Today I managed to get out only briefly. I got up late and had a few errands and other things to take care of. I wish I'd ridden more (Don't I always!) because it was a nice day, the cold and wind notwithstanding.
Actually, I wanted to ride more in part because of the wind. Of course, there are two sides of it: riding facefirst into it and having it blow at your back. The former is the stuff that builds character and such, the latter is a reward for, I suppose, having your character built up.
Pedaling into the wind is, even among non-cyclists, a poignant metaphor for facing challenges. Not being pushed back is a kind of progress; moving forward is a victory in the same way as surviving another day of a struggle. With these victories, with survival, comes the hope that accompanies the anticipation of a reward: the wind blowing at your back.
I did my first rides of more than an hour along the ocean in New Jersey. I would ride from Middletown, where I spent my high-school years, to Sandy Hook, which is exactly what the name says it is: a spit of sand that somehow manages not to be submerged by the bay or the ocean that are on each side of it. From there, I'd ride along Route 36 through Sea Bright and Monmouth Beach--both of which straddle strips of land even narrower than Sandy Hook--to Long Branch. (Later, as I gained more experience, I'd ride down to Asbury Park or beyond.)
On the peninsula that forms the West End of Long Branch, the wind shifted direction about two o'clock every afternoon. On most days, I would be riding into the wind down to Long Branch. That, of course, meant that the wind would blow me back home.
Learning about that wind shift, and how to use it, taught me much more than almost anything else I learned in high school--or any school, for that matter. It took me a long time to learn how to use those lessons, but they are the sorts of lessons one doesn't forget.
Those lessons were even applicable to those times when I had to continue pedaling into the same wind from which I had no respite on the previous day. There are times like that on most multi-day rides: I recall now the second tour I took in Europe, from Italy into France. Late one Saturday I checked into a small hotel in Brignoles, a place that was actually quite lovely and interesting (It is in Provence, after all.) but where I also hadn't any plans to stay. I stopped there because, by the end of that afternoon, I simply couldn't pedal any more. The next day was more of the same--wind and climbing punctuated by climbing and wind--but at least every pore, orifice and cell had been awakened by that previous day's ride.
And, oddly enough, while I was pedaling through those lavender-tinged hills, I began to chant part of a Navajo creation song to myself:
It was the wind that gave them life. It is the wind that comes out of our mouths now that gives us life. When this ceases to blow, we die. In the skin at the tips of our fingers, we can see the train of wind. It shows us where the wind blew where our ancestors were created.
Actually, now that I think of it, those words weren't so incongruous. In the villages and countryside in which I had been riding, I'd had the sense that everything there was happening in some sort of circle that seemed to begin in the wind. Everyone knew where their ancestors were created, if you will. A few days earlier, I talked to an olive grower. I told him that his trees were among the most beautiful things I had ever seen. While not prideful, he didn't seem surprised. "C'est aussi une cathedrale," he said. "Il est leve pour longtemps" : It has stood for a long time, like a cathedral. Later, he told me, "Quand cet arbre est plante, n'est pas pour son moi; n'est pas pour son enfants ou petit-enfants; il est pour leurs petit-enfants": You do not plant such a tree for yourself, for your children or grand-children; you plant it for their grandchildren.
At the tips of its leaves, one can also see a train of wind. It shows where the others have grown and where their fruits have been picked, by the ancestors of those who planted it: The grower told me that an olive tree has to grow a hundred years before it bears fruit. But, if cared for, it will continue to provide olives for a thousand years.
And it was given life by that same wind into which I would pedal a few days later.