During the Amgen Tour of California the peloton encountered an open plain in the arid land around Sacramento. The race only listed the wind at 6 mph, but any cyclist watching the broadcast could tell that was a lie. Teams at the front formed angled echelons six or seven men deep. This was to protect their GC men or their sprinter of the day.
Behind the lead teams, riders struggled on in a line. There was no time to form an echelon. It was every man for himself.
That’s a cruel situation in any race. Of course, triathletes in no-draft races always have to make it on their own. But tri-bikes attempt to compensate for the wind by putting riders down in an aero position. So to cyclists in time trials. And so it goes. Everyone is trying to keep the wind from being their worst enemy.
The wind is a cruel bastard. It is also an unrelenting bitch. Then there are days when it has no gender or personality but swirls and whirls wherever it wants to go. You just have to deal with it.
A tailwind? Forget about it. You rode thirty miles out against the wind? It will shift and make the ride back feel like hell on wheels. That can put you in a mighty bad mood. Turn running or cycling friends into enemies. Dial up the bitching and dial down the friendly banter. Just get through that shit.
The strongest wind in which I’ve run is 60 mph. There were twenty of us out in the open country above Decorah, Iowa. We lined up and ran in a rotation. It was the only way to get back home. I’ve also competed in a steeplechase race in which the wind was blowing 50 mph. That was perhaps the most difficult race in which I’ve ever participated.
But lately, I’ve taken a more zen approach to living with the wind. We have plenty of it here in Illinois. It fills the spaces where the tall prairie used to be. That’s why the wind feels so lonesome at times. It has its laments. It has seen much in its time. Watched 10,000 years of wonderful grass plowed under in a few years. Now the wind scrapes the soil from the surface of the planet. This is its complaint. In winter the snowbanks turn dark brown. In spring the ripples on fluddles under the gray sky look rough as sandpaper. The wind wants to know where its friends have gone.
Then it finds us hopeful and helpless out in the open. The wind strikes us with the aggressive bump of a tribal member protecting its turf. It sends inquiries at us, and threats. It waits to see our reply. Will we respect it or cast yet another insult its way.
It is well-known that the ultimate show of respect is to give credit where it is due. “I hear you,” is the best response to the aggressive nudge of the wind. “I feel your strength.”
But it takes courage to move past these initial greetings. It takes real trust to offer the wind acknowledgment. “I trust you,” is hard to say to a crosswind that vexes your bike or makes your ears hurt from the vortex rushing air. “I want to be with you,” is even harder to say. The wind will not always answer right away. It has learned to distrust false promises. It has been burned too many times. Filled with smoke and fire. Turned into a choking mass of dust that flies from Oklahoma to New York. It has seen your kind before. The promises and the belief that rains will follow the plow. Instead the wind was left alone on the Great Plains. Lonely and desperate as the people living there.
Which is why we have so much to atone for. The wind has a long memory. It sees a long way. It tumbles down mountain passes and rises off the face of cold lakes. It strains through wires and the bladed spokes of a bike. It flips loose shoelaces and takes plastic bags for long romps across the haggard fields behind the Costco. It takes down the poorly constructed robin’s nest.
The wind is pissed and it doesn’t like when people don’t think that it matters, or that it’s real. So to have a good relationship with the wind, one must earn it by spending time where the wind learns to respect you back. Only then can you befriend the invisible substance of its mercy. Its resistance is its soul. Don’t push it around without a bit of humility. But don’t be too soft either. The wind hates a patsy.
Over time you’ll come to terms. The wind is not irrational. It is only persistent in the belief that respect is paramount in all things. Show respect, and you may just run and ride like the wind. It is not an easy thing. It never is.