Sunday, October 4, 2009

Learning When to Say When with the Wind

When you awake to your tent shaking and quaking, well, depending on which direction you're riding, that's usually the first clue that it might be a tough day with the wind. And seldom does it seem that you're riding in the right direction, as even on the lucky days that the tailwind might boost from the back, rarely do you or the wind dance directionally step for step for the whole day's distance. Whether it's the curvy scenic byway or shifty whip twisting canyon eddies - you'll have to feel and deal at some point or another. In most parts of the world, the morning hours are typically more calm, so it's often safe to assume that conditions will worsen unless it's a quick passing front that clean-sweeps through to restore the peace.

Then there's the weather man that issues the high wind advisory warnings, and the locals that might listen to him and add their angle. Such a good thing to talk about the weather, because it often leads to unexpected, but useful rambles of topographical variation, vegetation changes, and injections of personal opinion from their long-lived historical homeland experience. Usually the locals are the only ones that can tell you about that 9-mile stretch ahead where the scrub brush thins and the dusty desert dunes creep closely nigh the highway side. Take that as another caution for your upcoming ride unless you enjoy the exfoliating facial sting from searing cross-winds that send sand blasts to your inner ear cavity. Hopefully you've recently washed the snot out of the old blue bandanna that flaps strapped to the back rack.

There were some difficult stretches getting out of southern Idaho, and Utah overall was calm or bearable. But ever since crossing into Arizona, it has been an outright battle. The headwinds and some 50mph gusts were so strong getting into the Grand Canyon's north rim, that I would have taken an alternate route if it hadn't been for the fact that it was THE Grand Canyon that sat patient in wait. [See videos below] The strain stopped me 15 miles short and delayed my arrival by half a day, but after yesterday's windstorm, I look back and consider that pain as a piece of cake....Fore it was yesterday, that it finally happened... after 2,200 miles of mostly agreeable weather, Mother Nature decided to show me a cyclist's limitations. With 53 miles and 3,000 vertical feet remaining up to Flagstaff, the winds came roaring from the south across the Navajo Reservation - grinding me down to a shift click away from the granny gear on nearly no grade. Fortunately, I was able to make it ten miles up to Grays Mountain and out of the sandstorm behind me. The hill top cross roads offered a single gas station and restaurant that served tasty fry bread Navajo tacos - all that's needed to seek refuge, assess the situation, and submit to the unrelenting wind power. Submit, as in having to find a willing soul to give a stranded biker a hitch into Flagstaff.

After nearly three hours of watching cars go whizzing by in the opposite direction through the distant sandstorm, I finally met a man named Elijah who was riding solo on an afternoon day trip to the Grand Canyon and then back to handle business in Phoenix. Born in southern Missouri, Elijah stood tall and strong, seemingly unmoved, unflinched against the dusty gale's intermittent force. As we loaded the car, he took notice of my sticker tattered panniers and mentioned how he had just returned from an 11-month deployment in Iraq. During what was probably the most relieving 40-mile car ride of my life, Elijah spoke candidly of his experiences in Iraq, of his team's efforts to improve relations and security with the Iraqi people, as well as the attitudes and perspectives that we have of the war back here in America. His word and message were clear, concise, at times eloquent, and he wasted little in getting to the crux of the subject.

I liked this man. He emphasized the ultimate goal of working to teach and enable the Iraqi forces and people so that they could be free and independent, having the stability and chance to live a life of opportunity without fear.... The conversation touched on several other topics before reaching downtown and the public library where he dropped me off. We shook hands, exchanged final words, and then he drove away. So reassuring to personally meet and talk with men of clear vision, strong character, and know that we have great leaders out there. Thanks again Elijah.

Two videos of my windy approach to the Grand Canyon's north rim. Ah the wind...

Tough Going

Made it!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Josh! I ran into you in downtown Prescott AZ. I'm the guy whose girlfriend's family is from Lumberton, NC.
    I just wanted to wish you the best and safe travel.