25 August 2015

Nerd on a Bike

My family spent last Sunday back in the Peak District.  We rented bicycles for a few hours and did the 12-mi (19-km) circuit around the Derwent and Howden Reservoirs in Derbyshire.  The Upper Derwent Valley is beautiful!  I was fascinated to learn that the dams in the reservoir and the surrounding land were so similar to the Ruhr Valley in Germany that pilots in their Lancasters practiced bombing runs in the Upper Derwent Valley in preparation for Operation Chastise in 1943.

We had a few climbs to make during our cycling, but nothing like the hors cat├ęgorie climbs found in the Tour de France.  I never cracked on the climbs, but I can easily see how the best cyclists crack on long and difficult climbs.  Lugging one's mass uphill isn't easy!  The photo below shows a nerdy physicist away from his modeling computer and in the saddle on a bicycle (click on the image for a larger view).
My cycling was made more fun with a backpack full of water bottles, umbrellas, extra clothing, wallets and purses, and other miscellaneous items.  I really enjoyed seeing all the bell heather on the slopes in the distant background.  We were helped by a few tailwinds in places, but fought headwinds in other places.  The exercise was great and so was my deepening appreciation for how unbelievably difficult it must be to complete stages in the Tour de France.  We only bicycled a distance about 10% of a typical Tour de France stage, and we weren't in the middle of a three-week effort.  I hope we can get back to the reservoirs during the next year.  We need to do the circuit twice!

19 August 2015

Getting Settled in Sheffield

There are many, many things I like about living in England.  Utility companies aren't among them.  We arrived in Sheffield on Monday, 3 August, but had to stay in two hotels (kicked out of the first because of overbooking!) before finally moving into a rental property on Wednesday, 12 August.  We were promised internet service by Monday, 17 August, but that's now been moved to Wednesday, 26 August.  Some of the most trivial tasks connected to utility companies take the longest time.

Because of a lack of internet service, I've been unable to keep my sabbatical journal updated.  I hope to do better in the coming weeks!  Setting my little rant against utility companies aside, I'll note that it's WONDERFUL being back in Sheffield again.  My family really enjoyed living here during the 2008-09 academic year, and we were thrilled to see the city again.

Getting to Sheffield was a hectic adventure.  The last week of July brought a lot of attention to my Tour de France work.  See my post here for a few stories.  After those stories broke, I was interviewed by the local news in Lynchburg (link here) and did a long radio interview for The Outspoken Cyclist (link here).  Those were fun to do, but we were packing for a little 6000-km trip!  We were sad to leave our dog behind, but she's in very good hands with my sister-in-law and her dog.  A flight to Iceland, then Manchester, and finally a cab ride to Sheffield, and we were ready to look for housing and get our daughters signed up for school.

So what is so great about living in Sheffield?  I love not having a car.  Public transportation is great here, plus I get to do a lot of walking.  I should shed a few unwanted pounds during the upcoming year!  There are many great parks here, plus Ponds Forge is a fun place to work out.  I especially love that Sheffield is adjacent to the Peak District, a place we got to know very well during our previous stay in England.  Last weekend, we returned to one of our favorite places, Peveril Castle, which is only about half an hour away by bus.  Views from the old keep are breathtaking, especially Cave Dale.  I had a lot of fun climbing the hills with my daughters.  My wife, an experienced and intrepid international traveler who makes my life possible, was content to film me sliding down a hill with my younger daughter in my lap as we dodged a few sheep on the descent.  A physics problem with an inclined plane is sure to come from that video!

I also like that Sheffield is extremely diverse.  We get to interact with people from all over the world.  Traveling does wonders for opening one's mind and putting down tribal instincts.  In the short time I've been here, I've already spoken to people from at least a dozen different countries on four continents.  The abstraction of seeing countries on a map disappears when I actually talk to people face to face.  The seemingly trivial realization that people from different parts of the world want out of life what I want -- a loving family, good health, a decent job, fun leisure time -- is something that's comforting for me.

On the research side, I'm just getting my feet wet this week.  I will be thinking a lot about "friction" during the upcoming academic year.  I'm anxious to learn and contribute!