Distances Gone

Distances Gone

(a 2022 Retrospective)

by Kyle Barnhart

4 January 2023

I knew what I wanted a year ago. I wanted to go further. I wanted to challenge myself to be more, and so I came up with four goals constructed around one central theme: “Going the Distance.

It’s 2023 now. Time to check the odometer.

✔️ Run a marathon.

Running a marathon was, in fact, possible. I mean, it did suck, but it wasn’t the worst.

The key, as with most things, is to set yourself up for success.

Washington was the perfect place to train for a marathon. Rock Creek Park is a runner-friendly expanse of canopied, paved trails that practically begs me outside to pound the pavement several times a week. It’s accessible, car-free, and perfectly populated with other runners. And when you need ten miles of uninterrupted pavement, Beach Drive is more than happy to go on and on and on. It’s difficult for me to imagine training for a marathon anywhere else.

Likewise, Toronto was the perfect place to run a marathon. While mountainous skyscrapers loom large over the city, the ground in Toronto barely pushes above the height of the lakefront. The crowd that gathered on that Sunday morning was serious but not Boston Serious. The course wound its way through the Waterfront, downtown Toronto, and out into the easterly suburbs. A marathon is a very unique way to experience the texture of an unfamiliar place.

So, yeah, I did it. I followed a training plan, I ate the Gu, and I split every fiber in my legs, weekend after weekend, until race day. I’m proud of this achievement.

One day, I would like to run another marathon.

❌ Write a book-length thing.

This one stings.

Let me be honest: I did not take this goal seriously. I never built a big corkboard outline or character index cards or a compendium of story beats to weld into an overarching narrative. I never cracked open a book or an article about writing. I never did writing exercises to hone my craft, so to speak. I never attended one of those local writing meetups. When I wrote creatively, I was diddling around on short, bite-sized, low-risk stories.

I have such a hard time writing “seriously.” I resent seriousness. That sucks, because writing makes me consistently, appreciably happy. If a handful of people read my words, and two or three of them take the time to mention it to me— even if they’re ruthlessly critical—  that means more than any promotion or bonus or prize. Nothing compares. I feel worthwhile. I feel happy.

That’s why I chose this goal: I wanted to realize more of that happiness. The only way I will ever attain that desire is by putting my words in front of more people. There are known ways to find an audience, but you have to actively pursue them. You have to write well and you have to write consistently. You have to write things people want to read. As far as I know, very few people become famous writers by accident.

But here’s the other thing: I don’t feel like I failed. I did keep a weekly journal this year. Between that and idle noodling, I nearly filled up an A5 notebook with thoughts, feelings, and everything in-between. I did write. I wrote a lot. I wrote with more sustained intention than I have in my entire life. I filled up two hundred pages with words— but most of them weren't the public-facing kind of words.

✔️ Take 12 trips.

Let’s go to the numbers.

  1. Orlando (Jan 28-30)
  2. Sarasota (Mar 8-11)
  3. Houston (Apr 1-4)
  4. Houston redux (Apr 29-May 2)
  5. Springfield (May 12-15)
  6. Ocean City (Jun 3-4)
  7. Albuquerque (Sep 9-12)
  8. Toronto (Oct 13-17)
  9. Louisville (Oct 18-21)
  10. Austin and San Antonio (Nov 11-15)
  11. Philadelphia (Dec 7-8)
  12. St. Augustine (Dec 17-23)

Huh. I took 12 trips.

I know, I know. This achievement was only possible thanks to the privilege of working from anywhere and my employer’s very flexible work-from-anywhere and time-off policies. I’m proud that I took advantage of those things, because I haven’t always done that to my own benefit.

What’s surprising to me is that I took 12 trips without a solid plan. I didn’t map this all out at the beginning of the year. Instead, I changed my mindset.

When an opportunity to go somewhere presented itself, I seized it. When my schedule opened up, I bought a ticket. Go see someone you haven’t seen in a long time. Go by yourself if you have to. Go places no one else would think to visit.

Oh, the places you’ll go. The people you’ll see. The memories you’ll make.

❌ Do a handstand.

I’m at peace with not doing a handstand. In retrospect, it was absolutely ridiculous for me to pursue two very different, practically opposing physical challenges at the same time.

I was able to focus on my upper body strength a lot during the first half of the year. As a result, I held several minute-long frogstands/crow poses and assisted inversions before the marathon consumed all of my attention. I am proud of that progress. It’s a lot more than I could do heading into 2022.

At this point, I’m not really sure I care about doing a handstand. There is surely a better way to express my fitness goals. Like, I kind of just want bigger biceps.

And so.

“We all have a place we think we should be.”

-me, January 2022

So, am I closer to where I think I should be?

Each of these goals required a new degree of practice and intention. Every morning for the past year I would wake up and ask myself, “what am I working toward today?” There’s untold value in regularly answering that question, regardless of your stated goals or whether you achieve them in a certain amount of time. I stayed focused and oriented my life around the longer-term.

I’m more proud of training for a marathon than finishing one, because by the time I found my place at the starting line, I’d already done 95% of the work. There’s not a book-shaped hole in my heart right now, because while I didn’t write a book, I did write a fuckton this past year. And I did months and months of handstand practice— enough to grow stronger and learn that I just don’t really care about doing a handstand anymore.

I’m optimistically looking back on the past year as one of preparation instead of progress. I grew and strengthened myself in ways that were important to me, and I did a lot of growing outside of the goals I’ve talked about here. That’s worth celebrating.

But, I dunno. I don’t know if I’m closer to where I should be.