The world’s most thermally efficient internal combustion racing engine is the Mercedes-Benz PU106A Hybrid built for Formula 1 with a 50% thermal efficiency. That probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but considering a typical internal combustion engine has an efficiency of around 30%, , 50% is unheard of. In addition, the Mercedes PU106A generates a behemoth 1000 bhp (brake horsepower, basically a fancy way of saying horsepower). So how, you may ask, does an engine manage to have two thirds greater thermal efficiency than average and generate an enormous amount of power? It all has to do with energy management.
First off, the Mercedes PU106A has a total engine capacity of 1.6 liters with six 270 ml cylinders. To give you an idea of how small each cylinder is, 270 ml is a little more than a cup of flour with the total engine capacity equaling about a quarter of a six pack of Miller Lite (or Molson if you’re Canadian). For reference, it’s about the same size engine as what’s in your Honda Civic except the Mercedes F1 unit generates about 850 more brake horsepower (bhp).
A smaller capacity engine will almost always perform more efficiently due to the law of diminishing returns. Formula 1 engines not so long ago were running 3.5-liter engines with similar power outputs, just to give you an idea of how small 1.6L really is. Additionally, fewer cylinders will generally yield higher efficiency than those with more; the 2018 Mercedes power plant has six cylinders compared to the twelve that were on the cars back in the 3.5L era.
The size of the engine is really only the foundation for which 50% efficiency is realized. To understand thermal efficiency, you must understand what goes on in an internal combustion engine. Each cylinder is something called a combustion chamber—really just a fancy term for notating the area where the explosion or combustion occurs. It’s internal because the explosion takes place inside the motor and outputs the power mechanically through a series of cranks and gears. An external combustion engine would be something like a rocket engine, where the combustion occurs outside and power is outputted directly to the exterior. Within each cylinder of an internal combustion engine (in this case, six of them mounted in two rows of three in a “V” shape) a mixture of fuel and air is sprayed into the combustion chamber and is subsequently ignited by a spark plug. This sets off what is effectively a mini bomb which, as the hot gasses expand, pushes down the piston which is located at the bottom of the cylinder. The downward motion of the piston helps to turn the crank shaft. With all cylinders firing at different moments across a timeline, the crank shaft is able to rotate and through a series of gears, the power is translated to the wheels.
With what is effectively thousands of hand grenades going off every minute, a tremendous amount of heat and sound is generated as a result of all of the unrelenting friction and stress created through the numerous moving parts. There’s a reason that the engine in your car at home needs its oil, engine coolant, radiators, and mufflers to mask the sheer violence that goes on under the hood. Race cars don’t muffle the engines, which is why they are so much louder than your personal car (>130 decibels versus <70 decibels).
It’s due to all of this excess heat and sound created by friction and stress that engines lose around 70% of the potential energy of the fuel they burn. If the engine was 100% efficient, it would experience zero increase in temperature relative to the air temperature. This is where engines can drastically improve their efficiency, by trying to recover that loss of heat. The most common method of doing this is by adding a turbocharger. This technology has been around since the late 1880’s, but didn’t rise to prominence amongst automobile engines until the second half of the 20th century. What a turbocharger does is use the expanding exhaust gasses that are being expelled from the combustion chambers to spin a turbine (basically a fan). This turbine is connected to a shaft which connects to a compressor (essentially another fan)that sucks in fresh, cool air and rams it back into the combustion chamber (called forced induction) so that there is a higher concentration of oxygen in the cylinder when the spark plug ignites the fuel/air mixture. The result is an even bigger explosion which generates even more power and an increase in thermal efficiency. What the turbo does is take a portion of the excess heat that has built up due to friction and uses it to create even more power. This enables the motor itself to be smaller; because you can generate the same amount of power with a smaller turbocharged engine as a larger naturally aspirated (non-turbocharged) engine.
Another way to gather excess energy is by generating electricity, storing it in a battery, and deploying it through an electric motor. The Mercedes PU106A uses electric energy recovery in two ways: excess heat recovery from the turbocharger and kinetic energy recovery while under braking. Recovering excess heat from the turbo revolves around the turbocharger. As the compressor sucks in air and rotates the shaft between the turbine and the compressor, it also powers a generator. The shaft engages magnets as it spinsand rotates them around a coil which in turn generates an electric charge. The charge is stored in a battery and is released as power through an electric motor.
Kinetic energy is also manifested as electric energy and released through electric motors, but is gathered in a completely different way. The engine uses an enormous amount of energy to propel the car forward only to waste much of this energy when the car slows under braking. To recover that loss in the form of kinetic energy, there is something called a fly wheel that continues to rotate at the speed the wheels were turning before the driver hit the brakes. In a way, it’s just like a bicycle. When you stop peddling on a bike, the rear wheel continues to spin even though you have stopped applying power. So, similar to the waste gate, magnets are employed to rotate around a coil on the fly wheel (bicycle wheel) while under braking which generates an electric charge. The charge is stored in a battery and deployed through electric motors.
All of these various thermal energy recovery systems recover about 2 megajoules of energy which translates to an additional 160 bhp. Combined with elements such as direct injection, a highly sophisticated engine control unit ( which is basically the engine’s computer), as well as advanced materials, the Mercedes-Benz PU106A has been able to utilize a staggering amount of its fuel’s potential energy. This has only been achieved by taking heat wasted due to friction and stress and harnessing it in an effort to provide even more power resulting in not only a more efficient unit, but also a more powerful and faster one. There’s a reason this engine has earned 90% of the pole positions, won 80% of the races, four driver’s titles, and four constructors F1 world championships since 2014.
I grew up on the bike. My dad had been riding since late in high school so it was only natural for me to get into cycling. Much of his cycling career surrounded ultra-marathon cycling; some of his biggest achievements were riding a whole slew of double centuries (200 miles rides) with his longest being 250. My time on the bike has looked quite a bit different. While Dad pursued the distance for its own sake, I pursued racing. My main thing was track racing on the velodrome; mainly sprint races or races that required a lot of tactical decisions, but I also raced a lot of criteriums and road races. After high school I even had the opportunity to continue racing collegiately on an athletic scholarship at Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky, a small liberal arts school with a proud cycling tradition.
You would probably think that I was pretty fast considering the above credentials, but I was mediocre at best. I could hold my own on the track in the event I was good at; maybe even shoot above my weight simply due to my experience, but if it involved raw fitness and endurance, I didn’t stand a chance.
Part of what makes a great cyclist is the ability to suffer, something I’ve never been great at. You’re in a race trying to mash up a climb or hanging on for dear life in a strong crosswind with the pack echeloning across the road and your heart is about to burst out of your chest, your lungs are on fire, and your legs are teetering on cramping up. It’s in those moments where you have to block out that pain and push through knowing the prize is on the other side. Athletes love to talk about how they thrive in the “pain cave”; almost romanticize it. But I just never got there; I always hated it. That’s partially why I had so much success on the track. The races were usually no longer than 20 minutes so I could manage the pain for that duration and a lot of the racing came down to tactics, which was something I excelled in. It was my inability to suffer, though, that would come to haunt me again and again.
Time and time again in races when the going got tough, I would choose relief over the pursuit of the ultimate goal which was to win. When my heart rate spiked for too long my subconscious would convince me that it just wasn’t my day and that quitting or backing off was a far better option, but it always led to regret and unfinished business. Each time I’d pin on my numbers I’d psyche myself up to push through that pain barrier and the vast majority of the time I’d fall short. I would have to be at such a high level of fitness given the category I was racing in to make the suffering minimal enough to where I could make it to the end and finally use the last kick that I was so good at. It was always just a matter of getting to the end. If I could do that, I’d usually finish well, so I began to get a reputation of either winning or getting dropped.
You’d think that after so many disappointing performances I’d finally learn to just give it all I had, but it was never that simple. What is giving everything? Is it a numeric figure that’s static or is it something more fluid and ambiguous? When I felt I had reached the end of my rope in a race, felt my mental toughness wouldn’t let me go any deeper, was that really the end of my rope? To this day I really don’t know. I’m in a constant state of inner turmoil between thinking that I gave it all or didn’t give enough when the montage of past races floods my mind.
I had a college coach say to me once that what I had to tell myself when I was deep in the pain cave was, “you’ve been here before and you’ll be here again so just go for it.” I appreciated the intent behind the mantra, but it totally back fired on me. The idea that I’d experienced this pain before did not encourage me to dig any deeper; it only made me want to quit more. Funny how motivation for some can discourage others.
In my senior year of college I decided to upgrade to Category A for the road racing season (I was already a Category A on the track). Collegiate cycling, for those who don’t know, is broken into four categories based on ability and experience (A, B, C, and D). You can upgrade after earning points in a lower category to move up to the next. I had started out my freshman year as a Cat. C, moved up to a B halfway through my sophomore year, and finally on up to an A for my final season. I had some success in C’s and B’s, earning a pair of victories in between the two, but racing as an A was an enormous task that I knew I wasn’t prepared for, but it was my senior year so I had nothing to lose.
Jumping from Cat. B to A is like going from being a decent high school basketball player to starting in the NBA Finals; it’s a completely different ball game and I knew that going into it. I had won a crit the previous season in B’s and was runner up in the road race at conference championships, finishing out the season top five in points so there was nothing else I really had to prove. But I also knew that racing A’s was way over my head and that proved to be true race after race.
I got dropped from every race I entered, either getting pulled before the end of the race or pulling myself due to the futility of completing the distance. The only race I didn’t finish was at Milligan College where the official let me continue the race after getting lapped in the crit, and I was able to finish with the pack a lap down. You know your standards have changed when that’s considered a success. The whole season, though was filled with what-ifs. What if I hung on just a bit longer? Would the pace have slowed a bit to let me catch my breath and continue? What if I made better choices in my positioning in the pack? Why didn’t I just jump onto that wheel instead of naively hoping that they would slow so I could get back on in hopes of having to put forth less effort? What if, what if, what if.
About the only consolation of the whole season was, despite not actually qualifying, my coach finagling my way into road nationals. I knew I had no chance, but I was determined to finish that damn race. It was three laps, 75 miles through the Appalachian Mountains near Asheville, NC and it was brutal. I surprised myself and held onto the group through the first climb, but the attacks on the second climb popped me off the back with less than a quarter of a lap under my belt. I managed to team up with a rider from Harvard and we split the workload of breaking the wind with minimal words being spoken as we trudged along, slowly passing riders who had given up after their races had effectively ended.
I managed to stay with him until about 10K to go. The course had come down from the mountains, but followed a river on a false flat with a slight crosswind. I started out with a banana and a few gels, but failed to eat the banana until about 15K to go as we turned onto the final stretch along the river. By then it was too late and I knew it; I was bonking. It was the point of no return and after desperately trying to stick with the Harvard kid, skipping pulls while getting double vision, I fell off his wheel and drug my way to the finish.
It was a bittersweet moment. I knew I had given everything I had to end a season of what could have been, but at the same it was the end of an era for me. I continued to race the following summer on the track with some of my best results to date, but four years of slowly making my way to the top only to question my ability to give the extra something just haunted me and still does.
In a lot of ways, hiking the PCT was my shot at redemption; my chance to prove to myself that I could set an ambitious goal and execute it. Of course I never imagined that I would end up hiking it in one of the most challenging snow years in decades and wind up coming down with high altitude pulmonary edema resulting in getting airlifted and spending a week in a hospital. I just knew that this time I couldn’t quit. There was no way in hell that I would let anything get in the way of me completing that trail.
The actual hiking part really wasn’t the challenging bit, I mean, it’s just walking. Sure, you have a relatively heavy pack on and you have to sleep outside and shit in a hole, but honestly that was the fun part; that was the reward for all those months of planning and dreaming and for finally deciding to throw caution to the wind and just do it. I had never imagined that I would face a legitimate life threatening situation though.
You probably know the story by now, but in case you don’t here’s a quick recap: We had been hiking at around 10,000 feet for about a week and descended into Lone Pine, CA by car to around 3,000 feet to resupply and rest up for about 24 hours. The following day we got a hitch back up to the trail head at 10,000 feet like most of the other hikers and climbed an additional 1,000 feet to Chicken Spring Lake where we camped. That night I kind of lost it just due to the stress of beginning the true snowy section of the Sierras and all the hazards that lay ahead and I was a complete mess. On top of that, it was the coldest night to date and incredibly windy leading to very little sleep before a 4:00 am start to hike on the snow while it was still frozen. In the morning I noticed some congestion, but just dismissed it as a cold and figured I had no choice at this point than to just keep going. That day turned out to be the longest of the whole trail with 14 hours being spent on foot slogging through the snow. I began to notice acute shortness of breath while coughing up warm fluid on the final climb of the day and I knew all hopes of summiting Whitney the next day were gone. At this point the goal became just trying to make it to the next town. However, that night I came to realize that I had to get out of there as soon as possible, but as I would discover the next day, there was no reasonable way to hike out on my own. I couldn’t walk more than 15 feet without having to stop for five minutes to catch my breath and as I would later find out my blood oxygen level was at 70%, which would kill most people. As the story goes, I got evacuated via helicopter, leaving my future wife and girlfriend of less than a week behind along with our dear friends not knowing what the next days would bring.
The events of that day played through my mind again and again as doctors repeatedly told me that I should never go above 3,000 feet in my life (the PCT only dips below 3,000 feet a handful of times) and had a close family member tell me how selfish and ungrateful I was for wanting to get back out there and finish what I started. The one glimmer of hope was in a simple comment on Facebook from my old cycling coach. It was two simple words and read, “Don’t quit.” I choked up as I read it, knowing that he intimately witnessed my struggle with suffering for almost four years and knew how badly I wanted to achieve this one thing. That comment was it for me, I had my mind made up: I was going to finish. I didn’t care what people said, I was going to finish what had started as a few YouTube videos on thru hiking while sitting in my dorm room as a freshman. And nothing was going to stop me.
I made the decision in November of 2017 to go back to school to pursue a graduate degree in urban planning. I felt unsatisfied with a business degree. There was nothing that really excited me about business and the degree itself felt too ambiguous and unspecific; I never felt like I learned how to do anything. It just seemed like an expensive license to get a job.
While on the trail I had the opportunity to really think about what I actually cared about. About what had drawn me to business in the first place and what I didn’t like about it; about what other interests and fascinations lit a fire in my soul. I knew I enjoyed being creative. Actually, I thrived on creativity, but my creativity did not always manifest in traditional ways like visual art and music, although I do very much enjoy those things. My talent has always been idea creation. A product, a service, a system, incorporating different ideas and building them into something new and innovative; I can come up with a concept for how to do something. I also have an innate desire to somehow enhance this world that we live in for the greater good; something I never felt was achievable in business where profit is the ultimate goal.
These thoughts and more led me to urban planning. Architecture and design have always been a personal interest of mine and being able to combine those topics with my business degree and minor in energy sustainability really drove me to pursue this field of study. I began looking at schools late in the fall and settled upon Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Both programs are slanted to the specific topics that I desire to pursue and both have prestige in their own right.
I began the application process for Ryerson in late November, submitting the application, letter of intent, and transcript. I reached out to a couple of my professors, one from my business program and one from my sustainability program, to ask if they would write letters of recommendation for me. They both kindly accepted and went about filling out the electronic forms provided by Ryerson. Unfortunately, they both ran into technical issues as the deadline of December 11th loomed. After working with Ryerson to find a solution, I was able to help troubleshoot the problem to enable them to submit on time. Once all of documents were in, it was just a matter of waiting until the end of February when offers of acceptance would be sent out.
In the meantime, Dalhousie’s deadline was January 31st, so I had some time to compile the necessary documents and fill out all of the forms. After submitting the application, a letter of interest, a sample of my academic writing, and ordering my transcripts, I reached out to the same professors who kindly wrote letters for me for Ryerson. Dalhousie, unlike Ryerson, gave me the option to have my referees send their letters online or via mail. With the technical challenges fresh in my mind from Ryerson’s electronic reference letter submission, I extended the offer to choose between an electronic form and paper form to my former professors.
A few days prior to the January 31st deadline, Dalhousie emailed to notify me that they had not received my transcripts or my reference letter from my sustainability professor. I had the email receipt from the clearing house that my transcripts had been mailed along with assurance from my professor that he had mailed his reference letter. I was frustrated and upset, especially since the deadline was looming. The whole point of applying to Dal in the first place was to act as a backup in the event Ryerson didn’t work out. Now, it seemed like my backup plan wasn’t even going to work out. I had done everything right; submitted the application on time, uploaded the required documents before the deadline, and asked my referees if they would write letters weeks ago. It was totally out of my hands and I felt completely helpless.
The following morning I call Dalhousie to see what my options were. They informed me that instead of the documents being mailed to the address stated on the form for the letter and on their website, which was for the Faculty of Architecture and Planning, they needed to be sent to the desk of the admissions officer for the School of Planning. After being assured that no late penalties would be assigned to me, I reordered my transcripts, an additional $18, and emailed my sustainability professor to see if he would re-mail the letter to the correct address. He agreed and promised to put it in the mail the following day.
Fast forward to a couple weeks later. I was in Canada visiting Kristin for her birthday and Valentine’s Day in February and I got an email from Dalhousie stating that my transcripts had been received. A wave of relief swept over me. I replied and asked if my reference letter had been received. It had been two weeks. Surely, two weeks was enough time for a simple letter to be mailed from Kentucky to Nova Scotia. A day later I got my answer: no, the letter from my professor had not been received. In reality I never had any proof that he had sent it in the first place, only the promise that it would be sent. So I concluded that it was highly likely that the letter had never been mailed.
My sustainability professor was always a scatter-brained kind of guy. That was part of what made him fun and enjoyable to learn from. Every class was new and exciting and you never really knew what to expect. That’s also why he was a nightmare to work with. You never really knew what he wanted on assignments; it was always a moving target. He needed a lot of reminding with anything he promised to do for you so it wasn’t out of the question for him to have simply failed to mail the letter.
With this in mind, I reached out to him via email to notify him of the situation and to express how urgent it was that this letter be mailed. A few days passed. No response. I tried to call him. No response. I followed up with another phone call the next day. No response. A whole week had passed and I never received even an acknowledgement that he had seen my email or missed my calls. I was pissed, I was livid, I felt helpless, and I felt hopeless. I put my trust in this man to help me further my education and he failed to do so.
Bewildered and desperate, I decided to reach out to one of my other professors. I texted and emailed her once I arrived at work around 7:30 am explaining the situation to her: that I was trying to apply for grad school, had been jilted by someone I trusted, and needed a letter sent ASAP. I was shocked and humbled when, only 30 minutes later, she texted me back saying that she had just got to her office and was going to fill out the form as soon as she opened her computer. I was baffled. All the stress and worry and friction with my previous referee had finally come to a close. Within a few minutes she had completed the letter and by lunch sent a picture of the envelope with the correct address and postage as she dropped it into the mailbox.
Finally, after the month’s long saga it was over and I could finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing that both of my applications for Ryerson and Dalhousie were going to be equally and fairly considered. That was always my thing. I didn’t want to not be able to be accepted into grad school because of some technicality or because not all of my documents were submitted due to either my error or someone else’s. All I wanted was to be considered on my own merit and if I didn’t get in, at least it would be because someone was just better than me. That would still be a hard pill to swallow, for sure, but an easier one than thinking of the “what if’s” and the “what could have been’s”.
And then, at around 10:30 that night I received an email from Ryerson University titled, “Ryerson Application Status Update.” Was this it? Did I get accepted? Was my dream of returning to grad school in pursuit of a career in urban planning about to truly begin? I opened it and began to read, “Dear Michael Hart, We regret to inform you that we are unable to give further consideration for your request to the Master of Planning – Urban Development – Full Time as all required documentation was not received and the program is no longer accepting applications.”
My heart sank and my stomach twisted in knots. I was dumbfounded. “Wait, what? I thought this stress and friction over my applications was finally over.” I had all of my documents in. I had seen the document submission page and it showed everything that I had submitted and when. So many emotions flooded through my mind. I pulled that web page up again and sure enough, like I remembered, everything was there. The only thing that wasn’t submitted was a document for proof of English Language Proficiency. The instructions for that drop box said that unless I went to a Canadian university or attended a university where the primary language of instruction was English, I had to provide an approved test score, demonstrating my ability of speaking and writing the language. Well, since I went to school in the United States, and I was taught (and only speak) in English, I didn’t have to submit anything. The only thing I could think of was maybe Ryerson’s system had red flagged my application since I didn’t go to a Canadian institution.
The first thing I did was call Kristin. I just felt like there was nothing I could do to just get equally and fairly considered by these schools. What had I done wrong? Was this a mistake on their end or had I made some oversight or error? I expressed all of this to Kristin between tears and bouts of anger. The whole situation seemed completely hopeless, but she lovingly listened to me none the less.
After I had gotten it all out, I knew what I had to do. I wasn’t going to come this far in the process to be thwarted by some technicality; I was going to go down swinging if I had to. It was going to be a knock down drag out until they either gave me a solid reason as to why I made a mistake or they were going to reinstate me into the consideration process.
I’m admittedly jaded and have a huge chip on my shoulder about academic institutions, well, intuitions in general, but mainly academic ones largely because of my experience at Lindsey Wilson. Everything you wanted to do when it came to changing classes, getting signatures from the dean, or anything involving graduation was a total and complete pain in the ass. It was like pulling teeth. If the servers crashed while you were trying to register for classes and the class you wanted ended up full, then you had to stand in line at the registrar’s office the next morning and explain to them that this class is only offered once a year and is a prerequisite for all of the other courses you have to take to finish your degree. There was also the time when I had earned the honor of being an Academic All Star for USA Cycling and needed the registrar’s signature on the application, but instead of just signing it, they said that the coach had to submit it to their office instead of me. Or the time when I had enough credit hours taking sustainability courses to make it a minor, but the dean wouldn’t sign off on it as an official minor because, “the department head can’t take on another program” even though a Minor in Sustainable Energy Applications would just be a scaled down version of the Bachelors of Arts in Sustainable Energy Applications which already existed. The bureaucratic bullshit oozed through the walls of that school like a chocolate bar in August. So yeah, I’m a bit jaded.
Considering my lack of faith in academic institutions to be reasonable people that truly want to help advance my education, I was ready for a fight; a respectful, cordial fight, but a fight none the less. Thoughts of all of those races where I had given up came flooding back to me. Missed opportunities and moments not capitalized. I recalled the time where I was determined to spend a semester studying abroad, but failed to go through with it because I was too damn arrogant to follow an established exchange program; I wanted to do it my way and that resulted in never following through with it. I still regret that. The only countries I’ve ever been to are still just the US, Canada, and the Dominican Republic; never outside of North America. I was always more interested in engineering or architecture than business, but I never pursued them because the math was too hard. Still regret letting that hold me back. Hiking the PCT felt like a new start for me; a chance to take my dreams and execute them, follow through with them, and make them happen. To leave nothing on the table. I wasn’t about to let this dream die like the rest.
My plan was to call Ryerson in the morning explaining to them the email I had received and why I thought their system may have red flagged me. The gentleman I spoke with forwarded me to the admissions officer who was assigned to my account. I re-explained the situation to her and she was very kind and understanding, much to my surprise. After hearing me out, she notified me that even though I did not need to submit an English proficiency test score, I still had to submit a statement saying that I had indeed been instructed primarily in English through my undergraduate degree.
My heart sank. I had completely misunderstood the fine print. All of my hopes were dashed based on misreading instructions. I did the only thing left in my power to stay in the running and asked if I could still submit it, despite being now three months late. She briefly put me on hold to consult with a colleague, got back on the line with me and said that they could absolve me of that document and send it on to the committee. In fact, the committee wouldn’t even know that it hadn’t been submitted. She also added that if I had called them a day or two later, it likely would have been too late. Despair to elation. Mind you, this whole scene occurred within the first couple hours of my work day, so my emotions were on display for everyone to witness. To finally know that I would finally, after this, after all of this, have the opportunity to be equally and fairly considered was a massive weight lifted from me. Receiving an offer of acceptance is another matter, one of which I am still waiting for the results as I write, but one that will have to wait for another day.
I never imagined this process would end up being this strenuous and even more so, I never would have thought that the personnel I worked with to resolve these issues would have been so kind and helpful; so vastly different from any of my experiences at Lindsey. My manager at work experienced with me those 24 hours between desperately trying to find another professor to write a letter of reference and trying to get Ryerson to give me a second chance. She saw the ups and downs, the despair and the elation, and constantly reminded me that everything would work out.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about that mindset. Sure, everything may indeed work out, but if you sit idle and let the pieces fall as they may, opportunities will be passed up and chances will be missed. At the same time, letting stress and worry fester and defeat you without prompting any action won’t get you anywhere either.
Of all the many lessons I learned while on the trail, of the biggest was how to use uncertainty, stress, worry, and general friction to determine where I needed to invest in taking action. The worry about my condition in the days after we left Lone Pine led me to make the hard decision to hit the SOS button to call for help. Had I not done so, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be writing this now. My worries about the snow conditions in the Sierras led to mine and Kristin’s decision to skip up to Lake Tahoe due to the inherent risks and our relative lack of experience. I could go on.
The thing is, simply choosing not to worry may relieve the immediate pain, but the ultimate goal may be left unfulfilled when action could have been taken. It’s not that you want to worry and stress yourself out, it’s just that you care. I care. I deeply care about my future; my passions, my opportunities, my future. Leaving something that you deeply care about up to fate will get you nowhere. Sure, there’s a small chance that everything may fall neatly into its place, but more likely than not, it won’t.
Now, I am not trying to suggest that if you always take action you will get what you want. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I didn’t want to skip the Sierras. In fact, it still chews me up inside that we did skip them. I wish so badly that we could have completed that section like so many others, but that was the hard decision we had to make and one I know deep down inside was the correct one. I very well could have never found another professor on short notice to write me a letter of recommendation for Dalhousie, let alone have Dal be gracious enough to give me over a month to sort out my troubles and submit all of the required documents. It’s very possible that Ryerson could have just said, “No, you didn’t submit your materials correctly,” and that would be that. No admission. No fair and equal consideration. So I certainly benefitted from a heavy dose of luck.
What does one do when worry, stress, friction, and excess heat enter a situation? You harness that otherwise wasted energy and turn it into power. You harvest that dissonance and deploy it in the form of action, just like the Mercedes-Benz PU106A. You see, that motor takes losses due to friction in the form of thermal waste and diverts it into power-producing energy. In the same way, I took my stress and worry and pain and instead of letting it defeat me like it had so many times before, I used it as fuel to keep going; to stretch it out just that much further. It doesn’t mean that you’ll always win. The PU106A still failed to win 16 of the 79 races it competed in and most of that was due to so many other external factors: the aerodynamics of the other cars may have been more efficient, a better strategy by another team, better drivers, luck. There’s an infinite amount of possibilities. The same was true for me. The cards could have fallen in so many different ways, but I let my own stress and worry and friction lead to my own personal increase in efficiency. And that led to an increase in the probability that I would be equally and fairly considered alongside all of the other applicants.
Now, I am still stressed out about getting into grad school and beginning this next chapter of my life in the way that I want, but for now, I will take this small victory and learn from this experience to continue to use my personal wasted thermal energy and convert it into power.