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Vital Statistix

February 21, 2011

…was one of the best names from the old Asterix comics. Even as a kid, I couldn’t help but appreciate the significance of data collection and study as the core role of management. How is the village working? Let’s check the numbers. How much magic potion do we have left? I have the chart right here. (Magic potions will likely need to be the topic of another post—this is a blog about cycling, after all…).

But in this case, the vital statistix are about me. A number of friends and readers have asked me for a little bit more about myself, in terms of the pledges I am soliciting. This is all the more important given another side project, which I hope to post more about in the coming weeks (stay tuned). So here goes:

I am 36, 175cm, and roughly 82kg. I’m married with three children (13, 11, & 2). I’m a university professor; I teach history at McMaster University. I specialize in environmental history—I’m currently writing a book on the history of environmental sustainability and a bigger, better one on the global history of mercury pollution—but I also teach the histories of science and technology, while also spending some time teaching in McMaster’s interdisciplinary Arts & Science program. My first book, Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival was published in 2007. It’s still kicking around in paperback; my kids will likely need braces, so I could use the 23 cents for every copy sold. Growing up, I played soccer very competitively and traveled to England for a professional trial with Oxford United when I was 19 (they were actually a fairly good side then—really!). In retrospect, I like to claim I’m the only academic who ever went to Oxford for the soccer. As a recent student and triathlete noted upon learning about my soccer background and my current fixation on cycling, apparently I know how to suffer. I’ll moan extensively about my form and my sensations on various rides. It will invariably be too steep, too hot, too long, too hard, but I’m loving every minute of it. The transition from anaerobic soccer to a more aerobic cycling has presented an interesting challenge, and I think—physically—I’m still more generally suited for the former, but I’m taking a certain pride in that transition.

Last year, I rode between 3000 and 4000 kilometers, but there are some important variables to keep in mind when anticipating distances for 2011. First, I sprained my ankle over the Easter Weekend (2010), and it took me more than a month to get back on the bike (read: late April). The ankle was fine when it came to pedaling and I was able to train on a stationary bike after the first two or three weeks (this was a pretty bad sprain: stepping on a softball in beaten-up Birkenstocks while racing my daughter to the ball). No: the stroke was fine. The bigger issue was that every bump and pothole shot pain right through the ankle, which meant I rode once after about a month and then held off for another two weeks. So, basically, I lost six weeks of early season riding. I also didn’t ride in August, since I was traveling. Basically, in 2010, I missed more than two months of prime cycling weather, especially at the beginning of the season, which might have helped me reach good form sooner (although I did spend a lot of time on the stationary bike before and after the sprained ankle—almost none this winter).

Those are grounds for thinking that improving on last year’s distances shouldn’t be too difficult. Here’s the other side of the coin. We had a beautiful, dry autumn last year. September, October, and November were absolutely gorgeous, and I was able to ride extensively throughout the fall. In fact, I’m pretty confident I rode more in those three months than I did through the summer. I had a favorable teaching schedule, which allowed for long morning rides, with my wife’s parents providing childcare for our littlest. So lots of riding was made possible. I’m not sure I’ll have that much time and freedom to ride in 2011, although I have less travel on the horizon and I don’t plan to step on anymore softballs. Also, the benefits of that good fall/winter riding have almost disappeared at this point if yesterday’s ride is anything to go by. In all, it will take some work, organization, and luck to get to 5000kms. The target remains the same, however, as a means not just of challenging myself but also in raising funds for Bikes to Rwanda.

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