Earth contains a lot of air, 5,600 million million tons of it. Most of it is in motion. And, if my biking experiences are indicative of its direction, it’s generally blowing right in your face.
Of course, I exaggerate. Wind comes in all directions. And here in the Willamette Valley it never stops coming from one way or another. Although, statistically, 60% of the time the wind blows here from the south or west. It just seems like it is always a headwind.
Frankly, I’d rather encounter a ride crowded with one hill after another than a strong wind. A hill is a known entity. It’s just so steep and so long. But a wind is unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
On a road bike a wind can be tricky, especially when careening downhill around a bend while a gust takes you unawares, affecting your balance. And gusts blow a-plenty here, coming from any direction, swooshing up and down and around the canyons, gullies, and ravines in the Coast Range and Cascade Mountains as well as the ample hills in the narrow Willamette Valley. Then there’s the constant affect of the nearby wind-surfing capital of the world, the Columbia River Gorge, which every day averages 16 kph winds and has daily gusts much, much higher.
It’s interesting to note that, according to Lyall Watson’s fascinating Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind, about half of all heart attacks and strokes occur when the wind is blowing between 24 and 40 kilometers per hour (15-24 mph). He also notes that a Swiss touring club reports that during the local wind phenomenon, the föhn, car accidents rise by 50%. And while I lived in Santa Barbara, local lore had it that crime rose during the Southern California Santa Ana winds.
Wind can be a great training tool for some. Olympic rider Christian Vande Velde, who made the USA team in 2008, claims a strong headwind can simulate hill climbing, essential to any racer. The problem I have in training in the wind on the few flat areas of the “valley” here is that the wind shifts. I can’t count on it coming from one direction for a steady length of time.
Without the wind, life on Earth could not exist. But wouldn’t it be nice if it just blew a little less often and a little less hard?
© Mark Everett Hall 2011