By Jody Legg
What mask do you wear, if any, exercising, especially as it warms up? A buff, bandana, surgical mask, or maybe one of those made by local bike clothing makers like Primal, BOCO or Headsweats? So many choices and styles and some side affect humor to share.
My corona-confusion reared its ugly head back in early March 2020 when the coronavirus was becoming a real concern in the United States. When initially the government said not to wear facemasks because they did not work anyway, I was mildly confused. Coronavirus-Confused? Confusion because why were the front line and healthcare workers still wearing masks if they weren’t effective? I assumed I was slow on the uptake of this novel virus, certainly not the expert, and went about without a facemask but abiding by social distancing and hand washing.
When the Stay-at-Home order took effect in my state of Colorado, I was secretly thrilled to know I didn’t have to go out to work, or anywhere at all, but that I could still get in my outdoor trail and road running and road and mountain biking, to my heart’s content. However, when it became obvious the rest of Colorado also was free to now run and ride as much as they too wanted, I found myself in the midst of crowded dirt trails, paths, and roads. I was very Corona- Confused! Where in the world did all these people come from who never ever utilized the outdoor recreation until now? Also why did I care so much that my beloved outdoors was now over-populated with newbies, mommies, kiddies, families, grandpas and grammies, and so on? Who was I to judge that these people just now decided to get outside to exercise—maybe the world will be a much more fit place due to Covid-19. Survival of the fittest I kept thinking! Love thy neighbor as thyself!
Therefore, I accepted that we would all have to co-exist in the outdoors, and I happily waved at everyone feeling proud that I was learning to share and even being nice about it. I was grateful to get the clean fresh air into my lungs and be outside unencumbered except for having to step aside or off the bike much more often than before, as the onslaught of two-way traffic had increased at least 50% on the trails and paths (I read this, seriously not making it up).
However, early April the government announced everyone should now wear facemasks. My Corona-Confusion really escalated with this new suggestion as why the change of heart? Moreover, how many people might have been saved from this virus if we had all been wearing facemasks from the start? Acquiring a facemask was another question, but the experts seems not to care if a facemask was professional grade, a handkerchief, or an old sock. Just cover your mouth wherever you go. Okay, so the quality doesn’t really matter? I was Coronoa-Confused and it seemed to become a very common symptom among the masses.
So my husband and I found some facemasks leftover in our stash of things you may never need but keep just in case of an emergency (Pandemic?!). We wore them on our very limited outings to the grocery store and felt like we were good citizens.
We didn’t imagine that these coronavirus red and blue balls in the air could really fly their way into our bodies when outdoors running or cycling, right? So we went about as before without a facemask when outdoor exercising but keeping the 6-foot distance from anyone else. We both noticed a less positive attitude though by some passer byers, no happy waving anymore! Then we realized a few random outdoor partakers were wearing facemasks. Outside. Hmmm. That’s odd. And they were frowning at us (we thought, but hard to tell with the facemask on). So confusing! Corona-Confusing! What to do? Well we were shocked into reality when the neighborhood online forum that week contained multiple comments about all the rude and thoughtless cyclists and runners who did NOT wear a facemask and could be infecting everyone else!
How could they believe this? We had not been sick! If we had, we of course would wear the damn facemasks! However, the facemask shaming worked, and we began to wonder if we too should be concerned about others infecting us by not wearing facemasks outside. We certainly did not want that! My husband and I are terrified of getting this awful virus and all that it does to your lungs, organs, and worse, death!
We found an article explaining in clear detail that this virus can indeed remain in the clouds of air expelled from those who are huffing and puffing when breathing hard outdoors! In addition, if you ride by or behind these scary droplets can land right in your eye, ear, mouth or wherever else to infect a person! Horrified thinking of all those whose possibly contaminated air we’d run or rode through already, we were sure with the crowded trails we’d been on, we’d drop deadsoon.
In the meantime, we committed to wearing a facemask when exercising outdoors. This itself is super confusing (yes Corona-Confusing) because of a number of dilemmas including most importantly, what is comfortable but effective? A neck gaiter, a scarf, a bandana? Cotton, spandex, polyester? When to put on/take it off during exercise? How far away can you be from a person before quickly pulling it up or taking it off? Some say 30-60 feet on a bike and 10 feet otherwise but much more than the popular 6-foot distance. Also, who is protecting whom in this facemask scenario? Is the facemask wearer protecting themselves from others or protecting others in case one carries the virus but is asymptomatic? Importantly, if I have my facemask on, but you do not, then do I care if I have it on or off, and why don’t you have one on? Isn’t this a two-way street? Corona-Mass Confusion!
Take today for example. I wanted to go for a bike ride outside because I had time and the weather is finally warm. I stewed around all morning trying to decide what facemask is most appropriate. Lately the gaiter around my neck has made biking and running near unbearable because it is so hot and sweaty around my neck when exercising. And the facemask that hooks behind your ears will not work because you can’t take it on or off without it falling off, and to keep it on will suffocate a person. So I went with the good old standby, paisley handkerchief, folded into a triangle, tied in a knot behind my neck.
The first quarter of the ride, I was fine in terms of my ability to pull it up over my nose and mouth whenever I saw a human in the distance. However, after a few efforts of pulling it up and off, it started curling up on itself and was useless. I managed to grab the corner flapping in the wind and yanked it down but then it flopped up in my face blinding me for a few terrifying seconds. Irritated, I stopped on the side of the road and tightened the knot behind my neck. On I rode. After a bit I noticed the handkerchief had turned itself around on my neck in the wind, so the knot was now in front of my face and the protective triangle was flapping behind me like a cape. UGH! Worse, a cyclist on the horizon was heading my way downhill! I awkwardly grabbed around the back of my head finding the flapping triangle material, pulled it quickly around to the front and up over my mouth and nose! In doing so, the cloth knot drove a rope- like burn across my neck as it whipped around my sweaty skin just in time, as I passed by the other cyclist, who ironically, was not wearing a facemask and waved at me, I think laughing.
Jody Legg, Golden, CO, is an avid runner, cyclist, and skier, and is her husband’s faithful cheerleader as he races year-round on a masters cycling team. The couple agrees they will never take for granted again the freedom of exercising outdoors without a facemask.