Wearing a facemask is by far the strangest, most ordinary, and most indelible part of the coronavirus pandemic. In the past couple weeks, I’ve finally habituated myself to putting a mask around my neck as I leave the house for work or errands or whatever, and pulling it up anytime I’m in a place where it’s required (work, Target, Imminent, Little Joy, the grocery store) or where it’s just a good idea (almost anywhere else). It’s still a little weird to have my face covered for so much of the day, but the weirdness fades a little every day.
The ubiquity of masks in my life and everyone else’s right now (even the lives of the covid-deniers!) contrasts sharply with their total absence before about March – except on the faces of a few Asian students or elderly people. From that standstill till now, about six months later, we’ve seen masks and mask culture expand into almost every facet of public life. They’re a big and interesting business now, for one things, available everywhere from Target or Walmart to Amazon or mom-and-pop shops to niche manufacturers or crafters. I must have about ten masks right now, a few handmade, some standard ear-loop mass-market, a couple high-end nearly-custom ones. (The last work the best.)
Masks are also a point of personal pride, civic duty, and political controversy. Places that have mandated masks teem with signs to remind people to wear them and why they should wear them. On social media, mask wearers talk about how they wear masks not for themselves, but for others. Covid-deniers reject the practice and the science and the responsibility, often conflating masks with some sort of social control by… someone: the government? doctors? Bill Gates? The logic escapes me, as does the resistance – wearing a mask is almost effortless! But at this crazed moment in American history, everything has to be charged to the highest possible pressure, and masks are no different.
(Warning: contains confession of possible craziness.)
In a short essay on the Adventure Journal website, Erin Windauer describes the occasional but not rare sense of athletes, adventurers, and others that they are in the presence of someone or something which is benevolent or reassuring but which isn’t actually *there*.
Ernest Shackleton’s epic tale of survival after the sinking of his ship the Endurance in Antarctic waters is well known, but less known is what he and two of his companions experienced after they made their way by open boat, above, to South Georgia Island and trekked across to a whaling station to find salvation. Each of the three felt the presence of someone with them: “During that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia,” wrote Shackleton in his memoir, “it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.”
Though I don’t quite see the link between this sensation and the lab experiments summarized in Windauer’s piece, I can’t stop thinking about the phenomenon, which is one I’ve experienced in some of my winter races.
I didn’t even know that my feeling of being… joined? guided? accompanied? was a thing; I just chalked it up to being hungry, cold, and exhausted. And yes, all those stressors might have contributed to my sense that *something* was with me while I rode and walked off Two Top on January 8, thirty-six hours into the Fat Pursuit.
But still: to have that experience in common with Shackleton is strangely satisfying.
A lot of people – cyclists and not – have asked me about the clothing, bike, and gear I used in the Fat Pursuit.
Given how much I’ve learned from talking with fellow racers about their systems, I thought I’d share mine.
With a couple exceptions, I’ve used the items here in several other long races, and the new items had been tested on long rides this fall and winter.
I’m not trying to name-drop with the brand info; I just want to be clear about what works for me.
And yes a lot of this stuff is expensive. I don’t think I bought a single item here at retail, though – I watch for sales, use shop/club discounts, buy on clearance, etc. Even the Buffalo, my beloved adventure partner, was bought used (albeit from a bike guy who took very good care of it).