What? Not again! I turn to this column to get a laughƒnot to get indoctrinated into a fingerless-gloved, spandexed EMS cult of pedal pushers who wear helmets reminiscent of a spaghetti strainer designed by some dude on LSD.
Hey, I hear ya. But you didn_t join us for this past year_s annual National EMS Memorial Bike Ride (NEMSMBR)ƒor the year before, or the year before that for that matter. So just like a bicycle, I_m going to ride your ass (arse if you_re from Ireland) in my fourth attempt to entice you to become a NEMSMBR Muddy Angel alumnus.
"Sorry," you might say. "But I_m now a certified adult, and though I strongly believe in the ideology of honoring our fallen EMS brothers and sisters, my cardiopulmonary and skeletomuscular systems would be prone to becoming derailedƒjust as my bike chain would."
Clever bike analogy. Now imagine me putting a stent into your coagulated circulatory pathway leading toward your open-mindedness center. Also imagine that for the next 654 words you_ll have to focus entirely on the forthcoming message without just counting the number of words to see whether I was lying.
Do you remember when you beat gravity for the first time as your parent ran alongside your wobbly bicycle and then let go? You moved awkwardly forward while spasmodically jerking the handlebars from side to side. It wasn_t pretty to look at, but you were elatedƒnot just because you conquered imbalance and avoided a facial soil sampling, but also because it would now provide you the freedom to explore the world without depending on others.
The NEMSMBR provides an opportunity to once again view a world uninhibited by metal and glass. But unlike your childhood goal of riding freely without the support of others, which you proudly accomplished, this time you_ll vigorously thrive in the presence of many others. There_s a story behind each numbered jersey or support staff member riding beside or behind you. For many who ride, the jersey is initially covered with armor. It_s often a thick exoskeleton unwontedly fashioned by concealed grief necessitated by those who don_t understand.
As the commonality between each rider reveals itself, the riders begin to shed the weight of their armorƒto the point when peddling becomes a bearable and pleasant feeling (assuming there_s no steep incline).
But seriously, the truly meaningful things said to each other seem better shared while the pedals are spinning, gears are being shifted and breathing becomes more focused. Maybe this is because bicycles are one of the great equalizers of man. We can be clumsy, overweight, have weakened limbs or backs, or even be partially paralyzed, but everyone faces the same environmental conditions on the same mechanized mode of self-propulsion.
Sure, some of the Muddy Angels are pros, and a few more are amateur racers. But the vast majority are recreational or non-cyclists. Regardless, all these voices share a common experience of loss; by the end of the week, the voices and chains evolve into a synchronized chorus. ("Chorus" is a good analogy, because, despite our sense of loss, we celebrate the lives of those in EMS whose final mission was to save others.) Professional cyclist James Starr said, "A bicycle is a flight from sadness," and he_s right. It_s almost impossible to be melancholy on a bicycle.
While taking a break at one of our rest stops this past year, I took the opportunity to thank a small group of Maryland Highway Patrol officers for providing four motorcycles to escort us through their fine state on our way to Roanoke, Va., from New York City. One of the patrol officers took off his shades and simply said, "Our pleasure."
"Seriously. Thank you," I said again, now taking off my shades. "We don_t seem to get a lot of respect in EMS." He leaned forward and whispered, "How can you expect others to respect [EMS] until you respect yourselves?"
Does EMS have the will and fortitude to honor itself? I think it does, but we need to make a lot of noise along the way. So join us. Our riders are doubling in numbers each year, but we need more Muddy Angels from every state of the union and beyond. Ride for the whole six days, or for three days, one day or just one hour. Still don_t want to ride? Then be a part of our wingman support staff, or stop your rig along the planned routes just to give us a wave of support.
No more excuses. Get your service to cover your shifts and arrange for a few financial sponsors. You have four months to enhance your adrenal glands. Start putting some burn into your thighs and some fire into your lungs. Then hitch some wings to your pedals and join us in May. I promise you the ride of a lifetime.
Steve Berryhas been a paramedic for the past 25 years in the southern Colorado region. He_s the author of the cartoon book series I_m Not An Ambulance Driver and invites you to join him and others of the EMS community to ride in the 2009 National EMS Memorial Bike Ride (www.muddyangels.org)Visit his Web site atwww.iamnotanambulancedriver.comto purchase his books or CDs.