2020: the bad, the worse and the ugly

Reviewing accomplishments for 2020 would be somewhat pointless. In a year defined by a global viral pandemic, when doomscrolling became a thing, celebratory moments were few and far between. However, it was a year like no other, opening with the promise of being one of the best years of my life, and ending up far from it.

As such, a brief chronology may be in order, though I’ll note at the outset, my year had massive chunks of nothingness. At the end of the day (or post), I suspect things won’t look much better in retrospect, but they’ll be chronicled and I can move on to 2021. In truth, the title of this post is a bit misleading. 2020 was awful to be sure, but we did experience some very big bright spots in the before times, with December seeing some light at the end.

In the Before Times

James Bay runner (me) logs every street in Victoria, Oak Bay

After spending 2019 working and living in Victoria (and expecting it to be a permanent move), 2020 began with Connie and I taking the year off work to travel and putting our stuff back in storage in Vancouver. I wrote up a review of the year in Victoria too. In truth we didn’t return to Vancouver until near the end of January, but most of the month was consumed with packing, Connie finishing work and the move. As a sidenote, I managed to run all the streets in Victoria and Oak Bay while I lived there, and was actually written up in the local papers at the end of the year.

Most of the first week of February, we hung out at a lovely Airbnb in North Vancouver awaiting our adventures, the first of which was to be comprised of four weeks in Australia and nearly as long backpacking through Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Everything was fantastic through our planned time in Australia and you can read all about our various stops here. About the only major thing that happened in February I didn’t write about was a trip to a Noosa medical clinic to get a rather massive hunk of compacted wax (which went rogue when we were snorkelling at the southern Barrier Reef) out of my ear.

Perth – the ‘good old days’ of early March.

February turned into March with us still enjoying Australia immensely, but as COVID began erecting barriers in the part of the world where we planned to be backpacking, we changed plans on the fly, sometimes several times, and expensively. We had an unplanned, but still enjoyable week in Perth in early March, then all hell broke loose when our changes took us to Bali. That last post is well worth a read if you like horror stories about trying to get home as a planet shuts down and tales of traveling through five petri dishes in twenty hours.

When Things Turned

The beginning of ‘mask living’ in Bali

Long story short, we flew home from Bali via Hong Kong just five of ten days into our time there, and nearly two weeks ahead of our originally scheduled flight home from Bangkok via Seoul on March 31st. Ironically, we haven’t stopped wearing masks since. Then, an unplanned and exceedingly uneventful 14 day quarantine in a rented townhouse on Burnaby Mountain took us to the end of March and the Airbnb we had planned to stay in between trips for the month of April.

The nine weeks of May and June we were planning to spend in Europe were now toast (along with something just as cool in South America or Africa in late summer/fall), so a down month of relaxing and connecting with friends, family and our dog, became a search for a place in which to ride out what was increasingly appearing to be a long-haul pandemic. We ended up renting a place in north Marpole. After living in this dead zone for eight months I can already say with confidence we’ll be changing our address again in the spring. It’s not clear whether we’ll buy in Vancouver again or simply rent until we can return to Victoria.

Summer Misadventures

With neither of us working and me not returning to work until January, we began looking for distractions. During this time, our “safe six” bubble obviously became the kids and we tried to get together at our places and in empty tasting rooms and outdoor patios occasionally. Even as of this writing we’ve had a grand total of two dine-in meals in empty restaurants in the 9.5 months since we returned from Australia, and don’t do it at all any more.

I undertook a photography and piano course that I’ve worked through, on and off, while I decided to do the SummerOfCMTR running scavenger hunt, largely as an excuse to get a bit of a running base back, ostensibly leading into a winter build for better 2021 running. Sadly, I ended up with a nasty calf strain by late July, and put an end to most running (and cycling) through all of August and September. With the move, Australia and the mess of getting settled back into Vancouver for the pandemic, fitness fell off the radar for the first half of 2020.

Honestly, summer sucked. We’re mask, distancing and hand sanitizing zealots, so the first thing we had to do as we got through spring to nicer weather, was find a balance to avoid feeling existential dread every time we needed to go shopping or run errands. Plus, stuck in a dead neighbourhood and injured, life was a never-ending cycle of hobby courses, reading, hanging with the dog, yoga, having the odd flight at an empty tasting room and often getting out for a morning coffee or tea.

We managed a socially distanced bite on a friends’ patio, I grabbed a socially distanced outdoor beer once with another friend, and there was a little beer thing on the lawn in Stanley Park, but beyond that, no in-person socializing for us. We really stuck to our bubble through the nice weather. I wish more people had done that.

In addition to COVID doom, I had a year of digestive hell unlike any other. This included big, long IBS and hemorrhoid flare ups, and an H Pylori infection that lasted almost the entire year, beginning prior to Australia and ending in both a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy in October. Thankfully, and a bit surprisignly, I’ve got a clean bill of gastrointestinal health.

I’ve also developed tinnitis over the course of this annus horribilis. I’m not sure if the compacted wax and removal had any role in that, but it’s remained minor, though it has progressed from an intermittent to persistent sensation of extremely faint bells ringing. I’ve got a request in for a referral to a specialist, just to try and eliminate any potentially serious causes and I’ve been using white noise and other therapies to help reduce its impact.

The Fall

As summer waned and we watched BC’s provincial government fumble through inconsistent messaging and an overall inadequate response to COVID, we marvelled at the stupidity of people not consistently distancing or wearing masks, insisting on having parties and even some international travel. And, somewhat predictably, we witnessed the initial BC COVID success give way to hundreds of new cases and double digit deaths per day.

We also got to the point, though, where we knew we needed some kind of a break. By sheer luck we squeaked in a week-long trip up the Sunshine Coast, to Salt Spring Island and Victoria, just prior to the new travel restrictions implemented in late October. I never wrote anything about that trip, but posted some Instagram sets. I particularly liked the two below, of Salt Spring Island and some B&W shots of a Soames Hill hike in Gibsons.


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A post shared by James Wanless (@wanless64)


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A post shared by James Wanless (@wanless64)

Like everyone else, we also had to endure the shitshow south of the border. Trump and two year American election cycles weren’t really tolerable in the before times, but when you’re trapped at home a lot and inevitably watching cable news more than you normally would, a firehose of dysfunction and disdain for science and decency in a large percentage of the US populaation becomes utterly unbearable.

It’s not only hard to fathom someone like Trump getting elected, but it’s truly amazing how absolutely everything he did was a master class in what not to do. Marked by Black Lives Matter in response to racist police brutality, anti-Muslim racism, science-denialism, authoritarian tendencies and a clear disdain for democracy, and not only a complete mishandling of the pandemic, but a concerted effort to undermine science and the health of American citizens, Trump took American exceptionalism to new dark places.

It’s not really over still, but gladly we now hear less of Trump and typically only when his attempts to torch democracy surface.

Winter’s Bone

As pleasant coastal fall weather has given way to winter’s cold and rain, we’ve remained on a fairly even keel, having largely adjusted to the new normal. Connie has begun looking for work. It was great that she could take an early retirement package to trigger our wanderlust, but she still needs to work for a few years, to at least reach her pension. As such, she is now beginning the unenviable task of a job search in a COVID / post-COVID job market, in her late fifties. I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to take a leave when we moved to Victoria, and held onto my job throughout. I’ve had one brief planning session Zoom and my work MacBook is ready for pick-up, so after nearly 14 months of not working, my January 18th return is beginning to feel real. Oh, and I finally undertook sorting, purging and digitizing a lot of very old photos I’d been wanting to get to for literally years.

Thankfully, my earlier half-year without exercise and summer calf strain have ceded to a pretty solid past couple months. I eased into doing some slow, medium distance running by October and began ramping up a little in November, when I also began a six-week cycling base phase in the middle of the month. While still pretty tame by my past standards, I averaged a run or ride most days and 433 km of combined cycling and running for the month.

In December, things really improved on the endorphins front. When I finished my six week base cycling phase last week, I got a nice little FTP bump of 20 watts and managed 52 hours of training over 62 activities for a total of 717km on two wheels and two feet. If I can just manage to keep this up and improve as I return to work, I’m hopeful for a more fit 2021.

We’re minimalists in many ways, so aside from not gathering with the kids for libations and food, nothing really changed that much for us over Christmas. A few lights, drinks, movies and no gifts or cards. I got my annual Elf and semi-annual Bad Santa viewings in, too. As I scribble these thoughts down, I’ve just finished a beer and about the quietest New Year’s Eve in modern history.

Looking Forward to 2021

Beyond the depressing stuff aluded to above, one undeniable negative has come out of it all for me. Notwithstanding the immense respect I have for front-line health and service industry people, the endless parties, traveling, mask protests, and disregard for science and public health orders, has my faith in humanity at an all-time low. Politicians often can’t even bother to live within the guidelines they set for the rest of us, hypocritically traveling and gathering while feigning sympathy for our collective sacrifices. I’m hoping as I embrace the new year, I can move the needle on my humanity faith meter to the optimistic side from the pessimistic one.

  • Work will be different and completely remote for at least months, and I’m going in with an open mind. I’ll have a new manager in a re-org’d department, so fingers crossed for a wider variety of projects and more challenge. It was, in fact, this lack of challenge which in large part drove me to test the waters in Victoria.
  • Even though we didn’t get the year of travel we planned, the hit our investments took early in 2020 seems to have rebounded well and we’ve still got a good chuck of operating funds in the bank. I’ll be drawing a paycheque in a couple weeks and we could probably survive another year without it hurting. Travel and getting back to Victoria are high on our priority list now, so we may remain renters for the foreseeable future.
  • I still get a healthy vacation leave, so we’re hopeful we’ll be able to get our 2020 travel in over the next few years.
  • It won’t be good, but I suspect watching Biden try to bring some decorum and normalcy to America will be an improvement, in spite of leading a seriously divided nation.

Most important? We’ve remained healthy, though very cognizant of the loss and pain many have endured. Vaccines are now rolling out, albeit slower than expected. I hope that sometime in the second half of 2021, most of us will be vaccinated and life will begin returning to normal, with gatherings, events, concerts and travel possibly reappearing in our lives.

We often say this as we turn the page on another year, but I suspect this time it’s true. The new year will be better. It almost has to be. Here’s to everyone staying safe until the pandemic abates.