Strange times continue

We had a lovely conversation with a friend in Australia yesterday. Well, actually it was today for him. We’ve gotten used to the strangeness of time zones in recent years with friends in Australia and a daughter in Japan. It is a bit interesting to talk to someone on video chat who is on the other side of the world and think about how it is one day here and another there. The technology of cell phones and video chat makes conversation with others very convenient and inexpensive.

We knew that Australia has very strict lockdown orders in place in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and were curious about how it was affecting the day to day lives of those who live there. Our friend lives in Melbourne which is the Australian state with the most reported cases and the highest number of fatalities. Australia has had 295 deaths from the virus of which 228 have been in the state of Victoria, so where our friend lives is definitely a hot spot for Australia. It is nearly impossible to compare their situation to ours because Victoria has a much bigger population than South Dakota. There are nearly 6 million people in Victoria, with 5 million of them being in Melbourne. South Dakota has just 885,000 people, and we’ve had 146 deaths, so the per capita death rate here is much higher than anywhere in Australia.

The lockdown in Melbourne is serious business. There is an absolute curfew at night and during the day people are allowed to go no more than 4 km from their homes (about 2 1/2 miles) when walking. There is a strict mask requirement for all activities outside of the home. Shopping is allowed only once per week. The fine for violations is $1,600 Australian dollars (over $1,000 US). Those who are essential workers must have work permits to show authorities. Our friend is a retired minister, still very active in their church, so has the ability to travel more than some because of his work in the church.

Like any other friends who have known each other for decades, our conversations flit from one subject to another. Soon he was asking about the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. He has visited our home in South Dakota several times and has witnessed the rally first hand on more than one visit, so he knows what it is like. He has seen how the motorcycles are parked and how the people congregate at the various concert venues and vendor stalls. Still, thee is a lot of interest in this year’s rally because it has made headlines around the world as the largest public gathering in the world since the beginning of the pandemic. In most of the world it is being reported as a potential super spreader event. It is front page news in far away places, including Australia.

We have been sticking fairly close to home, but of course are nowhere near as restricted as the people of Melbourne. Most days we drive more than 5 miles to get to a trailhead for our daily walks. Most days we walk more than the 4 km allowed for our friends. We have no intention of attending any rally events or even going to the most crowded places such as Sturgis or Deadwood. However, a week ago we drove through Hill City on our way to a hiking trail in the hills and we saw first hand how the bikes were parked and the people congregated on the streets there. And we’ve watched the groups of motorcycles who are making their way up the road behind our house despite the fact that it is under construction and there is a sign less than a mile from our home that says, “Rough road ahead. Motorcycles consider alternate route.” As usual during the rally, we can hear the rumble of motorcycles in the background nearly every place we go.

There are definitely fewer people attending the rally than usual. We never get the numbers until after the rally is over. It is impossible to count the people because they are constantly moving, riding their bikes through the hills. Attendance estimates are based on a formula of actual counts at particular attractions, such as Mount Rushmore, highway counts, sales tax revenue, and other indicators. The 75th Anniversary Rally in 2015 drew nearly 750.000 and 2020 was originally forecast to set a new record as it is the 80th Anniversary. However, the current estimate is that about half of a typical year, perhaps 250.000 will be the count. That still means that one third of the vehicles on the roads in our part of the state are motorcycles this week.

It is our plan to travel out to Washington this week. We have our canoes and kayaks loaded on our trailer and plan to make a trip to haul some of our possessions out there in anticipation of a move in a couple of months. We are, however, concerned about how we will be received as we travel. Our South Dakota license plates will identify us as being from the place that may be a super spreader event. The fact that we are traveling with boats means that we will have to stop for boat inspections 5 times. It isn’t just corona virus our neighbors don’t want to spread. Zebra mussels and other invasive aquatic species also make South Dakotans suspect when we travel with boats. I guess we will see what the reaction is as we travel. Our plan is to minimize contact with others as we go. We know we are healthy. Susan had a virus test just over a week ago and the results were negative and we’ve been isolating a great deal throughout the pandemic. We are careful about covering our faces and keeping our distance. Still, no venture in life is free from risk. We try to take the precautions we are able to protect others and ourselves, but we continue to venture out and pursue our lives.

After talking with our Australian friends it is clear to us that those in other places consider our place to be among the most dangerous in the world for the virus. There are a lot of people looking at the rally with fearful eyes.

I guess it is a good thing we aren’t traveling by motorcycle.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!