Cycling in New England, I've had my share of encounters with strong winds. Or at least, what I considered strong winds. Here in Northern Ireland they are on an entirely different scale. Part of it is the open landscape. Much of the time, you are cycling through glens (undulating grassy hills), without much in the way of trees for cover. Even the mountains tend to be all grass and rock, with only the occasional clump of forest. This quality of the landscape is part of what makes cycling here so special - the open, panoramic views are ever-present, encouraging on climbs and breath-taking on descents. But on windy days there is little in the way of shelter. Cycling in a group, the riders can shelter each other. Cycling alone, you are exposed to it all.
And the windy days can be unpredictable. I have gone out on a calm morning, only to battle violent gusts mid-ride. I have cycled down a straight road in what alternated between headwinds and tailwinds - confused, erratic currents.
One day last week, a headwind grew so strong and steady that, as I rode down a long steep hill it insistently pushed me back up. I could not have imagined such a slow, strenuous descent: It was as if some invisible giant had casually put his hand up against my handlebars.
But most disconcerting of all are the cross winds. I've had the least experience with these so far, but here they are common. Winds blowing sideways and on the diagonal can be strong enough to push the bike around the road. When the wind is steady, I find ways to either lean or position myself against it to reduce the impact. But when it is gusty, a sudden push against the side of the bike, or worst of all, the handlebars, can rattle my nerves. Faced with this, I try to keep simultaneously loose and hyper-ready to react to the blows with quick tiny counter-movements. And if the gusts get really bad, I wait it out: The weather is changeable; the pattern will morph into something else before long.
But the wind is not all bad. One night, I was cycling home along a 10 mile flat stretch. A tailwind picked up - so strong and so close to the ground, it felt as if the current settled in between my tires and the road, transporting me all the way home on a magic carpet ride.