Jake Dye's pair of second-hand snowshoes rest in a snowberm near Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Out of the Office: Frozen by indecision

In video games, there’s often a defined pathway for progression — a direct, prescribed set of challenges meant to be tackled in a certain order as the player either levels up or develops greater technical skills. In most cases, a player knows exactly what they should be doing to advance or to prepare themselves for a greater challenge.

That sense of progression is something I’ve been foolishly chasing as I’ve this past year begun getting into this new — to me — thing called going outside.

In May, I went hiking for the first time in my adult life. We tackled the Gull Rock Trail near Hope. The trail was roughly 13 miles, and it was a kind of brutal experience that left me in a wholly negative physical state I’d never experienced before or since. It was also an absolute blast and a very well-spent time with friends.

In the following months, hiking became something I greatly anticipated and enjoyed. I took on maybe half a dozen more, though none of the other hikes I’ve attempted was half as difficult as that first outing.

By November, I had big plans for the winter. I bought a pair of snowshoes and imagined getting outside and onto local trails as often as every weekend — keeping up the momentum started in the summertime.

At the time of writing, I’ve worn my snowshoes exactly twice. Those times were fun — setting out to claim an office Christmas tree and tagging along on one of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s guided snowshoe walks. I certainly thought I would have done more by now.

I have no one to blame but myself for my stagnation.

There’s a fanciful imagining in my head of a perfect route through the trails of the Kenai Peninsula, a series of achievements unlocked by taking on and reaching the end of trails in ascending difficulty. There’s something endlessly compelling to me about a checklist. I have a burning desire to “complete” the array of challenges afforded by local trails — much the same way as I’ve conquered each dungeon in Final Fantasy XIV.

Unfortunately for me, there doesn’t exist any correct path to exploring the outdoors.

This winter, each time I consider setting out to snowshoe, I’m unsure where to go. It’s not that I’m unaware of the plentiful opportunities as close as a five-minute drive from my home. I just don’t know which is the challenge that I “should” pursue. Instead of seizing any chance to get out, I’m letting the entire winter pass me by because I’m looking for a perfect next step that doesn’t exist.

In the popular video game World of Warcraft, a single button press can at any time open the “Adventure Guide.” It offers suggestions to players about what they should tackle next — tailored to their current gear and experience — directly indicating how to proceed. There’s no ambiguity, there’s always a carrot to chase. That’s the kind of direction I want.

I’m 26 years old and in all right but certainly not great physical condition — which I make up for with a good attitude. I have weathered, second-hand snowshoes and the right gear to stay reasonably warm. I’ve tackled several trails with relative ease and am eager for more. I want to broaden my horizons. I want to return with fresh photos for my Instagram account and new ideas for the next time Clarion Sports Editor Jeff Helminiak asks me to write an Out of the Office column.

Taking all that in mind, what’s the perfect outing? What trail is perfectly tuned to my skill level and gear on hand? How do I gain the experience I need to level up and become ready for a greater challenge?

My questions don’t have answers. I don’t know what I need to do next. I’ll keep on dreaming of a list of perfectly ordered accomplishments to pursue — where a cute sound effect and an “achievement unlocked” would ring in the end of each new trail.

Life isn’t a video game and if I want to get in better shape, I probably just need to keep walking anywhere I can. That’s a boring resolution to a problem that’s haunted me for months.

Maybe this weekend I’ll still be on the couch, figuring out which video game achievement I should chase after next. Or maybe I’ll finally venture forth to Headquarters Lake or the Slikok Trails to get in steps and fresh air, which are, distressingly, good for my “stupid mental health.”

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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