Hard Times athletics

January 23, 2010 | categories: energy, hard times | View Comments

(See my previous post for the background to this post.)

There aren't many activities in our modern society where it makes economic sense for me to engage in the kind of physical labor that will keep me healthy, but there are a few. From what I can tell, they tend to cluster at the margins of fossil fuel consumption. I'll explain what I mean by that shortly.

The first good example I've come up with involves the woodstove we had installed recently. (Barry John Chimney did a great job, by the way.) We can buy a cord of wood for around $250, but I can collect pallets from around Somerville pretty easily as well. We get some pallets at work, but I can also pick up pallets around Davis Square; I guess they're a waste stream diffuse and intermittent enough that the only collectors are amateurs such as myself.

Before I can burn the pallets, I have to cut them up. I'm not strong enough to break them into 13" lengths without the help of steel, at least stone, tools. Cutting them up with only a handsaw is possible, but grueling. A better combination for casualties of the modern workplace like me is to use a circular saw with the blade set to cut just shy of the full depth of the cross planks. If you cut all the way through, the planks sag and bind the blade. Once the planks are 95% cut, you can stomp on them, and then cut up the remaining stringers wih a handsaw. Between the two types of sawing, the stomping, and the lugging of pallets, it's a fair bit of work.

The pattern I've noticed is that I can substitute labor for fossil fuels at margins of our consumption. Heating our house entirely with wood would take a lot of effort; I've spent enough time with a splitting maul (10 hours, maybe) to know that I don't want to do it all winter. But, dragging home some pallets and cutting them up piecemeal in the basement is pretty satisfying.

One of the other large fossil fuel sinks in our lives is commuting. When I worked out in Lexington, I commuted 22 miles a day on a bike, rain or shine, all winter long. But, as we've moved and I've changed jobs, I switched to biking 16 miles per day, then 5 miles on foot. (Last year, we moved just a few blocks from my office, so I had to take up running, but you won't hear me complaining about that.)

I've been casting about for a name for these activities, and Hard Times Athletics is the best I can do.

(If you called it Fake Athletics for the Hard Times, or FAHT, you could say, "Have you been FAHTing in the basement again? It smells terrible down there." In Boston, that's funny.)

Below are some snapshots of my Hard Times gymnasium. Further suggestions of new Hard Times Athletics events are welcome in the comments.

The input

The input

The tools of transformation

The tools of transformation

The output

The output

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