It was a tad windy Sunday.
The weather station at the Manteca Civic Center clocked a high wind gust of 35 mph.
Meanwhile winds blasting over the Sierra crest hit 150 mph and kept rising throughout Sunday.
Down in the valley it was brisk but not that brisk.
A little wind never stops me from taking a jog. I was expecting sand to blast me as gusts kicked up as I headed back home along Moffat after turning off Woodward Avenue. What I didn’t expect was to be blindsided by a tumbleweed that came from my right and bounced into my upper thigh and torso.
Although I had to admit it, I’ve fallen into tumbleweeds before as I was trying to make my way across the Owens River Gorge following a route my nephew picked to cross the river. It scratched my arms and legs so much that when I hit the tumbleweeds I was so startled by the pain caused by the sharp and brittle thorns that I tried to scramble up to my feet before getting my bearings and ended up stumbling forward into the biggest thicket of poison oak I’ve ever encountered.
Garrison at first was concerned. But then after it was clear I didn’t break anything he did what any self-respecting 16-year-old would do. He started laughing.
I admit it was funny, if that’s what you call doing a body plant into position oak on a 90-degree day in a gorge in the middle of nowhere that we had yet to scramble our way out of and then hiking four miles cross country back to where I had parked the car.
Garrison, of course, offered the obvious advice that I shouldn’t scratch myself. No kidding Einstein. I remember trying to keep my mind off the itchy feeling as we hoofed it back to the car by counting segments of the massive pipe that served as the Los Angeles Aqueduct near the gorge.
When we got back to the car Garrison unfortunately had wireless service. This allowed him on the drive to Bishop to research everything I didn’t want to know about poison oak. Among the tidbits is the discomfort could last up to three weeks and can permanently scar you in some cases based on skin conditions and whether you can clean it properly. Just the information I needed traveling down Highway 395 in search of a pharmacy.
I have no idea what it was called but a pharmacist at the Bishop CVS recommended a 2 ounce bottle of liquid that cost $17.50. At that moment I could have cared less if it cost $117.50. I had gone close to 2 hours fighting an incredible urge to scratch by arms, legs and jaw.
You can only imagine the disappointment Garrison experienced when I woke up the next day with no ill effects nor desire to scratch my skin.
So what goes my full-body contact with the biggest concentration of poison oak in the eastern Sierra have to do with strong winds besides getting intimate with tumbleweeds?
Before I turned onto Moffat to enjoy the wind buffeting me at a 45-degrees angle I had taken a full gust in mid-stride that pushed me a tad to my right.
That experience plus the fairly thick sand I saw blowing just across Moffat just after it passes Woodward Avenue and again before you reach Crossroads Community Church where the winds were sweeping across barren land, took me back 30 years to one of my Top 10 most insane days.
I was in Death Valley back when my main thing was riding racing bicycles — minus the using them for the racing part. My idea of an ideal ride was 80 to 110 miles in a day with sustained four to 10 mile climbs and accompanying heart-pounding descents that Death Valley offered. It was the first place I ever hit 67 mph downhill on a 16-pound bicycle. That was coming out of Hell’s Gate via the Beatty Cutoff. When I looked down and saw the number “67” flash up on my cyclometer I knew that the saying about almost you know what in your shorts wasn’t hyperbole.
On the particular day I flashed back to, it was my idea of a rest day during a week-long stay in Death Valley. The ride was a 78-mile round trip from Stovepipe Wells from mid-valley to Badwater. I had cycled the route before. Three times you drop between and 260 feet below sea level with plenty of rolling terrain as you make your way across and around massive alluvial fans. On this day the daily weather report posted by the rangers had some mumble jumble about expectations of a high and low pressure system clashing,
I made it to Badwater in under 2½ hours with nary a breeze. It was noon when I reached the Badwater turnout and leaned my bicycle against a picnic table. Given it was late November I had a little more than 5 hours before it got dark. I figured I’d kill 30 minutes in Badwater then jam it and be in my motel room by 3 p.m.
I was getting ready to pull trail mix out of my handlebar bag as I was facing south when it happened. My bicycle was knocked to the ground. A chained garbage can became airborne and turned sideways hovering a foot off the ground. Given I was wearing cycling cleats I stumbled forward. I found out later the initial gust exceeded 50 mph. As I was stabilizing myself, I looked to the north and saw the biggest dust cloud I’d ever seen and it was heading my way.
Snack time was over before it started. I was 39 miles from the hotel and I had to get the hell out of there.
The next day I was told the afternoon windstorm was a steady 30 mph punctured by gusts up to 47 mph after the initial 55 mph blast. I was headed straight into it for 32 miles and then 5 miles of crosswind.
It was relentless. I had to stop several times to catch my breath. At one point someone stopped and offered me a lift. Like an idiot I declined.
It was getting dark when I got to the worse of it — the crosswind. Loose sand constantly pelted my face until I got past the Stovepipe Sand Dunes and a half mile from my destination where the nearby Panamint Mountains blocked the wind. All I could think of was reaching the Stovepipe general store and getting ice cream and something cold to drink.
I would later discover my Bolle sunglasses lenses were pitted in several dozen spots.
As I dismounted my quads where ready to explode and I was more exhausted than I had ever been in my life.
As I neared they general store door, two older gentlemen who were sitting nearby stood up with one telling me he’d like to buy me whatever I wanted.
I looked at him with a “huh” expression. Then he told me his buddy had bet him $20 that I would give up struggling in the crosswind and walk the rest of the way. They had passed me earlier having a hard time controlling their Jeep Wrangler while I was wobbling in the wind.
What he said next I’ll always remember.
“I bet him because I knew it was a sucker’s bet. Anyone who’d go bicycling on a day like this is certifiable crazy. They’re not going to let a little wind stop them.”
Thirty years later nothing has changed except now, to borrow a line from Bob Seger, I’m running against the wind.