans."
You could designate one day a week as Family Outdoor Day, with the expectation that you're going to get out together. Planning a location just one day in advance raises your chances of going out.
Array of outdoor groups
Maybe you're not one for structure, but you still want social options for exploring the outdoors. Meetup.com might be the thing for you. Meetup.com is a free, online platform that allows members to create or search for groups with common interests and then meet in person.
Many of the largest groups in Anchorage revolve around outdoor pursuits: The Anchorage Adventurers, Alaska Wild Women Hiking and Backpacking Group, Bike Me Anchorage, Anchorage Outdoor Family Network, Ski, Bike & Paddle, Anchorage Trail Walkers, Anchorage Trail Runners, Anchorage Rock and Ice Climbing Group and Alaska Mountaineers.
Jennifer DuFord helped create the Anchorage Adventurers Meetup group in 2007 and has led at least two outings a week since. She uses Meetup to reach a pool of interested adventurers and to find outdoor safety in numbers.
"Also I love the camaraderie and the chance to meet new people and enjoy each other's company," DuFord said.
While the Tuesday races and Alaska Outdoors hikes feature set days and events, Meetup outings constantly change. But because the Anchorage outdoor community is so vast, there are always outdoor activities to join at the last minute.
"The nice thing is how spontaneous you can be," DuFord said. "It's very easy with the Meetup calendar to see what's happening, and there's an outing almost daily, sometimes more (than one)."
With Meetup, you don't need to plan your own trips. But you do need to read the trip description thoroughly.
Spontaneity-lovers can approach Alaska Outdoors trips the same way: even if you don't go every Monday and Thursday, just show up when it works.
DuFord wants people to know that it's always the right conditions for something.
"Last winter we didn't have much snow, but it was fabulous for ice climbing and wild ice skating on backcountry ponds," she said.
Getting outdoors with others can make the excursion safer, more enjoyable and more likely to actually happen. So whether you prefer to be scheduled or spontaneous, use social motivation, support and pressure to help get you outside this winter.
Elissa Brown is an Anchorage freelance writer.
• Anchorage Meetup Group: www.meetup.com/cities/us/ak/anchorage
• Bonny Sosa Tuesday Night Races: $2 for children and $7 for adults online, more at the event. Final race in series Nov. 4 at Kincaid Outdoor Center, with pizza provided and potluck dessert. Races begin 6:30 p.m. www.muni.org/departments/parks/pages/tuesdaynightraces.aspx
• Pub Run: Meet at Skinny Raven store in downtown Anchorage, 800 H Street, at 5:15 p.m. Race begins 6 p.m. Wear reflective gear and a blinking light. https://www.facebook.com/mcginleyspubrun
• Alaska Outdoors: www.alaska-outdoors.org