My friend Jayson and I were out trail running on Saturday, for long stretches exposed to a 50 mph wind. It was the kind of wind that blows snot out of your nose, catches your lips and blows air into one of your cheeks so it flaps, and occasionally, gusts up to 60 or 70 mph and pushes you off the trail. It was so loud, we hardly talked for the last seven miles of our run. At one point, Jayson yelled, “Ah wind, my favorite element.” I laughed, and then went back to concentrating on leaning hard into the wind while we ran, like a couple of idiots whose mothers never taught them to come in out of the rain.
Wind can be an interesting thing, and by “interesting thing,” I mean “kind of an asshole sometimes.” Yes, it’s wonderful as a source of renewable energy and also helped enable boat travel possible a long time ago, but in the out-of-doors, it can be no fun at all. Especially in the wintertime.
When I first met my friend Aaron about ten years ago, we just happened upon each other while snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park, and he decided to join us in hiking to the top of Flattop Mountain. About a half-mile from the summit, the wind was blowing straight at us over the rocks, picking up snow and blasting it into any uncovered skin areas at about 40 mph. Aaron shouted, “That lets you know you’re alive!” I agreed, also silently adding that it hurts your face kind of. Aaron and I became good friends because sometimes in your life you apparently need other people who like to do painful things on the weekends.
Of all types of activities that are not fun in the wind, I believe cycling is the least fun. On a bike, you’re capable of moving close to 20 mph on relatively flat terrain, and that is one of the most joyous forms of human-powered locomotion there is. Wind can be great while you’re riding a bike, but only if it comes from one very specific direction: behind you. And that almost never happens, unless you’re on a bike ride that only goes one way the entire time. If you are, and you have a strong tailwind, that’s about the greatest thing in the world. Let me tell you about a time I was on a one-way bike ride that went the opposite way, into the wind:
My friend Tony and I decided to ride our bicycles across America, and a little over halfway, we found ourselves in Texas, like you do if you ride the southern route. We woke up one morning to discover there was a 30-35 mph wind blowing from east to west. To get across America, we had to continue to ride west to east, which you’ll note was the opposite of the direction the wind was blowing. We were almost out of food, and we had camped basically in the middle of nowhere, so we had to keep riding if we wanted to eat. So we got on our bikes and pedaled. The wind was strong enough that I never got out of my granny gear, even on the slight downhills. We knew we had to ride 55 miles until we got to a decent-sized town, so we just kept pedaling. It took us 11 hours to get there, which you can calculate made our average speed 5 mph, not a velocity at which anyone says “wheeee” when they’re pedaling a bicycle. My 66-year-old mother averages 4 mph walking around her neighborhood. Anyway, Tony and I got a hotel room, split three large Papa John’s pizzas, and went to bed. Later that year, Tony finished an Ironman triathlon. I congratulated him and told him it was a big accomplishment, and he said that it wasn’t nearly as hard as that day pedaling into the headwind in Texas.
Not all my friends are idiots. One time my friend Mitsu and I pulled into the parking lot at Lumpy Ridge, planning to climb an easy five-pitch route. When we got out of the car, the wind was gusting up to about 40 mph. Hmmm, we both said. I said the climbing would probably be fine, but the rappel at the end might be a pain in the ass. Mitsu was unenthused. I said I’m going to go to the bathroom and we can talk about it when I get back. Two minutes later, I got back to the car and Mitsu said, “Let’s go get coffee,” effectively taking charge of the situation and making the decision for us to bail. Driving to the coffee shop, he said, “I’m not worried about it being not safe, I’m worried about it being not fun.” We sat inside Kind Coffee in Estes Park and ate pastries and drank coffee, which was both safe and fun.