Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ireland - Tailwind!

Don't be so naive! There is no such thing as a tailwind! 

Experienced cyclists know that there are three states of being with regard to wind: headwinds, crosswinds, and I'm having a good day! We all know that after all the effort one expends pushing into a brutal headwind, the return journey is never the reward it should be. You might not have to work as hard, but it's never a case of just being able to sit up and coast home. The tease of a forthcoming tailwind is a cruel one. So rather than constantly being disappointed, experienced cyclists soon come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a tailwind. As further evidence, no cyclist has ever credited a tailwind for their ranking on a strava segment. Headwinds may slow you down, but if you ride faster, it's down to your skill and training and fitness!

I try to pass this tidbit about the non-existence of tailwinds onto new cyclists, mainly to get them to stop blabbering on about something that will never happen, saying ridiculous things like, "When we tun this corner, we'll pick up a tailwind." Just like uttering the guaranteed-to-make-it-rain sentiment of "At least it's not raining", the mere mention of an expected tailwind has the power to overcome the forces of the jetstream, the polar vortex and physics, with Mother Nature turning her fury on the offender and all those riding with him, as she shifts the direction of the wind and turns up the intensity. You doubt me? Try it! Just not when I'm riding with you!

Since I began keeping track about 25 years ago, I've logged over 1/4 of a million miles on a bike. In all those years and miles, I've never had a tailwind.

Until Tuesday...

What? Really?

John's friend, Declan, lives in Drogheda, County Louth, near the site of the Battle of the Boyne, north of Dublin. Knowing John was neglecting me this week while he worked, Declan kindly offered to drive down, pick me up and bring me north to do some riding in his neighborhood. Since Declan seems to know every little lane in the country, this was not an offer to refuse. I'd have an excellent tour guide and a chance to do a ride without spending half of it just getting in and out of the ugliness that is now Dublin sprawl. Twenty years ago, John's mom's house was on the edge of town. Now it at least 15 miles to get to the country side. Given that, the chance to start a ride Beyond the Pale - literally - was a treat!

The forecast for that day called for occasional showers on a wild and breezy day, with the wind, unusually, coming from the northwest. I think we were still battling the remnants of a hurricane that had followed us across the Atlantic.

As any experienced cyclist would do, we headed out into the wind, not, mind you, expecting any mythical tailwind on the way home, but at least hoping we'd feel good on the return.  For a while we were able to take advantage of the tall hedges, sheltering from the ferocious wind as much as we could. That is until we popped out at the coast, where Declan swore to me that a road allegedly existed as recently as a year ago.

I looked down at the OSM maps on my GPS, and saw no road or path! I commented that OSM must really stay on top of things. Still we could see a road off in the distance and it looked like we could bushwhack for a while to reach it. Declan and John are from the same school, whose motto is "Non revertebatur" - "No turning back." We took to hiking.

Our path was a northwest one, directly into the wind. But after about a kilometer, we popped back out onto a road. Of course it hugged the coast with no shelter from the elements. I tucked in behind Declan, who won't dispute my claim that he provides a great draft. Even in kilometers per hour, we couldn't break into double digits. What was he thinking, heading out to the coast and into the wind?!?

We finally reached Castlebellingham, our destination for lunch. We found the quintessential Irish tea room, complete with a thatched roof, an old broken roadster parked out front and a peat fueled fire. Hot soup and sandwiches filled a void and the fire warmed our windburned cheeks.

Warmed and refueled, we headed out to find the castle of Castlebellingham. The best we could manage was a gatehouse. Then we pressed on to found an old ruin in a farmer's paddock. The countryside in Ireland is seemingly littered with these castle ruins, to the degree that after a few weeks I stopped taking photos of every single one I saw.

We continued in a northwest direction and, of course, continued to battle the wind and sporadic heavy showers.

Then.. finally... we turned. And just because I could, I sat up and coasted uphill! It was amazing. For this one moment in time, the phenomena that I had told everyone was just a myth, was real. I think I also saw rainbows and leprechauns and unicorns. I managed to resist pulling the brake levers to keep from going too fast. Yes Virginia, there was a tailwind!

Then the journey back to Drogheda was over before it began. I was flushed with the excitement of having seen Santa Claus placing gifts under the tree. Thanks to Declan both for the tailwind and the delicious pastries we had not earned.

Despite all the strong headwinds we had riding around Ireland over the next few weeks, it didn't happen again.  We'd battle for half the day then turn and continue to battle. I suspect a cyclist is allowed just one tailwind in a lifetime. I suppose that now that I've had mine, I can definitely stop looking for another one, and go back to my old claim that there is no such thing!

But you can live in hope that your tailwind is out there somewhere. And it's probably in Ireland!


  1. I live in the pacific northwest and I experience tailwinds---occasionally.

  2. You're just living in the wrong place. Here in the Bay Area, I consistently organize rides where we get a tailwind going home. You just have to start early before the wind starts, and head south by the time the sun rises.