Thursday, June 28, 2007

Thor's Dyspepsia

I had a fine, if challenging, ride yesterday. I did a pleasant ten miles in the morning and a draining thirty in the afternoon. It was that second session that spanked me good. In Tehachapi, the winds come in generally two flavors: heavy from the east and heavy from the west. Westerlies are the most common. Anyone driving over the pass will notice the hundreds of wind turbines lining the mountain ridge to the east on the edge of the Mojave desert. We have some of the steadiest winds in the country and the mega-watt production to prove it. This, of course, has special meaning for cyclists.

It is my opinion that if you can ride regularly in Tehachapi and enjoy it, you can ride anywhere. With altitudes between 4,000 and 6,000 ft. and nearly constant winds, riders get toughened up pretty quickly. My most common rides take me to the west over hills and passes, and, because of the prevailing winds, I get a tailwind for much of the return trip. Psychologically this works well for me: battle the frustrating winds on the way out and reap the rewards on the return--nice. This area has pine and oak covered roads, open agricultural zones, views of soaring Cummings Mtn, almost 8,000ft. high. Another loop that I ride to the east involves dipping into the Mojave, creosote, tamarisk, Joshua trees spicing up the views. Usually I reserve this ride for times when the winds shift and blow out of the east so I can enjoy the turbocharger effect on my return. Yesterday, I didn't wait for these conditions.

Part of preparing for this TransAm means I ride regardless of the weather, give or take. Out on the Big One, I won't be able to pick and choose: Ooooh, the winds are out of the west so I'll just ride east today. A big part of the challenge is taking the world and its weather on its terms. Granted, some weather will just be too dangerous, and I'll just hole up somewhere and ride it out, but for the most part, we saddle up and move 'em out. Git 'er done. It was in this spirit that I jumped on Mojo, my trusty Street Machine, and headed east, the winds pushing pleasantly along into my waiting punishment for the return.

The sun, now just past the apex of the Solstice, glared out of the sky with acute intensity, but some reasonably cool air had been working down the state so temperatures were only in the low 80's. Cycling at 4,000 ft. has its advantages. To the south, a big fire still smoldered. For days, helicopters and fire bombers had been buzzing the skies, a fierce battle raging just over a distant ridge. Now, finally, the level of smoke appeared to me diminishing. I was deeply grateful for the brave souls out there in the desert heat, working for all of us.

The miles slipped quickly and quietly under my wheels. I have just recently put on some wider, tougher touring tires. They didn't seem to be much slower, but the wider footprint is reassuring. At the top of the major climb on Tehachapi/Willow Springs road, I caught the full force of the funneled wind and zipped down the other side. In no time, I was ripping at over 40 mph and braking to control my speed, wind turbulence smacking me about. As I descended, I got a clear view of the scorched valley and the bombing runs.

At the bottom, I turned north on Cameron Rd., and so ended the easy fun of my ride. Headwinds and hills, brothers and sisters, headwinds and hills. Still, I was happy to be out. A fire fighter sitting in his truck yelled out: "I'm glad that's you and not me!" What could I say? "I'm glad it's me, too!" I cranked up through dry, grassy hills and a forest of wind turbines, real monsters over 100 ft. high, spinning regally in the sharp summer sun.

After a quick descent, I joined Hwy 58, a major truck route, and began working for a 6 to 7 mph pace. Gear down and have patience, grasshopper. I was beginning to feel a bit blasted after a few miles of this and took refuge under an overpass after leaving the highway. Out of the wind and sun, I stretched and listened to the traffic groaning above me, vibrating the stout gray pillars, the resonant gastric distress of some Norse god--strangely soothing in its own way. But I couldn't stay here forever, so back into the wind tunnel it was--a miles long straight shot, no shade, no shelter from the winds.

Near the end, once back in town, I celebrated with an icy coffee drink at Starbucks and then finished the ride, which, as always, ended in that half mile stinger to our house--into the sun, into the wind.

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