I have been riding bikes since I raced up and down a dirt road in my neighborhood as a 4-year-old boy in rural Minnesota. I took to being on two wheels instantly, and can still recall the feeling of the cool, crisp upper Midwestern air in my face as I braved even the harshest conditions to fulfill my desire to ride.
Fast forwarding some 15 years, I found myself attending college at the University of California at Santa Cruz, when I went to my first Grateful Dead concert at the Winterland Ballroom on October 19, 1974. That was the moment when I officially became a “Deadhead,” and the Grateful Dead has been the primary soundtrack to my life ever since.
Over the years, athletic and musical pursuits have been the anchors I have relied upon to keep myself on course within the often turbulent tides of my life as a husband, a father and the owner of Boulder Weekly — a small business doing a big job that never lets up. We all need “anchors” in our lives, and any anchors will do, as they all serve the same purpose of keeping us sane in a world that seems to have increasingly lost its head.
A few years ago, I found myself riding the rugged desert trails outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, in between games of a baseball tournament, longing to find a way to convey the life lessons I have learned during my colorful journey, when the words “Deadhead Cyclist” came to me, seemingly out of nowhere. At my lookout spot, I dialed up GoDaddy and found that the web address, DeadheadCyclist.com was available. I took this as a sign, and it was at that moment that I adopted the alter ego, Deadhead Cyclist.
This past spring, during the stay-at-home period of the COVID-19 pandemic, I began writing a series of weekly blog posts, and am now 34 weeks into a 52-week project that will soon give birth to a book, called The Deadhead Cyclist. To be clear, though, The Deadhead Cyclist is not about the Grateful Dead or about cycling, so much as it is about embracing a powerful set of principles that apply to anyone trying to navigate a fulfilling path through life, no matter what your “anchors” might be. For there is a Deadhead Cyclist in all of us, and it is my hope that the piece I offer below, posted on Dec. 2 will help you find your inner Deadhead Cyclist.
We can discover the wonders of nature, rolling in the rushes down by the riverside
There is one school of thought about the COVID-19 pandemic which suggests that we are all going to become infected with this virus at one point or another, and it seemed that my time had come. Ironically, it appeared that my buddy Bill and I had successfully dodged the Corona Bullet, as we were halfway through the final 800-mile drive back to Colorado, having played 34 games in six baseball tournaments in Arizona and Florida, spanning six weeks. Yes, we were about to slide into home plate, head first, with the winning run, our trusty mountain bikes safely secured behind my 4Runner, listening to my pick for T.W.I.G.D.H. (This Week in Grateful Dead History), the Nov. 24, 1974 Grateful Dead show from the Golden Hall Community Concourse in San Diego, California, when the concert was preempted with breaking news.
Being the dutiful husbands that we are, and figuring that it would be the least we could do as a gesture of gratitude to our wives for letting us out of the house for most of October and November in the midst of a raging pandemic, we had decided to engage in the ostensibly academic exercise of getting ourselves tested for COVID-19 before coming home. My results had already come back negative, but I was about to be rudely awakened from the dream of a joyful reunion with my beloved, as we sped north on Highway 191, just south of Moab, Utah. Bill’s test, we suddenly learned, had come back positive!
After six weeks of mandatory temperature checks, wearing masks to and from fields, fist and elbow bumping, waving at opposing teams across the diamond, setting up socially distanced chairs to avoid the dugouts, taking most meals in and eating out only where there was outdoor seating, and doing my part to jettison the hand sanitizer industry to a level of prosperity previously unimaginable, there I was two feet away from someone shedding the virus, with whom I had been living for six weeks, and sharing air with for six hours, with another six to go!
In one of the most pathetic examples of “too little, too late” imaginable, we strapped on our masks, as we sat in stunned silence, contemplating our very limited options. Over the course of the next hour or so the path forward became obvious: finish the trip, quarantine myself, get tested the following morning, and hope for a positive — and by “positive” I mean negative — result.
After sleeping on the couch in my basement home office for four nights, imposing on my innocent wife to deposit food and drink periodically on the floor outside my door, and obsessively checking the website where the test result had been promised, I found myself growing increasingly cranky. Despite my best efforts to maintain a positive attitude, to focus on the “first world” nature of my problem, and to make good use of my time by writing, reading and getting caught up with friends by phone, I had begun to lose my shit. Even my recollection of a meme that referred to quarantining as the “Drums and Space” part of life (referring to the traditional, experimental segment in the second set of a Dead concert) had lost its luster.
But on the afternoon of Day 4, as temperatures rose from the wintry 30s and crossed into the 40s and low 50s, I decided to get out on two wheels, and I quickly came out of the Drums and Space portion of my life into a personal Sugar Magnolia, one of the Grateful Dead’s many songs that extols the virtues of a deep connection with nature. Literally within minutes, my mood improved, my mind cleared, and a general sense of well-being surrounded me. Almost miraculously, 25 miles and one hour and 38 minutes later, I was better prepared to resume my quarantine with a positive attitude and a renewed sense of optimism about my situation.
While the herd immunity versus social distancing debate rages on, there is one thing we should all be able to agree on: Maintaining a healthy body and mind are of paramount importance as we face the emotional and potential physical challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no question that individuals with a strong immune system are better prepared to find themselves in the asymptomatic/mildly symptomatic camp in the increasingly likely event of infection. And the starring role that a healthy frame of mind can play in building our immune systems and overall health is not only unmistakable but scientifically documented. Of course, this applies broadly to all illnesses, not just to COVID-19.
In a culture that is notoriously focused far more on treatment than prevention — and that almost completely ignores natural, as opposed to medical prevention — it comes as no surprise that our approach to the COVID-19 crisis has been fixated on a one-size-fits-all protocol of social distancing, masking and testing, while falling woefully short on building our immune systems, general health and emotional well-being. Realistically, many of us will be infected with this virus regardless of how rigidly we follow the prescribed avoidance techniques, and we are well-advised to see The Great Pause (vimeo.com/411278238) as an opportunity to make some fundamental changes in our lives, starting with our own health. Here is a list of things we can do immediately to be better prepared for a COVID-19 infection that will also be of great benefit in every corner of our lives:
• Exercise at least 150 minutes per week.
• Eat a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables.
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• Get plenty of sleep.
• Quit smoking.
• Drink alcohol in moderation.
• Consider taking immune system boosting supplements, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Zinc, Selenium, Raw Honey, Garlic and Probiotics.
• Engage in stress-reducing activities, including going outside and communing with nature.
Pausing on this final bullet point — hundreds of studies have shown that spending time in nature offers protection against myriad conditions, ranging from depression, obesity and ADHD to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. It is believed that the benefits lie in nature’s ability to improve the effectiveness of the body’s immune system, exactly what is most needed to fight a COVID-19 infection.
Whether or not Robert Hunter — who wrote the poetry that became the song Sugar Magnolia — had this in mind when he penned the phrase “wonders of nature,” the Grateful Dead’s continual focus on being connected to nature has proven to be prescient. Just in this week’s featured show we have references to nature in the songs China Cat Sunflower (“midnight sun,” “dream night wind,” “leaf of all colors”), I Know You Rider (“the sun will shine in my back door,” “March winds will blow,” “cool Colorado rain”), Cassidy (“the wolf has slept by the silver stream,” “wash the nighttime clean,” “flight of the seabirds”), Passenger (“firefly, can you see me?, shine on, glowing brief and brightly,” “seasons have frozen us into our souls”), Terrapin Station (“winds both foul and fair all swarm”), Playing in the Band (“daybreak on the land”), Lost Sailor (“the sea is still as glass,” “the shorelines beckon,” “a ghost wind blowing”), and Saint of Circumstance (“driven by the wind, like the dust that blows around, and the rain fallin’ down”).
And that’s just one concert!
Which brings me back to the final song of the show (not counting the One More Saturday Night encore), Sugar Magnolia, which is nothing less than a hymn to the doctrine that being connected to nature is as fundamental a human need as food, water and shelter. Indeed, we are nature, and to neglect that truth, to live a life separate from the Earth that we are so intrinsically intertwined with, is to swing and miss at the pitch that is being delivered to each and every one of us as part of our birthright.
The morning after my revelatory ride, I awoke in my quarantined state to an email and a text. The email was from the outfit that examined my COVID-19 test sample, informing me as follows:
SARS-CoV-2 Not Detected
The text was from Bill:
Results are in. I’m negative.
The question of whether Bill’s prior test result was a “false positive” may forever be filed under “unsolved mysteries,” as there remains much that we still don’t know, and may never know about this confounding virus. What we do know is that there is plenty we can and should do to strengthen our immune systems in anticipation of the possibility of an infection. What we also know is that the Grateful Dead urged us to “discover the wonders of nature” 50 years ago. Clearly, the time to heed that advice is long past due.
In one final reference to the song, Sugar Magnolia, I’ll meet you “in the rushes down by the riverside.”