Thursday, August 03, 2017

Knowing When To Say When

Even remote gravel events can be dangerous......I know!
Maybe you've been too busy to hear about the tragedies suffered in the ultra-endurance cycling scene this year, but there have been a few deaths in some of the higher profile, longer distance road based ultras this season. Probably the most notorious death of recent times was that of Mike Hall. The recent events concerning these deaths have brought the microscope of criticism and cries for solutions. The "something must be done" drums are being beaten loudly.

What this means for the future of ultra-cycling events is not clearly known yet, but the responses have been typical. Here is a Cyclingtips.com post which should give you a pretty good idea of what I mean here.

First of all, I think we have to call out some obvious points that are not being discussed, (at least not that I have seen), and the first and foremost of these is that someone's death does not always mean we "have to do something" to prevent more deaths. I think this is more a philosophical viewpoint than maybe we are really seeing here. Think about people dying. It happens every day in many ways. We are not "doing something" about many of these deaths. Are these lives worth less than the lives lost by higher profile ultra-cyclists? I ask this more as a point to ponder for us all. Because it seems to me that it is easy to get indignant and raise our passions when we are saddened by the loss of someone we feel is an iconic figure for......whatever, but we don't raise an eyebrow for certain (you fill in the blanks) folks when they die. So, there is that facet of all of this which is really more than a cycling issue. I'll leave that for others to discuss.....

Second of all, we seem to have an issue with death. You will have to search your own souls concerning this, but when the spectre of death is brought up, many try to deflect thinking about it. You've all seen it on the waivers we sign- "This activity may cause serious injury or DEATH"- but few consider this a possible reality for them. You should though.......Death is a thing. It is real. One day, you will experience it......

Mark Johnson was dancing with hypothermia for hours at T.I.v13. Image by Jon Duke
 I've contemplated dying on several occasions during gravel events. I've heat stroked, bonked, passed out, seen visions, and fallen asleep raging down hill on my bicycle in these events. I don't finish a lot of these events due to my pushing the limits so far. I also have a front seat to witness such things as other riders wrestle with their "demons" during Trans Iowas. Saying we all have "danced with death" might cause most folks to roll their eyes, but I believe we're on the knife's edge more than many might suspect. The trick, the gift of higher guidance, wisdom, or......dumb luck to know when to say when is the difference here, I believe.

That more than anything is what makes these events what they are, to my mind. You- the rider- get to decide when enough is enough, and having some other entity try to govern that is......well, it may seem like a better idea, but it guts the challenge of the thing and the meaningfulness of doing these kinds of rides, in my opinion. So, what is the answer then?

Well, I think prudence is something that has to be considered upfront by race directors. I'll use the Route 66 Challenge as an example. I- and this is purely my opinion- didn't think it was very prudent to stick to the Route 66 course through busy metropolitan areas like St. Louis, or to keep the riders on heavily trafficked roads. I would say that sort of deal is raising your odds for seeing someone get hit by a car and get injured or have someone die due to a car crash. That doesn't seem like a prudent thing to have someone do. I also will say that the riders could have also been more prudent in taking on that sort of route. There is honor in making wise choices, and in the case where a route is deemed unsafe due to heavy traffic, I think riders have a right and a duty to decline to ride such courses. I think these sorts of courses and riders accepting the situations which are clearly unsafe is where prudence and wisdom sometimes gets thrown out the window. For what? Well, that's another long blog post........

Clearly, there are certain challenges that are okay. It is a sticky wicket, but when you look at what folks are getting upset about here- riders dying due to bicycle/car crashes- removing that possibility as much as possible would seem to be the choice to go with. I think what I am saying here is somewhat obvious. Paved ultra-cycling courses that are not closed in any way, or that don't have follow vehicles are probably not great choices. Then again- there are no guarantees.

You can die anywhere by any means. Those who decide to gamble with their lives may have to pay the ultimate price. It's not an easy question to answer, but when do you say when? At what point do you "pull the plug". Should race directors and course/route designers be staying away from risky, high traffic roads? Do we go as far as having significant family members sign away rights to sue in case a loved one dies in an event? I don't know. These are just some of the questions, I am sure there are many more....

All I know is that it is time to say "when" for this blog post to end!

7 comments:

Jackie Gammon said...

I agree with you on some points, but when folks are dying because someone else is careless or worse... then something should be done! When a person gets killed by someone else in any other means then there is at least a trial and perhaps some sort of punishment... in most of these and all cycling related deaths... there is very little retribution.

Guitar Ted said...

@Jackie Gammon- I'll agree with you on that, but I wasn't referring to consequences for drivers that run down cyclists. I'm referring to the way we run these events post deaths.

Robert Ellis said...

That's a great piece of writing. Thanks.

Kenny Ness said...

I just finished touring the Natchez Trace Parkway: 444 miles from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS. It is a National Parkway (Park) with a 50 mph limit for vehicles, no commercial traffic, and limited access. Even there (on a Parkway where cycling is encouraged) there are idiots in cars who believe bikes do not belong on "their" road. The areas around Tupelo, MS and Jackson, MS are particularly dangerous. That to say, I'm riding less and less on paved roads. Road rage, idiots, texting, etc. make riding on the road just not worth it anymore.

teamdarb said...

Kenny,
Go back next year and ride the "Dirty Trace" - you'll need a map. It's all those gravel roads you passed. They parallel the Trace to the Tennessee line from Natchez.
Wilson

Tim said...

Death, as you say is an aspect of life. If we fail to acknowledge it and face it, we close off an important process in living. I plan to enjoy each day, attempt to do nothing foolish (DNF), and live in the belief that there is more to come once my heart + lungs cease to function.

Kenny Ness said...

Will check that out. Thanks. Where you I get a map?