Many people recommend biking west to east across the U.S. because the wind is at your back. This may be true at 40,000 feet, if you’re an airplane. Down on Earth’s surface wind has the phenomenal capability to blow in opposite directions at the same time. There is no predictability with wind. It is as capricious as it is invisible. If you are factoring in a wind-avoidance strategy in your route-for-a-bike-tour selection process, I would suggest not. You will get wind to the face, wherever your face is.
(I would however, avoid biking south to north on the West Coast. According to a biker we met along the way, the winds were ferocious and biking in the right lane when the ocean is on the left is kind of a bummer. The biker also played professional poker for a living so I’d trust him.)
Though mountains are daunting and make you breath and sweat heavily, the flat lands are the real test of stamina, or they were for me at least on my ride from Vermont to California. Here is my 3 part reasoning as to why wind is the most challenging biking weather and how to be, in the words of my high school swim coach, “above the weather”.
Bikers are uniquely exposed to wind–even the air suck left in the wake of a truck is like a mini-weather event. In rain, once you are thoroughly soaked your body adjusts and the cardio of biking keeps you warm–minus hands and feet. In hail, someone with a pick-up truck will eventually drive by. Extreme heat didn’t prove to be too much of a problem because sweat plus wind makes for good A.C. But WIND. Wind will italicize your world and cars are totally oblivious to it.
So, biker, you’re on your 2-wheeled own. Though it may feel like you are inside of a blow dryer, or a tempest and you must shout wildly just to be heard, the second you stop biking you’ll realize it’s just kinda breezy out.
Wind is physically taxing. Not only are you exerting more to pedal and stabilize the bike, but meanwhile your lips are chapping, your throat is parching, and your eardrums beat. I developed the more-boat-less-sail method of biking which is nothing other than the obvious: hunch down over handlebars, be as compact as possible. Having panniers to weigh you down actually works to your advantage here.
The most significant factor with this wind business though, is the psychological challenge. Chances are if there’s wind, it’s flat and if it’s flat you’re biking through one of the places I wrote about in “Biking Through Nothing“. There is no punctuation to the road that stretches before you. The only variance is in the wind itself, which never blows consistently but in arrhythmic starts and stops, like you’re on the wick of a flickering flame. It’s hard to tune out the sound of wind because it’s as much of a feeling–pounding/whipping around your head–as it is a noise. So there you are, toiling away, feeling like you’re going nowhere in a tormenting actualization of Zeno’s paradox.
But fear not, you WILL get to that water tower or grain elevator or whatever it is floating off into the distance… eventually.
- Break up the time: I rotated through 3 different orientations on my bike– sitting up straight, hunching over, and standing up—counting out 30 pedals in each position.
- Don’t look at mile markers or your watch or your speedometer if you have one (I did not, I think for the better).
- If you can’t remember the last time you saw a car, it’s probably safe to put in earbuds. Music serves as more of a sound buffer than any quality listening. Earplugs might actually be better…I didn’t think of that until now.
- Sing songs. If you don’t know the words, make them up. I found time passed the fastest when I was in the process of creating something.
- Between you are your biking partner(s), trade off who’s in front and who’s drafting. Drafting off one person may be more placebo, but what the heck.
- Ask whoever is within earshot to describe all four of their grandparents to you.