How do you ride a bicycle?

A Cycling Big Year would differ from a Jogging Big Year. I’ve been running for over three decades, on a bike I’m only slightly more competent than a ten-year-old with training wheels. Oh, I exaggerate slightly but in truth when I took the Specialized Sirrus out for a whirl, twice recently, I felt just like a kid. Turning a routine corner, I crashed into a pole (luckily at near zero speed).

But such a sense of freedom! Practice session #1: 13kms. Practice session #2: 24 kms. Both of them slow but who cares?

(Notice the complete lack of proper gear.)


Single versus album?

The role of songs versus albums . . . esoterica for most, but I’ve always eschewed the “hit single” in favour of the more meaty album. Pondering the role of music in my life, pondering a Music Big Year of some sort, the “30 Days, 30 Songs” notion resurrects that debate. (By the way, I’m not criticising this playlist per se – the first two artists, Death Cab for Cutie and Aimee Mann, are among my favourites.)

Big Year as psychological safety cocoon?

Check out “Productivity and the power of trust.” A short interview clip but coming from Charles Duhigg, whose new, wise book I’ve just worked through, and from Susan Cain, hero to us geeks, I read it carefully. It’s true, psychological safety is, for some of us questing souls, hard to obtain. I like to think my Big Years, within a wondrous family and life, offer me a refuge, at least a little.

Writing Big Years: Does apocalyptic brooding strike you?

Twice recently, in rambunctious social gatherings, dread has seized me, completely unbidden. I recall one specific thought: Armageddon is nigh. A dead weight settled over my chest.

Both times the sensation departed as quickly as it arose, but I’ve kept thinking about the topic. Like melancholy, dread is a therapeutic notion in small doses, an emotion preventing complacency.

My Dark Novel Big Year – a novel so dark my family should reject it – might slot into 2021, so it’s distant. But the book’s idea is a first page I drafted years ago, and it’s somehow always close to my heart. I felt it again this week. Welcome, blackness.

Birding Big Year?

In the September issue of the Australian Birdlife magazine, Jonathan Franzen, my hero in more than one regard, was asked in interview (in Papua New Guinea of all places) about “the appeal of traveling the world birding.” I swooned over his response, here’s one angle:

And also it gets you to places that would otherwise not get to go. I spent the first half of my life going to churches and museums in Europe. Now I arrive in Italy and my first question is, “How do you get to the nearest sewage treatment plant?”

Oh, for a Birding Big Year!

Can “The Power of Habit” help me?

I’ve posted a few times my ongoing observations from working through this book for the second time, little snippets that haven’t amounted to much. Today I finally conclude my rereading.
Do you have a habit you wish you could get rid of? Scoffing biscuits an hour before dinner might, for example, be one. Well, Duhigg does offer fresh insights. Gather research over a couple of weeks. What is the cue, the moment and the motivation that triggers needless eating? What is the reward? This research needs to be thorough, for the cue might be subtle. For example, the thought of impending dinner might not just trigger raw hunger but a desire to “call it quits for the day.” So: cue = 5 PM thoughts of dinner; routine = overeat; reward = relief from the stress of the day. Now, here’s what you do – replace the routine with something else that satisfies the same reward. In our case, we might set an alarm for 5 PM, grab a book and walk five minutes to read for fifteen, and the same reward results: aaah!. Systematically stick to the new routine and after a few weeks, bingo, the Tim-Tams rot in the pantry.
The trouble is, I don’t seem to have many really bad habits, at least in my own mind. At this point in my life, I’m more interested in creating “better” new habits, and here Duhigg’s book isn’t, for very good reasons, as helpful. It helps to appreciate how cue, routine, and reward combine to form a big new habit, but the hard part is determining exactly what the new habit should comprise, and having the motivation to instil it. That, I realise, is tough.
A Big Year is, it seems to me, a highly specific way of instituting new habits. The cue is a brute force one: do something every day for a year. The reward is whatever yearning or fascination impels the Big Year activity in the first place. After 365 cue/routine/reward repeats, on December 31, hopefully something of a new, intoxicating habit will have formed. Let’s see!

A Hiking Big Year anytime soon?: Part 1

That’s me, trudging across one of the high fells in the Lakes District, as part of the 300-km Coast to Coast just completed in England. We took 16 days, we met one man doing it in 11, most seemed to hike from the Irish Sea to the North Sea in 12 to 17 days. This is my third fifteen-day-plus “through” hike. What did I learn about myself?
Do I appear to be enjoying myself? The two-and-a-half weeks were a kaleidoscope of British scenery, from cowshit farm fields to high tarns to rock scrambles to bleak moors to quaint villages. We were fortunate to have clement weather, although I had to admit that the isolated gloomy/rainy/misty days were thrilling, evoking something uniquely British. I felt a sense of journeying, gradually chewing up the miles across a country, spying what lay ahead while glancing over a shoulder at our conquered territory. One distinct pleasure was the progression of B&Bs/pubs/hostels, with their fulsome breakfasts, accompanied by nightly “reward” dinners, mostly in pubs, nearly always with wine or beer. The company was avuncular and easygoing. The hike was robust – on average we walked just over 20 kms a day, 5 to 10 hours depending on the terrain – and demanding at a very basic level, namely that of keeping leg and foot in shape. But only three of the days really taxed me, so by one reckoning the CtC was not a full challenge – how did that affect my experience?
Two days after scrubbing my boots clean, the ultimate conclusion to a hike, I’m plagued by an unreasonable disquiet. I cannot fault the journey, but here’s the rub: I’ve always yearned, or thought I was yearning, for the big challenges, what I’ve been labelling as a future Tough Hikes Big Year. We’re talking intense physical exertion, navigational intricacies, an element of riskiness verging on danger. Yet the Coast to Coast was quite manageable, thank you very much, and I loved it. Am I changing in what excites me about hiking?

A Music Big Year . . . When?

I’ve begun reading 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded, by renowned music critic and biographer Jon Savage. It deals with my formative period – I was 11 in 66 – and rock music, the love of my life. Savage writes early on:

It was a time of enormous ambition and serious engagement. Music was no longer commenting on life but had become indivisible from life. It had become the focus not just of youth consumerism but a way of seeing, the prism through which the world was interpreted. ‘This isn’t it for me’: that simple, defiant cry, delivered by John Lennon, the most famous young person on the planet, echoed throughout 1966. Success wasn’t the be-all and end-all; it was possible to conceive of an alternative future, to believe that things could be different, that people could be free.

But I’ve been away from home nearly two months and took no music with me. What, no music at all? Something is wrong, very wrong. I am planning a Rock Music Big Year, listening to many, many new-music albums, but the plan isn’t for action until quite a few years down the road. Should this big year be sooner?