By Lukas Brinkerhoff
Have you ever been punched in the face by the wind?
It’s that time of the night between laying down and waking up. It could be 10 PM or it could be 3 AM. I don’t want to look at my watch because if it’s the former the latter is going to take forever to get to. The wind was ripping when I laid down and has increased ever since. The flimsy, nylon walls of our tent are no match for its gusts.
I’ve been listening to its ebbs and flows and slams whilst I attempt to fall asleep. It starts with a low hum that you can hear clearly as there is no movement where I lie. The hum grows to a screech and you can feel the anticipation of the air around you as it prepares to be ripped down the ridge in the impending deluge of air flowing from above. It hits the tent first as a negative force pulling the walls away from my face and then swinging them back and forth several times. Then the brunt of the gust hits pushing the wall in and down till I’m sure the aluminum poles will bend and maybe snap. And then it goes limp.
There is nothing in the in between. When the rage and screeching and motion subside, it’s like the air is taking a break. It hangs in the air. The silence is impregnated with waiting. It lasts just long enough that you think maybe things had stopped, but slowly, surely, that hum that cues the start of the wave begins to grow as a hint in the back of your head and then you can’t deny it any longer and the screech is barreling toward you again for the next round.
And just as I think I’m going to fall asleep the wind hits me with a right hook and I’m back at staring at the moving, nylon walls.
If you were to grab a dictionary and look to define wind, you would come up with several definitions that have to do with bodily functions and of course, the one that matters:
The perceptible natural movement of the air, especially in the form of a current of air blowing from a particular direction.
I’m sure that in certain areas of the world, and maybe even in this state, the wind blows from a “particular direction.” And guess that if the wind is blowing, it must be from a “particular direction” which as Microsoft Word has pointed out to me, is not very concise language. Thanks a lot dictionary.
I think you and I both know that the wind is a much more complex. In my experience, it blows from every direction and no direction all at once. You can be fighting it with all your might to go forward when it decides to stop throwing you off balance and then hitting you from the side and almost knocks you into traffic. And as cliché as it might sound, I have, more than once, gone on a ride that started with a horrible head wind only to have it decide to stop and change directions the moment I flip around and head for home.
Of course, anything that can push you back and can push you forward. That same hand of a jealous god that is whipping you into submission, can become the gentle nudge of a benevolent one carrying you when you were too weak to move on your own. I’m not sure why, but tailwinds feel more like kindness than their violent siblings that come from the front or pounce from the side.
You can only avoid this strange, natural force for so long if you a ride a bike. No one is immune and no one is blessed to always have tailwinds. It’s best to be prepared and learn how to smile in the face of a force you cannot see and quite often can’t predict.
If you ride one of those bikes that has drop bars, it’s best to be sure that those drops are within your reach and flexibility range because when that death grind of a headwind slaps you in the face, the first thing you are going to want to do is drop down. Putting your head into the wind and getting your body as flat and horizontal as possible as to create a smaller leading edge to reduce drag. This also keeps your center of gravity lower and will help keep you from being knocked sideways when your cruel master decides to suddenly change direction. I’m not sure it’s good advice, but this is the one scenario I feel like gripping the bars tightly is a good idea. For whatever reason, the death grip just feels right when the air is trying to rip you from your steed.
And most importantly, keep both wheels firmly planted on the ground. No bunny hopping. No wheelies. Certainly no drops. Pretend like you’re a NICA athlete with an overzealous coach who demands rules are followed in their absolute. It is almost guaranteed that leaving the ground will invite that one gust from just the wrong direction, catching you when there is nothing to keep you rooted to your position and slamming you back to the earth.
I wish I could say there existed a solution to this oddly violent natural force. Maybe someday, as technology progresses and we continue to try to conquer the world we live in, there will be some device or contraption that will eliminate the power of the wind. Until then, it’s best to keep your head down, both wheels on the ground and embrace the beating you are experiencing. Hope for a tailwind knowing it probably won’t come.
And when that gust suddenly dies and the world is perfectly silent, try to catch a few minutes of sleep because the wind is going to return in full force and slap you in the face.
Lukas Brinkerhoff blogs about mountain biking and life at mooseknuckleralliance.org.