THE BIKE BEAT
By Adam Searing
For many of us, it’s been a very hard year. Now it’s December, we all are ready to move on, and we still are facing a tough few months.
In this community especially, we have many who serve on the front line at UNC Hospitals and other clinics. The news of an effective vaccine, likely first helping those healthcare workers caring for at-risk patients and our vulnerable elderly, is news that brings enormous relief despite the months it will take to get to everyone. It gives us hope and a renewed commitment to do everything else we can to stop the spread of this disease since we will soon have a way to protect against it.
Our nearly a year experience with this virus also has given us an idea of how to change some aspects of our lives to continue enjoyable activities but with a larger measure of safety. And that brings me to bicycling.
Bicycling has several advantages in this regard during the pandemic. Outdoor activity? Check. Easy to maintain distance from others? Check. Can use a mask when necessary? Check. Possible to be out in the woods away from crowds? Check.
I’ve been riding mountain bikes throughout this pandemic and not only the exercise and leafy surroundings but the great (small) group of guys I ride with has made a huge difference to me. And I know many others who feel the same way. Keeping connections even at a distance makes dealing with the challenges we all face a little easier.
That’s why I was so excited a couple of weeks ago for our first socially-distanced preseason bike ride with the Phillips Falcons middle school mountain bike team I coach with my friend and fellow parent Damian Hriciga.
We were in the middle of our first season almost a year ago when the pandemic struck. This virus has taken much from many in our community, and the ending of a kids’ mountain bike season was a relatively small part of what has been unimaginable loss and stress for so many. Still, the loss of our season hurt. I had never coached and taught kids other than my own and getting a sense of just a small part of the job our coaches and teachers do every day was humbling and rewarding.
Having a new season under our current conditions has meant huge changes, though. Coming together to race or for race weekends is obviously cancelled. Masks when not moving and social distancing at all times are part of the expectation. Riding only in much smaller groups that have and keep the same members and not having any larger group meetings are now standard procedure.
We want to provide an outlet for kids to ride and get some distanced coaching — all outside and as safe as possible. Our state mountain bike league (northcarolinamtb.org) has detailed COVID safety protocols that must be followed and recommendations for safe practices.
Another friend and one of our state league leaders, Shawn Moore, expressed our effort well when he pointed out kids are isolated and really need things to do. Of the range of activities available, riding outside in a safe way can help meet the need for exercise and connection while minimizing our risks.
Nothing is perfect, but we have all learned over the last year to live with a certain amount of stress and uncertainty. I was so pleased when on our first ride not only did most of our former team show up, but we attracted several new riders too — and only by word of mouth. Unsurprisingly, there were many kids who wanted to get out in the woods.
Riding with some students in tow down a well-known trail in Carolina North was exhilarating. It wasn’t the blur of the trees and the nearly constant decisions one has to make to keep a mountain bike upright and moving at speed over a rough trail. Rather, I felt a small part of our world was returning a little bit to something we had before.
I know we’ve got a long way to go. But riding has always given me hope. And getting out, even in such a limited way, with our Phillips Falcons has given me even more hope. Over the next few months I have confidence we can work together to start to recover. And I know that riding bicycles will be a part of that recovery.
Hope to see you on the trails!
Adam Searing is a lifetime resident of Chapel Hill, a mountain bike coach and attorney. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.