Cracker Swamp Update

It is less than three months until the Cracker Swamp 1200 and registration still hasn’t opened. I wanted to update you on why that is and to let you know the status of the ride.

Executive Summary: The go/no-go decision on the Cracker Swamp will be made on August 31. Either registration will open that day or the event will not be held in 2021. If it is not held in 2021, the next Cracker Swamp will take place in Fall 2024.

Why the Delay and Uncertainty? I really thought that widely available vaccines would have brought us to a good place where normalcy would prevail and we could move forward without the constant pandemic umbrella hanging over our heads at every turn. I never anticipated that the vaccination rates would be so low and the pandemic is back, or remains as the case may be, with a vengeance.

As a result, Central Florida’s hospitals and EMS systems are currently overwhelmed. As of yesterday, according to our medical director, my county had several hospitals at or beyond capacity with ER bed wait times at seven hours. Nearly 50% of admissions to a floor are for COVID; more than 96% of those admissions are unvaccinated. Our EMS can no longer transport from a call to the hospital; fire/rescue is providing that service and they are at capacity. Conditions are worse, in some cases much worse, in the parts of the state the Cracker Swamp runs through.

There are consequences to an uncurbed pandemic. The consequence of full emergency departments, overflowing hospitals, and potentially delayed EMS response is that it would be irresponsible, in my opinion, to hold a four-day ultracycling event when it’s foreseeable that someone might need medical care and help either wouldn’t be there or we’d be taxing an already overburdened system. Overnight brevets, where people are riding at night, sometimes alone, and sometimes without the best situational awareness after days in the saddle, present heightened risk. In the face of at- or near-capacity medical and EMS resources, those risks are unacceptable to me. If the Cracker Swamp were taking place in August or September, it’d be cancelled for this reason alone.

But who knows what November will bring. The pandemic has taught me that predicting the future is a fool’s errand. However, we’re fast approaching a time when significant money must be firmly committed and an educated guess about the impacts of the pandemic on rider and community safety must be made. That deadline is the end of this month.

Give It to Me Straight; What Are the Odds? Not good. Unlike during the previous spikes in pandemic-induced hospitalizations, this time there are no state or local efforts to try to curb the spread of the disease. The other downer, of course, is that infectious disease doesn’t respect state boundaries or care about politics. What’s raging in Central Florida right now will soon enough be coming to your communities, too, and that could negatively impact the prospects of holding the Cracker Swamp, even if things begin to improve in Central Florida.

Why Not Hold a No-Frills/DIY/Rider-Capped Cracker Swamp?  Principally for the same reason. While reducing or eliminating volunteers, food, swag, overnight support, on-course support, and other organized aspects of the Cracker Swamp would move the go/no-go date slightly later, it would not change the fundamental calculus when it comes to the impact of an unchecked pandemic on our first responders and hospitals.

Secondarily, the Cracker Swamp is not a no-frills ride or a permanent. It was conceived as a large social event that emphasized community and camaraderie and not just as another bike ride or excuse to bag miles and medals. Preserving the character of the event is key, second only to making reasonable decisions about participant and community safety.

This Sucks. Tell me about it.

Got Any Good News? Absolutely. Keep things in perspective: This, too, shall pass, (although I sure thought it would have by now). Randonneuring isn’t going anywhere. Paris-Brest-Paris survived two invasions and a pandemic. What the ACP and their forbearers and the early organizers of PBP didn’t do, though, was try to run big, long cycling events during wars and out-of-control pandemics.

If you’ve read this far, thank you and thank you especially for your patience and understanding. If you have questions, please contact me. If you would like to be taken off this distribution list, or know someone who would like to be added to it, please let me know that, too.

Thanks and stay safe and healthy,