…and we must answer
As I’m sat here, writing this, the weather is grim outside, with rain and 50 mph winds. Raindrops streak like tears down my office window, and all the birds have gone into hiding. Originally, I was planning on riding out to Dartmoor and camp overnight, but after a very fortunate escape perhaps ten years ago, if winds are forecast to get close to 50 mph, I don’t go cycling.
That incident happened on a winter’s commute home. A massive storm was blowing and we had winds of 85 mph, with faster gusts. The first five miles, leaving Plymouth, was fine, as I had the wind mostly on my back, but as any urban cyclist will tell you, buildings affect that and you can sometimes be surprised by a sudden blast of wind from the side. Once out of Plymouth, I was on rural lanes. My commute used to go around two sides of a triangle, as cycling the quiet rural lanes is bliss, compared to the usual close-passing hell of the A-road.
In case you didn’t know, Devon tends to have quite high hedges growing either side of lanes, and in strong winds, these can be a godsend. On that night, there were stretches where the wind was roaring overhead, but I was sheltered by the hedges and not at all impacted by the wind. And then, suddenly, and object entered the overspill of my front light. I didn’t even hear the sound over the other sounds of the storm, but the wind ripped a branch thicker than my thigh off a tree, and it came sailing past me. Not one part of it touched me or my bike, but it was close! That incident made me realise how foolish I’d been: if that branch had struck me, I would most likely have been killed. As a direct result, I went and did some reading, to try and discover at what speed a risk of snapped-off branches become real. What I found surprised me: wind starts breaking off branches at wind speeds of 40 mph or more, and around 90 mph is the speed at which tree trunks are broken by the wind (assuming healthy trees – damaged ones are obviously weaker).
Since then, I decided that I’ll treat 45 mph as my cut-off point, and I choose to not go cycling in winds that strong. While this means I’ve (yet again!) had to delay my planned Dartmoor cycle camping trip, I remain convinced I made the right call. Besides, the area where I was planning on going camping is called Redlake. There’s no lake there (though there is an old clay mining pit that’s since filled with water, forming a large pond). Several areas on Dartmoor with “lake” in their name refers instead to a bog, and unless you want to wake up wet inside your tent, especially in raining weather you need to be careful where you camp. Add to that the strong winds, and it wouldn’t have been a pleasant camping trip at all. You see, often, I won’t peg down my tent at all, depending on where I go camping, but with high winds, it’s extremely important to secure your tent, else you risk the wind blowing it over, with you inside it!
Despite being certain that I made the right decision, I’m nevertheless itching for even a mini-adventure. It’s been too long since my last one, so while the wind is howling it’s frustration at being unable to get to me, I’m sat here planning adventures. After all, we’ve had an extremely mild winter, and spring is here. The snowdrops and daffodils are blooming everywhere, and and day now I expect to see Primroses in bloom, too. We’re halfway through February, and the days are noticeably longer. Soon, they will start getting warmer too, and everyone will start doing more things outside.
That means the time for plenty more adventures is upon us. What are you planning? After all, the road is calling, and we must answer.