Against the Wind

04.21.2008 | 10:39 am

Saturday morning looked perfect. No need for tights, no need for long sleeves. Finally — finally! — I was getting out on a road ride. Solo, with my iPod loaded with a mix of Boingo, Cake, Devo, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and (above all) Social Distortion.

I was headed from my home out to Cedar Fort, a 50-mile out-and-back ride with very few turns and very little climbing.

My idea? Get into the cycling zone and lose myself for a couple hours.

But it didn’t work out quite that way.

Cue Ominous Music
Within a couple of miles, the wind kicked up, blowing Northeast.

I, naturally, was headed Southwest.

I decided, though, that this wasn’t going to ruin my ride. I’d just drop to a lower gear, put my head down, and keep going. A headwind was no big deal.

Except it wasn’t always a headwind. About half the time, it was a headwind/crosswind. It didn’t just want to blow me backwards. It wanted to knock me over sideways.

Obstacle Course
Before long, it had stopped being so much of a headwind as an uber-headwind. Like a hurricane, without the water. Or like a cyclone, but without the spinning. Or like a tornado, but without…um…I guess without the spinning again.

Tumbleweeds tumbled across the road. I made a game of dodging them, losing only once. I noticed a motorcycle was leaning hard to the left in order to go straight. I wondered how far I was tilting.

I was on a mostly flat road, pedaling at my absolute limit — in third gear. Then second. Then second, standing up…because there was no way I was going to be pedaling on a flat road in my granny gear, no matter what. I’ve got my pride.

I learned to adapt to what was the greatest danger of all — big trucks going by. The trucks themselves weren’t a problem, but as they passed, they’d briefly block the wind, and since I was leaning hard to the left, suddenly the absence of wind would have me shooting into traffic.

This ride was not turning out how I expected.

I Give Up
About five miles before my self-appointed turnaround spot (basically, the place where the road shoulder disappears), I decided I was just too tired. I needed to turn around and see if I could limp myself home.

So I waited for traffic to clear and then pulled a U-turn.

Instantly, I realized how powerful that wind was. Without pedaling, I shot up to 15mph.

And that’s when I understood why wind is such an awful opponent. You can’t tell how much it’s affecting you. Sure, you feel it on your face and chest and you know it’s slowing you down, but you don’t really know how much of your being slow is because of the wind, and how much of it is because of you just being slow.

Well, in this case, it turned out that it was pretty much all the wind.

I Un-Give Up
With the new knowledge that the wind was basically going to give me a free ride all the way home, I decided that I could make it to my original turnaround spot. And so I turned around again, slamming into the wall of wind and having to shift down to my third gear again.

Except it didn’t seem as bad anymore, because now I knew how hard the wind was pushing against me, and that I was still moving ahead anyways. And the important thing wasn’t that I was going slow, it was that I was going at all.

And then, finally, when I got to turn around and ride with the wind — top gear, 35mph on level ground — I really felt like I had earned it.


  1. Comment by Bryan (not that one) | 04.21.2008 | 10:49 am

    Headwinds really suck when you’re in one on the way back. But when you have to fight one going out and you get the reward of the tailwind on the way back, it’s very satisfying.

    Glad you stayed safe and got to enjoy the reward.

  2. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 04.21.2008 | 10:52 am

    The last 10 days or so have had the strongest sustained winds that I remember.

    I can’t remember whether it was Saturday or not, but I also had an experience of actually being accelerated (positively, Big Mike) by the wind. I don’t know if I’ve every really felt it where the wind would actually push you up to a decent speed like that. I guess the part I’m trying to explain is that it pushed so hard you actually had to resist it to remain in a neutral seating position and that it got you up to speed quickly.

    Since I was on my fixed gear bike, going against the wind required an effort that I wasn’t able to sustain, so that I’d have to turn down a street that ran perpendicular to the wind to rest, and then turn back into the wind.

  3. Comment by Dobovedo | 04.21.2008 | 11:21 am

    AWESOME POST!!! Kudos for the UN-GIVING UP!!! It’s all about developing the mental toughness in addition to the body.

    When it gets tough like that, pump your fist at the sky and shout, “IS THAT ALL YOU GOT?!? BRING IT ON!”

    When faced with horrific winds I always evaluate the situation this way:

    Which is stronger today, my body or my mind?

    If the legs feel strong, but my attitude is poor, I take a route that is with the wind, and ride fast, way beyond the point where I should turn around. Then have no choice but to fight it on the way home.

    If my mind is stronger than my body, I go straight into the wind and tough it out. Further, further, further, no matter how much it sucks. Then ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

    I once rode 20 miles into a 40mph headwind gusting over 50. Riding about 7-8mph, for nearly 2 1/2 hours. I was in my granny gear, as if I was climbing mountains. I did it on purpose, because the ride home was gonna be a blast. I was going so fast at a few points I was actually scared I was going to lose control… well over 40 mph on flat ground and very nearly spun out in a 52/11. Awesome!

  4. Comment by KanyonKris | 04.21.2008 | 11:55 am

    I stayed at home.

    But I did a big ride on Friday.

    I hope for no wind on RAWROD.

  5. Comment by the greg | 04.21.2008 | 11:56 am

    dude, fats, u know just how to inspire. thanks for the drive. oh, and i’m down 10 pounds. only 90 to go.

  6. Comment by TomE | 04.21.2008 | 11:57 am

    We too battled the wind here in Colorado on Saturday. We were going south and the wind was coming north – steady 15 mph headwind, althought I swear it was 30 mph. After 15 miles we turned around and averaged 25 mph on the 15 miles back home!! I hate wind, but I guess it gives you that “extra” workout…only thing is this, I really wasn’t looking for that “extra” workout on Saturday!

  7. Comment by brokeMBA | 04.21.2008 | 12:14 pm

    In what strange place on Earth do you ride? I have never experienced a headwind that didn’t manage to know when I turned around and subsequently turn itself around at that exact moment!

    Hence my miserably poor attempt at a Haiku that I thought up as I struggled along the roads.

    Cool Springtime headwind,
    Riding out or riding back,
    Always in my face.


  8. Comment by Bikerchick_IL | 04.21.2008 | 12:18 pm

    Fatty, goodonya for not giving up into that wind. I’d have probably punked out if I was riding alone in those conditions. Then again, I live in the Windy City, which probably explains why I almost always ride in a group.

    But here’s something heartening to remember about a big tailwind– the bigger you are, the better the push you get! (kinda like a helping hand placed strategically on your back while you grind up a hill, courtesy of Mother Nature)

    How do I know this???? Let’s just say I’m fighting the “heft demon” this season. Stay strong, and thanks as always, for the inspiration.

  9. Comment by mark | 04.21.2008 | 12:26 pm

    I thought you knew that the wind always blows on that Cedar Fort ride. Even on a day when it’s calm everywhere else, the wind still blows out there. My parents lived in Eagle Mountain for a while, until the wind drove my mom nuts.

  10. Comment by fatty | 04.21.2008 | 12:36 pm

    mark – yeah, it always blows out there, but not like that. nothing like that.

  11. Comment by Mocougfan | 04.21.2008 | 12:38 pm

    Wind Sucks

  12. Comment by Al Maviva | 04.21.2008 | 12:59 pm

    Elden, thanks for going out on your bike and breaking wind for 5 hours, then telling us about it.

    Ps. Great music. Too bad you didn’t have any Bob Seger. Would have been a good fit.

  13. Comment by aaron | 04.21.2008 | 1:36 pm

    While heading up to the top of Suncrest from Alpine on Saturday, I mistakingly thought I was riding extra strong… until I turned around and had to actually pedal just to get down to the bottom.

  14. Comment by cyclostu | 04.21.2008 | 1:38 pm

    For Al Maviva…or maybe some Kansas? Or Bob Dylan? With that much wind, there’s no doubt you must have found some answers.

    Sorry – couldn’t resist.

  15. Comment by Laura | 04.21.2008 | 1:44 pm

    I admit my legs are a little weak, but on one ride the headwind was so strong I was struggling to pedal downhill – in granny gear. Unfortunately this was the end of a long (50 mile) loop, so I never did see what it felt like with that wind at my back…

  16. Comment by SyracuseStu | 04.21.2008 | 1:46 pm

    Wind is worse than hills. At least with a hill you can see the top and fixate on success. With wind that bad, all you can do is cry like baby that it stops soon.

  17. Comment by Mike Roadie | 04.21.2008 | 2:16 pm

    At least it wasn’t the other way around!!!! Coming home into the wind SUX!

  18. Comment by fro | 04.21.2008 | 2:17 pm

    funny about the trucks going by. all my “escape” routes are densly populated by gravel trucks. and when fighting a cross wind it is un-nerving. they seem to really enjoy buzzing cyclists during calm times so it must be thrilling to see me sucked into the sudden vacuum of their passing. got out on my local trail sunday for first mtb ride (ouch) of the season so i won’t be suffering with the wind or the cowboys as much, as i tend to only road ride on sundays during the “real” season. mainly to avoid the cowboys who, i assume, have the day off to enjoy quality time at the gun club ….

  19. Comment by Aunt B | 04.21.2008 | 2:47 pm

    Fattie, you need to reload your iPod….that was your biggest problem….

    Against the Wind (Bob Segar), Dust in the Wind (Kansas), Blowin’ in the Wind (Bob Dylan) and my personal favorite, She’s Like the Wind (Patrick Swayze) You know your humming it now.

    Junction is a disGUSTing ride lately too. I’m still trying to find the tailwind.

  20. Comment by Earl | 04.21.2008 | 4:01 pm

    If it was me, the wind would have changed direction by the time I turned around and it would have been a head wind all the way back…… I HATE cycling into the wind.

  21. Comment by Born4Lycra | 04.21.2008 | 4:31 pm

    This is a late comment for the near miss. I had one yesterday. Woke up thought I was 50. Then realised I wasn’t I’m actually 50 today. How close was that?
    I agree with the others regards the wind. I only ever notice when it is head on and it always seenms to be head on. Being pushed home would have been a great experience. Congrats at sticking to it. As always Al M your observation of fatty breaking wind for 5 hours is accurate to the point and very funny.

  22. Comment by Dobovedo | 04.21.2008 | 4:31 pm

    About the only thing I can think of worse than Patrick Swayze would be Bette Midler – Wind Beneath My Wings.

    I’d much prefer a little Hendrix – Wind Cries Mary
    or Scorpions – Wind of Change
    Donovan – Catch the Wind
    Neil Young – Prairie Wind

    or heck… how ’bout a whole ipod filled with Earth, WIND & Fire.

  23. Comment by TNSatellite | 04.21.2008 | 4:32 pm

    I just moved to a new town which is apparently the Pollen Capital of the Southeast – no joke, it looks like smog, but it’s all pollen. So, the bracing headwind yesterday was also dusting my respiratory system with some sort of tasty elm/poplar/maple cocktail.

    The high points: I rode into the wind down a new (to me) highway and mislocated myself somewhere in North Ga. I was wearing the jersey of the school where I teach, so some kids from the rival school buzzed me and yelled at me from their car. I didn’t feel good due to the pollen and some poor dietary decisions earlier in the day. Back in town, I got a flat. When I got home, I topped an already stellar day off with an asthma attack.

    But, I’m not a complainer, seriously, I’m not – this was just an exceptionally bad ride. So the good stuff: Tailwind! woohoo! you’re right, that’s awesome. I was near my friends’ house when I got the flat, so I walked my sorry butt over there for a bike repair lesson and got a little solace. Going home, I hit 40 mph (on a hill.)

    They say that no news is good news. This does not hold true with biking – a bad ride is much, much better than no ride at all. I had every intention of hitting the pavement again today, but mysteriously ended up poring over a copy of _The Odyssey_ at my local Starbucks. Ah, my resolve failed. But I will take some allergy medicine, and I shall prevail.

    Thanks, Fatty, for giving voice to the trials and triumphs of us regular cyclists!

  24. Comment by LidsB2 | 04.21.2008 | 5:03 pm

    Bad: Tailwind out, headwind back
    Worse: Calm out, headwind back
    Worse still: Headwind out, headwind back
    Today — just bad, but it beats not riding at all. Spring is finally here!
    The wind always blows in Nebraska.

  25. Comment by joliver3 | 04.21.2008 | 5:21 pm

    Mocougfan – I think it would be more accurate to say that wind blows.

  26. Comment by sfcgijill | 04.21.2008 | 5:25 pm

    The best thing about a headwind is that all you have to do is turn around to find the tailwind.
    I love hills for a similar reason- for every uphill, there’s usually a downhill coming up soon enough.

  27. Comment by bikemike | 04.21.2008 | 5:49 pm

    the wind is our friend.
    i also call it The Zen of Wind. you can’t take and take and take(tailwind) without giving something back to the cycling gods (headwind). trust me, i’ve been cycling on the east coast of Florida for 25 years, it’s also called invisible hills.
    it’s also not so bad to go out with the tailwind first, you get a nice warm up just cruising along and then when you turn around, the headwind doesn’t feel so bad.

    of course, you could also just suck it up and quit whining. or not.

  28. Comment by Philthy in Oz | 04.21.2008 | 6:07 pm

    Fantastic selection of music (apart from RHCP which I could take or leave). I could handle just about any conditions with that selection to listen to.
    The relief of turning and flying along with a tailwind would have me singing along karaoke style at the top of my lungs for the entire ride home.

  29. Comment by Debamundo | 04.21.2008 | 6:39 pm

    You have just described nearly every ride I do here in the great state of Kansas.

  30. Comment by aussie kev | 04.21.2008 | 6:41 pm

    35 mph that’s “plentysix” kph awesome – surly a “pb” for you – it is probably the world record for “where the shoulder ends – back to fatties house”, you could ask twin six to make commemorative t shirts with ” fatty world record holder” on them.


  31. Comment by Ian | 04.21.2008 | 6:49 pm

    Wind is great. It is the time us big guys can show the skinny climbers how we feel in the hills.(unless they are really good at drafting)


  32. Comment by Rocky | 04.21.2008 | 7:07 pm

    Crappy wind. It’s ruining my spring. And I, likewise, want to know how you found the non-intuitive wind (e.g. the one that does not turn into a reversed headwind once you turn around). Thats the only kind I ever find.

  33. Comment by inka | 04.21.2008 | 8:12 pm

    bah. move to chicago… i know it’s called the windy city for the politicians, but here’s an all too average scenario…. my husband and i are struggling against a 30-40 mph headwind going in one direction when suddenly we see a cyclist going the exact opposite direction… also clearly struggling against a killer headwind.

    It never ceases to amaze me… this is the City of No Tailwind. I guess its how we make up for not having hills.

  34. Comment by SloBoy | 04.22.2008 | 6:25 am

    I was thinking about wind and Potential Energy when I was out the other day.

    Here’s the thing – you ride out into the wind, it’s hard work. It’s like riding uphill or with a big elastic bungy on your back. It’s like you’re storing Energy. And to prove it, when you turn round you get that energy back. On Fatty’s ride it got him back to 15mph with no effort, converting that PE back to KE.

    But where was that PE stored ? It must be in the storm. By riding into the storm, Fatty gave it more energy and made it worse.

    So if we all set off riding in the same direction, can we create a great tempest purely by pedal power ?

  35. Comment by Al Maviva | 04.22.2008 | 12:09 pm

    Rocky, where the hell are you riding? Belgium? I think what you are talking about is a “quartering wind.” It always seems to be at least partially in your face no matter which way you turn. They are usually coupled with rain. If you do not revel in this, and live for the sheer joy of crushing paralyzing head/crosswinds of that sort… well, I guess that sort of explains why you aren’t a pro roadracer.

  36. Pingback by Dobovedo’s Journal of Journeys » Blog Archive » And Then It Hit Me | 05.1.2008 | 5:05 pm

    [...] have ready lately, I have no ego problems when it comes to using granny gears on flat ground. (The Fat Cyclist, in case you were wondering who I was referring to). I was determined to make this an easy ride, [...]


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