Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The invisible hand

To have always
Had the wind for a friend is no recommendation. 

John Ashbery "Some Old Tires"

Death Valley is a visual feast. Looking at our photos, they tell a story that is somehow bigger than the trip. On the little SD card from my own camera, or the playback screen of someone else's camera or iPad, or even the postcards in the Furnace Creek General Store, it doesn't seem to matter. Recorded there are the gorgeous light, the many textures of rock, the expanse of sky with a few of its infinite variations. 

Everything is there, although the scale of the landscape appears smaller than it really is. The place is epic and I like that. Here I feel appropriately small, temporary, quiet. It's the truth. It's good to be in touch with that.

The other thing completely missing from the visual images is...wind. Wind is the significant force in DV, the invisible hand controlling everything. Every morning wind was the topic of discussion around camp. How much wind today, and from which direction? What time is the wind supposed to come up? Wind can change a ride beyond recognition.

Almost every night it woke me up by shaking the sides of the tent around 1am. I drank a water bottle and went back to sleep. But during the day, there was no shelter or escape.

The first day of serious wind was Day 2, the Badwater day. I was riding with Allan Armstrong, and no sooner did we tell each other 'no wind'! than the wind kicked up. 6 miles into a 25 mile leg. The photos show only a peaceful valley, so I made a video. (Make sure your sound is on...)

Here I am probably crawling along at less than 10 mph. The road is flat or slightly downhill! It was tough keeping the bike on the road and this was the hardest 15 or so miles I've done in a long time. I sang a song from O Brother Where art Thou? to keep moving. The wind was so loud I couldn't hear myself!  

When we got to Badwater, we walked out on the salt flats and savored the lowest spot in the lower 48. After downing a PB&J sandwich I tasted the salt from the ancient sea floor. Strong!
Then poor Allan had to tell me his bike had blown into my bike and knocked both over!

Artist Drive might have been the greatest bike road of the trip. It was a climb but also a small road like most of us are used to riding on. We fought crosswinds for a while, then were rewarded with a tailwind when we turned back onto the main road.

With a 30 mph wind at our backs, that sure was a quick trip back to the campground! As it turns out, there would be little time to relax...

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