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Soulful solo cycling from a respectful distance

By Mitch Flynn

Covid-19 has been both a boon and a bust for bikers.

It’s been a boon because car traffic and air pollution have dramatically decreased, and because many of us now have the time (whether we wanted it or not) to do something that’s fun and healthy in the face of something that’s decidedly not.

It’s been a bust because we can’t ride with our friends in the same group and club settings we’re used to, and because the events and gatherings we’ve come to love and look forward to – the Ride for Roswell highest on my list – have been postponed, rescheduled, canceled or reconfigured.

What’s a biker to do but ride?

In March, at the beginning of the pandemic, I rode around Forest Lawn. Excuse the bad joke, but back then, between the cold weather and the fact that corona cabin fever had yet to set in, the place was really dead. (I apologize.) But between a couple of warm days and a couple of cooped-up weeks, that suddenly changed. A sign posted at the entrance announced that bikes were banned. Maybe that’s as it should be – after all, a contemplative pace is more appropriate for a sacred place. A cemetery may be park-like but isn’t a place to do hill intervals.

The Delaware Park ring road was next up, but that was busier than the Broadway Market at Easter. When a squirrel came to within a butter lamb’s length of my wheel, and the loosely leashed dog pursuing it achieved equally unsettling proximity, I decided to give up riding around crowds for what was left of Lent.

Mitch Flynn.

In early April, I biked out of the city with a friend and posted an account of our ride on Facebook with the lightheartedly intended title, “Social distance riding – always keep a bike length between you and the next person!” My post unleashed a wave of comments that raised my aerodynamics IQ by a couple of hundred points.

Several of my 3,529 Facebook friends, including some whom I actually know in real life, took me to task for failing to translate the 6-foot social distancing rubric into its recreational distancing equivalent – which works out to about 10 times that to avoid the respiratory plume of someone you’re following on a bike. Their advice: ride by yourself or ride indoors on a trainer.

So what’s a biker to do?

Balaclava over my face as a barrier against both this cruelest and coolest of Aprils and the pandemic’s potential for unintentional transmission, I hit the road by my lonesome.

Elmwood Village to Canalside. Ohio Street to Tifft Street. Electric Avenue in Lackawanna to Big Tree Road in Blasdell. From there, two lefts, two rights, a right, and a left and you’re in the Boston Hills.

I’m not a very good hill climber – I’m just not built for it, plus, I can always play the trump card of saying that I’m old enough to be (and am) collecting Social Security. I’ve had to swallow my pride and walk my bike up hills a number of times. But there’s something about the challenge of overcoming gravity – and the sense of accomplishment at the end of a long climb – that makes it all worthwhile.

Lake Erie is 569 feet above sea level. The highest point on East Hill in the town of Boston, not far from Chestnut Ridge Park on Cole Road, is 1,611 feet. Overcome that height and you get to enjoy a “to infinity and beyond” view of our great lake and great city.

I look forward to the day when I can bike again for fun, camaraderie and good causes. Until then, I’ll be riding solo or at least 60 feet from my friends.

Mitch Flynn is the founder of the Ride for Roswell.

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