THE late John Denver once wrote and performed a number called Windsong. Denver was apparently a keen outdoors guy and I could well empathise with the sentiment behind the song…
The wind is the whisper of our mother the Earth,
The wind is the hand of our father the sky
I loved the hippy, new age romanticism behind the song and for years I sang the words of it as I hiked the hills, face upturned to the breeze, or wandered over high plateaux with the wind for company. I came to think of the wind as a friend, the dweller of high places, the symbol of all that is free, happily ignoring the fact that brother wind is schizophrenic.
But even the days when the other side of his character became apparent, those days of upland gales and damaging gusts, were memorable, and happily so. Walking might have been a bit more difficult, I might have felt a bit bruised and battered at the end it, like having gone five rounds with Mike Tyson, but it just felt like part and parcel of a day on the hill.
There can be difficult moments even in the best relationships – you just have to accept them with good grace.
But I’m finding that difficult as a cyclist.
It’s only when you’re on a bike that you realize just how different the two sides of brother wind’s character can be.
Today I cycled a route that I know well, a 32-miles oval shaped route and I knew that for the first half I’d mostly have the wind behind me. It was wonderful, the breeze blowing me along at a steady 20-22mph, helping me gently up the hills and keeping me comfortably cool.
Halfway through things changed. That friendly breeze became the enemy, slowing me down, fighting me at every step, almost halving my speed.
On the better moments it was as though someone had his hands on both my shoulders, gently pushing me backwards. The worse moments were a nightmare, as violent gusts threatened to bring me to a standstill as I concentrated solely on trying to keep the bike on a straightish line.
Someone on Twitter described the wind in your face as cycling’s Nemesis, and I couldn’t agree more. From a fairly benevolent relationship with brother wind I’ve come to be very wary of him. Generally I try and avoid him, try and outsmart him, and yet…
When he’s behind me there is nothing more wonderful. It’s like riding an electric bike! The miles pass with little effort as the wind pushes you along without you even realizing it. You feel fit and strong and become convinced all the training is paying off. And then you turn round, and you realize brother wind has been taking the piss…
Two years ago Hamish Telfer and I cycled from Land’s End to John O’ Groats. For much of the way we cycled into the teeth of a raging gale. Some days were just purgatory. The wind made the hills steeper and the miles longer and we found ourselves seeking roads with trees along the side, anything to break the effect of the wind in our faces.
Then last year we cycled from La Manche to the Med with the wind at out backs almost all the way. The difference was dramatic…
But there isn’t too much we can do about it. Like any outside activity or sport we’re at the mercy of the weather gods and sometimes those gods will smile on us and at other times they won’t. It’s at times like that we just have to grit our teeth and put up with it. It’s character-building, it makes us strong and it makes us appreciate all the more those balmy, still summer evenings, when the birds are singing, the sun is setting on the distant horizon and winter feels a long, way away.
And the good news? A week from now and the nights will start drawing out again. Oh, halleluiah!