And a warm welcome from various trains running north and south along the east coast of Britain.
Today’s gargantuan story is Part One of a selection of titbits from the fullness of the year just gone.
For easy digestion, I’ve divided the fifty-two into sections, with half of each section coming today and the other half coming in Part Two:
- 10 Things I Learned From Adventures
- 10 Things I Learned About My Habits
- 10 Things I Learned From The 10 Most Read Stories I Published In 2023
- 10 Small Big Things I Learned From Others
- 2 Big Shout Outs
But wait, Dave — that’s only forty-two things! Have you taken leave of your mathematical senses?
Aha, well spotted, Marvin. No, I haven’t. You shall also find, interleaved among these sections, ten of the 3761 photographs that I took in 2023, each of which tells a story from the year. Like this one:
So, behold! Browse, scroll, submerge as the mood takes you. Enjoy — and keep your inbox peeled for Part 2.
5 THINGS I LEARNED FROM ADVENTURES IN 2023
2. Riding the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world is actually a little terrifying
3,842m above sea level is extremely high for a human to be. I spent a lot of time examining the rivets that held the cable car roof on. And screaming my head off every time the tin can ‘car’ bumped over the pylons that carried the cable, swinging vertiginously down, up, down, up, down, up, like one of those pirate ship ‘rides’ you see at inadequately insured theme parks.
In retrospect, one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.
3. I took two planes in 2023 — but haven’t paid for a flight in 14 years
In fact, after getting £300 compensation from Easyjet in August, I’ve actually made a profit — woohoo!
All jokes aside, the flights we take (or don’t) say a lot about us and the pushes and pulls that we feel.
Maybe you have chosen to build your life a long way from family and you travel back by air every Christmas. That tells you something about yourself.
Maybe you love travelling to parts of the world that feel very different to where you live, but you like to come back home too. That tells you something significant about yourself.
Maybe you’re like I used to be and you connect air travel with ‘getting away’. Maybe now, like me, you’re asking how far we actually have to travel in order to get away? — and what are we really trying to get away from or looking to find?
Taking those two flights, I learned more about myself and about what travelling overland has taught me over the past fourteen years:
Since 2010, terrestrial travel has become me. It’s grounded me and grown me up. A divining part of everything. Aeroplanes can’t do that for me. (Doesn’t mean they won’t sometimes pop up on a graph😝)
4. New Forest National Park has twenty-two trig pillars
And I’m determined to visit all of them this winter. Four down, eighteen to go!
5. Mind IS Body
This is something I learned (again) in June, while cycling from Liverpool to Northumberland and eating chips and gravy with a stranger called Graham:
Instead of trying to brute force my way through life on brain alone, I should remember instead to feel my way through the world with all-body senses. A long bike tour works, but so too does a regular morning run or evening stretch time.
The older I get, the more I learn and the more responsibility I take, the more important it becomes, not simply to get out of my head, but to get into my body.
7. A fly swarm sandwich is no hardship compared to flooding across 730 km² of your home
This summer I crewed the Thighs of Steel ride from Glasgow to Milan and then cycled the whole of the last two weeks from Dubrovnik to Athens.
It was hard cycling 1,330km and up two Everests in thirteen days, but not as hard as the devastation faced by locals in central Greece after Storm Daniel:
Barely a week before we cycled through, Thessaly was hit by more than a year’s worth of rainfall in just 24 hours. At least 17 dead. Homes, farms and villages wrecked over an area of 730 square km.
5 THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT MY HABITS IN 2023
8. Podcasts are so 2023
I listened to 379.4 hours of podcasts on my phone in 2023. That’s more than an hour every single day on average, and an ear-watering 62 percent increase on 2022. This is not how I want to spend my life. Many of those hours were sound filling space; a fear of emptiness and of what thoughts might enter the void.
I have now deleted both podcasting app AntennaPod and BBC Sounds, which I also occasionally used to listen to podcasts as well as the radio. This is one habit that I won’t be taking into 2024 with me.
Huge thanks to the smart, funny humans behind No Such Thing As A Fish (391.1 hours), Quickly Kevin; Will He Score? (79.9 hours), The Anfield Wrap (55.6 hours) and Where Should We Begin (37.7 hours). I’m sorry, but I won’t link to any of these, just in case you are also trying to kick an audio addiction. Suffice to say, they are all terrific. If you are curious, you’ll know where to find them.
Thanks also to the developers behind AntennaPod, both for keeping me at times hugely entertained over the past two years and for supplying the horrifying data that is inspiring me to leave. It’s been fun; I’m glad it’s over.
9. My year’s driving cost us about fifty trees — sorry trees, I promise to pay you back!
In 2023, I drove approximately 6250 miles the Corollavirus; that’s about a thousand miles more than in 2022 and 2021. Those thousand extra miles came in one mega road trip from London to the Peak District, Northumberland, Glasgow, Largs, Edale, Winchester and home.
All in all, my 2023 carbon debt (the difference between the driving I did do and the trains I could hypothetically have caught) is about a tonne, or 50 trees’ worth.
11. All book reading is good and some of it is truly great
I started 47 books and finished 39 of them in 2023, about three books a month. That’s a completely average annual tally for me, but it’s the first year since records began (2013) that I read more fiction (24) than nonfiction (15).
I give a rating out of five to every book I read. Eleven books got my highest accolade, four of which I read in January and five of which were recommendations from friends. Two observations: (1) maybe I was feeling generous last January and (2) I should definitely borrow more books from friends.
Anyway, here they all are. I’ve bolded the ones that stayed in my mind all year.
- Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
- Nip The Buds, Kill The Kids by Kenzaburo Oe
- The Parade by Dave Eggers (🙏 thanks N!)
- Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
- Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn (🙏 thanks G!)
- Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman (🙏 thanks C!)
- The State Of Affairs by Esther Perel (🙏 thanks C!)
- Lights In The Distance by Daniel Trilling
- Proust Was A Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer
- The Book Of Trespass by Nick Hayes
- 92 Acharnon Street by John Lucas (🙏 thanks E!)
Side note: If any of you are wondering why I’m letting go of listening to podcasts, here is a list of all the podcast episodes that stayed in my mind all year:
12. My counsellor isn’t good at invoicing (but he’s worth every penny)
I went to seventeen counselling sessions in 2023. That’s an average of once a fortnight when I’m in the UK and a happy increase from ten in 2022.
Doing this little review has made me realise that my counsellor forgot to invoice for one of our sessions back in May. I’m sure there are situations where I’d write that off as ‘bank error in your favour’, but I value our time together so highly that I’ve just gone and paid him.
Related reading: The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk.
I studiously ignored this book when I was first recommended it about five years ago. Now I’m morbidly fascinated by the connection between autoimmune disease (which I have) and trauma (which, in van der Kolk’s analysis, everyone seems to bear to some degree or other).
In July, New York Magazine published what reads like an even-handed profile of van der Kolk, covering both the reasons I initially ignored his book and the reasons why I have now not only read it, but learnt so much. In fact, the only reason The Body Keeps The Score is not on my best books list for 2023 is because I finished reading it on New Year’s Day.
13. Thanks to a 1% time investment some evenings, I can now comfortably shit in the woods
I did 142 stretching sessions in 2023, at an average of a little under nine minutes each. That’s all it takes to be able to comfortably shit in the woods.
I’ve been doing these evening stretches for four years now and it took about two years to notice a significant, genuinely life changing, shift in my flexibility. I can do the Asian squat, no problem. I can sit cross-legged on the floor, no problem. I can even stand up from lying down without using my arms or a Wallace & Gromit pulley system.
My yoga mat is always rolled out on my living room floor so that I never forget to stretch, almost always the last thing I do before going to bed when I’m at home. My only guidance is follow what the body needs and remember that one minute is better than none.
I’m building on this excellent habit in 2024 by enrolling in the Liftoff: Couch to Barbell twelve-week beginners strength training program designed by Casey Johnston, the brains and brawn behind one of the few newsletters that I read every week. If you’re quick, the program is currently only $4.
5 THINGS I LEARNED FROM THE 10 MOST READ STORIES THAT I PUBLISHED IN 2023
14. Name-dropping a celebrity really does get people to read stories
What Would Salah Do? is my most-read newsletter story of all time and hopefully at least a few people stayed for the lesson that footballer Mohammed Salah has to teach us about staying present and enjoying our moments of ecstasy when they come.
If Shankly’s message is a warning about the spiritual danger of becoming over-invested in sport, then Salah’s is a gentle reminder of what we have to gain.
15. I should run polls asking y’all about my writing more often!
Coasting In Public was a humble newsletter in which I asked your opinion on two possible approaches to telling my story of cycling around the coast of Britain twice.
Frankly, I’m surprised that it sits so high up in the list, my second most read newsletter of all time.
Maybe you simply enjoyed my little intro about a conversation I had in the sauna with a man who thought the government should buy a load of decommissioned cruise liners to keep refugees in detention offshore. On the plus side, he also wanted to end homelessness. People are complicated.
16. Sometimes the best emails are the ones I don’t think much about
Eudaimonic Adventure was a little dollop of wisdom gleaned from the fantastic Adventure Mind conference:
Eudaimonic wellbeing … is all about the human search for The Good Life. Eudaimonic adventure is not about what you’ve done; it’s about why you (really) did it. Who are you? What are your values? What does adventure mean to you?
18. Maybe I should repost more great stories
Are You Experienced? was a repost of a story from 2016 about my life-bending experience with psychedelic truffles in the Netherlands. It’s a great story. Most of you weren’t here in 2016 and I’m glad that a lot of you enjoyed it second time around.
The first indication that anything might be amiss is when I see how the wind in the trees becomes a woodsman with a moustache talking to me through the window.
19. Chronic bad news (as opposed to acute bad news that we can react to and fix) makes us feel powerless, leading to dissociative feelings of paranoia and, at the other extreme, despair.
The End Of Doomspreading was my attempt to coin two new words to help us call out people who spread chronic bad news:
Doomspreading: to dominate a conversation with the perspective that everything is going to shit.
Doomsplaining: to explain how everything is going to shit, especially in response to the alternate perspective that things are kind of going okay.
5 TINY BIG THINGS I LEARNED FROM OTHERS IN 2023
Stop working harder; start working
22. Schismogenesis is the process whereby two apparently similar groups of people define themselves in direct opposition to the other
Antischismogenesis is my made up word for the reverse process: a divided people consciously finding and building upon common ground. ✌️
23. The number of motorists in London has fallen by 64% since 1999, while the number of cyclists has increased by 386%
AND 1 BIG SHOUT OUT
25. Big shout out to the Thighs of Steel community
The majority of my working time over the last two years has been spent organising and crewing the two Thighs of Steel Glasgow to Athens rides.
At over 5,300km a pop, these were Europe’s longest supported fundraising bike rides and, as you can probably imagine if you’ve ever juggled fire while slacklining across the Grand Canyon in a sandstorm holding a newborn baby, they have both been, by turns, fucking amazing and a little bit fretful.
We won’t be doing Glasgow to Athens in 2024 and, to be honest, I’m grateful for a little break from the madness. 😅
More than that, I’m IMMENSELY grateful to the whole Thighs community for all the joy and wonder that you have brought to my life:
- the 164 other cyclists who rode in 2022 and 2023 and who collectively raised £223,000 for grassroots refugee projects in Greece, Northern France and the UK;
- the sixteen other core team who crewed these two rides, drove the support van, cooked a hundred delicious carb-loading dinners, and patched up a zillion emergencies;
- the six other folks in our wonderful organising team;
- the hundred or so gorgeous host families and communities that have put us up in their fields, forests, farms and museums;
- all the volunteers at our partner charity MASS Action;
- and, above all, the thirty (!) epic grassroots projects that cyclist fundraising has supported in 2022 and 2023. Covering everything from science to skateboarding, you can read much more about all those projects here.
It’s been a blast; now on to the next!
That’s it for Part One — Part Two is right here.