Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nov 13 (Day 317) - A tough day, more thoughts stemming from yesterday

Today might have been the most mentally challenging rides to date. I only rode 60 miles, but every inch of this was into a headwind of 12-17 MPH. While not gale-force, it is enough to make riding a fully loaded bike a royal headache. This wind, and the cold I'll discuss in a minute, turned what should have been a smooth 3 hour 45 minute ride into 5 hour and 30 minute ordeal. Normally, there is a window of calm in the morning hours during which significant miles can be made before the wind builds. This was not the case today as the return of the Polar Vortex has ushered in 48 straight hours of windy conditions. Associated low temperatures - it was 31F when I got on the bike this morning - further complicated the situation. My feet were completely frozen for most of the morning, and I had to keep ducking into gas stations to warm up for a few minutes.

60 very windy miles today

For me, there is a unique and exhausting psychology associated with headwinds. Wind, unlike hills, is difficult to predict. It varies day to day, and often predictions do not jibe with actuality. Hills are very physically challenging, but all hills end at some point. A big hill feels more like a passive obstacle that an active impediment. When strong headwinds blow, I can't help but think that the world is actively conspiring to derail me. The unyielding "whooshing" of the wind in my ears serves as a constant and painfully irritating reminder of this.  Under conditions like those that presented today, I often work myself into a mental rut; I can't think about anything other than how miserable the wind is making my life at that precise moment.

This is exactly what happened today, and, 4.5 hours into the ride, I cracked. At the 51-mile mark, I had had enough. I got off the bike in a huff, slammed it down on the side of the road, and stormed away from it. I immediately picked up a dozen golf ball sized rocks and started hurling them into an adjacent field. I think this act was my way of trying to take control of a windy situation over which I had absolutely none. After a few minutes cool down, I got back on the bike and rode the last 9 miles without further incident. I'm not particularly proud of how I handled the situation, but I'm not kidding when I say that unyielding, immutable headwinds can literally drive a person crazy in a way no other challenge can. 

Tomorrow I will ride the ~75 miles from Fort Hancock to Van Horn. There's one big, continuous 1,500' climb, but otherwise the ride is relative flat. Winds are expected (cough, cough) to die down a lot tomorrow, but we'll see what happens when I stick my head out of my little motel room in the morning.

Now let's return to yesterday's post. One of the reasons that I chose to respond to the original poster was that I thought his post would be a good opportunity to get some environmental dialogue going. He actually voiced some concerns that are worth discussing. There isn't going to be a whole lot of good blog fodder these next few weeks, so I thought the timing might work out well without bird distractions to address some environment/conservation issues. I, like David (in Germany), could have probably chosen softer and less-sarcastic language. I'm beat up and tired, and mental fatigue probably got the better of me, and for that I apologize. We're all here because we care about birds and the environments we share with them here on planet earth. Let's focus on that rather than arguing with one another moving forward. 

What I think this dialogue highlights is this everyone has different standards for what constitutes "green". Some might think the recycling is considered green while others might say that not consuming in the first place earns the green star. Each person must decide for himself what he is going to do in order to meet his own standards of green. For instance, unlike David the commenter, I am unwilling to give up my car. I give him great amount of respect for making the decision to do this. However, the thing that brings me the most joy outside of being with Sonia is photographing birds. This requires that I lug an immense amount of heavy and expensive camera gear out of downtown Boston at hours when public transportation does not run to reach the areas where I shoot. This would be impossible without a car. David's point from yesterday is well-taken, especially since today he informed us that he doesn't own a car.  To him, any small amount of car assistance is going to seem a big deal. Conversely, compared to the 99% of blog readers who do drive cars on what I assume is a daily basis, what I am doing seems like a huge reduction. It all depends on frame of reference.

The bottom line when it comes to conservation is that we all need to make sacrifices. Each person needs to decide at what level he/she wants to alter his/her behavior to help the planet and the creatures that inhabit it - humans inclusive. However, we mustn't get into a contest as to who is making the most significant sacrifices since that is inevitably going to lead to arguments and hurt feelings. Rather, I hope that all birders start to make such significant strides on the conservation front that our community is held up as a model for the population at large. Biking for Birds is my small way of raising awareness about birds, the environments they inhabit, and what we as birders might be able to do to protect both of these. Biking for Birds is far from perfect, but it's even farther from anything that has been attempted before. That counts for a lot in my book, and I think it should count for at least something in everyone else's - whatever your frame of reference. 


  1. Hi Dorian,
    Many birders who do not bike may not understand how biking and birding in headwinds sucks because with the wind in your face, you hear no bird calls - unlike biking with the wind at your back which is the total opposite - one can do really good birding by ear. With respect to the winds - you are experiencing the weather of the great plains like the settlers. You are down to the last six weeks - enjoy the majesty and power of the weather - you may even miss those winds when its over - but boy, what a workout. I wish I was out there to experience those winds in a trip across the country, even though I would hate those windy days.
    Several questions - how many flat tires have you had since you started? Also, what bike advice do you have from a gear perspective based on what you have learned since you started?

    Ride safe and enjoy the plains!

  2. Very well said, Dorian. You hit the nail on the head, and you are an inspiration. Enjoy the rest of your Big Year!

  3. I like your green perspective. I think as long as someone has an underlying consciousness of what their impact is on the earth, and its all other inhabitants, it's a good beginning for change. One of the reasons we moved to the north coast of California and into a small town is so we hardly ever have to use the car. We walk or bike ride almost everywhere we have to go. We can go for weeks without using our car. Our contribution to the greening of the planet is small, but every little bit helps. You are raising green consciousness as well as enlightening us about the birds, the road, the winds, and the land. Great job, Dorian!