This past week we traveled to the Mauston area to ride the Sparta Elroy Bike Trail. For novices who have never experienced the trail, it runs some 30 miles between Sparta at the northern end and Elroy at the southern end. On the way you bike along the old railbed of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad, passing through its three tunnels along the way. Considered the oldest rail to trail in the U.S., it offers welcoming tree lined canopies and historic bridge crossings as it travels through the five villages along the route. On our first day, our ride took us from Sparta, through two of the three tunnels, eventually reaching Wilton. On the way in and nine miles from our starting point, we reached Tunnel 3, the longest tunnel on the trail. At 3/4 of a mile in length, our first view of the tunnel left us wondering what this walk through it would entail. The one thing that encouraged us was that their actually was a light at the end of the tunnel. It was very dim and very small, but it was there telling us that we would eventually reach the end.
But this isn’t meant to be a travelogue. Rather it is meant to be an allegory. The light at the end of the tunnel reminded me of life in these Covid-19 times. In late February or early March, depending on your point of reference, we entered a tunnel the pandemic had created. We had and still don’t have an idea of just how long this tunnel will be. But we had no choice other than to enter it. Now, going on eight months in our tunnel, we are anxiously looking for the light at the end of it. Pessimists will tell us there is no end in sight, no light that they can see. Optimists will ask us to believe that we are just about there. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, where in fact, we might actually be. Here’s the rub. We can actually control how long we will spend in the tunnel. The key is responsible behavior. No one denies that the pandemic exists. We can argue about who it impacts more, about how bad it really is, or what will eventually cause it to end, but what we need to do is clear. We need to be cautious. We need to protect ourselves while protecting others. In short we need to take responsibility in the battle to end this pandemic, to finally be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The light is there, it’s just that it won’t be clearly visible until we get ourselves closer to the end.
As we walked our bikes through the darkness and falling water of the tunnel, that light at the end of the tunnel just kept growing larger, urging us on. Each step took us closer to the end of the tunnel and with each one of those steps, the light grew closer and brighter. Eventually we reached the last hundred feet of the tunnel and sunlight now flooded the tunnel floor. We were never worried that we wouldn’t make it but we were still relieved to be out of the tunnel, back in the sunlight, and back on our ride.
This Covid-19 tunnel that we find ourselves in will eventually come to an end. How soon it does in fact depends on us. On our collective behavior. On our willingness to sacrifice some of our freedoms to bring this to a quicker end. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We just need to keep moving toward it.