Ah, the end-of-the-year summation. Feels cliche, but I’m kind of a reflective guy, so here goes.
My life is easily divided between mind and body (though, in reality, I don’t believe in that division). The most apt way to represent those two categories is through the books I read and the adventures I have outside, in the mountains, getting very tired. As such, what follows are what I—looking back—determine to be the highlights.
At the beginning of this year, I had the (completely arbitrary) goal of reading 52 books this year. In 2014, I’d managed 43 titles, so one per week seemed like a doable objective. Alas, some particularly beefy volumes—Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song (1100pg) and Harlot’s Ghost (1300pg!), Atlas Shrugged (nearly 1200pg), and Anna Karenina (an actually fairly reasonable 800pg)—tripped me up a little from the requisite book-per-week pace, along with my usual laziness in the summer months where adventuring takes precedence over reading. So, I managed 48 books this year. What follows are some thoughts on my top 10 (in chronological order) notable books from that list of 48.
1.) The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I liked this way more than expected. I loved her prose and her ability to combine genuine human insight into a readable, page-turning story. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014. Quite excited, actually, that this is going to be turned into a Hollywood movie soon.
2.) The Brothers K by David James Duncan
This one really surprised me because I really wasn’t a fan of The River Why, the first book I’d read by DJD. For some reason, this one was way better. All of the usual themes: loyalty to family, human relationships, religion, etc. etc. but damn, presented and elucidated so well.
3.) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Won the Pulitzer in 2001, which is why I picked it up. Really glad I did, because it was fantastic. Who knew that a story about two cartoonist cousins in the 1940s could be so compelling?
4.) I Married A Communist and The Human Stain by Philip Roth
I have a fraught relationship with Roth as an author. The first book I read by him was American Pastoral, which was amazing and had me excited for more. Then I floundered through literally a half dozen others where I seemed to just get more and more disappointed with each one. But then this year I read these two, which, along with American Pastoral, complete Roth’s post-War Nathan Zuckerman Trilogy. I still think AP is the best, but both of these books very nearly live up to that original standard for me.
5.) Oblivion by David Foster Wallace
I’m not usually a big fan of the short story. I tend to prefer the more fully-realized characters and plot arcs of full-length novels. This collection of stories completely exploded that opinion for me, but, honestly, I shouldn’t have expected any less from DFW. “Mister Squishy”, “Good Old Neon”, “Oblivion”, and “The Suffering Channel” were highlights. Simply put, I’ve never read anyone else who is able to evoke and describe the inner lives of humans as well as DFW.
6.) In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Mathiessen
Uff-dah, this was a slog. But, a worthwhile one. Having grown up on an Indian reservation in northern Nebraska (Santee Sioux), I felt that the story of the 1975 shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the American Indian Movement, and Leonard Peltier‘s subsequent imprisonment was something that had some personal relevance for me and that I needed to learn more about it all. But straight, journalistic, nonfiction like this is tough for me. Sometimes doing the hard work is necessary.
7.) House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
Whoooo-boy! This book is nuts. And a lot of fun. Seemingly firmly ensconced in the post-postmodern genre, the book is incredibly layered: a book within a movie within a book within a story. Prolific footnotes and appendices. Metaphysics, surrealism. Surprisingly easy to read, though, despite its apparent formatting complexities. If you’re looking for something completely different, check this one out.
8.) The Tower by Kelly Cordes
Though I’ve read a ton of it, I’m generally not a huge fan of mountain literature. I am a huge mountain geek, though, and the exhaustive nature of this book fed into my tendency to want to really get to know a place . For me, it was enormously interesting and, honestly, a page-turner. I can see how a lot of people might not be nearly as interested, though.
9.) A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011. Insightful, articulate, poignant. The narrative arc jumps around in time, space, and perspective, but, ultimately, held together way better than I expected. Would definitely recommend.
10.) Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Despite really wanting to, I definitely did not like or enjoy this book. Good gawd. Frankly, it’s mostly just unflaggingly brutal, revolting, and borderline incoherent. But, early in the year This American Life had an episode where they showcased a BBC radio program on Burroughs that was narrated by Iggy Pop. The whole podcast was fascinating and engrossing (I mean, Iggy’s narration is classic, and any excuse you can get to play The Stooges or Nine Inch Nails on TAL is notable in my opinion), and the impact of Burroughs on so many other parts of pop culture that I do appreciate was undeniable, so I felt like I owed it to myself to at least check him out. I highly recommend the podcast. As for the book, I’ll just say, I’m glad I’ve done my due diligence, but I certainly don’t feel compelled to dig any deeper. Maybe I’m just not hip enough, but reading this with any kind of attention is excruciating.
My year in the mountains was defined by expanding my activities, and thereby, my perspective, identity as an athlete, and ambitions. This year I skied, biked, and climbed—all sports that I had various levels of previous experience in—way more than ever before. This mostly came about because of my ongoing struggles with staying healthy as a one-sport (running) athlete, but I can honestly say that as a result of this diversification, 2015 was probably my most rewarding year as an outdoor athlete. Silver lining, maybe, but because of this, I’m feeling the most confident and optimistic that I ever have about my ability to have durability and longevity as an athlete. Again, in chronological order, the highlights.
1.) Transgrancanaria 125K (March 6)
The only race I did all year, and it was a real experiment. The race itself is great. I really enjoyed the variety inherent in the course. It was the first race I ever showed up to the starting line lacking confidence in my ability to even finish. In an effort to stay healthy, I was skiing a bunch in the two months prior, but was only able to average a laughable 38 miles per week of running. And a lot of that “running” was actually steep hiking and scrambling. So, at least I had a lot of vertical gain. Basically, this race showed me that with some tweaking I can still be internationally competitive without the mega-mileage that I used to rely on for confidence and fitness.
2.) Longs Peak Triathlon FKT (Aug 14)
I did this via Kieners, which is the easiest way to fulfill the East Face and 5th-Class requirements of a proper “triathlon” effort (biking, running, climbing) on Longs Peak. After a summer of almost exclusively biking for my cardio activity, I was fantastically unfit in terms of running and altitude, so I look forward to taking another crack in 2016 and cutting off a bunch of time.
3.) Climbing the Diamond with Bill (Aug 21)
I spent all summer climbing in Eldo Canyon with Bill Wright and Boulder Canyon with Mauricio Herrera. Collectively, focusing so consistently on this with these two partners was a huge highlight of the year for me. My day on the Casual Route with Bill in late August was the most obvious culmination of all this time spent on a rope. I’m still a little bummed with my performance that day (only leading one pitch, feeling like I climbed poorly on nearly every pitch), but it was definitely a milestone experience for me and gave me confidence for bigger dreams going forward.
4.) Biking the Grand Loop Double Century (Aug 23)
This year, my eyes were opened to the utility and joy of road biking. I know, it seems weird that I’d be psyched by riding a bike on the roads, but I really like covering ground. The Grand Loop is a local classic and covers a ton of ground. Looking back, it seems a little crazy to me that I did this only two days after climbing the Diamond car-to-car…both are really long days. Like a lot of adventures, this one was helpful in shifting my perspective so that a 9hr/140mi ride to the summit of Mt. Evans and back from Boulder a couple weeks later wasn’t nearly as intimidating as it maybe should’ve been.
5.) Cirque of the Towers scrambling (Sept 21)
The Wind River Range in Wyoming never disappoints. This alpine basin is spectacular, inspiring, and I can’t wait to go back. The main thing here was building on the confidence I got from an earlier outing in the Glacier Gorge, and getting psyched about things to do in the future. If I’m doing things right, everything is a stepping stone in a gradual progression.
There are lots of things that don’t make this list that will remain some of my fondest memories from 2015—all of the bike-to-the-trailhead peak-bagging outings I had, innumerable days scrambling in Eldo and the Flatirons, countless other mornings climbing…I guess the important thing to recognize is the richness of life that comes with intensity of experience. Get after it.
Finally, here are just a couple of the new songs from 2015 that had my head bopping the most.
That classic loud-soft dynamic. I love a well-delivered wail.
Reminiscent of one of my favorite bands of all-time—TV On The Radio.
Twangy, but catchy. And great lyrics.