Sunday, January 01, 2006

Numbers Game

Human beings like to measure the world. As near as I can tell, most creatures who live and die on this planet go through their given allotment of days without measuring their allotment of days. A cheetah can reach speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour without ever bothering with the concepts of either miles or hours. Monarch butterflies migrate between Canada and Mexico without the need of maps or borders or the reassuring signals beaming down from global positioning satellites. But we humans are a different breed. We are counting creatures armed with mathematics and maps and these tools help us find our way in the world. We live not just in the moment but we measure our moments. We have futures to foresee and pasts to ponder.

We attach numbers to our years and when those numbers change we tend to take stock of our progress and contemplate the next steps in our journeys. This is the season where my cycling friends and I tally up our past year's riding and plot out adventures for the coming year. Numbers help us do that. I have friends who get worked up over turning one more digit on an odometer and others who get equally worked up over proudly not knowing some stat. Whatever works. I try to stick to what works for me. When I started randonneuring, I tracked my distances and followed cues marked in kilometers. In 2005 my big ride down the Divide was mapped in miles, so I tracked in miles. It's just numbers, it doesn't matter. The metric fundamentalists will probably kick me out of their club for saying this, but I don't think the world cares if we measure it decimally or not. I could track my progress in furlongs per fortnight or angstroms per second but I don't think I love math quite that much.

I've got my little pile of year end numbers. I've got my map of days in the coming year. I've got ratios of gear teeth to inches traveled. I've got plans and equations. I've got places to go, people to see and lots and lots of numbers to keep me company. I'm a human being. I love numbers. I can't help it. Cheetahs chase, butterflies fly, I count.

We love our numbers. We want them to be happy. We name our years after them.

Have a happy 2006.

Keep those numbers rolling,



Susan. said...

Nice way to start the new year...
I like measuring in kilos too. I was traveling so much to places where everything was kilos that it just stuck. But for the most part, when training, I ride my bike for x hours and rarely even know far I've gone. I tend to get thrown off by the question, "How far have you ridden?"

Cellarrat said...

Very nice way of putting Kent...

Enjoy the counting this year

Anonymous said...

I count too.

But I think it is a "modern tool". Hunters and gathers, nomadic people don't count, and we all decended from similar backgrounds.

Maasai concider it vulgar to count their cows, but they know when one is missing.

What if I spent less time counting?

Erik Rowberg

Tammy said...

Great post, as always :)

Strive to be like the Cheetah and the Butterfly (or is it "the dog & the butterfly"?) ... :)

Yuri said...

Honest and true and matter of fact.
Reminds me of a an Ali quote.

"It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up."

We ride bikes and measure stuff.

Happy new year.