Thursday, September 22, 2011

Weight & Balance

I can still remember the day when I learned how to ride my bike.  I don't remember how old I was, but I do remember several significant things about the events of that day.  I remember watching my sister ride the bike.  Up to that point Cam (my best friend, who lived across the street) and I had cruised around our block on our little plastic tricycle racers.  The seats were about an inch off the ground, and they had these great little hand brakes that we could pull to do wicked hand brake turns after we had built up a sufficient head of steam.  The downside of all this was that it eventually wore a hole in the hard plastic rear tire where the brake was located.  This seriously cramped our style and spelled the end of our two person biker gang and slowed us down considerably.  With our transportation options now limited to two feet on terra firma, both Cam and I looked over at our sisters as they glided effortlessly around the block on their bikes.  Imagination soared. 

My first bike was green, with a worn black banana seat and holes in the end of the handles where streamers had once graced the bike.  Of course it was a hand me down from my sister, but I didn't care.  It wasn't pink.  It was my ticket to unimaginable fun, the wind in my hair, sun reflecting off of the shiny fenders, bugs deflecting off of my epidermis as I leaned in on the high speed corner near our house, legs pumping furiously to coax every last bit of speed out of my personal rocket.  That was the dream. 

There must have been a conversation at some time between my parents and I about using training wheels, but there was no way that I was going to allow that to happen*.  The dream was to LEAN into the corners, not lean out as I clung precariously to the handles on my bike, hoping that the miniscule piece of metal connecting the small training wheel to the rear wheel and manufactured by the lowest bidder would hold up all the way around the block.  Kids who used training wheels were only fooling themselves into thinking that they knew how to ride a bike.  Training wheels were for wimps.  I was a man.  Bring on the pain.

I have a memory of my mom coming out with me into the street (our street was not a through street) and running around behind me as she held onto the back of my seat and assisted with my balance.  Imagine if you will, doing deep knee bends and toe touches out in the middle of the street whilst bent at 90 degrees from the waist and sprinting to keep up to your small son, knowing that if you lose pace for even a second the inevitable ending to the story is the high speed wobble, followed by the crash and screeching sounds that accompany bike vs boy vs road.  I had had many previous opportunities to perfect my screeching sounds and you might say that I was a bit of an expert at it.   Mom gave it a hero's try, but a mothers endurance only lasts so long against a son who employs an "all or nothing" philosophy with regard to pedaling speed.  The rest of my morning and afternoon was spent in a solo effort, maneuvering the bike until the far pedal was in the optimum position for the first strong push, then 2 or three pedals until I lost balance and bailed off.  Brakes weren't even a consideration at this point.  By the end of the day I was making it around the block, and I've never looked back.  This is one of my first up close and personal experiences with weight and balance.

Fast forward now to my flight training.  Weight and balance plays a large part in the day to day operations of an aircraft.  There are many different things that effect the performance of an airplane.  These include temperature, humidity, elevation, and of course weight and balance, to name a few.  Heat, high humidity, high elevation and excess weight all have a "negative" effect on aircraft performance.  I say "negative", but perhaps I should say "less positive", as even with all of these factors there is still often a large safety buffer within which you can safely operate an airplane. 

This brings me to the point of this post.  Consider Uganda.  A warm climate, many large lakes (factor in changing humidity), and vast changes of elevation.  I don't know a lot about the air strips that I will be flying into and out of, but I am quite sure that there will not be a lot of (if any) 6000-12000 foot long runways that we will be operating off of.  So now we take all of those factors and shorter landing/take-off surfaces and add in weight. 

I'm overweight.  I was in decent shape when Karen and I were married, but then came the inevitable "get married, add ten pounds".  Add in 11 more years of marriage, a desk job for 2 of those years and several other factors, and when I step on the weigh scale I was reading about 30-40 pounds over what I should be.  This has never truly affected my ministry up to this point in my career.  Sure, it would have been nice on some long cross country trips to have some extra baggage room, but that only made it more of a challenge for the students and forced them to apply principles in real life.  But not any more.  Now it matters.  Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) pilots often fly their aircraft right at or near their maximum capabilities.  It can be done safely and we do it safely almost every day.  However, if we are given an opportunity to increase the margin of safety we are going to try and do it.  A lighter aircraft means shorter landing and take-off distances and it gives room for more fuel in the tanks which adds a further safety buffer. 

So far I've mentioned several operational/safety things.  There is more yet though.  35 pounds.  Think of what that translates to in real life.  35 pounds of fuel.  It may mean the difference between being able to make a short detour to pick up a medical emergency.  Perhaps a bag of flour.  Medical supplies.  Maybe one or two small children who would not have had the chance to make the journey if I am overweight.  Now it matters.  If I carry that extra weight to Africa there is the chance that it becomes a real life and death issue, and not for me, but for those who I have been called there to serve.  The thought of something like that happening brings tears to my eyes.

On July 1st of this year Karen and I moved our family back up to Rycroft, AB as we continue to share about MAF and raise support to go to Uganda to serve.  Two weeks after we moved we began a serious effort to lose weight.  It really hasn't been that difficult.  We do some fairly intense exercises for about half an hour each day and have also limited our food intake.  I don't call it a diet because we haven't dropped any foods out of our diet.  I just stopped taking second portions at meals and try to help myself to reasonable portions.  We've also eliminated snacking after supper in the evenings.  That's it.  We've been at it now for two months and the results are beginning to show.  This morning I stepped on the weigh scale, and for the first time in... a long time the first digit is a 1.  198.  Eighteen pounds dropped after two months of effort.  About half way to my initial goal.  Karen has also made good progress although I won't be posting her weight here.  We've kept it quite quiet as we have worked at this, but we would like to ask for your prayers as we continue to work through this.  It grieves me that we have not always honored God with our bodies and have allowed it to get to this point, but it is exciting to see the hard work begin to pay off.  Will a drop of 35 pounds save a life someday?  I don't know (maybe even mine), but I'd rather have the option to take on board that extra 35 pounds if the situation arises.

I Corinthians 6:19&20
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.

*Bear in mind that this is my memory of the sequence of events and may be quite different than the story that you would hear from my parents.


  1. Hey Dallas, excellent post again, and way to go for you & Karen on the weight loss!