A Friendly Gravel Public Health Announcement

You’ve already been told to wear your damn mask. You’ve been begged to wash your hands often and for 20 seconds a crack. Been implored to avoid crowds and keep six feet from folks outside your household. By now, you’re either doing all this stuff, or you’ve steeled yourself so far into asshole mode that there’s nothing I can say to move you.

Why choose between liberty and death when you can have both? (Photo, Karen Ducey)

But as COVID-19 cases surge across all of gravel country—from Bentonville’s Big Sugar clear to Rebecca’s Private Idaho—there is something extra that cyclists can do to help our hospitals. It’s something easy. But I have yet to hear anyone offer it up as an effective public health strategy. Here it is:

You can slow your damn roll.

Right now, hospitals like Lincoln’s Bryan Health and CHI Saint Elizabeth are bracing for the unsavory likelihood that they’ll need to ration their care. “Rationed care” might sound kinda nice. It’s both rational and caring, and who doesn’t like that? But rationed care means making strategic decisions about whom to let die among the people a hospital would normally help. And that’s nasty. It’s nasty for our medical community and nasty for our elders.

The last thing a hospital needs right now is the extra work of putting some smug, KOM-hunting cyclist’s busted shoulder back together.

I’m sure he imagined this unfolding differently. (Photo, mainesport.com)

I don’t say this with any holier-than-thou attitude. In fact, I only came to this conclusion while bombing 38 mph (with help from an unholy tailwind) along a choppy road. A 40-yard stretch of freshly laid white rock snuck up on me, and I had maybe one Mississippi to spot and hold a four-inch rut through the stony stew. I weighted my pedals, loosened my hands and trusted that the good Lord would decide I’ve been living right.

Speed on gravel has its risks. Alison Tetrick had skin in the game at the 2019 Belgian Waffle Ride. (Photo, Wil Matthews)

I did keep my rubber down, and got a heavy dose of the racer’s thrill. It was a little scary, and a lot fun. But the question “What new flavor of stupid are you?” came to mind, and it hasn’t left. My speedy risk won me nothing beyond that quick thrill. (I didn’t even snag the KOM.) But had I eaten it on that road south of Roca, Neb., it’s a near certainty that I would’ve needed care from a bunch of Lincoln nurses and doctors with better things to do right now.

So I’m mellowing out until Lincoln’s numbers drop. I hope maybe you’ll do the same for the health care workers who serve your community.

Now, don’t over-inflate this. I’m not calling for some kind of cycling shutdown. It’s good for us to keep riding this winter. I know I’d go nut-balls if I didn’t. But it’s no big sacrifice for us to ease up a little on the gnarly stuff. Or to be extra cautious on our commutes—especially once the ice arrives.

Easy does it this winter. (Photo, Standard-Examiner)

This modest mellowing—this temporary truce with the gravel gods—won’t cost us a thing. But it could save Bryan a bed, some gowns and gloves, a bag of blood and hours of time, effort and energy they can’t exactly spare.

The only ultra-endurance effort that matters right now is happening among the caregivers in our hospitals. Godspeed to them (not us).


6 thoughts on “A Friendly Gravel Public Health Announcement

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