Headwinds.

I was approximately 4 miles into a planned 40-ish-mile ride when the headwind reared its ugly head. I found myself needing to pedal hard to keep moving forward — on a downhill. 40 miles of this would get old fast, and somehow it always seems like no matter what direction you’re going, the wind is at your face. I certainly wouldn’t count on a tailwind at any point.

I considered turning around and making it a hike day instead, but I really wanted to ride. A thought entered my head: I’d rather pedal into a headwind all day than not be able to pedal at all. One of the main lessons that I learned in 2020 as a product of COVID is to not take a single day of health for granted. My biggest fear for myself personally when it comes to the virus is to be left with lingering effects and chronic illness that prevent me from doing what I love most — moving vigorously in the outdoors. I spent way too many days this year being anxious over this. Slowly, as the months have passed and the pandemic just keeps raging, I’ve developed ways of coping with this anxiety. One of them is to know that I am not wasting the gift of health, taking advantage of every day that I wake up feeling good to do the things that make me feel most alive. This thought has motivated me to get out the door on plenty of cold and gray days when half of my brain is saying, “you can just go ride tomorrow instead…”

And so, I kept pedaling into the headwind, grateful to be outside and not on the couch, to be able to power my body to go wherever I want to go and to do whatever I want to do. Besides, it probably won’t be as bad once I get into the woods, I thought.

It wasn’t. Actually, it seemed like those few moments of a strong headwind were an isolated incident, and I didn’t notice the wind at all the rest of the ride. I did, however, encounter plenty of other Type II Fun in the form of gravel roads that were an unpredictable mixture of ice and slush, with rivers running in melted tire tracks. I was really thankful that I had studded tires on the Lynskey, as without them, I would have likely been doing plenty of walking or have a plethora of bruises to show for the countless crashes that would have certainly ensued.

The trickiest places were where many vehicles had passed in different tracks, so the ice was lumpy, inconsistent and often off-camber, which made me wary even with the added security of studs. Despite a couple close calls, I never went down. Those little pieces of metal sticking out of my 45NRTH Gravdal tires always came to the rescue.

By about halfway through the ride, the wet roads had begun to soak the shins of my tights, and subsequently trickle down through my socks to my feet. Though my waterproof boots did a superb job of keeping my feet dry from the outside, the sneaky dampness from above began to make my toes tingle after the first long descent. Despite having some excellent gear, I’ve been struggling with cold feet a lot this year. I feel like I haven’t mastered winter dressing again for the season. Last year, I had it down, but every year is a re-learning of what to wear for what conditions to achieve that optimal balance of warm-enough-but-not-too-warm because if you sweat profusely you’ll end up colder. And of course, there are so many variables — windchill, humidity or precipitation, type of riding (road vs. trail). I love being able to go ride in the summer knowing that I’ll be fine in shorts and a tank top, but in a strange way, I also love the challenge of figuring out winter layering.

After some tricky sections of road on Harrys Valley and the beginning of Pine Swamp, I was relieved when the ice and slush cleared out a bit as I descended to Laurel Run. Otherwise, it was going to be a long 10 miles back to pavement, and I hadn’t brought a light with me. The gradual descent to Whipple Dam was a little wet but otherwise mostly ice-free, so I could make up some time and confidently get home well before dark. I surprisingly passed another cyclist and a few folks walking, and we all exchanged cheery New Years greetings.

By the time the ride was over, the brief moments of headwind from several hours before were barely a memory, a reminder to keep pushing on when the going gets tough. The past year was full of metaphorical headwinds for us all — some more than others. I’ve been really lucky in so many ways, and I am learning not to discount that. All we have is today, so make the most of it, headwinds or not. And know that they never last forever.

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