View of Mt. Hood taken from Council Crest Park. Mountain is white with snow, taken in the late winter

My first photo that looks like this

Published 2019-08-25

In the past seven years I’ve take a lot of photos that look like this one ↑ which I took on March 3, 2006, six years before I turned photos like that into an obsession. I first recall riding up this hill in the summer of 2002, an experience I no longer remember directly except through this thing I wrote in 2010:

Back when I started riding kinda sorta seriously … about eight years ago … I was living in NW PDX. One day I saw Council Crest park on a map and decided to ride my bike there, knowing it was going to be all uphill. Man, was I overmatched. I made it to about Ainsworth school (about halfway up) and had to stop. My clothes were just soaked with sweat, I couldn’t breathe, it was really pathetic. I saw someone else riding up Vista and decided I was gonna lick that hill and I wasn’t gonna push my bike. If I got tired, I was going to stop and take a break until I was cool enough to get on the bike again. So with one more stop (around Patton) and another (maybe somewhere on Greenway?) I made it all the way up. The next time I rode up that hill I stopped only once, maybe around Fairmount? The third time I rode up that hill I didn’t stop until I reached the top. In about 3 weeks I went from zero to hero.

I have made 815 “observations” on since March 21, 2012. I recall only two occasions when I summited the hill since 2012 & neglected to make an observation. I can’t reckon how many times I crossed the hill in the decade or so before I began keeping track. I’d guess I did so every other week on average, so 25 times/year × 9.5 years ≅ 237 additional summits.

Combing back through my digital photos is an exercise in how thoroughly our lives have become mediated in the past 15 years or so. I bought my first digital camera in August 2000, and it took me almost five years to snap 5000 photos.

For comparison, I’ve already taken more than 5000 photos in 2019 — and that doesn’t count photos that my spouse or kids take with their cameras. Cameras outnumber people in this house by at least 2, not including webcams built into laptops.

(And to compared to that: my mother would buy a new roll (probably 36 exposures) of 35mm film in the early summer of every year of my childhood. She’d take about 10 photos on our vacations, 2 or so for the first day of school, a dozen or so at holidays, and the rest at random moments during the year.)

It’s almost strange now to imagine the ancient days of 2002 when I would do something like summit the highest hill in Portland without taking a picture, indeed without thinking it was a feat worthy of taking a picture — and certainly without recording it on Strava which didn’t exist yet. Before I started carrying an always-on GPS device disguised as a phone in my front pocket, I sporadically recorded some (certainly not all) my bike rides in an actual Excel spreadsheet, transcribing the mileage from my oldschool cyclometer. Or I would keep an actual journal.

My father and his mother were both journal-keepers. (My grandmother was a literal journalist — she wrote the Merna column for the Custer County Herald). They meticulously filled notebook after notebook with their daily doings. I never thought of myself as having this habit, but blogging gets pretty close. I’ve been writing about my life online in some form since I built my first website in late 1995. I didn’t use the word “blog” until probably 2005 or so, indeed I conceived of my earliest web concepts as an art project of sorts.

I have a pretty good memory for events, their timing and coincidences. I don’t often lose memory of in what year Event X happened even if I sometimes forget what year this is. And that’s without consulting my accidentally encyclopedic digital effluvia. My father and grandmother until literally their dying days had excellent memories. They could recall minor events of their lifetime with great clarity, connect them to world events (“oh that was the summer after Bobby Kennedy was shot, the first year we leased the back 80 to the Leipholdts”), and held an enormous volume of knowledge. It wasn’t just trivia either — knowing when things happened, their sequence and causalities, gave them a broad insight into how the world operates. I flatter myself to think that writing occasionally does something like this for myself.