After sixty days of mandatory home confinement, that first ride outside felt better than any victory cake could taste. I had my bike and outfit prepared several weeks in advance. My brain and body had been desperately craving forest time. Like several other European governments, the prime minister of Italy chose to address our increasingly cramped hospitals by the same draconian — and regarding the exercise elements, arguably unnecessary — measures that seemed to be working in China. Between March 9th to May 4th we were only allowed to leave our homes to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, or doctor, and those excursions required signed and dated documents stating that we understood the government’s decree.
Other European nations, Germany for example, considered the mental and physical health of folks living within their borders, allowing people to safely solo-exercise throughout the ongoing pandemic. In France, Parisians are currently permitted to run in the streets after 7 pm, giving more vulnerable individuals a chance to go to the store earlier in the day. Their political leaders seem to understand that forcing people indoors, away from any form of interaction or reprieve from the sadness and uncertainty caused by the virus, is already asking a lot of folks. Many of us living under complete confinement orders were envious. As a recent immigrant to Italy, I found myself wishing that I had gone to visit friends in another country before lockdown.
During the long stay inside a couple of my friends repainted their apartments, others baked things, everyone polished and tuned their bike, my neighbors walked their newborn baby in the parking garage, and without exception, we all tried to exercise daily in whatever ways we could find to clear our heads and avoid gaining beer fat. I sweated all over the rollers, wheelied clumsily across the back yard, and lifted whatever heavy objects I could find to maintain strength. We made it through phase-one, and hopefully, we will now get to stay on either side of our front doors.
Citizens and immigrants alike are now allowed to ride or run from our front door for as long as we like, provided we remain with our respective region. Most other restrictions of the quarantine remain in place, and the trails and river paths are peppered with mask-clad people, documents in hand, happily high on endorphins. I live in Piedmonte, where there are more singletracks than I could likely ride in a calendar year, and I’m looking forward to adventuring out to distant trail networks on the weekends to ride and potentially camp out if the law allows. There are over 100 kilometers of singletrack in town, but the prospect of a full day or two out in the Alps is enticing. With three large trail webs that I know of and more to discover, all situated roughly an hour road ride away, this summer will be a good one — even if we can’t party with friends.
The coronavirus quarantine represents the longest period of time I’ve spent indoors, which is likely true for most people. It was by far my longest break from enjoying the magical feeling of balancing on two wheels with fresh air flowing over my skin. I hope it remains my longest break. Even with a broken shoulder, I was able to ride on the road in less time.
One of the things I learned over this forced pause is that I’m not ashamed of how I built my life around cycling, and there’s no reason I nor anyone else should be. More than 90% of my friends are cyclists in some capacity, I have worked on and with bikes for most of my career despite having an unrelated degree, I met my beautiful partner on a winter training ride while pulling my daughter in a Burly trailer, and every vacation I take includes knobby tires and singletrack. In the past, I’ve occasionally felt silly about this consuming infatuation, but I don’t anymore. Instead, I feel deeply fortunate. Not everyone finds something in life that they genuinely love to do, to learn about, to challenge themselves with, to cleanse their mind, to compete in, to improve, to identify with, and to long for. Our sport also offers a more sustainable way to get around, and a motivating means of physical fitness. Cycling has given me all of those elements and more. I’m grateful.
I passed some of the lockdown hours thinking about what it means to be a mountain biker in 2020, during a historical flashpoint that will change cultures and politics in unforetold ways. From what we can see today it means being thankful for local trails and continuing to take care of them.
It means riding safely and being more considerate of other trail users while bringing more supplies than I need on rides in case someone is caught out.
It means focusing on the ways mountain biking, and the rest of my life can be less of a burden on the natural environment, because I am part of it and it’s a part of me, and because I don’t want global warming to steam forward and cause the next series of devastating events.
It means recognizing that a lot of folks are out of work, and if there’s any way I can help them out, I should. (I could start by doling out the massive pile of tires in my basement.)
It means loads of things to be a conscious human today, and at the heart of them all, it means leading every decision with kindness and curiosity, instead of fear. This scary time I’m experiencing is inconceivably more frightening for a lot of other people, and it’s important not to let fear determine anything.
My current aim is to ride seven days a week until we are forced inside again, or until someone whips up an effective vaccine, allowing us to ride with friends once more. For now, I’m going to stop typing and take a few days off from work to get caught up on saddle time in the woods. Well, right after I strap on a mask and go stand in line outside the grocery store. Shred safe y’all!