Publisher: Chelsea Green, 2023.
At a personal and professional crossroads, a man resets his life and finds sobriety, love, and 618 bird species, cycling his way to a very Big Year.
In Birding Under the Influence, Dorian Anderson, a neuroscience researcher on a pressure-filled life trajectory, walks away from the world of elite institutions, research labs, and academic publishing. In doing so, he falls in love and discovers he has freed himself to embrace his lifelong passion for birding.
A North American Big Year—a continent-spanning adventure in which a birder attempts to see as many species as possible in twelve months—is a massive undertaking under any circumstances. But doing it on a bike while maintaining sobriety? That’s next level.
As Dorian pedals across the country, describing the birds he sees, he confronts the challenges of long-distance cycling: treacherous weather, punctured tires, speeding cars, and injury. He encounters eccentric characters, blistering blacktop, dreary hotel rooms, snarling dogs, and an endless sea of smoking tailpipes. He also confronts his past struggles with alcohol, drugs, and risky behaviors that began in high school and followed him into adulthood.
Birding Under the Influence is a candid, honest look at Dorian’s double life of academic accomplishment and addiction. While his journey to recovery is simultaneously poignant and inspiring, it is ultimately his love of birds and nature that provides the scaffolding to build a new and radically different life.
“Birding Under the Influence is an adrenaline hit for birders and adventure junkies. It’s also a surprisingly tender story of redemption, as Dorian Anderson faces down his addictions and reinvents his career. Having eagerly awaited this book after Anderson’s 2014 Big Year, I read it in a blissful, all-out binge – as will anyone with a taste for birds and inspiring journeys.”