What would a Hiking Big Year look like?

Does the reluctantly photographed walker seem happy? He is and his mind inevitably ponders a hiking big year, loads and loads of walking from January 1 to December 31. Call such thinking premature, for 2017 and 2018 are most probably loaded with very different obsessions (but who can tell, part of the pleasure is in weighing momentous choices), but the mind enjoys playing with plans.

Spur-of-the-moment big years, scribbled down a year ago, incorporated not one, but two big years:

  • Long Hikes Big Year. 12 months away from home doing pilgrimage-like walks, the best known example being the Camino.
  • Tough Hikes Big Year. Target the arduous: Grand Canyon, Western Arthurs, Corsica, Tour du Mont Blanc, the canyons of Utah.

But neither of these is as yet well-formed. Neither channels everyday effort. I had this insight while day walking in Wales: the Long year should target X,000 kilometers of distance; the Tough year can target Y,000 meters of ascent.

Up high in the Dolomites later this week, how’s about I take this insight further? Such fun!

An app for Big Decade?

Do we need an app for everything? Spare me, spare me. But maybe we need one more . . .

My two 2016 big years were launched in my head based on little more than a mad impulse. I scribbled some plans in a notebook, waited for January 1, and began. The challenges have been, and very much remain, motivational: why oh why today.

But planning and monitoring were always part of my geeky attraction to the concept. I knew woolly-headed annual goals, such as “shouldn’t I try to inculcate a regular exercise habit,” would sink without a trace. Birders, my role model, know on January 1 precisely what species to aim to see, and they keep careful “I saw this” lists. How then should I organise a Big Year?

A while back, I opined that my jogging app, Strava, “is magic. I know exactly where I am in any day in relation to my big year target. Unfortunately not everything worthwhile in life is covered by an app.” Pedal Pete was onto me in a flash:

There is nothing else worthwhile in your life that cannot be recorded in Strava

So . . . is a Big Decade app worth developing? Intriguing. But no – the journey, half a year old now, seems to be more complex than any software can handle, and the unfolding journey is quite the point of the whole exercise.

Image: Visual Hunt

Record those small moments!

Maria Popova at Brain Pickings muses about “James Baldwin on the revelation that taught him how to truly see” and includes her amazing gathered observations:

“The art of seeing has to be learned,” Marguerite Duras wrote in 1984. Many legendary artists can trace their creative path to a single moment of revelation in which they were suddenly able to see the invisible dimensions of the world — for what is art, after all, if not “a dynamic contemplation” and what is the task of the artist if not to see beyond the seeming realities of the world?

For Patti Smith, that revelation was a glimpse of a swan when she was a little girl; for Virginia Woolf, a gardening epiphany; for Pablo Neruda, a hand through the fence of his childhood home; for Albert Einstein, his first encounter with a compass.

Such small items to trigger lifelong work! I can’t recall what drove me to wish to write in the first place, as a teen, nor indeed what motivated me to give up lucrative day jobs to take it up again later in life (with such dim prospects, as has been demonstrated). But I’m still vulnerable to the effect of small moments. A while ago I posted about Pedal Pete (see “What then in the presence of greatness“). If I hadn’t recorded that sequence of my thoughts, it would have been lost in the soup of mind chatter, but I did, and it still strikes me as revelatory. It says something real about people (for me, how to write characters) but also about time’s arrow (the old saw of “live for the day”). It says more but what?

Big Decade: Habit forming?

Does obsessing about one passion over twelve months lead to a cast-iron habit? I’m not sure. I read Charles Duhigg’s wonderful book four years ago, found it interesting, but didn’t tackle it seriously. Now is the time to revisit it, in light of the Big Decade. And of course airplanes are the ideal places to dig into books.

What then in the presence of greatness?

I was awed, a couple of weeks back, to spend a few moments watching Pedal Pete (aka Peter Arnott) complete yet another Everesting, one imbued with grief after the death of his niece. I watched him glide down his steep Everesting hill (he’d end up ascending and descending 150 times), not a muscle moving, a study in aerodynamic skill. He banked at the bottom, turned round. I watched him effortlessly rise up out of his seat and pump ferocious leg muscles smoothly, powerfully, as he made his way back up the road. I imagined myself doing this once, twice, three times, hey, maybe four, but could contemplate no more.

We’re besieged by images and stories of super sportspeople, to the extent that they rarely excite awe in us. Too many of us invent narratives in our heads that allow us to dismiss performance or skill that we ourselves can’t find the willpower to work towards. It’s as if we imagine that the extraordinary is, after all, ordinary.

I watched Pete and the question that surfaced startled me. In the face of such talent and dedication, what should I ask of myself? Does this sense of awe just wash over me? Or does it compel me to find something to tackle, to strive to master it?

(Photo courtesy of Brendan Edwards – check out his varied and fascinating cycling blog.)

My Cranes Big Year: when oh when?

I’ve been trying not to think much about my aim to conduct a Cranes Big Year, twelve calendar months during which I seek, see, photograph and write about all the crane species of the world across every continent. This is a very different “big year” to jogging more, or writing more productively, or devoting time to activism. The “cranes” notion is an unbidden one, coming from deep inside. In some sense, the cranes have spoken to me.

Well, a sixty-year-old needs to schedule the more physical years earlier rather than later, so I’ve been avoiding cranes. But take a look at this photo of brolgas at the Western Treatment Plant! David Adam, a member of Victorian Birders, has captured a familial scene I’ve never witnessed. As soon as I saw this shot, I knew the Cranes Big Year must be bumped up in the queue. David, thanks!

Reviewing – a future Big Year – and new Book Mark site

Lit Hub, the interesting website for readers, has decided to do for recent books what Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic does for films, i.e. aggregate and average public reviews. It surveys a wide range of publications, and whenever a new book gains enough critical mass for three or more reviews, Book Marks pronounces an A/B/C average rating and sums up critical responses. The Book Marks website is vibrant and attractive, and there is some benefit to being able to quickly ascertain a book’s reception. But I’m not partial to Rotten T and doubt if I’ll use this site. Just as a parcel of Amazon reviews can be superficially worth examining, but always ends up as confusing because you just don’t know where the reviewers are coming from, I believe in following individuals, critics with consistent outlooks and standards.

A few years down the track, I intend to do a Reading Big Year, reading some three or four books a week for all fifty-two weeks of the year. Should I review them all? The idea is most attractive, if scary.