End of the Decade – Midpoint of the Project

Morning rays of sun on Pacific Coastline in Washington State

One week ago I temporarily returned from riding and hiking in the tropics of Central America back to the normal everyday life at home (Florida). A great time to enjoy reconnecting with family, relaxing without day-long rides or hikes, replenishing energy and motivational reservoirs.

I also came back to the life of news, mainstream media and their end of decade reviews. I always liked the year-end reviews in the newspaper, as they are a bit more thoughtful and cover a greater time-span than the regular, short-term and superficial news-bites. And I particularly enjoyed this time around with the end-of-decade reviews.

The overall tone of this decade’s assessment is fairly negative; looking at the economy and financial world, Economics Nobel prize laureate and NYT Op-Ed Columnist Paul Krugman calls it the Decade of Zero, where we (Americans) have achieved nothing and – worse – learned nothing. Other writers call it the “Decade of Suck“. In the Palm Beach Post cover story “Ten Years that changed America” author Scott Eyman makes a few interesting observations:
On the social and technological front, the increasing use of wireless networks intensified the clamorous yawp of the Internet. Audiences and media shattered into ever smaller shards. Movies played on iPhones, texts became tweets, people compulsively updated their banal daily activities on Facebook or the monkey chatter of Twitter. The obsessive nature of so much of the Internet culture, not to mention the accusatory shrillness bred by anonymity, led author Thomas Mallon to observe, “We’ve gone from how the unexamined life isn’t worth living to how the undocumented life isn’t worth living”.”
Some of his other comments also reflect what I feel has become a short-term, voyeuristic, living by proxy culture: “At the end of the decade, the culture was in an ever-increasing cycle of diversional sensation – David Carradine’s kinky death was replaced by Michael Jackson’s drug overdose, which was replaced by a succession of American dreamers of varying degrees of derangement in perpetual competition for their own reality show: Octomom, Jon & Kate, and Balloon Boy, who had their time in the sun waiting for Tiger Woods’ round robin of revolving mistresses to make people forget about David Letterman’s more limited indulgences.

The interesting question here is: Why do we (on average) care so much? What is it that makes us consume so much trivial chatter? Is it the instant gratification of not needing to wait, act or think much for the short-term high of a news sensation? Of not having to get out there (how inconvenient) to get our own experiences?

I also read a few adventure review stories, including the review by Tarquin Cooper in the British Telegraph on A Decade of Adventure, the Top Ten adventure trends of the decade in AdventureTravel or the Top Ten Adventure Stories of the Decade in the Outside magazine. Plenty of big and familiar stories in there, including lots of cycling and hiking. Indeed, fellow adventurer Mark Beaumont, who had made the first list above, is doing a very similar project to mine called Cycling the Americas.

Some of this made me reflect on my own reporting about my project:
Is my unrecorded life worth living?
Who cares about my monkey chatter on Twitter?
Is my trip any different whether I have 50 followers or 50.000?
Do I have to be a first or break a record to count for anything?

I didn’t primarily set out to examine my life, although I don’t think I’m just recording it either. Looking at those images from traversed countries and climbed mountains brings back vivid memories, which will remain with me for the rest of my life and are somewhat accessible to all who care about them. There may be ever smaller shards of audiences, but to those few (and myself) the journey matters. In fact, inspiring people who I otherwise wouldn’t even have met was one of the most rewarding sensations I have had so far on this trip.

And I conclude that neither you or I have to be the first or fastest or fittest in order to have an extraordinary experience. People often ask me how I prepared or seem to imply that one needs to be superfit for such an adventure. You just need to be fit enough and – more importantly – committed enough to begin it. Most adventures fail not because people aren’t fit enough, but because they were never started in the first place. Something to ponder for all of us for the next decade!

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