Headwinds, Tailwinds, Uphills, and Downhills

       “Most of us feel we face more headwinds and obstacles than anyone else – which breeds resentment. We also undervalue the tailwinds that help us – which leaves us ungrateful and unhappy.” (Freakonomics blog, 3-15-17)


      “Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.” (Winston Churchill)


      I resent west Texas headwinds; they’re so much harder to cycle against. I’ve tried to change my mind by calling myself The Windbender in hopes I’ll learn to love the wind, but it hasn’t yet caught traction. Riding into the wind feels undeserved and abusive. Among local cyclists we joke that headwinds are our hills, of which we don’t have any, but that isn’t exactly true. Riding uphill seems more like a challenge to overcome rather than nature turned hostile.

      But what about tailwinds? Any ride into a headwind means, eventually, being pushed by a tailwind. Tailwinds feel like gifts, like flying down the road at half the effort. But they’re also scarier. While I resent the unrelenting resistance of a headwind and the extra energy it requires to ride half as fast, I don’t worry about crashing. I only worry about crashing when pushed by a big tailwind.

      Of course, being worried about crashing doesn’t make me slow down. I’ve earned the free speed, so I intend to enjoy it. Even still, it’s scary. I constantly think about how fast I’m going and how bad I can hurt myself if I crash at this speed and how would I ever explain it to Cyndi.


      One Monday in March 2013 I was flying with a mighty tailwind, riding east on Mockingbird about three miles from home, approaching the hard-right-hand turn at the Garfield intersection, when I felt my back tire go flat just before the turn. I kept riding since I was moving fast, and the corner is not a good place to linger because too many cars cut the tangent.

      As I leaned into the turn, my now-flat back tire rolled out front under me and I fell hard on my right hip. I stayed still in the road for a few seconds because the fall knocked the wind out of me. (I didn’t know that was possible from a blow to the hip.) But I had to move. It was too dangerous to stay on the ground where cars turning the corner would not see me. I slowly and carefully stood up, made sure nothing was broken or bleeding, and carried my bike over to the side of the road.

      My whole body was shaking. I decided to try riding home, afraid if I sat too much too soon, I would stiffen up and be done for the day.

      When I got home, I didn’t find any broken skin from the fall, no road rash, and my clothes weren’t torn. There was a soft lump of skin below my right butt, like a mouse below a black eye. By bedtime my right hip was dark purple and the size of a watermelon.

      I’ll skip the rest of the details, except to say I spent the summer making weekly visits to the Wound Management center at the hospital. They finally released me to ride and run in September, six months after my crash.


      “The older you get the stronger the wind gets - and it's always in your face.”  (Pablo Picasso)


      I took my bike on our trip to Durango, Colorado, intending to ride uphill at altitude as much as possible. It was the hardest bit of riding I’d done up until then, but it was also fun to make it to the top. I cannot imagine hauling my bike 600 miles to ride in more head wind. There’s nothing fun about that.


      When I turned west onto Briarwood in the beginning of my daily five-mile run the sudden blast of wind rock me back on my heels. My first thought was judgement day. This was no ordinary wind. This was the sort of wind an Egyptian might have experienced had Pharaoh continued to say “No.” This was wind that brings down nation-states. This was Patagonia wind; sweeping across the surface of the earth like a stiff-bristled broom. I was but a piece of dust about to be swept away by the broom of God. (BDS, May 10, 1999)


      Last Saturday the Iron Men hiked Guadalupe Peak again. For me it was my 20th time on top. I’ve always hiked this particular trail with a group of people, never by myself. Well, that was truer during the first few years. Lately the hikes have become a race to the top which scatters the group and erases the camaraderie. Still, it’s one of my favorite things to do, the group experience and introducing the hike to first-timers, making it worthwhile to do over and over.


      It surprises most hikers that their downhill pace is not much faster than their uphill pace. One reason is because going downhill is riskier. Twists, slips and tumbles are most likely to occur while descending and no other type of hiking causes more wear and tear on the joints and muscles.

      I’m not afraid of falling while hiking up the mountain, but constantly afraid of falling when hiking down. Even though I now have after-market pain-free knees (this was my 4th time at the summit with them), I still baby my knees when going down. It’s one reason I’m so slow; I pick each step carefully.

      Maybe everything comes with a price. Riding or hiking uphill takes effort and energy but pays off in the view and self-satisfaction. Downhills extract payment in fear and risk and danger but pay off in effortless flying.


      “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” (Ed Viesturs)


      Monday morning, two days after the Guadalupe Peak hike, my quads and my feet were still sore from the descent. By Tuesday I was back to normal, such as it is. Thursday afternoon I was riding my bike into the wind.


      He makes winds his messengers (Psalm 104:4)

      (They were) great and brave warriors …lion-faced men, swift as deer upon the mountains (1 Chronicles 12:8)



“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32