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 by: Bill Oetinger  4/1/2020

Cycling Through a Pandemic

I had another column already written a few weeks ago for this April slot. I got the idea for the piece on a ride I did early in March and banged out the copy right away, while the inspiration was still fresh. 

Well…as they say: that was then; this is now. Now is the new reality of the Covid-19 pandemic. (That other column will have to wait. It’s not time-sensitive so maybe I can use it in May or June. I certainly won’t be writing my traditional observations about the spring racing season.)

CoronavirusThis is not gong to be any sort of exhaustive look at the pandemic. That has been as well covered as any news story in memory and will continue to be the topic du jour for months and years to come. Personally, I’ve already reached information-saturation level and only check the news as needed to keep abreast of anything I feel is critical to know going forward. So why am I even discussing it? All I can say in my defense is that to publish a column right now about anything else would imply an absurd level of pollyanna cluelessness…of being in denial. And that I am definitely not.

All I really want to say today is this: keep riding. Or at least keep riding until they tell us we have to stop. So far, they’re not doing that. So far, we are still being allowed to ride and in many cases encouraged to do so…to get out there and get some exercise, for our physical and mental well-being.

Of course all our group rides and big events are cancelled. Our local club has had to cancel the Wine Country Century, scheduled for the first week of May. That will be a tough blow for the club. That ride is our cash cow, the one money-maker that pays for everything else we do, including sending some of the proceeds onward to the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, the big, effective advocacy group in this area. Small change in the larger picture, to be sure, but painful for those it touches.

The one-week tour I helped plan for late May is almost certainly a goner. I haven’t quite given up hope for the tour I worked so hard to organize for mid-August. Losing the tours will be a pain but not a catastrophe. If we get past this and life returns to something approximating normal, we can reschedule them for the summer of 2021. 

I had my 27th Annual Apple Cider Century on the club ride calendar for March 21. That too was cancelled. However, several of us rode it anyway. I did it solo and I believe most of the others did as well. (I asked around afterward and a few people said they’d done it.) It was a lovely day…as beautiful as one would expect the world to be on the first day of Spring. (In spite of the hot mess we little humans have gotten ourselves into, the rest of the natural world seems to be ticking along just fine. The flora are blooming, or, past their blooms, are leafing out. The fauna are here, there, and everywhere, deer and fox, squirrels and hawks. All that spectacular and robust fecundity makes a poignant and maybe bittersweet backdrop for our current travail.)

I wrote one of these columns a while back called Good For What Ails Ya. It’s about how cycling promotes good health. Part of it was just the usual feel-good generalities that are my stock-in-trade, but there was some solid science in there as well. Now I’ve come across another article with plenty of medical and scientific substance to support the premise that cycling is a good thing to be doing anytime but especially now, in the midst of this crisis. Among other factoids, it cites the same study I made reference to in my column, but it adds a lot more, in particular about how cycling can strengthen your immune system. I’m not a doctor and I won’t pretend to be one here by getting into the details in this space. The article does a good job with that. The main piece is quite short but there are links in there for more in-depth investigation, if you’re interested.

The point is simple though: as we are knocked sideways and turned inside out by this pandemic and all of its impacts, never lose track of the fact that cycling is one positive thing you can still be doing. Not only is it a balm to a troubled mind in a time of trouble and a nice relief from cabin fever, but it just might boost your resistence to the virus by keeping your fitness and immune system in tip top shape. And if you ride solo—which I do most of the time anyway—you will still be practicing social distancing.

My plan for the moment is to keep my rides short enough that I can do them on the two bottles of water I fill up at home. The idea is to avoid having to refill your bottles at public fountains or faucets midway through the ride…spots where community contamination is a possibility. Conventional wisdom—under ideal conditions—would say that should be about 15 miles per bottle. But with a bit of a thirsty regimen, I can stretch it to about twice that, or around 60 miles. The old adage of “hydrate or die” might apply for longer, harder rides, but for a 60-mile ride at a moderate tempo on a not-too-hot day, I am willing to bend the old standard. If you want more water for more miles, throw on you CamelBak. 

We’re living day to day now, riding the wave. So much changes so quickly, by the time you read this, who knows where we will be on the bell curve of disaster? I’m aiming at a moving target with this piece. I hope it’s still relevant tomorrow or next week or next month. I hope my encouraging words to keep cycling are still viable just up the road a ways. Stay safe. Stay calm. Don’t test positive…stay positive.

Bill can be reached at srccride@sonic.net

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