Ten things I loved in 2020

With the holidays behind us and as we enter an annual period of reflection, I’ve seen all sorts of gift guides and reviews make their way into my daily inputs. There’s usually a range from honest reflections to thinly-guised marketing encouraging consumerism. Surviving the holidays with a degrowth mindset can be taxing and by the time January rolls around I’m ready for some solitude. I also find it a good time to take stock on how the last few months of the year went and I think about what was good and what’s next.

Here are some things and non-things that I really loved in 2020.

  1. Going on walks

    2020 was the year of the walk for me. Alone, with my girlfriend, with my family, with friends, with music, with a podcast, in silence, however it goes - walking is the best. It’s the best way to explore a neighborhood or a street or a part of town.

    Walking reveals so much. Walking reveals where people go despite no infrastructure (“desire lines”) and where the animals go to navigate their environment. It reveals how little we invest in pedestrian well-being in the United States and how much room we give to automobiles. It reveals how ancient cities in Europe are so amazing and why modern suburban planning is so miserable. When urban planners design for human beings, daily experience is so much better. Driving to strip malls sucks. Walking five minutes to pick up a bite to eat or a quick shop is infinitely better.

    Hopefully COVID and the resulting mandates for people to stay at home have forced people to also re-experience and re-evaluate their living conditions, homes, and neighborhoods.

  2. Apple Music

    I left the social-sharing-focused Spotify platform in 2019, but I think an update that happened sometime in 2020 really cemented my switch. Apple Music has come into its own as UI bugs were solved and UX has been streamlined, specifically around force-touching to add songs to playlists.

    Time Crisis with Ezra Koenig on Beats 1 Radio was such a huge part of my quarantine. After fourteen days not seeing anyone when returning from Europe in March, I spent a few months living with my parents in South Carolina. My girlfriend was living with her parents in North Carolina and I drove the stretch between the two a handful of times. An episode of TC spans two hours so it filled up a good 2/3rds of the drive. Just listening to a few other guys chatting about everything from the pandemic, protests, corporate food culture, and the Grateful Dead was essential to my mental health for a few months. I had spent months just with my girlfriend traveling and then we found ourselves with just each other, again. Ezra and Jake gave me some much needed “guy talk.”

  3. NTS Radio

    In a similar vein to Apple Music, in 2020 I listened to a ton of NTS Radio. The Pender Street Steppers monthly show, Do!! You!! with Charlie Bones, Passport with Pickpocket and Zack Fox, Four Tet’s quarantine shows, were big highlights for me this year. Loose Bones radio always brings good Americana tunes and makes me long for Texas skies. I always walk away from NTS sets with a few new songs to add to my rotation.

  4. My thrifted chore coat

    My best purchase of quarantine was this unbranded, reversible chore coat. I bought it on Poshmark for $30. Plenty of pockets, very stylish, a baggy cut, it’s a great layer over a turtleneck in the cold or over a t-shirt if it’s warmer.

  5. Merino wool turtleneck

    Speaking of turtlenecks, why has the turtleneck left the current fashion ethos? Finding quality turtlenecks isn’t easy. I luckily found a black merino wool one in a market in Rome for ten euro. I found another navy one in Florence for probably fifteen euro. Both aren’t the most top quality, but are good for their price. I even wear the black one under a cycling softshell if I ride in bone-chilling cold.

  6. Stages power meter

    I could write a whole article about deliberating the plunge into the world of power. I was so worried I would get swept up in comparing power data but after four months with it, I should have taken the leap much earlier. In a world without racing, I needed an extra boost of motivation and a way to measure myself against myself.

    The biometric feedback has been exceedingly useful, especially when riding easy. The Stages left crank arm power meter was one of the more affordable option at full price and required the least amount of bicycle “downtime.” The other option I had been considering was a 4iiii retro-fit which would have left me without a full crankset for at least a month. I found my Stages on an eBay shop for around $400.

  7. Rapha core bib tights

    I confess I’ve never owned a pair of full bib tights until this year. Texas winters never really required them, central North Carolina winters are pretty mild, and I previously had rim-brake QR wheels and a trainer. I currently do not own a trainer that works with my thru-axle road bike and I prefer riding outside in most conditions besides absolute pouring rain.

    I researched a few options before settling on the core bib tights, including an option from Giordana and the Rapha Classic line. The Giordana ones were a bit too warm and the Rapha Classic line is prohibitively expensive, $100 more than the core bibs. If I needed a second pair, I would likely go with a cheaper option like Louis Garneau but the Rapha core bibs have been lux. They are incredibly performant, comfy, and cozy for their price ($150). My lower half has been thanking me for proper warmth these past few months.

  8. Low light lenses

    Since returning from traveling, I’ve mainly been living in the heavily-forested Carolinas. As such, there’s not a ton of exposed roads with blazing sunlight akin to Texas. I picked up some low-light lenses for my Oakley Radar Paths for $60 on eBay. I’ve loved them so much that I picked up a pair of Roka Torino in clear with low light lenses. I honestly dislike Roka but was influenced by Sarah Sturm - they look very Miami Vice and nabbed them on sale for $80.

  9. Pedro’s Citrus Degreaser

    Though I did want to purchase Pig Juice, using Pedro’s Citrus Degreaser has changed my life. My drivetrain thanks me.

  10. Donating to good causes

    2020 was also the first year I started really donating regularly to causes and organizations that can use resources to make a difference. COVID hit indigenous and communities of color really hard. I’m lucky enough to have a stable income and can work from home as an engineer, so I did my best to find a few organizations to contribute regularly to.

    I read The Book of the Hopi over the course of the last year after finding a copy at Half Price Books in Austin. The Hopi people are incredibly wise and resilient, and have amazing traditions and history. Their knowledge and perspective is needed in today’s world now than ever. I’ve donated a few times to a relief fund started to help provide sanitation supplies, PPE, and food during COVID. I encourage you to do the same here on GoFundMe.

The author, in his chore coat

On a sunny bench, after a walk, in my chore coat. Peace out 2020.