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Riding my bike and moving beyond bargaining

Last week, like many of us, I was bargaining.

Sure, #StayAtHome and #WorkFromHome but I can still ride my bike. I can still take walks with friends. I love the outside. It won’t be that bad. I was imagining canoe camping holidays even. Repeat: It won’t be that bad. I was still thinking about me and my life, not exclusively but my plans revolved around making work at home work for me, the daily work of my leadership role in the university, family responsibilities, and seeing how much of my exercise routine I could keep.

I blogged about that here and here and here.

And then I read this, To tackle coronavirus, walk – and act– this way by André Picard in the Globe and Mail. Who is André Picard? His official bio says, André Picard is the health columnist at The Globe and Mail and one of Canada’s top public policy writers. His latest book is MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH: Public Health Issues in Canada.”

To me, he’s the person whose voice I respect the most on matters of Canadian health policy. We were young journalists working together for Canadian University Press and though our careers have taken us in different directions, I’ve always found his voice to be wise and compassionate. You know you have those people in your life, who if they speak, you listen? André Picard is one of those people for me. His column was my wake up call.

André writes,

“People who are not sick and not recent travellers, can circulate freely. They can go for a walk. But should they? Ethically, is it right to go for a walk when we are being asked to keep our interactions to a bare minimum?

“We also have to start thinking seriously, and preparing ourselves mentally, for how long this could go on, and how long we can tolerate a new normal. Right now, we’re still in the bargaining phase: It’s okay to go for a walk, right? It’s okay to take the kids to the park, isn’t it? Are these attempts to eke out a little bit more normal in these extraordinarily abnormal times just a bargain with the devil?”

“In Canada, we’re on the brink of being too late to prevent those dire outcomes. It’s time to bring the hammer down, to move from polite entreaties to practice social distancing to firm orders to do so. This must be done with absolute clarity and a singular message. It doesn’t feel like time for a casual walk, or casual talk, anymore.”

In the past week, I went from thinking riding solo was okay to watching France, Italy and Spain ban recreational cycling. Why? Because if you get a mechanical failure, who is going to pick you up? Is that trip essential? Because you might have an accident and land in the hospital and you absolutely do not want to be taking medical attention away from a COVID-19 patient.

This week I’ve watched Nova Scotia moved to close all parks and ban recreational hiking. You can hike from your home only now. I just read that the UK is allowing people one bout of outdoor exercise a day. You can’t run in the morning and ride in the afternoon.

We’ve all watched people home from work taking over beautiful remote locations. Wales and Banff were both swamped with tourists. Go home, say the people who make these remote places home. We only have enough food supplies for locals and there isn’t room in the hospitals if you get sick. In my part of Ontario cottage country residents who aren’t year round residents have been asked to leave. The emergency rooms only have a few beds.

The world is getting smaller, fast. It’s time to stop bargaining and face the task at hand head on.

But it has its good moments, my smaller world. We took part in a neighbourhood art scavenger hunt today and drew a turtle to place in our window for local children to find.

I really appreciated these words from friend and award winning author Emma Donoghue about making a life in small places.

So there’s one focus right now and that focus is getting through this pandemic without overly taxing our health care system so it doesn’t collapse. We’re doing this so we won’t have sick people unable to get a respirator because they are all being used. I watched a thing last night about a 72 year old Italian priest who gave up his respirator to save a younger person. I don’t want doctors and patients to face those choices here.

Flattening the curve is a group project that requires our full on effort and attention. Today the Premier of Ontario announced (finally!) that all non-essential businesses are closed for two weeks. I hope that got everyone’s attention though I wish he’d done it two weeks earlier.

We are in this one together. We need to stay home, yes, but we also need to support vulnerable people and our essential workers. That’s nurses and doctors but also transit and grocery store workers.

But what about our mental health? Surely there is some need for exercise.

I think that’s right but what’s the smallest-cost-to-others way you can accomplish that? In places like France, Italy, and Spain you can still ride your bike to the grocery store. It’s recreational cycling that’s banned. You can still walk your dog. You can run within 2 km of your house.

We’re not there yet and if we all work together now maybe we won’t get there. I’m past bargaining but I’m still hoping. And me, I’m riding inside on my trainer in the virtual world of Zwift. When it’s nicer I will ride outside but short distances near my house, I think. Long rides are for later.

4 thoughts on “Riding my bike and moving beyond bargaining

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful post. I had been saddened by the closing of my beloved Gatineau Park, which I support from a social distancing perspective. I hadn’t really considered the issue of injuries taking away resources from the COVID response, or the risks arising from an equipment breakdown.

    1. Me either at first. I started reading about the justification for stopping cycling in Europe and then it started to click. I had a friend cut their hand slicing veggies and end up in ER and was scolded for taking to time in a crisis. Be careful everyone and stay well.

  2. I really appreciate this take, Sam. I also read André’s column (and all his columns) with interest. The thing that struck me about this one was that it actually was not all that clear – contrary to the usual. The comments below the line bore that out – even accounting for the extremely cranky and under nuanced quality of G&M comments in general. People were truly confused: are you saying NO WALKING? Are you saying it’s ethically wrong for me to walk my dog? What ARE you saying?

    You post strikes me as significantly clearer. Look at your movement choices: what you normally do, what you think you should still be able to do. Then do an impact assessment: what happens if? How do you cope, and who else will be impacted? Finally, do a cost-benefit analysis. If this is the risk, and this is the coping strategy, but the effect of NOT doing X on me will be significant (for example) mental health burden, then what should I do?

    I really believe the answers here are different for everyone. What’s been missing in the messaging so far is tools for making safe decisions. Tell people don’t walk your dog, and they will tell you to f#%k off; tell people to think carefully about the impact of a casual walk, from start to finish, and then to think about mitigating risk, and they are more likely to get it. It’s like the difference between telling students to do X, and helping them work through a problem to its conclusion, critically engaged in the issues along the way.

    For me, walking the dog alone, and with my neighbour at a 2 metre distance with her dog, is still on the table, because we live alone and are both without any other human contact right now. (I have not been physically touched by another person for two weeks and my mental health shows it.) So is riding, though I am totally taking on board your comments about risk there. Luckily I can ride in gorgeous terrain that is walking distance from my house if need be. I will need to be extra cautious and perhaps work on strength over speed. But these are choices I’m making for myself carefully, based on what I know I need in order to ward off major depression. They are not taken lightly.

    Thanks again.

  3. We all know the risks of going out. If so many people stay home it lessens the chances of the virus spreading. That means I can go to the park as long as it’s open and not feel guilty or selfish. I’m taking my chances. As a loner hermit artist, going out to draw has been my therapy for years and I’m not stopping unless they fine me for it.
    Did you see the pix of the people in India or some other country all out in the street protesting and people are shocked and outraged? They’re saying those people are stupid for protesting a virus, but it might be they’re protesting being forced to stay home. It could happen here in Virginia but I don’t think it will.

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