When I get to Perkins, Oklahoma, the halfway point of The Mid South gravel race, I make the mistake of taking my phone out of airplane mode. I do this because over the last 50 cold, drizzly, and muddy miles I have convinced myself that my coworker Ben Delaney has decided to drop out of the misery and wants to take the SAG wagon back to Stillwater for a beer.
This is Ben we’re talking about, so obviously, I don’t get that text.
Instead, other messages start blipping onto my screen, and almost every one is a reminder of the other reason that I feel so crappy riding my bike in Oklahoma on March 14: Everyone has just had a collective realization that this coronavirus thing is real.
There’s a message from a friend who says her husband is starting to freak out and she wants to know if he’s overreacting. Another is asking what hand sanitizer to get.
No one is asking my opinion because I am a bike journalist. It’s because, six weeks before this scene (and for nine years before that), I was a nurse.
When we get back to Boulder after the race, I don’t return to my “new” office at VeloNews. I’m at home, like everyone else. For a few days, there is The Mid South to write about, but after that, we’re not sure what’s going to happen in the bike racing world. We’re also not sure what’s going to happen in the world.
I feel uneasy and useless. If I had a dollar for every time someone says to me, “aren’t you glad you got out of healthcare when you did?” I’d be rich. And they’d be wrong. I want to be in healthcare right now. Plus, how can you write about bikes when you could be helping save lives?
I sign up for the medical reserve corps and let my old boss know that I can help if she needs me. Fortunately, there is never a surge of cases in Boulder, and I’m not needed. I table the idea of traveling to New York City or the Navajo Nation. Surprisingly, I begin writing about bikes, and I even call old colleagues to ask their opinions on cycling and COVID-19.
The pull to return back to the hospital weakens with time, and even without bike racing, there is plenty to write about. When I tell people I have been torn, working as a journalist when I could be a nurse, they suggest something more hopeful: Maybe people will have more time to read, and maybe they’ll want to read stories about bikes.