Vlaams Orkest: Tegenwind

Riding as if pushed by the very hand of Merckx
Riding as if pushed by the very hand of Merckx. Photo: Elizabeth Keller

Any return from time off the bike is always met with a peculiar mixture of anticipation and apprehension. I will be excited to return to the bike, but on some level I’ve become accustomed to not getting on my bike every day. Not riding is easy, and we are creatures of inertia – once the rhythm of the daily ride is broken, it takes a push to slip back into the current that carries us to fitness.

I will be apprehensive to discover how much of my form has left me; I was strong before the break, and some of that strength will have left me. I can always hurt my legs, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I still can. But pain feels different depending on which side of it you’re standing; in fitness, suffering feels farther removed, as if we somehow control the pain. When fitness has deserted us, however, we are at its mercy; we are in a hole from which the only escape lies through withstanding the suffering being heaped down upon us in shovel loads from above.

After a week off the bike to rest a  knee annoyance incurred during my Festum Prophetae Hour ride, I found myself riding in the early morning rain. This was a wispy rain rain of lukewarm water, the kind of rain we normally find in a Seattle summer. I chose a route with few climbs, so I might not force my legs. The route started with a dozen or so kilometers of gradually rising road before dropping into a valley where the road pitches steeply upward for a short while before continuing on its way down to the seaside. My legs felt magical on the climb; I could push on them and the bike would go. This is why I love Cycling; how can something so rich and complex be so elemental – all we need do is push on the pedals.

I fell into a beautiful rhythm as I rode easily along the twisting road, unusually aware of how good I felt. There must be a tailwind, I thought to myself, as I rose out of the saddle to push over a small rise in the road. Not long after, I reached the turn-around point and found unequivocally that indeed there had been a tailwind. I lowered my chin in resignation to the work that lay ahead to return home. It occurred to me that this, a headwind, is the only kind of wind they have in Flanders.

On most days, I would fixate on the speed that this headwind was wringing from my machine; the most frustrating thing about a headwind is the small return in speed for the amount of pressure in the legs and lungs. But today, I had no designs on speed. I had no designs on returning home at a certain time, for that matter. There was only me and the bike. It is only on rides like these that we may truly appreciate the gifts of dimension that La Vie Velominatus can provide when we are willing to receive them.

Riding into a headwind, with the air swirling about your head and rustling the nearby forest and meadows, forms a lovely orchestra of woods, reeds, and winds. If it wasn’t normally so frustrating, it might be my favorite kind of riding.

Vive la Vie Velominatus.

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60 Replies to “Vlaams Orkest: Tegenwind”

  1. @Cyclops

    This story strikes me on two fronts: I’m a couple of years past the half century mark and complacence this past winter pushed me a couple of pounds over the tenth of a ton mark. In an effort to get back down to fighting weight (I’m down 7kg) and regain the lost fitness I’ve been putting in lots of base miles. Doing what I call “daily doubles” – an hour ride before work in the morning and 60-90 minutes after work at least three days a week. While not super high intensity the high volume (for me) recently caught up with me and I decided a proper rest was in order. I took an entire week off the bike. The first ride after the rest was a casual 65k. The ride into work the next morning brought heavy legs again. A day off. And then magic. All the miles, all the hanging on for dear life at the Wednesday Night Worlds, finally kicked in. Pushing the usual headwind in the morning is now a little less daunting. Now the fight is against the discipline of staying in (self)prescribed cadence/HR zones when the legs are saying “we can go faster”.

    The second front that Frank’s story touched on is what I recently called (on Strava) the “Glorious Tailwind”. Friday past, the VMH and I spent the night with some friends that live in town that is 90km upwind from us. Looking at the forecast winds for Saturday morning I decided to take Bike #1 with me and head out first thing in the morning for home. I must say that it was pretty rewarding to ride 90k solo and finish up with a 35kph+ average speed. Glorious Tailwind, O’ How I Love Thee. It seems that in his great wisdom Merckx is a cruel taskmaster that forces us to put our nose into the wind much more often than not. Thankfully, he consoles us with the notion that it makes us stronger (Rule #10). But he is also gracious and Merckxiful and every once in a while he peels back the curtain to give us a glimpse of what riding in heaven will be like.

    The cruel taskmaster. This has been an early season of wind, cold and rain N Minnesota. It hit 80 yesterday, and I thought I was going to melt. The locals and I are scratching our heads – because the winds this year really mess with the cyclist. Pushy, grabby, and affliction from almost every direction. 170 Km ride on the south shore of Lake Superior on Saturday: 48 degrees, fog, spitting rain…and the infernal wind forced my pace to a mediocre 27 Kph. Rule #5, rule #6 and rule #9 in one great big helping. But days like this go into the bank…they accumulate with interest. The pay off is reaching deep and actually finding something there later in the season. That’s when we find something special and give thanks for all the hard days in the bank.

  2. @halfwheel

    a picture of said Lobey Dosser in the background with Cav on his way to the Champs jersey on sunday

    Thanks for posting! I think from now on, Cav should be known as wee Lobey. Small, cheeky, and comes through at the end. Cav’s the Wee Boy!

  3. I remember a few years ago during a ride across northern france heading for Paris having a headwind for a whole days riding.  It was consistent and steady and bizarrely I lost myself in my own reverie, the wind faded in my mind and I undertook The Work with something akin to peace in my soul.  A day that started with perceived misery, turned in to one of the most rewarding rides I have ever had…

  4. I’m always amazed at how even a short time off the bike allows fear to creep in – “Do I even know how to ride a bike anymore? I guess. But can I do it well? What about sitting in a paceline, I must have forgotten that?”

    Yup, it’s usually good to take breaks once and awhile. If timed well I jump back on and the legs feel great, with just the ability to snap them into high tempos diminished. Nothing that can’t be recovered in a short window of a few solid rides. I’ve been doing mostly short rides lately, just to get out and enjoy a cruise, as I’m focussed on other matters. I rode solo Friday and Saturday, then with two mates on Sunday and the pace was high. Monday night I did some CX riding and when I stood I realized my legs were pretty sore. What’s that? Oh, I guess hard riding will do that, eh.

    For as much as I’d like to still have a few hours a day to ride, I’m still constantly appreciative that I can ride frequently, still have decent form, live close to lots of great riding, also have trails for CX riding down the block, and oh yeah, have a bunch o’ nice bikes to choose from on any day. Not much to be upset about.

    Nice one, Frank!

  5. @Deakus

    I remember a few years ago during a ride across northern france heading for Paris having a headwind for a whole days riding. It was consistent and steady and bizarrely I lost myself in my own reverie, the wind faded in my mind and I undertook The Work with something akin to peace in my soul. A day that started with perceived misery, turned in to one of the most rewarding rides I have ever had…

    That’s fantastic stuff, mate. Those moments, when you find them, are some of the most amazing in life. And they never come without first fighting through some kind of adversity.

  6. @Ron

    A rest at the right time can actually strengthen the guns. If you’re getting that soreness after a few days, take two off and try again on the third. You’ll crush it!

  7. @halfwheel

    a picture of said Lobey Dosser in the background with Cav on his way to the Champs jersey on sunday

    Boy, Cav is a short little sport, isn’t he? And thick. He looks like a bratwurst with bratwurst legs. Much like my little pit puppy.

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