A flat Berkshire ride, thirty-odd miles in the familiar region between Reading and Windsor, with a noticeable easterly wind blowing. Still, while it made for a noticeable headwind at times, it’s not ‘thick air’ yet so it wasn’t so bad.

Seeing the smoke from a fire near White Waltham made me think of Biggles. Yes, Biggles – in particular,the First World War stories. I am pretty sure that somewhere in those books the author (Capt. W.E. Johns) talks about judging wind speed by how long and how close smoke stays to the ground – which is pretty obvious when you think about it, but you have to think about it.

Now, I’ve not read those books for years and I can’t remember the plots of the stories or much else, which begs the question: why did that snippet about smoke come to mind today of all days? That in turn brings up questions about the degree to which you’re really in control of yourself, given that you are your brain. And that is intriguingly scary.

Smoke blowing low over a field

Capt. W.E. Johns says …


A word to the wise: if you’re going to ride a bike, don’t try riding on shingle. Even if it’s firmly packed shingle, as it is on the spit out to Hurst Castle and lighthouse, just don’t. It is murderously hard work … and then the wind gets up for the homeward trip.

Riding on that stuff is something far, far worse than just a grind. It is soul-sapping stuff; it can break a sane person’s spirit. Grown men weep and policemen turn in their badges. Hurst Castle’s worth visiting; the sea there when it’s being whipped up is bracing … but walking there and back is very sensible.

Hurst Lighthouse

Take my advice – walk to here.

Old Wisdom

“Topography can’t lie but isobars can be fickle.”

In West Berkshire, I rode for while with a chap in his 80s (so he told me); riding what I reckon must have been a 30-40 mile route. In amongst everything else we chatted about, his maxim about the lie of the land versus the unreliability of the wind stays with me.

I’ve long advocated riding out into a headwind; I’ve long railed against the uselessness of most weather forecasts. Planning routes on the basis more of the land than the predicted wind direction might be wiser. He’s had more years than I to arrive at that view.

No Insults

Riding today and it was a bad case of failing to dodge the ‘showers’ – if prolonged periods of heavy rain driven along by strong winds can be called showers. I have more weather forecasting web sites bookmarked than is good for my sanity, but none of them are reliable when it comes to weather like this.

Summer rain on summer leaves.

Summer rain on summer leaves.

So, a short-ish ride by the end of which I was soaked – so it goes. And as I battled into a rain laden headwind, I thought to myself, well, at least no-one can call me a fair weather cyclist.

That in turn made me think, yes, being called a ‘fair weather’ cyclist is a common enough insult – but it’s gibberish really. A moment’s reflection will show that the keen are fools to dish that insult out. The keen should welcome cyclists of all standards and all levels of ability and dedication. It’s a numbers game: it will only be when there are enough of us that we’ll stop being thought of us ‘cyclists’ (or ‘bloody cyclists’) and will instead become who we actually are: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sister, wives, husbands, lovers and friends – just like everyone else.

And besides, there’s no shame in only cycling on a decent day if you’ve the choice.

Undetectable Headwind (Just For Cyclists)

A glorious sunny and warm day and an enjoyable – and for me quite fast – 35 mile ride: so far, so good.

Be that as it may, what bugged me today was the strength of the headwind. It bugged me because it was utterly undetectable. Not a blade of grass was stirring at ground level. No bushes or hedges were showing the slightest agitation. Higher up, no trees were swaying. But I was riding into a quite stiff, more than merely noticeable, headwind all the time I was heading east/south-east. (Which was the wind direction given in the weather forecast, at a gentle six or seven miles per hour.)

I am not making this up! For evidence, I present Exhibit A, a photo taken today of the wind-sock at White Waltham airfield. No, it is not out rigid, but it is a long way from hanging limply.

A wind-sock at White Waltham

Exhibit A!

I just don’t understand how that is possible. And yes, of course, I’ve experienced this before. But today it just seemed more starkly obvious than ever – with the wind-sock rubbing it in.

I don’t like mysteries. If you have an answer as to how I could be riding into a headwind with no other sign of it apart from the wind-sock’s angle, please let me know.

More Reasons To Be Cheerful

I have to admit I probably wouldn’t have gone out riding today if it weren’t for the forecast being for much lower temperatures for the rest of the week. As it was, the wind was colder and much stronger than I’d anticipated – side-on gusts to take the front wheel away and a headwind to sap the strongest legs.

During today’s ride (taking in the hills around Henley) I saw the first snowdrops of the year – at least for me. I don’t think I’m happy with how I’m thinking about this question of harbingers of spring, that I started pondering the last time out.

The first snowdrops

All together now, ahhh.

If they’re not significant to me, then why am I even registering them as I ride by? Is my conscious ‘bloody snowdrops mean nothing, spring’s still yonks away, it’s freezing and I’m fed up with winter’ way of thinking just an intellectual overlay on top of a more fundamental, innate response that is picking up on these first signs of spring and finding them positive, whatever my conscious reaction – posturing – might be?