Different Spokes Chiang Mai Report, part 2

Roy (right) in Prachuap Khiri Khan with other stranded cyclists

Here is more on Roy Shachter’s life in Thailand with the latest chapter, his forced shelter-in-place in Prachuap Khiri Khan in the south of that country.

My life in Thailand continues to be good. Last year I traveled a total of eight weeks to Bali in Indonesia, and to Malaysia and Taiwan. This year, I had hoped to do more international and domestic travel – possibly to Laos, Burma or Vietnam and maybe to California in the Fall, if things dramatically improve in the U.S. and elsewhere. But I am now seeing that travel this year, even if things ease up substantially, could still be higher risk than best for me. Unfortunately I am clearly in the demographic of being at higher risks of severe complications due to age and underlying health conditions should I become infected. With that in mind I am taking many of the recommended precautions without 100% isolating myself. Since I am staying in a hotel for a couple of months, I buy prepared food to eat in my room and I try to handle that with care. However I don’t try to disinfect everything I bring home, which would be quite tedious. Without a kitchen or sufficient counter or storage space such precautions while not impossible are particularly difficult.

Fortunately so far no infections have been reported in this town where I am staying temporarily unlike the situation in Chiang Mai, where I have a rented townhouse. In Chiang Mai the number of infections is still relatively low and the last few days no additional cases have been reported. So far I’ve been able to adjust to changes without experiencing hardship but rather only inconveniences.

My biggest challenge are the limits to social connections. My choice to live in Thailand included many factors, one being the relative ease in meeting people and the friendliness of Thai people. Now I rarely try to engage persons I don’t know, even with my mask on. I don’t know who feels comfortable having me near them particularly since foreigners have been vilified here in the media as bringing the virus here and not taking sufficient precautions to prevent infection. As an example, many foreigners including myself rejected using face masks based on recommendations by international health experts while Thais more widely adapted to using masks albeit hardly universally. Now that some of our home countries have reversed course on this, attitudes are changing. Additionally in many areas here it is mandatory when out in public. I have a few N95 masks I purchased last year for protection from the bad air quality in Chiang Mai – and now temporarily staying at the coast where the air is far better, I don’t need this level of protection. So I use a cloth-sponge material mask, with a very small amount of essential oils to make it less unpleasant. I will save my N95 masks for my return to Chiang Mai, for safer travel or in case I am forced to leave here before the air quality improves in Chiang Mai.

I felt a great sadness yesterday as I was cycling around that my opportunities to meet and chat with Thai people has been greatly restricted. Social distancing obviously greatly decreases face to face social interaction, something I had planned to enjoy frequently during my two months away from my home in Chiang Mai. Usually I am often fine to be mostly alone for two or three days. But now for weeks at a time it is much more difficult. If anything this helps to better understand the severity of punishing people with solitary confinement. My situation is immensely better than that with many freedoms still. Being confined alone for 23+ hours/day must be extremely psychologically damaging to most persons. But as so many of us are experiencing I do have times of loneliness. So far though this has not been a big problem. I keep in touch with my expat friends in Chiang Mai, mostly American and Brits via the Line app on my phone, which is the preferred messenger app here used by nearly everyone. They are all hunkered down in their apartments in Chiang Mai except for forays out for food, etc, and a few still get together occasionally trying to adhere to recommended precautions. I also keep in touch with friends and family in the USA, Spain, Australia and Latin America via Facebook Messenger and email and chat with some Thai friends using messaging apps – usually in English, mixed with Thai language. I have also enjoyed a couple of video calls and will try to do more of these.

One other interesting note about Thai culture: theft and street crime is rare here. It does exist but compared to the several cities where I have lived in the U.S. and Latin America, or traveled to elsewhere, it feels incredibly safe here. As an example, in Chiang Mai bicycles are usually locked with a cable lock, some pencil thin. Even the thicker cables would be cut in a flash back in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere but not here. Additionally people routinely use the lock only through their wheels, without securing the bike to a stationary object – contrary to essential theft prevention practices elsewhere – even for higher cost bikes. I am still amazed. I have inadvertently left my bike unlocked for hours at a time in an apartment house bike parking area and elsewhere, without problems. In the U.S. I would be shocked at my carelessness as I would be lucky to still find my bicycle untouched. Here though I shrug my shoulders and remind myself I should try to be a little more careful. Also I leave all my bike accessories on my bike when I lock it up to go inside somewhere – helmet, three bike lights, and a pannier. I long ago learned the hard (and expensive) way not to leave those things out back home – but here no matter, no thefts.

Having become quite accustomed to this, on this trip I stayed for a few days in Hua Hin, rented a bike and hung my helmet, which I had brought from Chiang Mai, on the handlebars without looping the cable through the helmet straps as I do in the U.S. Lo and behold, after being in a café a couple of hours, my helmet, along with the expensive helmet mirror, had been stolen. I was aghast – I had thought that doesn’t happen here in Thailand – although I wouldn’t make that assumption in Bangkok. I felt anger, more a great disappointment and a loss of innocence. No longer would I be able to let down my guard and assume theft is nearly non-existent. So now I do lock the helmet, but I still leave the other accessories in place. Anyway here in Prachuap I think it is a lot safer than in Hua Hin, which raises another potentially troubling issue: the shutdowns and lock-downs have caused an enormous amount of unemployment and loss of income especially for people with their own small businesses including the tens of thousands of food stalls and food carts. There is a rising concern that this could result in more crime – due to desperation, with the economic margin of safety and government assistance inadequate to meet many people’s needs. I think I’ll need to be more careful now, and also try to be more generous when I can help someone in an appropriate way.

Different Spokes Chiang Mai Report!

Longtime Spoker Roy Schachter (now former member) retired and moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand at the end of 2018 mentioned here. Roy sends us a report on life in Thailand during the coronavirus epidemic. Here is the first part.

I chose to come to Prachuap Khiri Khan for about a two-month stay due to the terrible air quality for 3-4 months each year in my chosen retirement location of Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. In fact last year was worse than many prior years and this year is turning out to me even worse than that in part due to large forest fires close to the city. Last year I had hoped to be able to stay in Chiang Mai throughout the year. But after getting sick for a couple of weeks and having continued albeit less severe symptoms for much longer, I decided to take a five-week trip, leaving on March 29 to Bali with an extended stop in Malaysia on my return, getting back to Chiang Mai on May 2, 2019. This year I left on March 5 intending to return about end of April, until I began a long-planned, one month trip back to California for June. Alas, I almost surely will not be traveling back to the U.S. anytime soon because if I left Thailand now, I could not get back in. That might change by early July when I would have been returning, but who knows? Even if I could travel, I could be subject to self-quarantine at either end of that journey. And if things are still out of whack, I am probably better off staying in Thailand for the time being as this is home to me – and more practical and economical and probably also more enjoyable. Additionally, any kind of travel via plane, bus or train, with hotel or AirBnB lodging would carry far higher risks this year, particularly for me since I am in the higher risk groups of age and underlying health conditions. I know I should limit my travel this year, although I might still go to California in fall 2020 if things improve significantly.

My situation here in Thailand is still rather quite good despite the many changing and increasing restrictions. I am not experiencing the severe hardships faced by so many and I am still able to get out on my bicycle a couple of hours each day. I try to keep up with local and international news and I know many people are experiencing hardships during this time, with unemployment or loved ones sick or even dying or the imposed restrictions being very problematic. I feel for all who are suffering, all around the world – the income interruption alone will be an extremely difficult challenge for so many who just get by and have few resources for an extended economic shutdown. For me, even with the dramatic drops in the financial markets, and my investments, fortunately I am still reasonable financially secure and stable. So, with the pandemic and its health challenges to each of us and our families and friends and others in our communities and also the stark economic difficulties faced by many, I am one of the luckier persons. As a contrast, a friend in Spain is facing the loss of loved ones, and his life is a daily challenge to maintain hope for a better tomorrow.

It feels like I am living in a parallel universe. The health crisis seems to be nonexistent here in Prachuap Khiri Khan, even though it most certainly is affecting the country and in many key areas, many things have been closed. The most beautiful and peaceful beach is at the edge of town and within a Royal Thai Air Force base, which is open to the public after taking a minute to sign in and get a temperature check (which has given incorrect readings of about 34.5 C for me on two consecutive days, a full two degrees below what my own digital thermometer indicates.) Once through the entry gate checkpoint, it is two km on my bicycle to the beach, crossing the landing strip and military housing and other buildings. Lounge chairs are available for daily use at the beach for twenty baht. Tasty, inexpensive Thai food is available for delivery to your chair or across the street at the food court. I saw a guy riding a motorbike a short distance, balancing a tray with the traditional tom yum soup serving ring which usually has a flame at the center, managing to drive and keep the soup from splashing over the rim of the serving dish – quite a sight! This beach, called Ao Manao, is even better than I imagined. The land forms a bay with beautiful outcroppings at each end and an island in the middle. The water is shallow all the way to the buoys delineating the swimming area, about 100 to 130m from the beach – where the water there was at waist level. Maybe only once before, somewhere, have I felt so buoyant. I can lie in the water on my back or front, without movement and my body floats including my legs, which usually sink. I know there are other places in the world like this, where the salt content makes you so buoyant. But it’s new to me and so nice to be able to lie just on top of the water.

My parallel universe quickly converged with much of the rest of the world. Fortunately the actual situation of CV infections and fatalities in Thailand is still relatively low and there are no cases in town. In contrast Chiang Mai has had 40 cases and fortunately no new cases for the past five days. Thailand’s CV cases, which had remained under 50 for weeks, suddenly started multiplying and is was over 2,000 last week. That resulted in a series of increasing and substantial restrictions which has dramatically shut down most travel as well as tourist businesses, hotels, restaurants (take-out only), parks, some beaches, and much more. Fortunately after a period of 100+ new daily cases nationwide, much of the past week has seen daily increases of less than 50. The nearby Royal Thai Air Force Base closed to visitors just recently. My plan to spend several hours at the wonderful Ao Manao beach several days each week is now just a dream. I get most of my info about the COVID-19 situation here on Facebook and am careful to discern which sources are reliable. Last week I gasped when I saw a notice requiring all foreigners who arrived in Prachuap Khiri Khan province (where I am now) after March 15 to report to the local hospital. I arrived on March 14, so the order does not apply to me. But I was worried – what if my hotel or the police think I should report to the hospital? I talked to the hotel mgt and they told me not to worry. And nothing has come of it since.

Then the next day I saw an order for all hotels in the province to close – except if there were any remaining guests, who would be allowed to continue to stay. But if my hotel chose to close, I could not get into any other hotel here – and it would be very difficult or impossible for me to return to Chiang Mai at this time. I talked to the hotel owners and they told me not to worry, I could stay. The next day, I saw someone else in town say his hotel would not extend his stay, so he had to leave within one day. I gulped again, talked to my hotel’s owners and they assured me I could stay beyond my current paid month. That was a big relief and actually an emotional moment for me, as I felt threatened with eviction with no good or easy options. And so I learn in a very personal way how some others face this kind of difficulty in their lives, not just due to the current health crisis. Of course, I am fortunate in many respects and even though I could be subject to some big challenges, I know I will be okay – unless I get the novel coronavirus. But it’s still kind of scary and upsetting.

The very next day all of a sudden I am the only remaining guest at my 24-room motel-style hotel. What a strange feeling! They turned off many of the lights, drastically reduced their staffing and only have the front desk staffed from about 8 pm to 6 am, for security reasons. Much of the day I am the only one around. I stay most of the day in my second floor room or on the comfortable first floor patio-corridor. I had reserved a hotel room for my first week here at another hotel in front of the beach, but I wanted a room better for a longer stay. I found an ad for a nice little furnished house, but they would not consider a short-term rental of 1 to 2 months. Unfortunate, and I imagine that house is still not occupied, but many places are only available for a minimum of 6 months or a year. I checked out many hotels as well as an apt-room which does rent monthly and found some viable options, but then I found out about the emergency decree which would come into effect in a couple of days. With that in mind, I quickly choose my current hotel room, at double the cost of some of the other options, since I knew if I might have to spend most of the day in my hotel, so I felt I would be more comfortable here. Included in my consideration was my very good first impression of the woman owner and her son – and I was right about that. She gives me food treats some days such as sliced watermelon, fresh corn salad with basil leaves, and Pa-Tan-Go, a Chinese style fried dough. Every culture seems to have a fried dough food. Fortunately this one was not very sweet. I would have felt more isolated at the other lodging options, with little help available and no one to talk to. The U.S. gov’t relief “check” which I will soon get will offset some or all of these higher costs. With all the U.S. taxes I still pay, I have no qualms about accepting this payment, which also allows me help out some local friends a bit.

I shipped my travel Bike Friday bicycle, which collapses and can be packed in a hard-shell suitcase, to my hotel here from Chiang Mai, which only cost about US $13 – similar shipping in the U.S would probably cost $50-$75. This has allowed me to have a comfortable bicycle for my extended stay – and I use it every day. I buy most of my food at a long open-air covered fresh market along the rail line, one km, less than five minutes by bicycle from my hotel. Everyone, including me, wears a mask. I eat nearly all of this low cost and tasty prepared food in my hotel room or on the patio. One exception is the tasty pizza I’ve been getting a couple of times each week, available for take-out only – cost about US $7. I’ve hidden behind the stone beach wall, looking at the waves, to avoid being noticed, but always alert to any approaching authority that might chase me away or cite me. I feel like a criminal and now I think even that is getting more risky. Less appealing but safer will be to take the pizza back to my room less than 10 minutes away by bicycle.

How do you say that in French?

You think you’ve had it bad? Since March 17 if you were a cyclist in France you were SOL: no outdoor riding of any sort due to pandemic quarantine. Yesterday it was announced that starting May 11 in France you will finally be able to ride your bike outdoors (let alone go outdoors). That will have been almost two months where you either didn’t cycle or Zwift became your BFF. At least here in the US we’ve been able to ride outside.

But what is most interesting about the announcement is the new rules for outdoor cycling in France because we may see something similar here regarding group riding. The new rules will allow cycling only in “authorized open spaces” and only if cyclists use social distancing. You also must ride within 100 km of your home and with no more than 10 people. Social distancing while riding is going to be no less than 10 meters. Also, professional cyclists must train alone—no group rides. (Does that mean that amateur or recreational cyclists don’t have to train alone??) The point is not only to prevent new infections but to reduce any injuries that would impact stressed medical services.

Perhaps when Gov Newsom announces Stage 2 (or 3?) we may officially have group rides again. But if we follow the French lead it’s probably going to be with (a) continued social distancing and probably more than 6 ft, and (b) a size limit on groups. It’s rare these days that we get a club ride of more than 10 people. But if we did we could split the group into two groups of less than 10. (Or is that an example of hair-splitting that I pointed out in the previous blog post?). Or we could limit registration through the website to no more than 10. Speaking of which, this might push us to using the club e-waiver fulltime not only to avoid having to give out a paper waiver and pen at the start but also to control registration.

You can read a summary in English here.

Speaking of having it bad, have you thought about what the quarantine must be like for swimmers? If you’re in the 1% perhaps you have a swimming pool [oh wait, we have a swimming pool…] but more likely you’re not, you don’t, you can’t go to the Y yet, and you’re going to get chased off that beach by the police. Let’s say you’re in Spain too where people are not allowed to go outside. This is how you deal with it.

Musings on riding in a time of quarantine, or Why does the club not allow group rides with social distancing?

A little history recap…
Initially when the shelter-in-place order was announced a month ago, everybody other than essential workers was being asked to stay home. This was consonant with the efforts undertaken in Wuhan, Italy, and Spain, which were undergoing much more devastating infection rates and hospitalization. It looked like the US was going to follow in their steps. In Wuhan going out for anything other than essential errands such as grocery shopping was forbidden in an effort to contain the epidemic. Going out to ride a bike recreationally was out of the question. That was/is the case as well in Spain and Italy. Although initially pro cyclists were allowed to ride outdoors in Italy, that is no longer the case. In those three countries this was not a request: it was illegal and police and/or neighborhood watches were there to confront anyone who was out without good reason. That was the background for how the quarantine evolved here in the Bay Area.

In the US where the epidemic is mostly less intense we are allowed to go outdoors to exercise as long as we maintain social distancing. From the beginning solo recreational cycling was included in the list of permissable activities. Social distancing meant no closer than six feet to any individual who was not a member of your household and no physical contact such as shaking hands or hugs. Since then some slight modifications, some of them county-specific, have been added. For example, in San Mateo County people are not to travel more than ten miles from their home [note: original order was no more than five miles]. In most Bay Area counties you are required to have a face mask with you in case you cannot maintain social distancing or when entering businesses. These understandings—unlike in some other countries—are maintained primarily by cooperation with minimal police enforcement, ie. by combination of peer pressure, self-preservation (ie. it’s in my self-interest to comply), and perhaps intellectual agreement (ie. I understand the logic and arguments in favor of disruptive sheltering-in-place and accept them as valid).

A little background…
In early March with COVID-19 increasing and members of the DSSF board feeling increasingly uneasy the decision to cancel club rides was fortuitously made for us by late spring rains washing out rides. Before the shelter-in-place order was announced I (Tony) had already made the decision to cancel my ride for 3/21 but was hoping that rain would make that decision for me. It didn’t, and that was the first ride to be cancelled by the SIP. The board decided that simply cancelling rides through the duration of the order was not only the safest and conservative thing to do but gave us time to see not only how long we would be asked to shelter in place but also how serious the epidemic would become here. It seemed like the right thing to do to comply and cooperate with the shelter in place order. Without a very clear legal understanding but concerned about the health and safety of members the board decided to cancel rides since it seemed the prudent thing to do. Initially the SIP was to last just three weeks and not having club rides for less than a month hardly seemed like a sacrifice. However the SIP has been extended twice, now until the end of May and perhaps it will be again (although with less restrictions?—we shall see.)

In the Bay Area recreational cycling and amateur racing clubs almost universally reacted to the COVID-19 threat and shelter-in-place order just as we did by cancelling their group rides until the quarantine order was lifted. In a survey of local recreational clubs almost all clubs prominently announce this on their websites and the few that don’t nonetheless display empty ride calendars. The exceptions I found were Diablo Cyclists and Eagle Cycling Club. Whether their listed rides actually have been taking place or not I’m not sure. [5/5/20 correction: Although its website doesn’t state it, the Eagle Cycling Club does say on its Facebook page that all club rides are suspended during the Stay At Home order, which prohibits group gatherings. So no club rides for now.]

With a month’s history it’s time to reflect on that decision and think about how the club will get through a prolonged quarantine, one that might last months rather than just a few weeks. We know that the shelter in place order will continue through May at which point we will have lived through 11 weeks of quarantine. And we likely will need to self-quarantine longer. But first let’s look at what the SIP order actuallly says.

What does the SIP order say?
I’m citing the Santa Clara order but it’s almost exactly the same as the orders in the other Bay Area counties.

The SCC Shelter In Place order states, “All individuals currently living within the County are ordered to shelter at their place of residence. They may leave their residence only for Essential Activities, Essential Governmental Functions, Essential Travel,…”

And when leaving your home, “When people need to leave their place of residence for the limited purposes allowed in this Order, they must strictly comply with Social Distancing Requirements…”

and, “All travel, including, but not limited to, travel on foot, bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, automobile, or public transit, except Essential Travel, as defined below in Section 13.i, is prohibited.’

Recreational cycling is allowed: “To engage in outdoor recreation activity, including, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, bicycling, and running, in compliance with Social Distancing Requirements…”

Furthermore, “All public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a single household or living unit are prohibited, except for the limited purposes expressly permitted in this Order. Nothing in this Order prohibits members of a single household or living unit from engaging in Essential Travel or Essential Activities together.”

Group activity is explicitly forbidden: “All public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a single household or living unit are prohibited, except for the limited purposes expressly permitted in this Order.” (The exceptions do not include recreational cycling but they include, for example, allowing up to ten people to attend a funeral.)

So, here’s the logic of the SIP order:

  1. We are ordered to shelter in place in our residences.
  2. There are allowable exceptions to leave our residences.
  3. Those exceptions are to do “essential activities”. Going outside the home to do an “essential activity” is “essential travel”
  4. Outdoor recreation such as bicycling is an “essential activity” and thus recreational cycling is a form of “essential travel”.
  5. Whenever we leave the house we are to respect social distancing requirements
  6. The main Social Distancing Requirement is to stay six feet away from others. (And now, have a face covering with you.)
  7. Group activity involving members of more than one household is forbidden except for some very limited exceptions.

The SIP extension, which was just issued for the period extending to the end of May, will keep those sections. Given the continued concern about flattening the curve they were unlikely to change.

As things stand now, in order to comply we cannot offer group activities outside the home and that means no club rides regardless of respecting social distancing. We can offer virtual activities such as club Zwift rides or Zoom gatherings but no physical meetings.

So, that’s the legal bottom line unless the order is emended at a future date. Governor Newsom has laid out four stages for reopening and we are only in the first stage. The second stage will probably include reopening some parks and trails. But before this can happen testing, contact tracing, and PPE supplies will need to be robust. That is projected to be weeks off in the future. So if one were to speculate it seems unlikely that group recreational activities such as club rides will even make it into Stage 2 as a permissible activity. We shall see.

[5/5/20 addendum: Santa Rosa Cycling Club has suspended all club rides because of the SIP order. However despite the order SRCC on its website says, “We take our responsibility to protect public health and the health of our members seriously, especially in light of the older demographic makeup
of our membership so have taken this unprecedented action. The County order allows outdoor activities, including walking, hiking, biking or running, which are healthy and encouraged, and are allowed as long as you practice social distancing. Please ride solo or in SMALL groups and avoid traveling to the ride start (ride from home if you can).” This is the only instance I’ve seen of a club giving tacit approval for group rides as long as they are “small”. Perhaps this is an acknowledgement of the reality that group rides are still taking place and are not going to stop short of police enforcement. So if you’re going to go on a group ride at least make it a small group. However it directly contradicts the conditions of the SIP order, ie. no group gatherings of non-same-household members.]

You may be thinking that a group ride that respects social distancing should pose no threat of propagating the coronavirus. If participants stay at least six feet apart (and probably more when riding), then we stand a very low chance of spreading the virus if a participant is infected. Furthermore, in interacting with others if we stay at least six feet apart, then we stand little chance of infecting or being infected by passersby. On paper that seems reasonable. But real life is messier. In cycling here in the East Bay during the quarantine we’ve run into quite a few group rides not too much to our surprise since there is no enforcement and only people’s cooperation/compliance with the SIP prevents this. We don’t have carabinieri at police checkpoints stopping all traffic. What we’ve seen is disheartening: several group rides in pacelines (and the same club kit no less, showing that it’s a training ride); and loosely organized group rides of five or more where social distancing, particularly at stop lights but also when riding, is nonexistent or sketchy. None of them have had face masks (which is a separate issue). Probably some of these groups started with social distancing but it just fell apart as the ride progressed. In other words, in practice it’s harder to do social distancing even though it seems like it would be easy. That doesn’t even take into account the uncertainty concerning exactly how cyclists should be spaced apart when riding together or when encountering other road/trail users due to the plume of exhaled particles behind each rider.

Another concern is related to ‘herd mentality’. If you see other people doing something, you’re inclined to think that’s it’s okay for you to do it. If we were to see lots of groups rides with little or no social distancing, pretty soon others are going to loosen up on their behavior because they’ll think it’s okay to do so. For example, you see other cyclists running stop signs, so it must be okay for you to run a stop sign since that behavior is now normalized. It ends up eroding the cooperative ethos that the SIP order is based on.

How that behavior appears to non-cyclists is a provocative issue. In the UK cyclists are already being called “covidiots” for riding through small villages, where they don’t want the virus spread, instead of sheltering in place. Cyclists in obvious, visible groups is just another way to incur judgment and antipathy from the public, as if we don’t already have enough. Not that I’m in the “Booker T. Washington” camp of cycling activists, but incurring bad PR is a risky and potentially self-defeating strategy for expanding cycling rights especially when legally we’re not supposed to be offering group activities outside. Apparently this is a real issue in the UK: British Cycling is concerned that if cyclists go out in groups, then the government will ban all outdoor cycling. In other words, obvious non-compliance with the SIP might result in recreational cycling being removed from the list of “essential activities.”

A comment you may hear bandied about is whether or not we should even be out recreational cycling at all since being involved in a bike accident is going to detract from the medical resources needed to fight COVID-19 and just stresses the medical system at a time when resources are limited. I’m personally not persuaded by that argument at least for the Bay Area. If our hospital ERs and ICUs looked like those did in Wuhan or northern Italy or now in NYC, then this would be much more persuasive. But they don’t and it’s looking more and more that they won’t. The part that makes sense is that riding a bike is indeed inherently dangerous either through falls, collisions, or encounters with other road users. I can’t recall the exact figure but years ago I recall reading that a significant percentage of reported bike accidents are single vehicle (eg. cyclist hit a bump and fell off the bike) so that it’s not just collisions with motor vehicles that are a concern. With fewer drivers on the road during the quarantine one would expect car-bike collisions to be lower. When I think back on club accidents or members that have had bike accidents they’re overwhelmingly of the former type, ie. user error. So yes, there is a risk of having an accident and needing a ride to the ER. But during the quarantine we’re supposed to be staying at home and that’s actually the place where most accidents occur. For example, home accidents involving ladders are unfortunately all too common. One could argue that to reduce the load on medical services we should NOT stay at home (or realistically, don’t use ladders)! However if you do have an accident while out riding and you do need to go to the ER, do you want to go to a place where coronavirus is more likely to be concentrated and your chance of exposure is greater? That’s a decision each individual makes since the SIP order is leaving it up to us to decide.

Gaming the system…
Personally I haven’t heard anyone voice this comment yet but I’m sure there are cyclists out there aching for riding companionship who are thinking it: “Well, we could just agree to coincidentally show up at Peet’s on Sunday at 10 am and all just happen to be riding Tib loop!” There is nothing to stop people from contacting friends and agreeing to ride together. As long as it doesn’t get tacit or explicit approval from DSSF, then it’s just individuals making their own decisions. Isn’t that the tactic that Critical Mass takes? ‘No one’ organizes it but everybody knows when and where to show up. It’s not a group ride—it’s a happenstance of individuals who happen to be doing the same thing at the same time and place. How is that different than a crowd at Macy’s on any Sunday? In fact that already is happening: look at the Golden Gate Bridge west sidewalk on a weekend and you’ll see lots of cyclists who just happen to be going to Marin by bike. But seriously, do you want to go there? That’s like going to confession but then arguing you have a loophole so you don’t need to say all those Our Fathers. Either you’re complying with the SIP in word and spirit or you’re not, so don’t try to nuance your way around it. If more and more groups of cyclists are seen rolling about, you can bet that there will be a reaction and it won’t be in our favor.

Based upon what we’ve seen in the past month group rides organized informally outside of clubs are taking place even though that contravenes the spirit and potentially the purpose of the SIP. Is this another instance of exceptionalism, ie. that you’re the exception and the normal rules don’t apply to you? Or is this an instance of “Well, it’s just me and not everybody is doing it” ie. a little bit doesn’t hurt. But that ‘little bit’ soon turns into a lot when people see the erosion of SIP rules. It’s like pissing in the community swimming pool. Yeah, it’s just one person. Until it’s a lot of people. One person’s behavior does affect the behavior of others.

“It’s overkill…”
This is an interesting argument: the vast majority of infections have occurred indoors in confined areas where people either did not or were unable to socially distance, so there is little or no justification for banning group outdoor activities where air circulation is completely different. Regulating indoor crowding makes sense but there is little justification for limiting outdoor behavior, so the argument goes.

That may very well turn out to be true. Oldsters may remember when AIDS hit the scene and sucking dick was thought to be dangerous. It took time for the research to show that the likelihood of getting infected by oral sex was several degrees of magnitude lower than with, say, unprotected anal sex. Perhaps banning outdoor group activities is like oral sex, ie. there are other modes of COVID-19 transmission that we should be paying attention and one of them is NOT outdoor cycling. But we’re not there yet. We don’t know, and as with oral sex back in the day do you want to take the risk and find out you’re wrong? Some research done in China seems to show that the virus spreads primarily through indoor transmission: of 7,324 cases only one was clearly linked to outdoor transmission. If this kind of research is confirmed by other studies, then we may see outdoor activities such as group cycling being allowed with some social distancing conditions. If this happens, we’ll probably see the return of club rides.

Ah, the irony…
There is an amusing contradiction between the ethos of cycling and how we’ve reacted to restrictions on cycling during the epidemic. On the one hand cycling, particularly as propagated by cycling journalists of a racing bent, repeatedly glorifies the suffering aspects of riding. Suffering is not merely be tolerated: it is sought. We should ride hard in order to be faster/fitter/thinner/etc. Suffering and denial are good aspects of cycling, right? But when cyclists are asked or told not to cycle, it becomes intolerable. If we were to view not being able to cycle during the epidemic as just another kind of ‘suffering’, then shouldn’t we embrace the challenge rather than moan so loudly? But denial, I am guessing, especially when it is external rather than internal is just not something we do well with. One hears that for some cyclists it’s their way of maintaining sanity during the epidemic. That may be true. But aren’t there other ways of keeping one’s sanity? Maybe now is the time to explore other options.

If it sounds like I’m chiding those who are rankled by the current restrictions and want group rides right now, I’m actually not. Every comment I’ve mentioned above I have also thought and wished for. So I’m one of Those Who Wish Things Were Different. But being risk averse by predilection I’m not going to personally offer a group ride. That’s my decision. For those of you who are less risk averse (or who don’t perceive there to be any risk) you may come to a different decision. Hopefully the restrictions on group gatherings will be lifted sooner rather than later and we’ll return to a more ‘normal’ way of life.

But the new normal is likely to look a bit different than it did before, and that’s a topic for a future blog post: getting the club ready for when the SIP is lifted.

2019: That Was the Year That Was

How many Jersey Rides fit on the head of a pin?

A year rolls by and more often than not there is no thought of reflection or more accurately no interest in wasting more time on such a weighty matter as Different Spokes. However your Ride Coordinator has nothing better to do with his time than ponder the number of angels that fit on the head of a pin, so why not also plumb the philosophical depths by looking back on our ride statistics? If you are a member, you will find the 2019 Ride Coordinator Report in the Documents area (members only, folks!) of our website. (Go to Resources>Club Documents>Ride Coordination.)

Here you’ll find a summary of our ride stats, eg. number of rides/events, number of participants, who led them, status of the Jersey Ride, etc. Afterwards follows a narrative as to what all that dreck might mean (since meaning can be found anywhere, such as in the shapes of clouds or lines of your palm). However you are free to assign your interpretation to the raw numbers if you don’t like what you read. Remember: in the post-modern worldview there are no facts, just interpretations/narratives and truth is arbitrary, ie. Truth is what you think is ‘truth’. [Note: I can’t wait long enough for the post-post modern era to begin!]

Since you probably don’t have time (nor interest) in reading another TLDR item, here are some highlights:

  1. In 2019 we had slightly more rides on the calendar than the previous two years. We would have had more except for injured ride leaders (RLs).
  2. The increase is due to the current RLs leading more rides, not because we have more RLs.
  3. Jersey rides consistently get better turnout than other rides overall.
  4. Instead of focusing on getting more rides on the calendar, we should consider shifting focus to getting more participants to show up on the rides we do offer.
  5. There are several ways we could do that involving internal and external outreach (read report for details).

Summer Century Update [updated 6/23/20]

To date the novel coronavirus epidemic has wiped out centuries since the beginning of March through the end of May. Even though the current Bay Area shelter-in-place order expires on May 3, no one seems to think that we are going to open up, at least fully, by then. A twelve-week quarantine would put us at the end of May before normal commerce could start. Even events in June and beyond are uncertain, either being cancelled/postponed already, having registration paused, or adding disclaimers to their websites that ‘the situation is evolving’, ie. it may not take place on the scheduled date. When the shelter-iin-place is ended that doesn’t mean that people will throng to centuries despite pent-up demand; many will be wary of large gatherings even outdoors. Finally, when the shelter-in-place is removed, we may still have social distancing protocols such as wearing face masks. How would you like to ride a hundred miles in heat with a face mask?


7 Sunday. Sequoia Century. Cancelled for 2020; next one will take place on Sunday June 6, 2021.

13 Saturday. Gold Country Challenge. Postponed to an indefinite date in September. Now cancelled for 2020.

14-27 SuperTour. This isn’t a century. But it’s the godfather of Death Rides: two weeks of cycling in the Sierras. It averages 84 miles and 9,000 feet of vertical per day. It’s hard to get on SuperTour because it’s a small group. On the other hand you have to be hardcore into climbing at altitude. And of course the scenery is awesome! Unfortunately it’s now been cancelled for 2020.

20 Saturday. Castle Crags Century. $75-$45. 141, 99, 79, 62 or 37 mile routes out of Mt. Shasta, CA. Still on. Now cancelled and next year’s event will be on June 19, 2021.

20 Sunday. Mile High 100. $55-85. 33, 56, and 108 mi routes. A beautiful ride around Lake Almanor near Chester, CA. Still on. Now postponed to September 5, 2020. If cancelled your reg fee minus processing will be refunded.

20-27 Sierra To The Sea. $1,150. This also isn’t a century but a weeklong trip from the Sierras back to the Bay Area run by Almaden Cycle Touring Club in San Jose. Registration is open and has not filled up yet. You average 60 miles of cycling every day with variable elevation gain. Cancelled for 2020.

27 Saturday. Climb to Kaiser. Climb to Kaiser. $95/$75. 160 or 95 miles. Like Shaft this ride is one bad mofo. Yeah, it’s long but so are lots of centuries. And it’s got lots of climbing, like about 10k feet. But what makes it epic is that it starts in Fresno. In June. So it’s a little bit hot as well. But for bragging rights this is THE ride to add to your bucket list. And if you do it, it may in fact be the last item you ever add to your bucket list. If 160 miles and 10,000 feet are an overreach, Fresno Cycling Club also offers the Tollhouse Century, which is just 95 miles and 7,500 feet. Still on. Now cancelled.

27 Saturday. Giro Bello. $69-$99. 100 mi, 100 km, 30 mi routes. Still on. Now cancelled.


11 Saturday. The Death Ride. $139. This ride needs no description! You pick as many passes as you want to bag before you collapse. “Rescheduled to 7/17/21”, ie. uh that’s called a cancellation in plain English!

18 Saturday. Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge. Cancelled for 2020; next one is scheduled for 7/17/21.

18 Saturday. Fall River Century. $45-65. 25, 65, 200, and 120 mi routes. This is an awesome ride north of Lassen Volcanic National Park. Quiet roads. Listed as still on [even though the county order still bans large gatherings.][6/23/20: According to sfgate.com there has been an explosion of COVID-19 cases in Shasta county including one superspreading event: “Although Shasta County still has a relatively small number of cases, its numbers have soared in June. After an April and May where rarely more than one case was confirmed each day, June has consistently had multiple positives per day. The county health department says it’s at an overall alert level of 3 out of 4, designating “many cases including community spread, with undetected cases likely.”]


1 Saturday. Marin Century. Still on but reg paused. In other words no definite decision but they don’t want to take your money and then have to refund it. Nope, Marin Cyclists finally cancelled the 2020 Marin Century. You’ll receive a refund if you’ve already registered.

15 Saturday. Cool Breeze Century. 30, 60, 100, hilly 100, and 125 mile routes. A pleasant, not-too-difficult century down in Ventura county with great weather. Still on but registration is delayed until June 1. [Registration still not open on 6/3, which is ominous. Note: over 1,000 COVID-19 cases in Ventura County and its Stay At Home order bans group gatherings.]

15 Saturday. Crater Lake Century. $95. 62 and 100 mile routes. Limit of 350 riders. If you’ve never ridden around Crater Lake, this is a must-do. The 100-mile route has a 17-mile flat out-and-back section you can skip, reducing the length to 83 miles. Still on. Shit, this one is now cancelled too.

16 Sunday. Tour of Napa. $55-65 $25. 35, 63, 102 mi routes. Still on but virtually only–see website for details.

Shelter In Place

The DSSF Board of Directors recommends that all club members follow the directions of the Governor’s office to “shelter in place” until April 7th. We are therefore cancelling club rides and events until that time.

There won’t be any club rides for at least the next three weeks and probably longer. In the overall scheme of things it’s not a big deal. Life, death, and serious illness and disability are.

Strange coincidence? Today the SF AIDS Foundation announced that AIDS LifeCycle for this year has been cancelled because of the coronavirus. In 1982 the club formed and it was about that time AIDS first appeared in the community. I had the sad and unreal experience—as did many members at the time—of seeing friends, loved ones, and acquaintences very rapidly get sick and die. First it was only one or two but later on it became a dismal commonplace. In the club before they died they often disappeared from riding regularly. We’d find out they were sick, or rather, rumors went out that they were ‘sick’. We’d just stop seeing them on club rides and then the word got out they had died. That was an ugly experience that scarred me and I’m sure others, a real coming of age. If you haven’t had an experience like that, then the prospect of a multitude of deaths due to COVID-19 is likely just an abstraction. We’re not there yet. But we probably will be even with the measures taken so far.

So yeah, the shelter-in-place is a PITA. But the shattering grief at losing a friend to a stupid disease is even more of a PITA.

Keep washing your hands often and maintain your distance for a while so you don’t get infected. Infected but asymptomatic people are apparently the primary vector for spreading this disease. (“What’s the fuss about? I feel fine!”) You’re perhaps not just saving your own life but the lives of others some of whom you know and cherish and some whom you may never meet.

2020 Centuries Update: M-M-M-My Corona! [updated 4/20]

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men go often askew, as the renowned Scottish poet said. With COVID-19 today’s BFF all those cycling events this spring are thrown into doubt. You’ve probably heard the astonishing news today that the Giro D’Italia has been postponed because of the pandemic. Is nothing sacred anymore? If the Giro can be tossed aside you can bet your sweet patootie that little ol’ cycling festivals are not guaranteed either. A couple of the high profile events, the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey and the Eroica California down in Cambria, which were supposed to take place in April, have been cancelled and postponed to fall respectively.

What of local centuries? Perhaps you’re wondering whether to register or you’ve registered and paid the fee already. Events before May are a mix of cancelations and postponements. Events afterwards are generally still scheduled to take place. But that may change depending on what happens with the epidemic. I suspect that people are going to hold off on registering for events and that’s going to force each organizer’s hand to cancel/postpone if not directly because of COVID-19 then because they’ll have so few people sign up that the event will be underfunded. All events prior to May have been cancelled or postponed; early May events are in question. All early May events have been cancelled and even some in early June. Here’s the rundown of upcoming century rides.

March 14 Solvang Century. That’s tomorrow! This is a very big event—never less than several thousand riders. The Santa Barbara County Health Dept cancelled it ‘over the organizer’s objections’. Are you serious? You wanted to run a gigantic event during a pandemic? Even the Giro organizers were wise enough to call off an international race.
March 28. Cinderella Classic. Valley Spokesmen, after some consideration, decided to cancel this year’s event. There isn’t a convenient date to reschedule this year, so you’ll have to wait until 2021. No word on the fate of registration fees but likely those who’ve paid will get their registration moved to next year.
April 4-5. Eroica. Cancelled by organizers possibly to be rescheduled later this year. Rescheduled for September 25-27.
April 18. Sea Otter Classic. Postponed to October 1-4.
April 18. Bike Around the Buttes. Postponed to September 26. No word on refunds.
April 19. Primavera Century. Cancelled. Reg fee can either be used for 2021 or a refund minus $5 processing charge can be requested.
April 25. Tierra Bella. Cancelled. Your registration will be used for 2021 or you can request a refund before 4/23 for a $3 fee.
April 25. Mt. Hamilton Challenge. The organizers never confirmed that the 2020 edition would take place and I would doubt it can happen how.
April 25. SLO Wildflower. Cancelled and registrants will be notified of their “options”.
April 26. Chico Wildflower. Wisely postponed until later this year.
May 2. Wine Country Century. Cancelled. Partial refunds for entry fees will be offered (minus unrecoverable expenses) or you can donate your fee to the club. If you ordered kit, it will be sent to you except for t-shirts since that order was cancelled in time and you’ll get a refund for it.
May 2. Siskiyou Scenic Bicycle Tour. Now postponed to Oct. 3.
May 3. Grizzly Peak Century. Cancelled. Refunds will be made for the entry fee.
May 16. Davis Double. 2020 event cancelled. Refunds will be provided.
May 16. Tour delle Vigne. Cancelled. Contact organizer for refund or to donate your fee.
May 17. Strawberry Fields Forever. Postponed to Sunday Oct. 11.
May 30. Devil’s Slide Ride. Still on, astonishingly. Postponed to October 17.
June 7. Sequoia Century. Cancelled.
June 13. Gold Country Challenge. Postponed to September.
June 20. Mile High 100. Still on. If cancelled your reg fee minus processing will be refunded.
June 20. RBC Silicon Valley Gran Fondo. Still on. Finally it’s cancelled.

Coronavirus and DSSF: ‘Playing Safe’ Has A New Meaning

Today the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 is now a global pandemic. Community transmission in the Bay Area of the coronavirus is now a fact; there have been cases in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties that are not due to travel or contact with someone who is known to have been exposed to the coronavirus. As you know public events are being cancelled or postponed and commercial sports events such as Warriors games will take place without a live audience.

In Italy where the disease is uncontained the national government has locked down the entire country and restricted movement until April 3 in order to halt the spread of COVID-19. Traveling outside of your immediate community now requires special permission, all public gatherings such as at cultural sites, sporting events, and festivals are forbidden, restaurants and bars are open only for limited hours and patrons must stay at least one meter apart.

Cascade Cycling Club up in the Seattle area, the country’s largest cycling club, has issued guidelines for its group rides in order to keep participants safe, mainly asking ride leaders to brief riders—asking them to limit physical contact such as shaking hands and hugs, give each other space, and not coming on rides if you are feeling ill. In addition Cascade is asking ride leaders not to post rides that involve stopping at “heavily used spaces (such as coffee shops) or that have a post ride event.”

Closer to home we’ve had cycling events cancelled such as the Sea Otter Classic and the Cinderella Century although they are mass events rather than small group rides.

We are fortunate that our favorite recreational sport takes place outdoors and doesn’t involve close physical contact, so Different Spokes rides during the epidemic should mostly be safe as long as we exercise some precautions. Ride leaders should brief their groups on the following:

• Please refrain from attending rides/events if you’re feeling sick. If you’re the ride leader, please find a replacement ride host or just cancel/postpone your ride.

• Ask participants to refrain from physical greetings—shaking (gloved or ungloved—both can transmit the virus) hands, hugs, etc.

• Use hand sanitizer and/or wash hands before eating and before and after contact with others.

• If your ride has stops at coffee shops, restaurants, or other indoor venues, remind riders about possible exposure to coronavirus.

• If you’re a ride leader, plan stops that don’t involve entering crowded public venues. Please consider suggesting to participants that they bring their ride snacks/lunch rather than going to a restaurant/market/coffee shop.

• The risk of transmission of the coronavirus is highest when within one meter (three feet) of an infected person. An infected person may be not be ill or even aware that they are harboring the virus.

The First Rain Cancellation of 2020

No Morgan Territory–had to settle for this!

What a difference a year (or three) makes. In 2017 it rained incessantly; in 2018 it was mostly dry–until March when it rained cat and dogs; in 2019 it was a dry January and then a wet February and March (again). This year we’ve gone well over a month without a drop of rain and we thought winter was over with the Equinox just on the horizon. Spokers were listing rides like it was summer. Alas, Stephanie and Will had the misfortune of posting Morgan Territory/Palomares for today when a storm front finally rolled in and dropped some water on thirsty Northern California. We were planning to attend, alas. Believe it or not, today was the club’s first rain cancellation of the year–in March!

In the East Bay the rain suddenly stopped around 2 pm so we headed out for some much needed head clearing on the Nimitz Trail, which is our version of the Marin Headlands. The rain was gone, the air was crystalline clear, and the East Bay still looks stunningly green. A short but sweet ride when you just have to get your legs spinning in circles. If you can’t ride with the club, we hope you’re still riding anyway. See you next week on the Jersey Ride!