Into the Teeth

I’ve ridden in rain and it made me tougher. At least, it made me feel tough. I’ve ridden in the cold and learned it wasn’t so cold. I’ve ridden in the snow and found the absurdity amusing. I’ve ridden in cold rain and thought it was easier than couples’ counseling.

But what of the headwind?

Nothing else makes me consider turning around so soon after starting. Nothing else makes me feel so weak. Nothing else makes me fantasize about other sports. Nothing else makes me grit my teeth. Nothing.

What even is headwind? Is it a headwind or the headwind or plural headwinds? Is it like how we talk about going to the store, or more like school with no definite article? I’m less concerned with the correct grammar than what it says about how we think about this invisible thing. Are we talking about the one we are riding into, the one that destroyed us last Sunday, or the fact that they are as much a part of the reality of a cyclist’s life as the road?

In its invisibility a headwind is both more covert and ever-present, both more threatening and possibly more escapable. Or maybe not. We never really know. It is that quotient of unknown, that something so powerful and so impossible to measure that gives the wind the power to make me question cycling.

I can know how large the mountain is, how long the road is, but the wind? What can I know? Is it blowing behind that hill, at the bottom of the canyon? Will it be blowing two hours from now?

As with so many things, the uncertainty is my undoing. I can’t know if the wind will shift, or whether it will pick up or die down. I can gut out the final meters to the top of a hill or final blocks home, but if I have to ask, “How much longer?” the wind will defeat me. And that is the definition of irony.

Riding into the maw of a headwind is what cycling is. I’ve never ridden for the end. To ride is to do. In that, we are not unlike the wind. And for the first time I see it: we do ride like the wind.

Image: Jorge “Koky” Flores, JustPedal

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Join the conversation
  1. TominAlbany says

    And those days where you realize EVERY direction has a headwind!!!!

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      That feels very New England, too. I turn out of the headwind, only to find the wind has followed me.

    2. Padraig says

      I was about to tell an anecdote to validate all this and then realized it is probably a post in its own right. I’ll just add that those days are the worst.

  2. pfnavin says

    A question never asked: “When do we get to the end of this wind?”

  3. khal spencer says

    You can look at a mountain pass. A headwind is intangible and it defeats you.

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