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The 8 Stages of Cycling in Wind

Cycling in Wind
Our first night in Sweden. You’d never guess that this beautiful spot was just a few kilometers from a mega mall.

You’ve heard of the 5 Stages of Grief, but have you heard of the lesser known 8 Stages of Headwind?

Headwinds are a cyclist’s’ worst nightmare. After my most difficult day of cycling ever, battling headwinds for seven hours straight, I realized that I had encountered several stages of dealing with my misery with the Winds of Despair.

I’ll also let you in on a little secret. We have encountered some lovely weather in Sweden. Blue skies, and scenic coastal towns, with the ocean glimmering in the sunshine. We’ve even had some tailwinds. The thing is, dear readers, that blue skies and sparkles don’t make exciting stories. Comfort zones are boring. Our misery is what creates adventure and provides me plenty of content to make you laugh out loud.

So here’s the deal. I’ll share the photos of our beautiful days and tell the hilarious tales of our woes. Deal? Great.

Speaking of tales of our woes, let’s get back to this windy afternoon. I’m still not quite certain how we made it to our destination that day. By the time we arrived, I was battered, like a junkyard car. I could barely speak in full sentences, let alone manage my cumbersome load, but we had arrived, and our bodies took us there. And that, is what this journey is all about.

And now, for those Stages of Headwind.

1. Distraction

Rather than let the wind get to me, I created a game to distract myself from the natural force ruining my morale. As suspected, Swedes noticeably favored Volvos to other vehicles. I decided to determine just how many Volvos were on the road.

First car, Volvo!

Second, third, fourth cars, not Volvos. But lucky number five, a Volvo!

By the time I had counted 36 cars after about 45 minutes of my game, my Volvo count remained at three. Sorely disappointed in the purchasing decisions of the Swedes who drove that particular stretch of road, I ended my game and went back into combat with the headwinds. As soon as I called it quits, three Volvos in a row zoomed past. Sorry guys, you’re too late to this party.

2. Bargaining

After the let down from my Volvo counting game, I tried reasoning with the headwinds.

How about we trade you for two days of rain? It can even be a little cold.

Whoosh! A huge gust of wind swept through the skies and stopped my in my tracks. I had to pause on the side of the road and unclip from my pedals because the gust was so strong. Cars whizzed past in my precarious position, as the wind rendered me motionless on the side of the road.

Ok, ok. Three days of rain! They can even be three days in a row.

Right then, a semi came barreling towards us, creating it’s own ecosystem of wind, jolting me from the side like the bully in the bumper car ring.

I took these signs to mean that the wind had no intentions of slowing down anytime soon, and it certainly wasn’t interested in tradsies.

Cycling in Wind
Camp spot #2 in Sweden, on a small island. Technically camping wasn’t allowed, and neither were dogs.

3. Peace

With my failed attempts at distraction and bargaining, I decided to just make peace with the wind. It wasn’t going away and we needed to press forward to get the most out of our 90 days in the Schengen Zone. There were was nowhere to stay in between the town from where we began and the one to which we were headed, so I just tried to meditate and accept the weather as it was.

I closed my eyes and felt the wind on my body, imagining it that it was propelling me forward, rather than pushing against me. I felt, whoa God! I lost my balance and swerved into the road.

(This stage works best on low traffic or forest service roads, where there is no danger of losing one’s balance and falling into a car, tree, or nearby water source.)

Next stage!

4. Ignorance

Dave has played navigator throughout our trip. He likes to futz with the maps and often reminds me, with pride of his testing in the 98th percentile in geography in the fourth grade.

He enjoys knowing the weather, distance, and wind direction for each days’ ride. I drew the line on this particular ride.

“Ok, so up there, we’ll make a left, and then the winds will be coming from the north southeast northwest, which means they won’t be so strong.”

We made our left and there was still strong wind in my face.

….after several kilometers…

“All right. Now we take this straight away and turn right, and the wind will be coming from the east west of south to the north. It shouldn’t be too bad!”

It was still bad. Very bad.

…after several kilometers…

“All right, next we’ll take this right, and the winds will be coming from the southwest north full harvest moon, which means they’ll be behind us! And, it’s just 12km to the only grocery store on our route today!”

He was actually right this time, and for three glorious kilometers, I remembered what it was like to enjoy riding my bicycle. I set my gears to the hardest they had been all day and surged forward, without a care in the world. We’d make it to our destination, after all.

Then, I noticed a sign ahead. Beyond this sign, the road continued straight, or it turned right, directly into the wind. I begged and pleaded with the weather gods that we continue straight. It was a significant hill. That’s fine. I could handle a hill, but not the wind. Please, God, not the wind.

The sign directed us towards the right, and the wind was back in my face, gears set to granny, knees grinding, body tense.

After what seemed like more than sufficient time to have pedaled 12km, even in the circumstances, I inquired about the distance to this grocery store.

Tap, tap. Grumble. Why isn’t this thing loading? Tap, tap.

“Hmm. Looks like we’ve got 12k until we hit the store.”

My eyes began to bulge out of my face and my initial reaction was to strangle Dave. But rather than turn to violence, I politely asked that he not tell me how far we have left or whether the wind will be light and breezy or strong enough to send me flying, whether we’d have sun or rain or a frigid day. I just didn’t want to know. Then I couldn’t be disappointed.

Cycling in Wind
More roads like this, please. We love the back roads compared to the loud paths beside the main highways.

5. Despair

After what seemed like several hours and 50km later, we enjoyed a relaxing lunch of rock hard avocado on bread, while the wind pelted us from all sides, scattering our food scraps, wrappers, and forks about, bemused as we scrambled to collect our flying items. I went inside the tiny grocery store to use the loo and warm up.

I ran my hands under hot water for a long time as I listened to the wind pounding against the walls of the building. Upon exiting the store, I was blasted by the strong gales and walked towards our picnic table in a manner that would qualify for the Ministry of Silly Walks. I sat down and I began to sob.

Please, don’t make me go back into that wind, please! I wailed to Dave. I can’t do it. I don’t want to do it. This isn’t fun. I just can’t bike in this any more. Please just don’t make me go back out there!

“Ok”, he told me. “We don’t have to bike any more, but there’s a storm coming in soon and we don’t have anywhere here we can stay.”

And so, back into the wind we went.

6. Avoidance

Cycling for many hours gives the mind freedom to think. On this particular windy day, all I could think about was not riding in this wind. I came up with a solution.

As soon as Dave pulled over, I came to him with my brilliant plan. Our bikes bobbled in between our legs as we straddled them. I divulged my thoughts.

I can’t take this headwind for the entirety of Sweden, I told him. I refuse. Let’s just get to Gothenborg and take the ferry to Frederikshavn, Denmark. If there’s winds there too, then we’ll take a ferry to Copenhagen and get the hell out of Scandinavia.

Once in shelter and in the land of WiFi, we learned that there are no ferries to Copenhagen from Frederikshavn. We also learned, more importantly, that the weather is also pretty similar in Denmark as it is to Sweden.

We are still in Sweden, wondering why we began a bicycle tour in a land where they still consider May winter.

7. Anger

When we finally reached the city limits of our destination, we had no idea where we were staying the night, the wind had grown stronger yet and my energy depleted. The city seemed endless, with plentiful hills to join the fun of the headwinds. I’d pedal up, mustering every ounce of strength in my body, and upon hitting the crest of the hill, I’d pedal right back down. There would be no hill bombing this afternoon.

After one series of ups and downs and no city center in sight, rage overcame me. We had been on the road for seven hours, with strong headwinds the entire time. I lost it.

FUCK YOU, WIND! I screamed. FUCK YOU!  

After my tantrum, I noticed Dave atop a hill in the distance waving both middle fingers in the air.

8. Acceptance

We never actually reached this stage.

Exhausted, we found a hotel that would take us, our bikes, and our dog and provide sanction from the evil wind. We holed up in this hotel for two days, recovered with beer and chocolate and rested our weary bodies in order to regain a love for cycling touring.

Jen Sotolongo

Hello! I'm Jen. I'm a writer, photographer, dog mom, and outdoor enthusiast. When I'm not writing about awesome ways to get outside with your dog, I'm probably out for a long trail run. I also fancy myself a pretty decent vegan cook, and am always happy to whip up a batch of cookies for friends. I am based in the Pacific Northwest and I never leave home without my dogs.

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