I stopped in Ward, Colorado at my friend’s house, a small town just west of Gold Hill, to drop off the dog crate. Deanne and I had been dog sitting a pretty rowdy animal for the past few days. We needed a place to keep the dog contained when we were not at home. On the first day she arrived, she pooped on the floor of our bedroom. Later that day, she peed on the bed, which soaked through to the mattress. As soon as we would stop paying attention to her, she would tear up her toys, and she eventually destroyed her bed. She did look extremely satisfied laying in a pile of synthetic stuffing.

At first, I was irritated with her behavior. She would not listen and was highly disruptive to our routine. A few days in, though, I began to learn her ways and figured out why she acted the way she did. Most of her destructive behavior was linked to separation anxiety and a lack of bearings on how to behave properly. As I shifted my attitude toward her from frustration to understanding, my angst dissolved into acceptance. Instead of resisting and holding onto things mostly out of my control, I adapted.

That same week, I was down by the creek taking photos when I slipped, crunching my foot in a weird position. At first, I thought I had broken it. The thought of breaking my foot was almost as unbearable as the act itself. It was a Friday, so I decided to give it the weekend before getting it checked out by the doctor. Come Monday, my foot was feeling somewhat better, the swelling had gone down, and I concluded it probably was not broken. The weekend had been terrible, though, mostly focused on what I could not do, rather than adapting my physical immobility to more cerebral pursuits.

These transitions from health to injury, or accommodating for kinks in the routine, can be challenging at times, lingering and souring the mind more than necessary. In a microcosm, nothing exemplifies this more to me than a headwind. Whether it is running, biking (particularly biking!), or any form of self-propelled activity, the wind blasting right at us offers a most unwelcome resistance. It’s a strange phenomenon really, because much of training is looking for ways to create some form of resistance to improve strength whether it’s running up a hill, riding in a higher gear, or carrying a heavier pack. The wind, though, has its way of seeping into the mind, curdling up frustration. It adds an element of intensity and precarity (often unjustified) from which it is difficult to make abstraction.

When I stopped in Ward to drop off the crate, I hobbled over to my friend’s house, my foot still tender from the fall several days before. The wind was howling, ripping down the canyon from the west, pushing me around, and penetrating my psyche. I could not help but tense up, unable to shake myself out of my moody headspace.

I was on my way to Allenspark for some skiing to test my foot. On the drive, sheltered in my car, I began to look at the wind differently, watching as it moved the clouds into beautiful, wavy scapes or how it swirled the snow across the mountain tops. I thought about my injury, too, and rather than focus on the apprehension of how it would feel when I started skiing, I saw it as an opportunity to take my attention elsewhere, to pause and reflect.

Through the acute intensity of an experience, it is sometimes difficult to see the bigger picture and welcome setbacks as a positive force in shaping our deeper appreciation for what we are doing.

After about 20 minutes of shuffling up the hill, I reached a point on the trail where the wind stopped, offering a moment of complete silence and tranquility–a typically mundane switchback in the woods elevated to a place of bliss only through the contrast of extremes.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

When you face a proverbial or literal headwind, how do you react? Do you tense up and defend, or do you flow with it and adapt? Or does your reaction change as you face different challenges at different times?

Headwinds 1

Headwinds 2

Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 7 comments

  1. Phil Tailby

    I’m sat here reading this post as I kill time before going for a massage. Later today I’m off to see the doctor to get a diagnosis on what I suspect is a stress fracture in my left foot. I’m training for my first marathon and after last Sunday’s long run (27km) I began to feel some discomfort the following day. 9 days later, having studied the internet and after gentle persuasion from my wife I’m off to get checked out.

    I’ve gone through the usual stages of anger, disappointment and denial but finally I’m using this time to look at why I run. I like to explore, be outside and enjoying the feeling of strength running gives me. Especially trail running. Just to be able to get the miles in I’ve had to switch to road running (very early morning running as I have a 7 month old daughter and amazing wife who I want to spend time with) so I know this had contributed to my injury but also to my reduced enjoyment of running. These last few months I have begun to see running as something I must do rather than want to do.

    So I’m going to rest, work on my core (never do this, only time to run……!) and plan some trail routes for my recovery. Whether its missing running (after 9 days!) or reminding myself why I run, I’m really looking forward to hitting the trails again and getting spending some quality time with the spring and the great outdoors.

    Headwind is not always a bad thing!

    1. PutMeBackonmyBike

      Phil, in 5 years I have had 3 metatarsal fractures, one of which had to be surgically repaired, 1 grade 2 ankle sprain, and am now awaiting surgery, on the same foot, to clean out a pile of bone fragments discovered during the sprain event that apparently date back 36 years to the very first grade 3 sprain I gave myself at age 9 (which it transpires was a fracture)! Anger, disappointment, denial, headwinds… If it gets to be too much, beer and bicycles can help, just not in that order :-)

  2. Tina Houskeeper

    Very well written. Learning to recognize what is beyond our control isn’t the easiest thing, but it really keeps us from wasting time on what we can’t fix. The toughest of these is injuries. I tend to try pushing my body rather than accept and heal. I have a voice of reason (I married him) that helps me to take care of myself (although he doesn’t always follow his own advice).

    As far as those literal headwinds… hate them! I love trail running, love running in snow, rain, mud, blistering heat… what is it about the wind? I don’t recall the book, and this is poorly paraphrased… “there is a wind, a hot summer wind that howls through the streets of the village and drives men mad, drives men to drink, to fight, to beat their wives…”

    I won’t beat anyone, but yeah, that’s about how I feel.

    1. Gary Aronhalt

      Tina, are you thinking of Krakauer’s discussion of wind in “Eiger Dreams”? He talks about the foehn winds making people crazy there… I’ve thought of that discussion recently as these crazy late winter, early spring winds have pushed and pulled me around on my runs…

  3. Mike H

    Man, you ain’t kidding about the wind. Out of the four classical elements, I’ve never wanted to punch one square in the face more than wind.

    There’s a book called ‘The Obstacle Is the Way’ by Ryan Holiday. It’s a good read and it seems you’ve come to a similar conclusion to that idea. It’s something I’m trying to practice in my life. Great write up Joe!

  4. Michael Vooris

    Wonderful thoughts Joe. When faced with life challenges I always ask myself if I would rather bend or break. I find it so interesting that resilience starts with accepting the challenge and adjusting rather than stubbornly continuing in the same direction. Challenges can break us or can be transformative if we allow them to be.

  5. Tess Hanson

    Excellent piece Joe! I just finished dog sitting for a friend as well and it sounds like the dogs are quite similar.

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