Jeff P. led a Gazos Creek and Stage Road loop from Half Moon Bay yesterday. Here’s his ride report:
If Sonoma and Napa are the Wine Country, is the San Mateo coast the Pumpkin Country? On today’s ride from Half Moon Bay down to Gazos Creek and back via Stage Road and Purisima Creek, we saw a lot of pumpkin fields – perfect for a Halloween ride! Adding to the spookiness, it was so foggy on the coast until we reached the Pigeon Point lighthouse, that it made me think of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, though no headless riders were seen.
It became a beautiful, sunny Autumn day with perfect temperatures. Our riding group from the past 3 weeks shrank by one, and today we just had Joan, Nancy, Scott and Jeff. At our stop at the Pigeon Point lighthouse, we took time to read the history plaque and snap photos of Whaler’s cove. We had our socially-distanced lunch stop in Pescadero, using the tables have been set up on a parking lot next to Duarte’s. We noticed that people were using the tables in the garden behind Arcangeli, so maybe that is an option for next time. Leaving Pescadero, we stopped to snap a couple photos in the creepy old graveyard, by the Goulson family plot. It just seemed right on Halloween.
The second half of this ride (Stage Road, lower Tunitas Creek, and Purisima Creek) is a personal favorite of mine. With 3900 feet of climbing, I think we all earned our pumpkin spice latte or whatever Halloween celebratory beverage we decided on for after the ride.
Many of us have done city loops a million times, and it normally wouldn’t occur to me to write a ride report about one, but Saturday’s city loop was special: after months and months of canceling rides, the club did our first group ride of the Covid-19 era.
Tony Moy has spent a ton of time researching the conditions under which we would be able to have a group ride. He put together a Health and Safety Plan for the club, as required by the City and County of San Francisco. We updated the club’s waiver to include some language about coronavirus. Jeff Pekrul was kind enough to volunteer to lead the ride. And, the board decided it was time for the club to start having group rides again.
So, we met on a gorgeous day in front of McLaren Lodge.
Note the nicely-distanced Spokers! For obvious reasons, part of our Health and Safety Plan is to maintain 6 feet between cyclists when we’re off our bikes. As you can see, we generally did a really good job of it.
Jeff gave a safety speech before the ride. It’s not something we normally do, but in the time of Covid-19, it’s essential. Our most important goal right now is to have rides that people feel safe going on.
Then it was time to ride.
The 6 of us left McLaren Lodge, went over to Arguello, then up to the pretty lookout:
From there, the familiar route through the Presidio, down the Great Highway, around Lake Merced, up Sloat, across Monterey, through the Mission and the Castro, over the Wiggle and back through the Panhandle to McLaren. 24 miles, around 2 hours rolling time.
A couple of observations from me:
It was much easier riding in a mask than I thought it would be.
The group did a good job distancing, and it felt safe to be riding with this group.
Jeff and I checked in with the riders, and they all agreed about feeling reasonably safe on this ride.
Alas, no pacelining, which is a lot of fun (for me) but just not very appropriate in this era. We’ll get back to it some day.
The ride felt nice and sociable without being huggy/kissy.
The weather was spectacular Saturday and of course that helped.
You might ask, why did we start with a short, 24 mile ride? Couple of reasons. A lot of us are out of shape, and we wanted to start with rides that will help those of us who are out of shape get back into cycling gently. The City and County limits the amount of time groups like ours can spend on outdoor activities. So, 2 hours rolling through San Francisco is the current max. Third, the first few rides we do, including this one, are experiments. The board wanted to see how we would do as a club meeting the conditions set down by the City and County for group events.
My opinion: we did splendidly.
Big thank yous to Tony for putting the club’s Health and Safety Plan together, which made this ride possible, and to Jeff for leading the ride.
On a personal note, I’ve had a physical problem that’s kept me from riding for almost a year now. This was my first time back on a bike since last year’s Mt. Hamilton climb (which I was unable to finish). I’m not out of the woods yet, but it felt great to be back on a bike again, and to be able to ride with the club. It felt like I was riding in molasses the second part of the ride, but I guess molasses is pretty sweet.
The Guerneville Overnighter or Russian River Weekend has been on hiatus for ten years but not because we haven’t tried to restage it. The biggest obstacle to putting on another RRW is suitable lodging if we want to put it on in the traditional way. It’s not that lodging isn’t available—it would be relatively easy to book group accommodations as long as we did it ahead of time and picked a weekend that wasn’t already drawing a crowd eg. Lazy Bear Week. Traditional RRWs have had the following elements: (1) a Friday start for a group to cycle up to Guerneville for a three-day weekend; (2) inexpensive lodging, usually camping, in order make the trip available to the widest number of people, with an option for a room instead; (3) lodging in Guerneville preferably adjacent to the Russian River; (4) a Saturday group-prepared dinner. The two locations we’ve used most often, Fife’s and the Willows/Guerneville Lodge really aren’t suitable anymore. Fife’s is now Dawn Ranch Lodge and no longer has camping. It offers small cabins from $250-600 per night (one bed). The Guerneville Lodge is pretty much the way it has been but with two significant changes. The kitchen is no longer available for guest use so no group cooking can be done there, and now there is no onsite management with a consequence being loud, obnoxious partying in the lawn camping area making a peaceful stay a hit-or-miss thing (unless you want to party on too). At least the Guerneville Lodge still has camping.
The days of a Guerneville Overnighter costing about $20 are long gone too. Lodging along the Russian River, like everything else in the greater Bay Area, has experienced disproportionate inflation. $250 per summer weekend night for mediocre accommodations is common and some inns require a three-night stay. Even if we used an inn that did not require a three-night stay, the cost of a GW just for the lodging would be about $350-500 probably split for two people.
Camping has been a longtime option for GW; other than crashing with friends it is the only way to keep a Guerneville weekend inexpensive. Today a camp site runs about $40-50 per night or about $20-40 per person. That’s not bad, being just 100% inflation since 1983. But do Spokers still want to camp for a weekend? The club has aged up and the average income of club members is very likely quite a bit higher than it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s making camping–always the affordable choice–less necessary. If you look at the photos of the 1984 and 1985 Guerneville trips, other than the quaintness of people dressed in t-shirts and running shorts (by today’s standards they would be short shorts rather than just ‘shorts’) and tennis shoes you will notice that the bicycles are quite modest. It is a commonplace today to see bikes on club rides costing well over two grand whereas the average club bike back then was probably less than $300 brand new. Inflation since 1984 can’t account for that big of an increase. It says something demographically about Spokers back then: many members had low-to-moderate incomes simply because the Bay Area was still an affordable area for everyday people. I was a graduate student when I joined Different Spokes and my income was, well, a student income.
Currently in the Guerneville area the camping choices are limited. The bigger options are Guerneville Lodge, Parker Resort, Schoolhouse Canyon, and Johnson’s Beach. The Guerneville Lodge is still open but it’s a different place than it used to be, ie. there isn’t a group kitchen anymore and there is no onsite management, which apparently has made conflicts among visitors not uncommon, mainly noise and rowdiness at night. The Parker Resort is essentially camping only as is the Schoolhouse Canyon, with the latter not allowing groups larger than eight. The Highlands Resort, which the club has used before, does not allow groups bigger than eight. That leaves Johnson’s Beach which has group camping and rooms. The group camping site cost in 2019 was $200 per night for up to 20 people making it the same cost as Fife’s back in the day. However the group camping site is right at the entrance and next to town and the bridge making it a noisier location; it does have electric outlets though for charging your phones. Johnson’s Beach is rather crowded on summer weekends but that’s true for Guerneville in general.
Of the four conditions mentioned above eliminating one or all of them would open more possibilities. We could skip the ride up and back, in which case Guerneville becomes a getaway weekend; however this doesn’t resolve the lodging issue. If Spokers are less interested in camping, then our lodging choices become much wider as we could stay at any inn or owner-rented accommodation near Guerneville. Guerneville isn’t the only place to stay along the Russian River but it’s the most ‘urban’ (but not urbane) and has the most overt LGBT sensibility. But we could stay in Forestville, Monte Rio, or out of the small river towns altogether. Finally we could skip having a group-prepared dinner, which would obviate the need for a kitchen. But the critical one is cost: foregoing camping would mean the average cost per person would be about $250-350 per person for lodging rather than $80-100. Foregoing a kitchen means all the meals have to be eaten out and, again, higher cost.
When the club will be ready to go back is an open question with the pandemic having no predictable end. Next summer? Possibly but unlikely. However Guerneville resorts are currently open with COVID-19 precautions. But when we will have group rides and events again is uncertain. We certainly thought three months ago that this would all have come to an end by mid-summer and it hasn’t. Perhaps in this environment it would be better to stay out of Guerneville and in a more isolated location? If so we are probably talking about a house rental.
Of course the Russian River isn’t the only possibility for a club weekend trip. But finding another beautiful location within 100 miles of San Francisco that we can cycle to makes it a good choice.
Since last Friday the air quality has been ghastly in the Bay Area because of the ubiquitous wildfires. For those who dwell in San Francisco or coastside it’s been perhaps less polluted at times; for those of us in the East and South Bay it’s been varying between ‘unhealthy’ to verifiably dangerous levels. Since the dozens of wildfires started over a week ago we’ve also been enduring an unusually long and withering heat wave that has intensified the smokiness by trapping much of the particulates at ground level in place. With no coastal breeze to blow the smoke inland we’re pretty much stuck inhaling the same smoke over and over.
Over here in Contra Costa the smoke has been eerie but not unfamiliar: two years ago with the Camp Fire we had air quality this bad, so bad that the haze looked like benign fog. Except it wasn’t. Three years ago we had the Tubbs Fire, which didn’t cause as much havoc with our air as the Camp Fire in 2018 or even today’s fires. I rode during the Tubbs Fire without misgivings. But the following year the Camp Fire was so bad that after one day of riding outside—even with a Respro mask—I gave up; I was coughing incessantly anyway until the winds changed a week or so later and moved the smoke out. This time I’m not making the same mistake. As soon as the air quality warning was raised, I hunkered down indoors. We have two HEPA filters running constantly and we are also running air conditioning not just to cool the house down but to do some additional filtering. I haven’t been outside much, let alone to ride, since the fires began over ten days ago. At night we run the AC and HEPA filter in the bedroom; in the morning when I open the bedroom door the house smells of smoke until we run the filters in the other rooms.
One of our ‘downtime’ projects has been constructing a new greenhouse. We go outside in the early morning to get as much work done as possible before the heat increases. We wear N95 masks when working; even so I get headaches from breathing in the smoke and have to retreat indoors to recover.
Despite the pollution if you’ve still gone riding outdoors, you’re made of hardier stock than I. Riding in this thick smoke is like smoking a pack of cigarettes! And if you think ‘Well, it’s just smoke—it may smell funny but it won’t harm me”, keep in mind that exposure to air pollution can not just exacerbate COPD but also cause it. All that aerobic training torn down simply by breathing in smoke. That said getting a fix from riding is good for your mental health especially these days. But during this season of hellacious wildfires I would caution you to ‘exercise’ discretion rather than your legs.
The Russian River Weekend, or Guerneville Overnighter used to take place every summer, usually mid-July to mid-August depending on the availability of camp sites and rooms. The last time we held a Russian River Weekend was in 2010. For the counting impaired that’s ten years ago. Ten. Years. However that’s not because we haven’t tried. In 2012 as part of the 30th Anniversary Ride series I tried to put together a Guerneville weekend but ran into the problem that has been a headache ever since: we no longer have a suitable venue to host the weekend. Finding the right lodging is like that conundrum about bikes—’cheap, light, or strong: pick any two’—except for Guerneville lodging it’s ‘cheap, cozy, or convenient: pick any two’. But more on that later.
The Russian River Weekend goes back to the very first year of the club’s existence, 1983. It wasn’t the first Different Spokes trip—that honor goes to the ‘Thanksgiving On The Road’ (later called the Pigeon Point Overnighter), which was, astonishingly, the very first official club ride. (No, Tib loop was not the first club ride!) There actually were other rides before the inaugural ride but they were when the club was nascent; Thankgiving On The Road was the first one announced to the public. The RRW was ‘only’ the third overnight trip we offered. You may not know that the club offered many overnight trips through the early years with the majority of them requiring camping. Keep in mind that the club was formed by recreational cyclists with a touring bent although that interest in touring was soon to diminish as the club grew and the prospect of sleeping on anything other than 600-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets evoked shrieks of dismay by the newer members. All of those trips have long faded away and only two survived into the 21st century, the Lake Tahoe Spectacular (also now moribund) and the RRW.
The Russian River Weekend came from the fertile mind of Michael John, who long ago moved to the East Coast where he still resides. Although not a founder, Michael John was an early mover in the club, serving as the ChainLetter newsletter editor, all-around cheerleader, and later President. MJ also led several big tours for the club including one in the San Juan Islands, New England, and from Seattle to SF. His first RRW set the template for subsequent iterations: ride up to Guerneville on Friday, do rides in the Russian River basin (or not!) on Saturday, and then return to San Francisco on Sunday. The first trip was the full monty: ride up, ride more, and ride back.
Shortly thereafter some bright mind–probably MJ–realized that riding back Sunday could be cut comfortably shorter by riding just to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and catching the boat back to SF. But the shorter ride had a cost: you had to keep a steady (read: fast) pace and not dally in order to catch that mid-afternoon ferry to SF. No shopping adventures! If you missed that ferry, you had to wait a couple more hours for the next one, in which case you might as well just pedal back to SF.
Although copious bike riding was perhaps the centerpiece of the weekend, it needn’t be. Most participants couldn’t do the Friday ride so they came up after work or early on Saturday. And if cycling wasn’t your boy/girlfriend’s thing or you needed Saturday to recover, there were plenty of other things to keep you occupied including wine tasting or lounging in the river on an inner tube or by the pool at Fife’s to, uh, take in the sights. If you drove up, you could skip riding on Sunday altogether for more lounging or join the return riders partway before heading back to Guerneville to pack up and drive back. There were also several bars and dance/music venues where you could do exactly what you did in SF: hang out and try to pick someone up.
The Guerneville Overnighter was not just an indulgence in cycling excess; it was by design a subversive social event as well. Instead of having riders decamp to whatever lodging they might have scrounged up on their own, MJ had booked a group of campsites at Fife’s not just to keep the weekend cheap but to keep the group together. Fife’s as well as the very idea of gay men and women camping was perhaps a vestige—nay signature!—of the era, sort of back-to-the-land, granola hippie lifestyle crossed with Dynasty. However if sleeping in a tent just was too louche, you could rent a cabana at Fife’s for the weekend instead. The price for the weekend if you camped? About $20!
Fife’s has long given up the ghost having been replaced by the Dawn Ranch Lodge. It was/is right at the west entrance of downtown Guerneville and had a mix of inexpensive (read: down market) cabanas and camp sites along with a restaurant, swimming pool and outside bar with plenty of seating where one could take in the fabulous sights.
Oh, and its dance hall, Drums, was just across the street where you could boogie down to the latest disco.
Fife’s had a large camping area towards the river, which was good for a couple of reasons. It was far enough away from the road, Drums, and Fife’s own noisy bar that the racket didn’t keep us awake all night. However the noise in some of the adjacent tents might (did!) as well as the inebriated partyers wandering back to their tents in the dark after last call. It also afforded the club some privacy and allowed us to take over a big area for our own ‘Camp DSSF’.
About the ride up. The route up on Friday has changed over the years. Initially it was taking Highway 1 to Valley Ford and then cutting up the Bohemian Highway to River Road and thence to Guerneville. That route was about 88 miles. Sometime in the ‘90s or so, maybe even later—I’m not sure of the year—the coast route was deemed too grueling and some riders shifted to riding inland through Fairfax and Nicasio in order to skip the two big-ass hills out of Sausalito and Muir Beach.
Either way there was usually a headwind at some point so character building was a feature of the ride. Incidentally the Friday route for the Guerneville Overnighter was used as the basis of the first AIDS Bike-A-Thon route in 1985. Both MJ and Bob Humason, the two DSSF prime movers of that first BAT, designed the route (well, it was mostly MJ–he even drew the map) and made it a hundred miles by staying on Highway 1 to River Road instead of cutting up the Bohemian Highway to Monte Rio. (In all later BATs the routes were loops out of the Castro rather than a point-to-point to Guerneville.)
That ride up wasn’t a classic tour however: the fortuitous arrangement of a sag wagon to haul camping gear, all manner of cosmetics, multiple changes of clothing, and food set the bar low enough that non-tourers could prance their way up to Guerneville sans panniers and enjoy slogging up the hills without 30 extra pounds of crap on their bikes. From that point on a sag wagon for Guerneville wasn’t just a luxury, it was a necessity!
Strangely, after the first Guerneville Overnighter in July 1983 it took only a month for the second Guerneville to take place courtesy of Peter Renteria, who was one of the founders of the club. This time however was ‘Guerneville lite’ as there was no ride up or back. His GO was definitely a different animal as eleven participants carpooled up on Friday and did short rides on Saturday and Sunday (if they rode at all). This time they stayed at the Highlands Resort. But this GO was the exception as it wasn’t a tour at all but more in line with what we now know as a ‘getaway weekend’.
Saturday rides were optional and for those who rode up having the day off and lounging by the river was a welcome break. Two popular rides were the wineries route up Westside to Healdsburg and back on Eastside and a jaunt to Cazadero and/or Duncan Mills and back. Those looking for a bigger ride would continue west of Cazadero out Fort Ross Road and Meyers Grade with a return along River Road. The Sunday ride was the return to SF (or the Larkspur Ferry Terminal).
In later years most if not all riders didn’t ride back at all, and the Sunday ride became a short roll out to Occidental to get brunch at Howard’s Station and then return to Guerneville to drive home.
After dinner folks trotted off to the bars such as the Rainbow Cattle Company or the Woods or Drums to dance and party on. However diehard Spokers hung around the campsite to chat, gossip, and play…Bingo.
As time went on we eventually moved over the Willows and the meals got considerably upscaled since we now had a full kitchen at our disposal to prepare the dinner. It became possible to prepare pasta dishes (do you know how long it takes to get a big pot of water to boil on a propane stove??) as well as keep things chilled (like ice cream). I don’t recall the exact motivation for moving to the Willows. But it was probably a combination of Fife’s rates going up, the difficulty in getting reservations there, and the noise and commotion in contrast to the relative peace and quiet at the Willows.
The Willows was at the opposite end of town. The atmosphere there was completely different than Fife’s, which was party central. The Willows had a beautiful lawn that sloped down to the Russian River with plentiful camp sites. Like Fife’s if you didn’t want to camp you could get a room but instead of cabanas it had individual rooms in the main building.
There wasn’t a swimming pool but in lieu you had the hot tub on the back deck and easy access to the river. It was a lot more pleasant place to spend a weekend. In later years even though we were still going to the Willows the hassle of preparing a dinner for larger and larger groups led to hiring a caterer to prepare the Saturday dinner especially since the number of Spokers increased; I believe one year it was 50 people. The loss of the camaraderie in preparing a meal together was replaced with the meal being a restful happy hour for all rather than a source of consternation and anxiety for some (and usually delay for everyone).
During the late Oughts the Willows shut down and underwent an ownership change. Fife’s was out of the picture having morphed into the Dawn Ranch Lodge also after a period of having been shut down. Russian River Weekends took place but with people having to scrounge up lodging on their own and the Saturday dinner became a restaurant meal. The new owners of the Willows welcomed us back but eventually they too succumbed to the stress of running an inn and the Willows became less amenable to having us there.
Which led to a quandary: was there still an economical lodge on the River that would welcome a cycling club and allow us to host the Russian River Weekend in the traditional way?
Having been made impossible by the pandemic some spring centuries were postponed to this fall rather than cancelled outright. Now cancellations of the postponement dates are starting to trickle in. The uncertainty about the pandemic and whether large groups will be allowed has also led to some fall rides being cancelled and others to remain in a holding pattern and hope for the best.
Only a couple of one summer century still remains un-cancelled: the Alta Alpina Challenge set for July 25 and [Alta Alpina Challenge is now cancelled for 2020] the Fall River Century on July 18, which is just two weeks away. After that you’ll have to wait until September for your next chance of a big ride. The former is in Alpine county, home of its mate the Markleeville Death Ride (cancelled), and which has had only three COVID-19 cases to date. However the Alta Alpine Cycling Club has adjusted the event so that rest stops are almost unsupported to minimize contact with staff. However there is still a chance that permits won’t be issued and the event will be cancelled at the last minute. The Fall River Century takes place in Shasta county, which until a few weeks ago had hardly any confirmed COVID-19 cases and then a superspreading event occurred and it now has 92.
[9/3: Other than the Fall River Century in July every other century/gran fondo ride in Northern California through the end of 2020 has been cancelled or ‘postponed’ to 2021 (= euphemism for ‘cancelled’–I doubt they’ll be called, for example, “the 2020 Wild Turkey Century on July 4, 2021!”)]
5 Saturday. Mile High 100. $55-85. 33-, 56-, and 108-mile routes. A beautiful ride around Lake Almanor near Chester, CA. If cancelled your reg fee minus processing will be refunded. Now cancelled. (When you attempt to register, then you are told the event is cancelled.)
12 Saturday. Best Buddies Challenge. $50 fee plus $1,550 minimum fundraising. 30-, 62-, or 100-mile routes but will be different than in past because of closure of Hearst Ranch. The event has gone virtual for 2020; see website for details.
25-27 Friday through Sunday. Eroica California. $200. 40-, 73-, 87-, and 127-mile routes. 1,500 riders max. Mixed surface routes. You must have a vintage bicycle to ride the classic route. [7/22: Now “posponed until 2021” (sic). Note no date in 2021 has been announced. If you registered for 2020, it will be carried over to 2021.]
3 Saturday. Best of the Bay. Postponed to Oct. 3, but now registration is “delayed” due to COVID-19 uncertainty. Event has NOT gone virtual but format has now changed: do the ride by yourself from 9/12 to 10/10 for $50. No support unless you organize it yourself as part of a team.
3 Saturday. Konocti Challege. $70-90. 40-, 60-, and 100-mile routes. Nice ride around Clear Lake. Note no refunds if cancelled. [7/22: Ha ha, it hasn’t been canceled–just “postponed” to 10/2/21. Good luck getting a refund.]
11 Sunday. Strawberry Fields Forever. $75. 30-, 61-, and 101-mile routes. No refunds. Routes take in several of our Pajaro Dunes weekend roads! [7/22: Nope, not happening! Next edition will be 5/16/21.]
17 Saturday. Devil’s Slide Ride. $110-65. Registration is open. 101-, 64-, and 42-mile routes down the San Mateo coast and up the Coast Range and back. A benefit for PARCA. Cancelled. Next event is May 22, 2021.
17-18 Saturday to Sunday. Tour of the Sacramento River Delta(TOSRD). $127. Annual ride from Brannan Island to Sacramento via the Delta on Saturday and return on Sunday. Stay at La Quinta near old town. Includes lunch on Saturday and a post-ride bbq on Sunday. [7/22: Now cancelled for 2020, alas.]
That’s this year’s title for the 50th iteration of the San Francisco LGBT Pride celebration. 50 years of pride—a laudable achievement. Who would have thought that a nearly one-off march down Polk Street in 1970 would become the monstrous annual event with hundreds of thousands of visitors that we enjoy today? Starting small the Pride celebration née Gay Freedom Day has grown and made a huge difference, becoming a symbol and beacon around the world. Different Spokes isn’t nearly as old—we’re only 38 years old- er, young!—and we’re not nearly as notorious famous. But the title of this year’s Pride applies to us as well: we’ve had generations of LGBT folks come through our club, most of whom have moved on (if they didn’t die). Attending a Gay Freedom Day was, and perhaps still is, a rite of passage for those coming out—it certainly was for me. Being among the mass of fellow LGBT humanity at the parade can be like the proverbial scales falling off one’s eyes: the ugly ducklings have finally found their real family. The club also was and is a smaller version of Pride: those who come to us are looking for their brethren and have to make that tentative first step in identifying as ‘one of us’.
I joined Different Spokes shortly after I moved to San Francisco. However I didn’t attend my first ride until maybe as much as a year later. I was welcomed warmly and quickly fell in. I didn’t ride a lot with the club though because I was in graduate school at the time and also working, so most of my cycling was snuck in short spurts here and there and I hardly had time for a club ride until my life settled down. I wasn’t the only new member–the club was young so we were ALL new members!–but I do recall one member in particular, a young man who wasn’t even 18. He was quiet and shy, a bit awkward interpersonally, but he loved to ride his bike. He lived in San Francisco with his parents and I’m not sure they knew he was gay. Somehow he found us. This was long before the Internet. But growing up in San Francisco he must have had his ear to the ground and made his way to us not long after the club formed. He was the furthest thing from a ‘Castro clone’ and as far as I could tell the club was his only gay outlet. He was a regular on club rides for years. I don’t know what happened to him but I like to think that hanging out with the club was a positive influence on him as he grew up. Wherever you are, Glen, I hope you’re doing well.
And to all you present and future ugly ducklings, welcome home!
Although I wear a face mask when cycling, I’m not sure why. There are two rationales for wearing a face mask: so the user doesn’t get infected, and/or so others don’t get infected by the user. Medical grade face masks are the only ones designed with preventing infection. Some N95 masks have exhalation valves to make them more comfortable. These allow one’s breath to be released from the mask easily since the original purpose of the N95 is to prevent the user from being infected, whose breath is presumptively not the vector for infection; these are obviously useless for protecting others from the user, ie. for ‘source’ control. Since most of us are not able to get medical grade face masks in order to spare the limited number for front line workers who need them, we are left with less protective non-medical grade masks and ad hoc face coverings. The figures I’ve seen are that single layer face coverings block about 17-20% of infectious particles. (Presumably N95 masks block about 93-95%.) Still that’s 17% protection versus nothing at all.
Using a mask to prevent infecting others: that’s an interesting turn on motivating compliance because normally you motivate people to do something by showing them how they benefit from it, not how it benefits others. Why should I wear a mask if it is primarily to protect others but does little good for me? My motivation to use one will be even lower if I think I’m not infectious because then it would not only be of no benefit to others, since I can’t infect anyone, but it’s of little benefit to me plus being uncomfortable. This guts both rationales, my self-interest and protection of others. When I see people walking around SF without a mask in the crowd, I suspect that may be behind that person’s behavior. Not having the ready availability of better masks makes it difficult to argue they’re for your benefit, which might increase compliance. I’d wear a N95 mask almost all the time if I could get one with exhalation valves. But I can’t.
One could argue that if everyone just took care of themselves—by wearing a face mask to lower the risk of getting infected—then not only would we be helping reduce COVID-19 in general but we’d be motivated to do so because it would be in one’s self-interest. That would be an easier sell, wouldn’t it? But we can’t get good masks, so the only way to appeal to self-interest is to argue that ad hoc masks do protect you from infection, which is a weak argument given how poorly they’ve been shown to perform. Trying to elicit mask compliance by appealing to community interest may work for some but it’s a really hard sell for many people because, well, selfishness and egocentricity.
Of course a flaw with the current rationale—wear a mask to protect others—is that if you think you’re not infectious, then there is no motivation to wear a mask yet you might be infected without realizing it. You’re only as non-infectious as your most recent physical encounter, right? It’s like the old mantra about HIV and sex: your HIV status can change after any sexual encounter. You might not have the coronavirus today but who knows after that last trip to Safeway? Your basis for believing you’re not infected may or may not be well-founded and it is only grounded on your self-perception.
But the way it is supposed to work is that we all agree to mutually help each other by all masking up. That is, I get some protection from you if I give you some protection in exchange. Everybody accepts some responsibility and inconvenience so that everybody can be protected. If I walk down the street without a mask and I encounter someone else without a mask, how can I expect them to protect me if I won’t do the same for them? This is probably a motivation behind ‘mask shaming’—calling out people and publicly shaming them for not wearing a mask. Those not wearing a mask have a duty (to us) to wear one and we shouldn’t let that slide since they’re potentially prolonging the epidemic and the inconvenience to me.
If one were sociopathic, then assisting others without getting something in exchange is completely nonsensical since other people’s wellbeing is irrelevant, only one’s own. But most of us are not sociopathic and we do care about other people, which is an important reason why people do wear masks. Another reason people wear masks is blind obediance: I’m supposed to wear a mask so I’ll do so whether it’s because I don’t want to be shamed or called out or because I just want to fit in and be ignored. This is the effect of authority, which as we have seen with Trump can work in the other direction to, ie. if you do something only because someone with authority tells you to do it, then you’ll change your behavior when said authority changes their mind about what you should do, such as Trump’s disparagement of masks.
But there is a positive side to blind obediance. When you ask people to use their judgment in deciding when to wear a mask in public, you’re assuming that their judgment is sound. Mandating blind obediance requires less judgment—you either comply or you don’t: wear a mask, period. During the height of the quarantine isn’t that why the Italian police stopped everybody who was outside? “Oh I’m tired of being inside. I’ll just go out for a little walk.” They knew that people wouldn’t comply unless forced to do so. People always find a self-serving reason why they should be excused from the rules.
Of course wearing a mask to reduce infection presupposes that there is a likelihood of becoming infected. This is where things get even murkier. The evidence to date—which is subject to change since the novel coronavirus is so new—is that COVID-19 spreads primarily, nearly exclusively, in indoor environments with prolonged exposure. The number of suspected infections in a Chinese study due to an outdoor encounter was less than one out of over 7,000 cases investigated. What that suggests is that we should be more concerned about indoor settings and focus on mitigating transmission there rather than on outdoors. Although outdoor encounters can lead to infection, the risk is very, very low compared to indoor transmission. We should be much less concerned about wearing a mask when cycling outdoors. This is probably why the counties say we are not required to wear a mask when exercising outside.
Why did SF announce a 30-foot rule for wearing a mask? It probably has nothing to do with 30 being a critical empirically-based measure, or a ‘magic’ number, and more to do with a lot of people not bothering to mask up when walking on city streets even when passing other pedestrians. In other words this has nothing to do with epidemiological evidence and more to do with social psychology: the six-foot rule gave people permission not to mask up until someone was very close. But it’s a hassle to mask up and down all the time so some people weren’t masking up at all. Now with the 30-foot rule you’re in effect asked to wear a mask virtually all the time when outside even though the risk of infection while outside is estimated to be about twentyfold less than indoors. From what I’ve seen in SF since the new mask order compliance has really increased even among those in less busy areas such as Twin Peaks. Yet just the other morning I saw plenty of people walking on Market Street without a face covering or even one at hand.
Back to cycling with a mask. To date there is little evidence that wearing a mask while cycling outdoors is providing protection for anybody. As research data has come in, indoor transmission is turning out to be the culprit. Outdoor transmission is much harder to accomplish because of air dispersion and virion degradation severely diminishing the concentration of infectious material. The other factors for infection, distance and exposure time, are usually—but not always—insignificant when cycling—just don’t linger near anybody and maintain social distance. On group rides that’s apparently harder to do; I’ve observed groups rides where participants are bunched up at stop lights or cyclists are pedaling down the road in a tight paceline. Keep in mind that mask use is secondary to social distancing. If you maintain social distance especially outdoors, then mask use becomes redundant.
Despite knowing all this I continue to wear a mask while riding. Perhaps I’m being irrationally risk averse. But masks, like everything else, are signifiers and in this situation they are symbols of cooperation. It may be irrational to stop at a stop light when there is no traffic but drivers do it most of the time, probably from a combination of habit, internalization, fear of a ticket, and cooperation. Those who do not might be reckless…or they might be making a rational decision: no traffic, no cops or cameras, so why should I stop? If masks are primarily for others’ protection, then wearing a mask sends a signal that I am cooperating even if the actual physical function of the mask is near useless. In essence the symbolic function of a mask—as in stopping at a light—is ‘you don’t need to fear me’, which is interesting because we usually think of wearing a mask as ‘I’m afraid of getting infected by you.’ But wearing a mask while cycling when no one is around? That doesn’t make any sense at all. No one is in danger of being infected and you aren’t signifying to anybody (except yourself). However you may want to have a mask ready, say pulled under your chin, in case you unexpectedly have close encounters with others. Or, you may want to wear a mask all the time in case of situations such rounding a corner on a trail and finding yourself next to a hiker. Do you have time to pull that face covering over your face? Maybe not. Wearing a mask all the time means you don’t have to think or take action should someone suddenly approach you.
Wearing a mask while cycling is often uncomfortable especially over here in the East Bay in summer when it can get quite hot. Road cycling culture puts a strange value on suffering. It’s often elevated to mythic status, hence ‘epic’ rides and ultra-long distance efforts like Everesting, centuries, double centuries, Dirty Kanza, Alpe d’Huez, you name it. The discomfort and inconvenience of wearing a face mask for two hours on a ride can be more daunting to cyclists than the prospect of riding a hundred miles. I’m not sure what to make of that except that perhaps it’s only suffering of a specific sort or suffering of one’s choosing that has positive status. Of course real suffering is often something over which you have no choice of in life; it can be unexpectedly thrust upon you and you just have to deal with it, whether it’s a bad reaction to chemotherapy, getting mangled in a high speed car accident, or the dentist not having used enough anesthetic on your root canal. In any case wearing a face mask seems rather minor as far as ‘suffering’ goes and yet elicits strong refusal. Is it because the minor discomfort of a mask is such a gigantic buzzkill that cycling really becomes pointless? That is, mask discomfort nullifies all pleasure of riding, and the point of riding is to have pleasure, so what’s the point of wearing a mask? Perhaps it’s because it’s optional to wear one. If I don’t have to wear one and it’s uncomfortable, why would I wear one? In my experience just slowing down can make wearing a mask while cycling less unpleasant. If that’s true, then why don’t cyclists just slow down and use a mask? Maybe it’s because they don’t want to have to slow down, ie. compromise how they ride.
One way to deal with discomfort is to reframe its purpose. Suffering for a good reason often is incentive enough. Isn’t that why some people ride from SF to LA? For some it’s fun and maybe a challenge. But for others it’s simply a grueling masochistic effort. It’s all about the purpose that can help one endure, hence ride 545 miles in a week.
Perhaps wearing a mask can be reframed as a training tool. I’m curious about the amount of carbon dioxide one rebreathes when cycling with a surgical mask. Why? Because breathing in air with a reduced amount of oxygen is one way to stimulate red blood cell production, hence high altitude training or using a hypoxic chamber, ie. an altitude tent (some of which simulate high altitude by reducing oxygen and replacing it with nitrogen). If it were significant enough, one could eagerly wear a mask in hopes of increasing one’s RBC to go faster. Maybe the racers (or wannabes) would embrace using a mask!
6/24/20 Update. Here‘s an interesting and slightly different view on face coverings that ties into my comments about signifiers. His comment about tolerating the discomfort of a face covering because he respects others resonates.
We are almost three months into the quarantine and we have not had a club ride since Leap Day, February 29. The state has been in Phase II for over two weeks but Bay Area counties are mostly just in the very beginning of Phase II and opening up more slowly. If you’ve been out riding, you may have noticed that there are groups of cyclists riding together outside. You may be wondering whether group rides are now allowed and when Different Spokes will start riding together.
With all the talk about Phase II, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that things are loosening up. But essentially Phase II is about allowing some businesses that heretofore weren’t deemed “essential” to reopen up with conditions to reduce the threat of infection to patrons and workers. Group activities are still not allowed. The San Francisco “Shelter In Place” order of June 1 still includes a critical paragraph which bans gatherings of individuals who are not members of the same household:
“7. 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.”
You may have thought that group rides were okay as long as we kept social distancing and wore face masks. The 6/1/20 order includes a potentially confusing statement: (#13.1.III)
“For the purposes of this Order, individuals may leave their residence only to perform the following “Essential Activities.” … iii. 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…”
But given the clear statement on group gathering earlier in the order, you should interpret this statement something like, “When you are cycling alone or with members of your same household/living unit, you should keep a minimum six feet away from others, wear a face mask when within 30 feet of others, wash hands for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer, etc.” It does not mean you can do group cycling as long as you socially distance.
So despite what you may see on the streets, we are still can’t have club rides without being in violation of the health order.
What about those groups of cyclists you see in a paceline? After checking at least fourteen Bay Area clubs I think I can confidently say that no recreational or amateur cycling club in the Bay Area is sanctioning group rides at this time although they do say that you may continue to ride alone. But people will do what they feel safe doing and that includes group rides with friends and acquaintances even if it’s contrary to the order. Early this morning we saw a training group in a double paceline; we have friends who are riding with other friends but using social distancing because they think this is safe enough. I know of a rider in another club, which currently has stopped group rides, who is advocating for group rides of up to ten. (I know one is the loneliest number but why is ten a magic number?)
If we try to look ahead and predict when group activities will be allowed, we can look at the outline for Phase III and Phase IV. Phase III is more of Phase II but applied to higher risk businesses such as ‘personal care and recreational venues’. These include businesses such as nail salons, barber shops, and gyms. Phase IV includes mass event venues such as sports stadiums, movie houses, and conventions. Essentially Phase IV is “normal” functioning although it is likely that it will look a bit different that the previous “normal”. Perhaps group rides will happen in Phase IV, which in California—if the infection rate declines rather than surges—is probably months away given how carefully the Bay Area counties are proceeding. Note that moving from phase to phase is supposedly conditioned by having testing and contact tracing infrastructure in place and functioning. Currently we do not have capacity thoughout the Bay Area to do adequate contact tracing except perhaps in Santa Clara county.
So if we are going to comply with the counties’ health orders, we just need to be patient. In the meantime enjoy your solo rides and look forward to when we can do the Tib loop again. Together.
Update 6/5/20@8 pm: Of course after I posted this I read that Alameda county is allowing so-called “social bubbles”. A social bubble is a group of no more than 12 people from different households who are allowed to meet together and encourages them to use social distancing and face masks when they do so. I haven’t seen the actual text of the order so the details are murky at the moment. You can belong to one bubble only at any time, ie. they are closed and exclusive groups. This would technically allow group rides again but only in Alameda county. If other counties adopted this, we could end up with Different Spokes sub-bubbles: “Could I ride with David Gaus? Darn, he’s a member of a different bubble!” You can see the potential problems. Interestingly this same announcement says that face coverings will have to be worn whenever one is outside the home even when you’re exercising and you’re within 30 feet of others. So it’s copying the San Francisco idea.
Almost assuredly people will eventually start packing the new BART stations, Milpitas and Berryessa/North San Jose, that are—finally—going to open on June 13, less than two weeks away. But for now with the pandemic still raging in the Bay Area those trains will probably frighten rather than lure potential patrons. That’s too bad because those two new stations are the most significant development in mass transit in our area since the SMART train in Marin/Sonoma opened in 2017.
But eventually the shelter in place orders will give way to a resumption of more-or-less prepandemic life and those stations will make it easier for Spokers to do rides in the southern part of the East Bay. The most notable example will be –“Tradition!”–Mount Hamilton In The Fall, which starts at Penitencia Creek Park just two miles from the Berryessa station. Until now the nearest BART station was Warm Springs and before that, Fremont, both of which entailed significant additional cycling—at least ten miles one way—to the start. In addition BART’s Sunday service, which has not opened until an absurdly late 8 am, meant that one had to hustle to get to the Hamilton start on time. With Berryessa/North San Jose station open this will be considerably easier if you’re coming from, say, San Francisco.
The big question is, will they come? BART trains are unlikely to be packed on an early Sunday morning. But nonetheless the possibility of infection on mass transit is going to make a lot of people think twice about using it rather than safely piling into one’s car and driving to Penitencia Creek Park.
Over the past two years we’ve put up with delay after delay in the opening, to the point that BART’s repeated postponement dates were to be disbelieved. In December, the last time BART delayed their opening, it wisely kept its mouth shut on when it would predict the stations would really open. Privately I thought that June was a reasonable deadline but very likely to be blown anyway just like the past five or six previous announcements. This time BART surprised us all by actually announcing an opening gate with just weeks to go. If they don’t open on June 13 there will be some serious mud on BART’s collective face.
I hope to see you all at the Mt. Hamilton ride this fall whether you come by BART or by car!