2020 Reflections, 2021 Goals

- 27 minute read

This is my third year writing a reflection of the past year as well as some thoughts on how I’d like the next year to look. This year’s post will take on a relatively somber tone as I reflect on the events of 2020, both in my life and in a wider view of the country. Additionally, our society is still knee-deep in the thick of 2020’s wake, which may make it difficult to see the forest for the trees, and may also temper my expectations and goal-setting for 2021. Nevertheless, I’ll look for the rays of light that have shined this year and highlight those where I can.

A year

2020, for me and likely for countless others, was a span of time marred by waves of grief, shock, anxiety, and disappointment. These feelings rooted themselves quickly and took hold firmly, and then didn’t let go, and still haven’t let go, even now as I’m writing this in February of 2021. Still not much has changed in our day-to-day, but there are perhaps signs that a hazy silhouette of normalcy is somewhere out ahead, on the distant horizon. I have a section near the end of this post where I’ll break down some of the larger afflictions on our country and its people that I’ve seen and I’ll put some thoughts towards those where I can.

Community, humanity

Despite the numerous dark developments in the past year, if I manage to see past the alarm, if I look at the humanity rather than the cold text and statistics, I see innumerable instances of wonder, hope, and compassion:

Now that I’ve gone over some general impressions and feelings, here are some more specific developments I’ve managed over the last year.

I summited Wy’east (aka Mt. Hood; aka Stormbreaker)

I’ve lived in Portland for nearly five years now, and for every one of those years I have been captivated by the majesty of the mountain guardian that oversees the city to the east. Without fail, the mountain strikes me with a sense of awe whenever I catch a glimpse of it on a clear day. Its presence beckons me to travel to it and interact with it in anyway possible: camp under it, ski down it, hike all the way around it, and of course, climb to the very top of it.

Many of my coworkers are similarly enthusiastic about the prospect of ascending and summiting Mt. Hood and other volcanoes in the area, so we picked up some mountaineering gear at the start of 2020 and decided to make the push during a Springtime weather window. And towards the end of May, Chris and my coworker Kyle got a 1am start and proceeded to make it to the summit of Mt. Hood by 6:30am. I will say that mountaineering is a different kind of fun than rock climbing, but nevertheless, it’s another immensely gratifying sport, and strikingly beautiful up there. The alpenglow alone is something to behold.

I’ll never forget this climb, and I look forward to further summits, both on Mt. Hood and other Cascade Volcanoes.

I really pushed my climbing abilities

I had a similar entry in last year’s reflection, and it makes sense for me to have another this year as I never slowed in working to improve my climbing. But I think I made some decent strides in 2020 in particular. We’re lucky that climbing outdoors involves minimal contact and risk of covid transmission, so I took to spending quite a bit of time outdoors.

1. 75 days outside; 313 pitches

Climbing gyms closed during the first wave of the virus, and then remained closed indefinitely. Gyms are an important piece of the sport as far as community and accessibility, and I lament the virus’ impact on these small and fragile businesses. I know that myself and many others in the community are continuing to support our local Portland climbing gyms, like Stoneworks, however we can, and I hope they’re able to weather the storm.

That said, once the state parks opened back up, I basically took the time that I normally spend in climbing gyms and transitioned that time to the outdoors. I feel this fact alone was responsible for my progress in my climbing this year. My strength and power took a hit simply from not having access to specific training implements towards those energy systems, but what I lacked there I made up for with gains in climbing technique on real rock.

2. First 5.12a - “Dracula” at Broughton Bluff

When your friend already has the top rope set up for a hard line, you may as well give it a try. And then you climb it and realize that no one move is a stopper move. And you think, hey maybe I can actually do this.

That’s what happened to me with Dracula, a classic 5.12a line at our local crag, Broughton Bluff. I went on to spend a total of four days and nine attempts on the route. The climb seared itself into my brain while I was working it, I even wrote down every single move and rehearsed the sequence in my head repeatedly. I had never really projected a route before, but the entire experience captivated me. From first setting eyes on the route, to working through each section, to dialing in all the moves and finally reaching the chains in a final all-out attempt. It was an extremely delightful time and the pinnacle of the climbing experience for me so far.

In my post last year, my grade-chase goal was to be able to climb a 5.11+ in 2020. I think I took that goal and smashed it with several 5.11+ and 5.12a’s as I’d go on to project and climb a few more 11d/12a over the course of 2020. All experiences that were every bit as memorable and gratifying as climbing Dracula:

3. Data

Here’s a graph I made of my Mountain Project data, comparing grades climbed for each year that I’ve been climbing now:

4. Alpine Climbing at North Cascades National Park

I unfortunately had to call off several climbing trips that we had lined up from the beginning of the year, especially during the larger waves of the virus. Even so, we still managed to make it out to a few more remote areas, with care taken towards smaller communities that could be affected by spread during our traveling.

North Cascades National Park was one such area! Chris and I took advantage of the longest days of the year during Summer Solstice to drive up and climb some of the longer routes in the area. We started on Flyboys, an 18-pitch, 5.9 sport route on the Goat Wall in Mazama. A great time in its own right, topped off by mountain biking down the mountain back to the car.

But we were left wanting a little more grit in our climbing… so we opted for one of the nearby trad climbs in the Washington Pass. I found out from a local that one of the only dry routes at this time of the year would be the West Ridge of Paisano Pinnacle, so we gathered our gear and set out for our first alpine climb!

… And after 18 hours car-to-car, we made it back, completely exhausted from a full day of movement and decision-making. Several things factored in to make getting to and climbing this route a test of resolve, but we made it. And looking back, in typical “Type 2 Fun” fashion, I can say that it was a hell of a great time, and I’m excited to get back out to the North Cascades come Summer 2021.

5. City of Rocks, Idaho

Another place we made a quick stop at over the summer was the fabled City of Rocks in Idaho. Granite domes and spires peppered this otherworldly landscape, and we found some of the most novel and fun climbing that we’ve ever encountered.

6. Wyoming Roaming

Yet another place we set out for over the summer was Wyoming. My new favorite state, we visited three different climbing climbing areas (Sinks Canyon, Wild Iris, and Ten Sleep Canyon) and didn’t even scratch the surface on those, let alone the several other areas in Wyoming that we didn’t even get a chance to see (Devils Tower, Vedauwoo, Wind River Range, Grand Teton). I’m really looking forward to making Wyoming Roaming an annual endeavor, as there is just so much out there and the state itself is beauty incarnate. To be here is to exist in sublimity.

7. PDX Send Train Crew 🚂

After seeing the same folks at the crag a few times a week, I decided to just get everyone’s numbers and start a group chat, the “PDX Send Train Crew”. A place for those with a shared stoke for climbing and getting outside as much as possible. I’ve grown really fond of the chatter and the names in this channel, and I now look forward to seeing them and climbing with them whenever I can. Community is such a big aspect of climbing for me and I’m happy to have helped foster it in my own small way.

We bought and imported a 1995 Mitsubishi Delica

The dream of the 90’s, literally. This van is what the Japanese folks in the 90’s thought a futuristic space mobile should look like. They got it right.

Chris and Shan and I went in on this together with the express purpose of being able to travel around and see the country in it. It was a wonderful purchase and my only regret is not being able to use it nearly as much as we’ve been wanting. And the best part is it’s a project of projects with numerous possible upgrades and DIY maintenance galore! I’m really looking forward to watching this thing slowly evolve into our rugged overlanding vehicle. Thanks to Chris for taking on the hilarious JDM vehicle import tasks

Crater Lake National Park

The first trip we took in the new Delica was to another National Park, Crater Lake! Five years in Oregon and I finally made it down here. I wonder if there will ever be a National Park that doesn’t take my breath away. This one even has a full circle of different viewpoints from which to see the crater and surrounding area. An embodiment of a fantasy land, I am filled with happiness just being able to picture it in my mind.

Badlands Burn 2020

Music and the social aspects of gathering around music have been a part of my life, always. My typical, pre-lockdown Friday night was to go to a concert of some kind. More recently, our college friends from around the country have made music festivals our annual get-together.

In 2020 I was hoping to make it out to Burning Man for the first time, not just for its atmosphere of art and music but also because I’ve been drawn to many of the Burning Man tenets such as self-expression, inclusion, immediacy, community and self-reliance. This very post is rife with examples of passion towards these principals and avenues of life where I can express them. So it’s no wonder that I’d be drawn to a festival that revolves around them. Unfortunately, the virus again reared its ugly face and made the actual Burning Man not possible for 2020, the first time it’s been cancelled in the 34 years that the festival has been running.

Nevertheless, a small circle of us managed to put together a weekend in the Central Oregon desert that embraced much of the same atmosphere and principals of Burning Man. Many thanks to Janetta and Lauren for spearheading this. I’ll be ever thankful for those experiences shared over this weekend.

I built a climbing wall in my backyard

Climbing gyms closed, so I built my own. Coming in at nearly 200 sq ft of climbable area, I dub it the “Fortress of Solitude”. The wall actually began in a much smaller version over the summer, but once the Oregon winter weather set in I quickly set out to add a roof section over the whole climbing area.

I went into a lot of detail on the construction of the original wall here, and will come back with an update whenever I get around to writing about the wall upgrades.

Priceless Extra Time with Shan and Cedar

If there’s one thing I can thank the pandemic for, it’s being able to spend more time at home with Shannon and my dog Cedar. I’ve been able to spend nearly a year working from home right by both of their sides. As I grow older, time seemingly slips by at an ever-accelerating rate. I personally don’t mind getting older, but I very much mind whenever I notice Cedar’s age. For this reason I must cherish every waking moment I can get with him, and especially any extra time with him. I can thank the secondary effects of the pandemic for these gifts of time with both Shan and Cedar.

Depression, Anxiety, and Treatment

I’ve faced a lifelong struggle with various degrees, bouts, and waves of depression and anxiety, as well as a lifelong struggle to confront these. Their effects on my life and how I’ve navigated thus far perhaps warrant some more thoughtful reflection than I’m willing to delve into right now. But despite any exterior or facade of a life that I show online or offline, under it all is a daily fight, a listlessness. It’s hard to convey that in a section of text that is nestled between a dozen other lovely moments, but what this post doesn’t depict are all the spans of time in between those photos.

Anyway, I’ve known where and how to find help for these things. But for one that struggles with the motivation for basic things, it’s difficult for them to find the catalyst for a monumental thing like this. That said, I did it this year. I still have quite a ways to go, but I can at least be proud of the stepping stone of getting started. I have my partner Shannon as well as my friends Lauren and Janetta to thank for this one, for giving me that extra nudge that I probably needed.

And if you’re out there and are feeling things like anxiety, fatigue, lack of concentration, loss of interest in the things you used to enjoy, or any of these other symptoms, it’s very much worth it to talk to someone about it. Therapy and antidepressant medication all work in various ways for us humans, and I guarantee you’re worth it enough to seek help for yourself.

Malazan Book of the Fallen

“There is no struggle too vast, no odds too overwhelming, for even should we fail - should we fall - we will know that we have lived.” --Steven Erikson, Toll the Hounds. Art by Santiago Lozano

For the last few years now, my reading choices for fiction have been almost exclusively speculative fiction. I’ve been catching up on many of the classic fantasy works from the 90’s/00’s. In the Summer of 2020, I finally got around to beginning Malazan Book of the Fallen, a 10-book long, high fantasy series written by Steven Erikson. The series can be described as a fantasy anthropology, or a study of societal behavior and humanity, as well as an exploration of compassion and the human condition, all with dragons flying around for good measure. This makes for a nice introductory post if you’re interested.

I made it through eight out of 10 of the books in just six months in 2020, but even with two books to go, I’m convinced that I’m reading nothing short of a masterpiece. I’ll leave it at that for now so I can get back to finishing the series, and I’ll likely make separate posts for each of the ten books, since they deserve it.

Lockdown Hobbies Extravaganza

Here are some other things that I turned my attention to given the sudden increase in time available locked inside:

1. Music

In my 2019 post, I expressed interest in learning a few songs over the course of 2020. Well, Shan, Chris, and I learned enough songs to put on a live performance for a small group over Halloween! We’ve been learning so much about playing our instruments together and how to rig a live show. Shan and Chris have even been writing some originals! Songwriting is a lovely new element to our lives and I look forward to our continued journey in music.

2. Videography

I started making short little videos of our travels, many of which are featured in this post. I’ve traditionally done trip reports and photo blogs, but having actual film of our climbing and the vistas that we encounter has been a really nice, additional component of the memory.

3. Art

Here is a selection of some of the art I produced this year:

4. Dungeons & Dragons

Being forced to stay inside with only our imaginations led to me picking up a few DnD guides and offering to organize and manage an RPG adventure for us! In 2020, we made it through about 12 hours of a starter kit adventure called The Lost Mine of Phandelver. We still have a ways to go, but so far we’ve been having a blast playing through it.

I’m glad we convinced each other to pull together and play this game, as it’s something like a culmination of my creative energy: it’s acting, improv, exploration, problem solving, moral quandary, storytelling, and all with fantasy swords and sorcery combat to top it all off. And taking on the “Dungeon Master” role allows me to manage and weave the very world and story that we’re all interacting with. It’s a task that demands my full focus and attention, which is exactly the kind of activity I’m drawn to in the first place.

5. Animal Crossing

A new Animal Crossing game came out right as lockdown hit the world, making it a perfectly-timed release by Nintendo. Shan and I were enamored by this happy and relaxing game and we would huddle up on the couch together and have a joy of a time fishing, bug-catching, gardening, customizing, landscaping… the list goes on!

Notion: A new workspace

I’ve traditionally organized my thoughts using a Bullet Journal method, and had done so in a physical notebook since ~2015. This year however, I switched the whole process over to a digital workspace on Notion.so

I’m hesitant to preach productivity hacks since this kind of advice is readily available on the internet, but I do still recommend the Bullet Journal technique. The mental capacity that I gain from it is one of the biggest reasons I can stay sane with all the things that I need to track throughout the year.

The state of the country, from my view

While thinking through this section I realized that I could potentially write thousands of words on various aspects of the current state of affairs in America. I also realized that we are still in the midst of many of the things that we saw in 2020, which in turn means our society still hasn’t had the ability to properly reflect on things, much less me being able to attempt it. Nonetheless, I’ll briefly run through my thoughts on three major things that I saw in the last year:

1. White supremacy

Our country was founded 244 years ago with white supremacy as a foundational structure. It was only 56 years ago that legal segregation ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So to me, it’s no surprise that there still exists a formidable white supremacist movement in the USA. What was surprising for me is how much of it was able to come to the forefront of our society and take a national spotlight in recent years and especially in 2020.

It seems like many of America’s present issues circle back around to or are symptoms of our white supremacy problem, including but not limited to: police brutality, the BLM movement, poverty, mass incarceration, the war on drugs, voting rights issues, right-wing extremism and domestic terrorism, Trump.

Again, I’m certain I could write for days about these things, but I’ll just leave it as a thesis statement for now and recommend some anti-racism material instead. This year, in the wake of BLM, I decided to delve into some learning about the situation rather than settle for any pre-conceived notions. I think it’s safe to say that literature and media from the point of view of the afflicted can go a long way to enlightening one’s self about these topics. And though I had already thought myself “informed”, or “woke”, I quickly found that my knowledge-base here is merely at the tip of the iceberg, and that I still have a long way to go to being properly informed on the subjects.

If you feel comfortable enough to tackle your preconceptions, here is a compiled list of books, articles, film, and TV:

I’d personally recommend:

2. Coronavirus

While not exclusively an American problem, the virus has managed to ravage America particularly bad. Why? I’ll make an attempt at one answer with my next point.

3. Misinformation, Disinformation

I’ll open with this excerpt from the RAND Corporation on the concept of Truth Decay:

RAND defines “Truth Decay” as the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life. This phenomenon has taken hold over the last two decades, eroding civil discourse, causing political paralysis, and leading to public uncertainty and disengagement.

Truth Decay is characterized by four trends:

1. increasing disagreement about facts

2. a blurring of the line between opinion and fact

3. the increasing relative volume and resulting influence of opinion over fact

4. declining trust in formerly respected sources of facts

Most of these trends are not unprecedented in U.S. history. But today’s level of disagreement over objective facts appears to be a new phenomenon.

The RAND Corporation put out a fairly lengthy paper exploring the concept of “Truth Decay”, including its drivers, trends, and consequences. It’s my belief that this concept, alongside various misinformation and disinformation campaigns, are responsible for the exasperation of many of America’s current issues, including its outsized coronavirus numbers and its white supremacy problem. And that’s without mentioning the misinformation surrounding our environment and the climate crisis we face.

So what do we do about it? I think many in our country are actively trying to figure that out, but maybe the first step is awareness. Here is the RAND Corporation’s site and free paper on the subject of Truth Decay:

4. Dishonesty, Self-Deception

Underlying the three problems above is something else that I’ve been attempting to observe recently, and that is the concept of dishonesty. One could say that coronavirus has hit us to the degree that it has due to the denial with which we responded to it. White supremacy is based on the denial of other people’s humanity, as well as the denial involved in getting to a superior, supremacist view of oneself over another. Various misinformation campaigns are even more facets of denial, as one must again face the denial of aspects of people and our society. And then we have complacency as yet another form of denial.

It’s very easy to accept dishonesty in real aspects of ourselves, of others, and of our environment. I’d even argue that it’s addicting. To this end, I think many of us in America have collectively, for many reasons, lost our way with some core virtues of honesty and integrity. I’m not sure what to do about it, but perhaps awareness is again a first step. So I’ll leave this section with an article about self-deception

Things to think about for 2021

The pandemic has taught me that things completely outside your control can spring up and pull you away from your intentions. Even so, it’s still worth it for me to think of this entire post as a list of “progress points” rather than “results”, and for that to be true, I feel the need to keep attempting to advance certain threads in my life. So with that, here is a bullet list of things I’d like to work on in 2021:

Hoo boy! Thanks for tuning in. I’ll end this post with a few more of my favorite photos and moments from 2020:

A view of the Calico Basin at Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

Gabby and Brant visiting us at the Rose Test Garden just before they moved to Portland!

The Oregon coast from Cape Lookout State Park

An A-frame cabin we stayed in, in Skykomish, Washington

The glory of Smith Rock

Paisano Pinnacle in North Cascades National Park, Washington

Cedar smiling

After summiting Mt. Thielsen in Southern Oregon

Art stop at Freak Alley Gallery in Boise, Idaho, on the way to the City of Rocks

Sean styling Chain Reaction at Smith Rock

Paul high lining over Steelhead Falls
Smith Rock summer trip

Shan and me at our stay in Lone Wolf Cabin in Central Oregon.

Wild Iris, Wyoming

Ian's Murder Mystery Party over Halloween

Bri working Heart of Darkness, 5.12c, at Broughton Bluff

Shan making Fudge for Christmas with Grandpa's recipe

Snow hiking to Trillium Lake

And my previous year’s reflections:

Ryan Westby

Ryan Westby

Coder, climber, artist, 21st century ghost

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