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Letter from America: all change in Colorado


TAKING PRECAUTIONS  James O'Connell (left) is pictured with his cycling companion at Golden Gate Canyon in Colorado last weekend.

Letter from America

James O’Connell

THE US faces into its biggest week yet when the full force of coronavirus wave is expected to come crashing down around us. The week starts with 10,000 deaths nationwide but – with confirmed cases in New York rocketing skywards above 340,000 - the US surgeon general has indicated a potential “Pearl Harbor moment” in the making.
Colorado is a fitness obsessed state. Denver, the mile high city, has experienced an incredible population influx in the last six to eight years – from those escaping the expense of Silicon Valley to oil and gas companies such as BP moving its American HQ here last year.
Attracted by comparatively cheaper housing and lifestyle — hundreds of miles of bike/running trails snake along rivers and curve around mountains. The famous Rocky Mountains.
The ski slopes may have shuttered their lifts in early March, and the roads may be quieter than usual, but as the temperatures pick up and the sun shines, the hiking trails are wedged and the parks are busy.
It may be a fit-mad state and a stay-at-home lockdown may be in place, but the allowance of one hour of exercise per day — encouraged by 20 degrees celcius temperatures — ensures open spaces such as Deer Creek State Park and the more convenient Sloan’s Lake become concentrated areas of human activity.
Since we departed Cuba in a rather more undignified dash than we’d hoped, but were ultimately very thankful for, the bike has been installed on the indoor trainer and I’ve spent a couple of weeks sweating off the winter timber.
It’s not yet a requirement but a measure worth taking to, well - you know - stay as safe as possible. The latest segment of paternity leave ends this week but unlike many less fortunate, working from home beckons for the foreseeable.
It was purely with this in mind that on Sunday I granted myself a ‘one-day-pass’ and with a good buddy hit off for the lesser used roads of Golden Gate Canyon. A tidy 75km route with just a gentle 1,200 meter climb averaging 5.2% to 2,500 meters above sea level.
Despite a state-level request to do so, only a third of cyclists/runners we met were wearing masks of some form. One suspects that number will only increase.
Colorado – about four times the size of Ireland - has a population of five million, Denver accounts for about three million of that. It has 4,950 cases and thus far, 140 deaths or just under 3% mortality. Let’s compare it with Texas that has a 30 million population, 7,200 confirmed cases and 140 deaths. How a fitness-obsessed state can so carelessly and wantonly disregard and flout the warnings and advisories boggles the mind.
To hazard a guess at why, one can only point to scepticism caused by conflicting information from the top and a somewhat partisan media. One network continues to undermine the experts, to the detriment of all others and, like it or not, people listen.
Truthfully, once the Irish government implemented the 2km zone and urged folks to stay home if at all possible, that was that for me. The scenery is epic; snow still dots the wide open rolling hills landscape. Eagles do soar above and while the snakes are still in hibernation, deer and elk abound once the grades pick up. I do and will miss it, but amid a populous that has yet to really take this crisis seriously, it’s a precaution worth taking.   

James O’Connell, a native of Ballinrobe, is a former journalist with The Mayo News. He now lives and works in Denver, Colorado.


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