The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
There are a few outdoor sport weather conditions that are so tantalizing and their call so deeply understood by the people who love them that they’ve become a part of our culture. Where I grew-up in California “Surf’s up!” was a perfectly legitimate reason to abandon whatever it was you were supposed to be doing — school, work, whatever — and make a bee line to the beach. If you’re a skier and snowboarder or live somewhere with a lot of snowsport lovers, you know that a “powder day” means everyone in the office suddenly has a cold and has called out sick at the same time.
And here in Alaska, a gorgeous sunny summer day is a reason for people to cancel plans, put off appointments or leave early for the day. Often, you don’t even need to fake an excuse — everyone knows.
These perfect conditions carry with them a clear sense of urgency. If you like to do the things that depend on them, you know that perfect conditions are fairly rare — or if not actually rare, they’re not predictable, almost never convenient and bring so much joy that you know you have to chase them while they exist. Summer in Alaska is packed with that feeling. You better use the sunshine and great weather, because you never know when it might end.
And yet. Making time for last-minute, seize the day type adventures is not exactly my strong point. I know why I should. I’m glad — euphoric, even — when I do it. But getting to that point? It’s hard.
I have a lot of excuses for this. Actually, I think they’re not excuses so much as legitimate reasons. Saying “excuses” make them sound made up or flippant.
But these are solid things for me. I have a lot of responsibility — much of it self-assigned if we’re being honest — and walking away from it feels flakey. The love of a schedule and a plan isn’t just something I’ve taught myself recently, it’s a deep personality, raised from childhood devotion that seems like a part of me on a cellular level. It doesn’t mean I can’t change my plan or that I need to know things weeks in advance. But it does make it hard to pivot in a moment.
OK, maybe those are excuses.
In my head I am absolutely convinced that I can’t just change what I’ve got lined up and go on adventure instead. I feel like I don’t have time. I feel like what I’m doing can’t wait — even if it’s self-assigned and no one else is actually sitting around waiting for it.
This is sounding pretty silly now that I’m saying it out loud.
It also sounded pretty silly when I was saying it in my head this week as I sorted through reasons why I could certainly NOT ditch the work day I had lined up and instead go nordic skating.
Far more niche than a powder day or surfs up, “ice conditions” are another drop everything and go situation for people in far north climates like Alaska. Nordic skating is ice skating designed for long distance on wild lakes and rivers. Nordic skates are longer than hockey or figure skates, and are made to clip to cross country ski boots. Just how pleasant it is depends on a bunch of factors including the weather and the smoothness or grade of the ice.
It’s pretty self-evident — very smooth ice makes for very pleasant skating. Bumpy ice, not so much. But since the ice isn’t hot mopped to make it smooth or maintained or created in a rink, you take what nature gives you. Perfect conditions look like thick, stable, safe ice on not-too-cold or windy days and no snow cover, because snow on ice makes skating basically impossible. Clear ice that allows you to see what’s happening below it amps up the cool factor, and while we’re at it go ahead of make sure you’re at a lake that’s surrounded by jaw-dropping mountains.
So yeah, when the ice conditions are perfect, people drop what they’re doing and hike, bike or ski to the wild lake where it can be found.
And this week, against all the odds I constantly stack against myself, those people included me.
I’ve been working three full days at a new part time job, and then reserving two days at the end of the week for other projects. I was putting the finishing touches this week on edits to the Lonely Planet tour guide I co-authored this summer, and needed to get it cranked out. I also have a few other freelance things I’m working on that need to get done, plus this huge local news project I’m trying to get off the ground. In short, I had stuff going on.
I had been watching the social media posts from nordic ice lovers. Luke and I got Nordic skates at christmas last year, and I had a handful of chances to use them over the winter. The idea of hiking to a jaw-dropping frozen lake for a skate surrounded by mountains was enticing, but did I really have time? Going alone also sounded like an unwise idea since the conditions of the ice were a little unknown and I’m not exactly proficient in wild ice reading.
And yet … I knew how grateful I would be if I did make the effort to sort my schedule and go. I knew based on over 2,240 days of going outside every single day that the only adventure I truly regret is that one I skip.
So I sent a few text messages and found a friend able to also carve out a few free hours. Her reply? “We can probably be ready in 45 minutes — is that too soon?” I rapid fire dropped my kid at school and figured out what the heck to wear and pack for a type of adventure I had never been on, tossed everything in the car and bolted up the mountain.
Less than an hour later we were standing on a frozen lake, surrounded by mountains peaks in what felt like the middle of nowhere, as if we werent a 30 minute drive and two mile hike from my front door. We skated for awhile, then hiked down. I was home by lunch and got in an afternoon of work, rearranging my schedule to make it happen and never once feeling like I had wasted my day or sorry that I had pushed off a few inside tasks for time in the wild.
And then, two days later on the weekend, I did it again. Planning to sleep until 8, because frankly I love sleeping, my eyes popped open at 630 and all I could think was: the ice is out there waiting for me. So I started my day, plotted an adventure and went back out for a few hours, ultimately ending at the same lake I had just visited, thanks to some snowy conditions at two others. A quick hike up, an hour on the ice and a run back to the car later, I was once again headed home, with plenty of time left in the day for everything I needed to do.
And no regrets.
In fact, I had the opposite of regrets. I had two good, soul enriching experiences in the wild. There are plenty of reasons why hiking in the winter to a frozen lake and then skating on it, which is basically just walking on water while wearing knives, is unsafe and risky — but now I have two separate experiences that show me when I take a little bit of a risk things don’t just turn out, but they are memorable in many good ways. I have two all but back to back days demonstrating that my schedule will survive, the house will be kept, the kids will be fed and delivered to their respective schools and activities, and I will stay employed even if I carve out a little time for a wild adventure or two.
These are important lessons, because the next time adventure comes knocking, Ill know that it’s safe to answer — and maybe answering will be a little easier. And maybe adventure won’t have to knock quite as loudly. Maybe chasing this ice and opening myself to these experiences will teach me to be looking for adventure options rather than waiting for them to knock me over the head.
It’s hard to remember that I have time for adventure, but my outdoor habit it helping me get better about that. You can see photos from my two ice days, plus many other photos of daily adventures both mundane and grand on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. I want to see your photos, too. Share them and tag me with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.