Story by Dean Chasnoff
If conditions are dry, it’s hours before dawn and the temperature is one degree above freezing, chances are LaSalle author Matthew St. Amand is outside riding his bicycle. Since May 2020, Matthew has cycled more than 50,000 kilometers around Essex County. He has written a book about the experience titled The Kilominator: Cycling Through a Global Pandemic In Search of Sanity & Stability, available at Amazon.ca, Juniper Books and Storytellers Bookstore.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the lockdowns began,” Matthew remembers, “I realized I could choose which ‘95’ I wanted to be. I could eat and drink and laze my way to 395 pounds or get on my bike and pedal toward 195 pounds.”
He chose the latter.
Up until that time, Matthew struggled with his weight most of his adult life.
“I don’t know how I didn’t just explode beyond three hundred pounds,” he says. “It wasn’t from a lack of trying.”
A technical writer by trade, Matthew’s work life involved countless sedentary hours stationed in cubicles.
“I’d come home exhausted after a day of sitting,” he recalls. “I made many attempts to improve my fitness, but nothing lasted. I’d get motivated for a few days, but then I’d go back to my bad habits.”
It was during a spell of freelancing that Matthew took his first bike ride as an adult. After shoveling snow one winter’s day in 2005, he was putting his shovel away when he beheld a sight in his garage.
“My father-in-law passed away two years before and we had his mountain bike,” Matthew remembers. “I don’t know what possessed me, but I took it out and coasted to the bottom of the driveway.”
When he came to the road, Matthew didn’t stop. He writes:
“I placed my boots on the pedals and pedaled the bicycle. The motion was transforming. Simple as picking out ‘Chopsticks’ on a piano or doodling a smiley face. Thrilling as jumping through a ring of fire on water-skis.”
After half a year of regular cycling, Matthew landed another office job and all efforts toward self-improvement ceased.
Fast forward fourteen years, to the heart of the first pandemic lockdown: Matthew was on his sky-blue mountain bike, riding his first “metric century”: 100 kilometers.
“It was an incremental process getting to the metric century,” he explains. “I finally found exercise that I enjoyed, and so I pushed my limits on each ride.”
In the book, Matthew writes that his immediate goal wasn’t even fitness. Cycling exhausted that part of him that fueled his anxiety about the pandemic. After an extended bike ride, there was no energy left for his distress.
Over the years, he had clawed himself down to an uncomfortable 236 pounds by the time he took up cycling regularly in 2019. It was in 2020 that he began recording his cycling data with an app: distance, time, calories burned.
“I became obsessed with the numbers,” he concedes. “If I was at nineteen kilometers at the end of a ride, I would round the block until the total rolled to twenty.”
By his forty-ninth birthday in July 2020, he weighed 195 pounds.
He is quick to say that The Kilominator is not an instruction manual on cycling.
“All I know with certainty is that I enjoy it,” he says. “I was cycling more than a year before I understood the benefit of proper tire inflation.” Then he adds: “Always wear your helmet!”
The descriptions of Matthew’s rides across Essex County—more than once, he embarked on 200 km rides—he shares the stream-of-consciousness thoughts and memories that come to him as he pedals. He also takes time to describe the painful, overweight years when reaching his goal of 200 pounds seemed impossible to achieve.
Matthew writes: “The only way to talk about riding, cycling, and kilominating is to talk about the times when it wasn’t happening. Motion is meaningless without stasis.”
The town of Emeryville is a frequent destination for Matthew’s long rides. The Puce/Emeryville region holds great personal meaning to him, which he also includes in the book.
“My childhood friend, J.T. Hurley, lived in Puce,” Matthew says. “He passed away at the age of nine in 1979. I have great memories of playing with him on his beach on Lake St. Clair. I ride by the property where his house once stood each time I’m in the area.”
The pensive memories are counter-balanced with plenty of humour.
The book, itself, is quite a ride, and readers don’t have to be into cycling to enjoy it. Anyone interested in Essex County history will find this book worth reading.
“History abounds when kilominating,” Matthew writes in a section about his grandfather, Arthur St. Amand, who worked on the construction of the Ambassador Bridge in the late 1920s. Matthew also includes an intriguing story about his grandmother reading tea leaves. His maternal grandfather, “Grandpa Ted” makes frequent appearances with his storied life in Ireland and in Canada.
More information about Matthew and The Kilominator can be found at www.kilominator.com. He is also the author of the law enforcement book Gas of Tank: A Canadian Law Enforcement Odyssey 1979 – 2019, www.gasoftank.com. Both books are available at Amazon.ca, Juniper Books and Storytellers Bookstore on Ottawa Street.