If you've been finding yourself humming the Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" a lot these days, you're probably not alone.
A Southeast winter survival guide 092309 SPEAKINGOUT 1 Capital City Weekly If you've been finding yourself humming the Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" a lot these days, you're probably not alone.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Story last updated at 9/23/2009 - 1:42 pm

A Southeast winter survival guide

If you've been finding yourself humming the Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" a lot these days, you're probably not alone.

As the summer season draws to a close and winter looms large, some seasonal workers and others may be wondering whether or not it's time to hunker down for a Southeast Alaskan winter.

We know it happens. After all, how many times have you asked someone how he or she ended up in Alaska and heard some variation of "I came for a summer and then decided to stay"?

It's my story too. And after a few winters, I feel it's safe to say that whether it's your first winter or your thirtieth, it can take some bracing. Not necessarily the bracing for bitter cold like our northern neighbors face, but certainly bracing for rain, wind, snow, ice, darkness and solitude.

What does it take to make it through the winter? Some will say it's harder to make it through if you're single, others will say it's harder the farther you live outside of town, and so on. But some things are beyond your control and I think anyone, regardless of where they live or whom they live with, can not only make it through but also thoroughly enjoy winter here.

As I began my first winter in Juneau a few years ago, a long-time resident told me he loved October through December because "there's nobody here but us chickens." The tourism and legislative seasons bring plenty of new people to Juneau and definitely change the town's vibe during those seasons. It can feel a little quiet when the town empties out at the end of September, but these are the months when it's easiest to get to know the people who aren't going to disappear in a few months.

I think the single most important part of making it through the winter, especially if you're new in town, is people. Get out where other people are and talk to them. Join a book club, a hockey team, a quilting group or whatever strikes your fancy, but make sure you find people to do things with.

As winter approaches, more and more things crop up to do inside in our communities. The Monthly Grinds are kicking off in Ketchikan and Sitka. In Juneau, theater, music and community lectures are up and running.

As much as there is to do inside, you still need to be prepared to go outside. Get a warm, waterproof coat or two, a pair of Xtratufs, and some warm, waterproof hiking boots. If you're not sure what you need, ask the employees at one of our outdoor stores or anyone who's lived here for years.

With that gear, you're ready to think about going outdoors. And you should. If you don't get outside regularly, winter is not going to be nearly as fun. It's easier when there's snow. The hardest part often comes in October, when you have to drag yourself off to a hike in the rain. But once you've rendered yourself as waterproof as possible, it won't matter much. The point is not to wait for it to stop raining to get outside, because you might end up stuck inside all fall. Sure, there will be less rain later on, but there will also be less daylight, and an evening or morning hike quickly becomes difficult without a headlamp.

On that note, add a headlamp to your list of must-have gear, and don't be afraid of going outside after dark. After all, on clear dark nights, you should be staring at the skies, watching for gorgeous moon rises, learning star constellations and of course, hoping to catch a glimpse of the northern lights (the University of Alaska Fairbanks offers an aurora forecast at http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/).

There are some widely felt rough spots during the winter, and they're not necessary when you'd expect. Forget the "dead" of winter - watch out for the beginnings and the end. In October and November, it can be tough when our daylight hours are getting noticeably shorter each day. Then in February and March, as we're starting to climb out into spring, cabin fever can set in.

At both of these times, your world might seem to constrict. If you can get out of town for a little while, definitely do. You don't have to spring for a week in Hawaii; a short trip to another Southeast community can also be refreshing.

It's hard to avoid the winter doldrums completely, but this is where community can save you. Odds are that if the weather is getting you down, you're not alone.

Here at the CCW, we'll try to help out by being as comprehensive as possible in our calendar listings, event previews, and columns with ideas for outdoor adventures. If there's something you'd like to see, don't hesitate to drop us a line and let us know.

Katie Spielberger may be reached at katie.spielberger@capweek.com.