Scott Mercier: Using two wheels to cope with the uncertainty of COVID-19
Special to The Aspen Times
These are trying and uncertain times. The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on people’s health and wealth. They say that misery loves company, and while that may be true, to help slow the virus’ spread we are all being asked to gut this out alone.
As an extrovert, like many of you, I crave social interaction and isolation from work and friends is mentally challenging. Judging by the lines at the liquor stores and dispensaries, people are seeking an escape. For me, that escape will involve riding a bike.
To add insult to injury, the high country is firmly in the grip of old man winter, and most of our local trails are either closed or too muddy and packed with snow to ride, while the desert trails of Western Colorado and Moab are probably in perfect riding condition. But out of respect to our fellow citizens, we really shouldn’t be jumping in our cars and heading west. We need to stay put.
If you’re going to ride, it’s important to ride alone, or at most with one or two additional riders. The reasons are twofold: First, we’ve been asked to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between other people so as to minimize and reduce community spread of the virus. At high levels of exertion, when your heart is pumping and your lungs are gasping for air, you tend to cough, blow snot and spit. One contaminated rider in a peloton could infect the entire group.
Secondly, however, is that riding in a large group exponentially adds to the risk of an accident. I’ve never had a solo accident, but I’ve hit the deck many times in a peloton. We don’t want to create an issue where we potentially add more stress to the medical system by riding in a group and having an accident.
If you do ride, approach it as if you were heading into the backcountry; meaning, be prepared and don’t take unnecessary risks. Don’t bomb down descents like you normally would; back it off a bit. Many of the roads seem to have been swept, but there is still a fair amount of pea gravel which can easily cause a crash in a corner.
You also need to be aware of wildlife; a deer jumping in front of you will send you straight over the handlebars. When the trails dry out, don’t push your limits and ride well within your abilities. Have spare clothes for sudden changes in weather, a phone, and extra tubes for flats. France, Italy and Spain have already completely banned cycling. Group rides and willful ignorance by the cycling community will almost certainly lead to similar measures here.
Most of the roads in the midvalley are dry and have minimal traffic. Missouri Heights, in particular, offers a smorgasbord of small and medium length loops. You can get great loops of as short as an hour to as long as three hours. Cattle Creek Road is a perfect early-season ride with a steady, but not too steep, climb. The Rio Grande Trail is another great option. Some portions of the trail are still closed for animal migration and habitat, but much of the trail is open, clear of snow and in good riding condition.
These days I prefer riding trails on my mountain bike, but for decades the road bike had been my refuge, and I find myself turning to it now more than ever. I cannot overstate the value, both for mental and physical well-being, of riding a bike. The sun and wind on my face, and the steady rhythm of thousands of pedal strokes during a ride bring a sense of normalcy to an uncertain and chaotic world.
The community, and the world as a whole, is in for a tough time that may get tougher still. But going for a ride is a small reminder of how fortunate we are to live in this special little community. Be patient, give each other space and remember that we’re all in this together. Smile and wave if you see another rider or a family out walking their dog. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I’m pretty sure the sun will rise in the east.
Good riding and be smart!
Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services Cycling teams. He currently works in Aspen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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