To whom it may concern,
I would like to lodge a formal complaint please, about the wind. Long, tough days with howling head winds were definitely not advertised in The Long Way Home trip brochure. I never really thought about the tough days before we left, instead just envisaging warm sunshine and the wind at our back day after day as we rolled through glorious countryside (with a Bruce Springsteen soundtrack playing in the background of course). The reality is there have been some moments, especially of late, where I just want to drop the bike, fly away, have some beers with friends and sleep in my own bed. And almost always these moments of feeling really down are closely linked to a day of being beaten up by the elements.
Everyday on the bike we get exposed to the weather. We’ve had everything thrown at us: snow on the Simplon Pass as we left Switzerland wearing all the clothes we had; rain so heavy in Turkey that we literally couldn’t see to ride and my seemingly waterproof odometer stopped working; sun so hot that the road was melting under our tyres, and we started to develop strange circular tan marks on our foreheads from the holes in our helmets. But the wind, oh oh the wind....its by far the biggest determinant of how enjoyable our day on the road will be.
Anyone who has gone for a bike ride knows the wind can either be your best friend or worst enemy. On the flat with a decent head wind we sit at around 13km/h, on the other hand with the wind at our backs we can sit easily at 40km/h. Let’s not even chat about headwinds uphill where we go so slow we’d be better off walking. Over 90km, this can mean the difference between spending 7 hours in the saddle, or as little as 2.5 hours. We have been battling with head winds for the last 10 days straight through Turkmenistan in 40deg temperatures, and even stronger winds in Uzbekistan. Imagine endless flat plains, nothing but sand, dirt and shrubs to look at, and the wind in your face like a hairdryer, hour after hour. It’s been a test of our resilience for sure. Our panniers either act as sails in a tail wind, helping us to catch the wind, or they act as brick walls, only adding to the misery. Trucks going past offer a very brief respite as the wind pressure they generate gives us a little push in the right direction.
Sitting behind someone on a bike means you do about 25% less effort than the person out the front. You can totally feel the difference, and can sometimes even stop pedalling for a bit of a break whilst maintaining speed. Check out the guys in a Tour de France peloton, most of the guys at the back are just cruising. This is why we labeled Emma the wind blocker, and why we were so distraught to see her go (of course we also miss her witty banter). Being stronger than SVB and I she could sit out front of the group and absorb the wind like a sponge, while we thankfully tucked in behind doing far less than our fair share, telling ourselves we were doing her a favour in her training for Tokyo. When Emma left, SVB and I started a routine of taking turns doing 5km each out the front. It’s been working super well, and helps to break up the day as we count down the number of rotations. But the dangers of sitting closely behind someone are if they go down, you’re more than likely to ride into them and go down too....hence our small incident in Iran, subsequent hospital visits and week off the bike!
We’ve probably had 80% of our days since leaving Lausanne with a head wind, making the long way home just a wee bit longer. We constantly look anxiously at flags and trees, even at grass on the side of the road, trying to figure out which direction its blowing, then check the map and the layout of the route, trying to determine the answer to every days biggest question: tail or head. Even then its not that simple as it often changes direction depending on valleys, hills, buildings or just because it wants to. We downloaded a wind direction app, but in the end deleted it, deciding that it is what it is, we cant change the weather or the direction we are travelling.
Actually, in all honesty, I probably need to withdraw this complaint...all of this was definitely listed in the very fine print of the terms and conditions of the trip that I very quickly clicked « accept all » to back in April. The great stuff on this journey is far outweighing the bad days, we are having the absolute most incredible and memorable experiences, and the weather hasn’t won on any of the 100 or so days we’ve been on the road...we’ve always managed to knock off our planned km. Let’s hope we can keep that up as we head towards some 4000m passes in the Pamirs and then Chinese winter....
R . Wardell