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Brake Like the Wind

May 10, 2010

I have never been a big fan of the biking leg of the triathlon. I’m not into the little black shorts, the tight shirts, and the whole suicidal idea of clipping into the pedals, which in my mind is the equivalent of tying the tow rope to your wrists while water skiing.

But the ride is the biggest third of the race, and I waited until something like August last year before it occurred to me that riding a bike on a regular basis prior to the race was probably a really good idea. So this year I have been spinning once or twice a week since April, and I have ridden the course a few times, today being my third. And this Mother’s Day ride didn’t exactly boost the sport in my own personal rating system.

I had two friends mention that high winds made their Saturday rides unbearable. One said she was so far behind the pack (and she’s no shrinking violet) that after 15 miles she called her husband to pick her up at a Starbucks. He would have come sooner, but he couldn’t get his BMW up over 35 MPH due to the wind.  Another even stronger rider mentioned that he was last in his group, at least a minute off the pace, cursing every gust that pushed him to a near stop on the flats.

Well, I went out alone today.  I was also last in my group.  And I learned an amazing thing about wind, which was blowing even harder today than it was yesterday.  It always blows directly in your face, which is interesting given that the Westchester course is a loop.  There were a couple of exceptions. In the most trafficked areas where the road was narrowest and the surfaces had been imported from mountain passes in Jalalabad, there were crosswinds. They blew right to left in unpredictable gusts only when 7 or more cars going 65 in the 35 MPH zone were screaming up behind me.  They blew left to right the moment the cars were passing at least 4 inches from your left handlebar,  and the shoulder had been replaced by 3 to 5  foot vertical drops where sections of the roads had washed away during all the spring floods.

Otherwise, it was all headwinds. And since wind follows the same principles of physics as water, it obviously blows hardest down the hill that you are trying to ride up. The exception of course, occurring when I was riding downhill,  at which point the wind blew hard enough uphill that I had to pedal to maintain any momentum. And on the flats, I may as well have been riding through the La Brea tar pits with a King size mattress propped up on the back of the bike. At one point, after spending what felt like 30 minutes pedaling with everything I had to go approximately 111 yards, I stopped and got off my bike absolutely convinced that both tires had gone flat.

As I rode by the Westchester airport heading east, cursing every blast of the oncoming wind, I passed another guy coming west from the other direction also cursing… also riding hard into the wind. And who knew Rod Serling was a biker?

But every gust has a silver lining. Not once today did I have to worry about my ice cold beverage transforming into some tasteless lukewarm brew. For when the wind wasn’t pushing me into oncoming traffic, it was bringing the wind chill down to roughly 34 degrees. I didn’t have gloves or the hip long pant version of the sassy tight black riding shorts.  As I careened  down the mogul section of route 120, cars to the left of me, jokers to the right, random chunks of road missing,  I was fascinated how losing feeling in your hands and feet has the same effect on handling a bike as Novocain does for your ability to speak and drink fluids.

27 miles, 22 ½  hours later, and I was thrilled to de-ice, get off the bike and walk the bike the last 20 yard stretch down the driveway to the garage, the wind blowing from the house, directly into my face.

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