Pandemic hair

Begone, 2020! Looking Back at an Intense Year

2020 in a nutshell. (Choking haze courtesy of wildfire smoke.)

Good grief, how do I write about 2020 without sounding like a jackass? It served up so much: social unrest, wildfires, the election battle. Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, THE F’N PANDEMIC.

Talking about what I experienced and learned this year feels self-indulgent when people are hurting and the damndemic rages on. Still, 2020 marked a dramatic shift in my life and so here goes with a look back at my year.

If nothing else, I promise a picture of my ridiculous covid hair.

So Much to Do and See

I kicked off 2020 with PLANS. My friend Mason’s generous gift of an all-you-can-fly pass on United burned bright in my pocket, group workouts and friend hangs cranked along, van and bikepacking trips beckoned…

So much potential fun. And also a repeat of the same activities I’d enjoyed since we moved to Bend four years ago. 

I’d ridden faster and longer, trained harder, learned how to ski. But what was next? Shaving a few seconds off my Strava times, climbing a harder route at Smith Rock, a trip to a new place?

What more could I learn from those things? 

Since college, I’ve experienced three distinct phases: business-building, travel, and this most-recent, intense athletic activity. In Bend, land of fit people, I was surrounded and supported by people whose primary focus was outdoor pursuits. Now, I felt a pull away from those things.

I needed a shift, a reset.

Well, screw you, COVID. I didn’t need quite this big an intervention, you scurrilous virus!

Lockdown Arrives

Pandemic lockdowns felt like a Tasmanian Devil’s tornado at first – everything in disarray, all plans nixed, everything unsure. Initially, life felt surreal. We scrambled to buy supplies, sort out food, and help our families do the same. With no kids and remote work, our dislocation was nothing compared to others, but like most everyone, we were affected.

My energy verged on mania, with a long daily checklist to help me focus and stay productive, dammit. No downtime! I used the SPAR accountability app and rushed from activity to activity. “If only I could do pushups while meditating and stretching!” It wasn’t healthy.

At least our hair was…interesting. Thanks for the calendar, Jules!

As weeks rolled to months, I settled into a balanced, less frenetic routine. I trimmed back the items on the checklist and stopped using SPAR. I kept meditating (I’m at 280 days straight!). We launched our Great Garden Project, which consumed giant swaths of spring.

I identify strongly as an extrovert, but strangely, spending time alone felt good. I didn’t freak out. (Chelsea watched me for cracks, straitjacket in hand.) I recentered, turning the energy inward. I stayed physically active, but devoted far fewer hours to time outside and more time at home being creative. When I did venture out, I left the headphones behind and let my legs and mind spin.

Whereas in the past I’d have chafed at such a low-key life, focusing time on life-long skills like cooking, music, writing, gardening, and reading filled me with satisfaction. I made soy yogurt and cashew cheese, learned about pea varietals, dove into the Circle of Fifths. It was fun, challenging, fresh!

Giving Myself Permission to Do Different Things

In 2017, I met a blog reader from Washington named George. He’s built his own houses and welded the porch railings; dinner was served on a table he’d built. A meal that included bread he’d baked in a brick oven and wine he’d made with local grapes. You get the idea.

Yet he’s not homebound: every year, he and his wife Patti journey to places like Colombia to bike tour for a month or two. Then they return home to tend their homestead, nurture their giant garden, see friends and family, and cross-country ski.

In short, the picture of balance.

After a recent newsletter of mine, George emailed me:

“Your process of evolution intrigues me. Learning new things is the life-long adventure. Shifting from a tech-savvy, adventure shredder, van man, and blogger, I find your discoveries considerably more valuable now.”

It’s gratifying to know that someone I admire noticed – and appreciated – my evolution. Even more so because after we landed in Bend, I felt constrained by the previous focus of travel and van life and also afraid of losing blog readers not interested in my new life.

However, nobody wants to be stuck in a niche when it’s not their reality, especially with a passion project. For me, the newsletter helped refocus my creative energy and share thoughts other than travel, a richer, more authentic side of me beyond “adventure #vanlife MTB shredder.”

Hanging with George outside one of the homes he’s built.

2020 Realizations

I suspect 2020 will represent a turn in the road for many of us. Here are a few specific things that greatly improved my life during this very challenging year:

Ditching Social Media

I finally admitted to myself that I use social media (especially Strava, an athletic community) partly for connection, but mostly for validation. I wanted people to know I was an athlete, that I did hard bike rides.

I’d considered dropping social media before, taking breaks, then returning for more dopamine doses. Closing my accounts freed me up to do whatever I wanted without thinking about sharing it. I can’t emphasize enough how empowering this shift has been! 

As a huge bonus, the time I spent on social media now can be invested in creative projects.

Doing More Household Work

This is a topic worthy of an entire blog post, but in short, for the past few years, I’ve aimed to contribute more to the household and decrease Chelsea’s mental load (<–link to a fantastic comic).

This includes cooking more often, handling food orders and grocery pickups, and trying to anticipate the needs of the household without asking Chelsea what needs to be done (a task in itself, I’ve learned). 

All things she’s disproportionately handled while I enjoyed the fun things in life. When I started thinking about how I was basically being lazy and my life partner was shouldering an unfair share of the burden, I started making changes. 

I certainly prefer bike rides to cleaning toilets, but feel way better about myself as a husband and human.

Letting Go of My Business (Even More)

In the face of roiling financial markets and so much financial pain, I’m tremendously lucky that my business did ok this year. I feel for people who couldn’t go to work or HAD to work in unsafe environments.

We experienced dislocations – like many people, my employees lost their childcare and the whipsawing markets created tons of drama – but we were able to weather the storm. I’m grateful for that.

I’ve delegated a lot of my work over the years, but clung to certain tasks. Right before the pandemic arrived, I took a deep breath and handed a few seemingly important items off…and encountered no issues whatsoever. I can only think, “Why the HELL didn’t I do this earlier?!”

Realizing (accepting) that I was not particularly special and many people could handle those tasks only took me six years. #businessgenius For anyone running a business, I urge you to honestly appraise your role and what tasks can be delegated. This will allow you to focus on your true value and the unique abilities you bring.

Better Connection with Family

Prioritizing connecting with family stayed center stage this year. Thanks to phone calls and Marco Polo, I’ve talked more frequently with my parents than ever before. Maybe even more than when I was a teenager!

Beyond that, Chelsea and I stuck with a 3x/week FaceTime exercise routine with her parents. A perfect way for all of us to stay strong and also connect.

Creating Our Dream Spaces

Anyone else go big on DIY projects in 2020? From a massive backyard garden to Chelsea’s indoor jungle and other home improvements, we finally invested time and money into a house!

In the past, we’ve always had other priorities – trips, friends, activities, maybe we’ll move somewhere new –  so this commitment to a property is different. We’re saying, “We love our town and our life here and we’re going to stay.” It feels good. 

(Disclaimer: if there’s another pandemic, we’re buying tickets to New Zealand!)

The results of our labor on the garden project! This was just a lame lawn before…

Consistent Creativity

On top of the DIY projects, I invested many hours into creative pursuits this year. Ranging from music to cooking to writing, I spent many enjoyable hours pretending I was Beethoven immersed in learning and projecting.

Chelsea’s birthday gift to me of a digital piano launched a passion for music that is only deepening. I’m enjoying music theory classes through Skillshare and have practiced piano for hundreds of hours. (Just 10 minutes a day is 60 hours a year!) For a sense of my infatuation level, last night I fell asleep with chord progressions in E minor swimming through my brain.

On the writing front, I fired up my basically-defunct writing practice and published 25 newsletters and a dozen blog posts in the second half of this year. Committing to consistency isn’t always what I want to do, but cracking myself up with dumb jokes, developing a satisfying body of work, and connecting with all of you makes it so worth it.

To anyone considering a creative project, all I can say is start now! Your future self will thank you for making the effort to build life-long skills. It’s hard to believe I’m seven years into blogging on Traipsing About and I’m glad I’ve stuck with it all these years.

Looking Forward

I’m inspired when I think about these small changes cascading into other opportunities to learn and explore my creative side. Ebb and flow, seeking that ever-elusive balance. 

Like George said to me, “Learning new things is the life-long adventure.”

And with that…onward!

Browder-Ridge-hike-Oregon
And don’t you worry: we still enjoy getting outside. (Browder Ridge trail)

BUH BYE to this stinker of a year. Here’s to vaccinations and a better 2021. Happy New Year!

10 replies
  1. Kate D
    Kate D says:

    I love the photos and am duly impressed with the garden!! beauty!
    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog over time. Your van build posts are what took me over the edge to purchase my van and begin the transformation there. Since then, I’ve enjoyed them as I’ve gotten a glimpse into your world and how yours and Chelsea’s lives have changed over time. I think the feeling that I get when reading is authenticity and this is what keeps me reading the blog while others have been dropped. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, parts of your world and being real. Happy 2021! Be well and keep traipsing!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Hey Kate! Thanks for sharing and for the kind words. I appreciate it. Here’s to continuing change and more cooking, and van tripping too! It still is fun, as I’m sure you know!

      Reply
  2. Mikey Bilello
    Mikey Bilello says:

    Glad to hear and see your year wasn’t a total wash, although at this point I probably could’ve guessed you’d come out better versions of yourselves. Many of these lessons learned seem quite familiar. Thankfully we have an accomplished blogger to put them into a great collection of words for public record; makes the reflection period much more valuable. Well said, my friend. Cheers to a New Year!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Thanks Mikey! If not better, at least different versions of ourselves. Given the tumultuousness of 2020, I think anyone who made it through with putting clothes on every day (or at least most days) is winning. No personal development needed, just whatever it took to get to 2021! Let the countdown to vaccinations (and a new president) continue.

      Reply
  3. Jake
    Jake says:

    Happy New Year Dakota! Not sure why you popped into mind today but what a treat to find this wonderful read catching up on life. Happy New Year!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Howdy Jake! Awesome to hear from you and thanks for reaching out. I’ve watched that Black Rock Mountain video a few times in recent years – such a kickass day with you as my local guide.

      Hope to catch a bike ride with you next time you roll through town or I’m in Canada! Here’s to a fine 2021 (you know, relatively…). Happy New Year!

      Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Ahh, there’s a blast from the past. Bruce Wayne’s hair is considerably more tame than mine these days, but the memories are still there. Crazy that PV1 was almost 7 years ago! Thanks for saying hi.

      Reply
  4. Mike Robertson
    Mike Robertson says:

    Hey, Dakota and Chelsea,
    I wanted to let you know that I came across an episode of The Pursuit Zone podcast with the two of you talking about your van, cycling and healthy living. I thought your names sounded familiar and when you mentioned Traipsing About, I immediately remembered who you were.
    Yours was literally the first Sprinter conversion I ever saw online many years ago and I have been obsessed with building and traveling in a van since then. I remember looking at the photos of your build over and over. It is funny how your van still pops up on Pinterest, etc.
    Wanted to thank you for planting the seed of inspiration and let you know that I finally ordered our van and hope to start building in the spring. If our paths ever cross out in the world on the road or on the mountain bike trails, I’d love to meet you and thank you personally.
    Take care and safe travels.
    Mike

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Howdy Mike! That’s a cool connection. Given all the new comprehensive/amazing van content out there, I can’t believe my van still shows up in van build searches! So cool that yours is on the way – here’s to all the fun of building and then traveling in your sweet new rig.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

CommentLuv badge