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David L. Stanley
The Roads are Empty;
I’ve never been more scared to ride

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David L StanleyDavid Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes. And there is his masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer, "Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle".

 


It’s late April in Michigan. The winds are dying down. The rain has slowed, spring peepers are heard, and with temps in the 50s, I don’t look like the Michelin Man when I’m out for a ride. Except, I have not yet taken to the roads. I am riding, but to date, every last kilometer has been in the basement, on the trainer, as a 1990s era stereo pounds out playlists whilst I watch every Paris-Roubaix since 1984.

Why the trainer? I’m scared.

Every cyclist accepts the risk that, with every ride we take, we might be a victim. Careless drivers. Absent-minded drivers. Brain-dead drivers. Drunken or drugged drivers. Downright angry and vindictive motorists who use cyclists as targets. We’ve all been there. With home quarantine restrictions, self-isolation, restrictions on retail; our Michigan roads are empty. I know because I looked.

I live on the outer edge of the Flint suburbs. I ride for 5 miles and I am in the middle of farmlands. I ride one mile further, and I go past Koan’s Orchard, home to some of the finest hard cider I’ve ever had—JK Scrumpy’s. They just re-opened for the season, so I took a little drive to fill my growler. I saw maybe 6 or 7 vehicles on the ten minute drive. Here’s the scary part.

Two of the cars were driving down the middle of the road, the owners clearly engrossed in their phones. Another truck, for at least the ½ mile I followed, was quite literally driving down the wrong side of the road. I don’t know why he felt he was in the UK, but as he approached the ditch, he caught on and yanked the steering wheel hard over so he was back on the proper side. Admittedly a small sample, but 50% of the vehicles I encountered couldn’t be bothered to pay a damn bit of attention to the basics of driving.

“I’m the only car out here. La-di da-di, I ain’t bother nobody.”

The terror, part I: With no traffic to enforce the body politic of accepted driving behavior, it seems that the social contract has crashed and burned. As cyclists, we know we are non-entities to drivers; mere gnats buzzing around the grills of motor vehicles. As cyclists, we are dependent, sadly, upon the presence of motor vehicles to enforce a modicum of common sense.

With Covid-19 driving us to barricade ourselves, that common sense has vanished: All our rides with be lost in time, like tears in rain.

The terror, part II? Hospitals are truly scary places these days. In the best of times, hospitals are excellent places to pick up infections like Clostridium difficile, urinary tract, and surgical site infections. You get swacked by car, the odds are good that you’ll have open wounds, a catheter, and surgery to put the pieces of you back together. Not fun, but manageable.

SARS-CoV-2, the novel corona virus, is not manageable. Hospitals offer supportive treatment, but despite White House intimations to the contrary, there are no consistently successful protocols to treat Covid-19. Your immune system fights it off, and you live. Or it doesn’t and you die.

When I look at the risks, they cannot be justified. Instead, I open the basement hopper windows for fresh air, crank up the music and once more watch Sean Kelly and Gibus and Museeuw and Boonen and Phil pound through the Trouee d’Arenberg on their way to the massive, old velodrome in Roubaix. Best, on the 1986 CBS coverage you always hear this exchange between a mud-covered and battered Theo de Rooy and John Tesh:

“It's bullshit, this race!” said de Rooy. “You're working like an animal,
you don't have time to piss, you wet your pants. You're riding in mud like this, you're slipping, crashing ... it’s a pile of shit.
“Would you do it again?” asked Tesh gently.
“Sure, it's the most beautiful race in the world!”


David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.

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