I knew I had the winter blues bad when I caught myself climbing into bed with a directory of vacation resorts earlier this week. Tired of snow and freezing rain and gray, glowering skies, I was actively dreaming of spring and summer vacations. Where would we go this year? Hiking in the North Cascades? Mountain biking at Mount Bachelor? Beachcombing at the Oregon Coast? Visions of sunny skies and green meadows danced in my head as I read myself to sleep.
Ain't No Cure For The Wintertime Blues
Here in the Frozen North, spending time in the Great Outdoors can be dicey during the winter months. It's not that I live on the tundra exactly, but even in my home state of Washington, winters are cold and nights are long. Since I'm not a hunter and I've never taken up ice fishing, winter does not hold any special outdoor delights for me. In fact, many of my favorite outdoor pursuits (hiking, canoeing, camping, bicycling) are curtailed or scaled back during the winter. I manage to jog year-round, and I enjoy skiing (both Nordic and alpine) and the occasional outing on snowshoes, but the fact is that I don't get outside as much as I would like from December to March.
I put my bike on my indoor windtrainer. I clean, grease, and re-lace my hiking boots. I read travel books and pore over topographic maps. In other words, I mourn.
Retail Therapy To The Rescue
It started out innocently enough. My husband had received a gift certificate from a local bicycling store for Christmas. So one snowy day early in January, we set out to spend it. It was HIS gift certificate, of course. I was simply going along for the ride. As he pondered crankshafts and helmet mirrors and new pedal systems, I drifted to the 50 percent off clothing rack. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a cunning little halter-style, sleeveless summer cycling jersey covered with daisies. How cute! How fetching! How reasonably priced? Honey? How big is that gift certificate?
With the mercury hovering in the mid-20s outside, it was all I could do to strip off four layers of clothing and try that pretty little jersey on, but I managed. Of course, it fit like a glove, as did the rock-bottom marked-down extra-small cycling gloves in the bargain bin next to the cash register. God help me, the race was on.
A Sucker For Bookstores
The next stop was supposed to be about my husband, too, but I knew I was doomed to another shopping spree. He had received two books for Christmas that he wanted to exchange, so we were off to the bookseller.
Bookstores are one of my true weaknesses. Not only do I write books, I read voraciously and I used to manage a bookstore. I can't keep my hands off them. I've worn the corners down on my library card in attempts to borrow, not buy.
As it happened, the bookstore we visited has a particularly good travel and outdoor section. Memories of my late-night vacation planning sprang to mind. What would it be, hiking or the coast? I found the perfect solution. William L. Sullivan, one of my favorite Pacific Northwest outdoor guidebook authors, had re-released his "100 Hikes/Travel Guide Oregon Coast and Coastal Range" in 2002. Hiking AND the coast, all in one well-written book! I slipped the slim volume into my husband's stack of do-it-yourself home renovation books.
No Turning Back
Well, at that point, I was off to the races. Some sort of recessive shopping gene took hold of me. Before the day was done, I had rationalized the purchase of a new set of topo maps, a yoga mat, and some supplemental dumbbells for my home weight room. If I can't hike, I can PLAN my hikes! If I can't bike, I can get in SHAPE for biking!
At the end of the day, a tidy pile of promises lay in little plastic bags on my dining room table: a new jersey, new gloves, new books, new maps, new dumbbells. I wasn't exactly infused with the same feeling of exhilaration that comes from a satisfying day on the trail, but it was close.
Sally O'Neal is the author of "Great Bike Rides in Eastern Washington and Oregon," "Hot Showers, Soft Beds, and Dayhikes in the North Cascades," and other Pacific Northwest travel guidebooks. She is a weekly contributor to sportsmansguide.com.