I’ve been trying to think of the best word to describe yesterday’s wind: Brutal? Ferocious? Punishing? Merciless? Soul-crushing? In the end, I think I’ll settle on “traumatizing.” As in, this is a wind that will leave a permanent, if small, impression on my psyche, haunt me in some minor way.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Traditionally, at the Dusty 100, the wind is from the west, which makes for a tough first half and a larkish homestretch. The final 25 km along the Victoria Trail is the most scenic part of the route and, usually, the quickest. But not this year. With a rare east wind, which kicked up dramatically in the early afternoon, the final stretch involved a special kind of suffering.
Even before we turned east into the stiff clip, my legs were weary. But as the wind intensified, it became clear that it was affecting my mind as well as my body. I began to experience that psychic (and cyclic) fragility that only wind can induce in a cyclist. Of course I can ride 20 more kilometres, no matter how hard, but . . . can I?
The wind got stronger and stronger as my resolve weakened. By the time we hit the Northwest Mounted Police monument, it was blowing 40 kph, and the flags were stretched out straight. My speedometer ticked ever downward; clouds of dust swirled above the gravel.
(It’s happened to me before, this kind of mind-melting wind. I think of that day in Montana in 2007, when touring with Penn and Cousin Larry. We still talk about that one. We limped off the bikes after a gruesome afternoon of grinding headwinds and just sat silently at that campground picnic table, staring off into space. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep–our bodies vibrating from the exertion, our minds stunned. We could have gotten tattoos to commemorate the experience.)
Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. Most of the riders were well ahead, but Brent was with me the whole miserable way. We worked together and tried to cheer each other up. But at a certain point, the wind sucks the conversation out of you. You don’t even have the energy to talk anymore. It’s just head down, one pedal stroke after another. Click, click, click, incremental progress. We will get there eventually. Won’t we?
I’ve never been happier to get a flat tire, just so I could have an excuse to rest. As I was putting in the new tube on the side of the road, the wind almost knocked me over. Then back in the saddle, a few clicks closer to the end, I saw this dead garter snake on the road and thought, "Poor bastard. Some have it worse.”
At one point, about 10 km from the finish, as Brent and I were pulled over at the side of the road, a farmer stopped in his truck to ask us what was going on with all these bicycles on the road and to comment, of course, on the conditions. When I told him the name of our event he laughed out loud. “Perfect,” he said. “That’s perfect.”