A beautiful flat bike path meandering through the surrounding hills. Yucca plants leaping joyously from the undergrowth. Birds chattering excitedly with their neighbors. Threatening clouds being threatened by blue sky. A perfect day on a perfect route.
You would have been wrong.
I was pressing the pedals with all my might. Leaning into my tri bars with my head tucked down. Watching the speedometer barely reach 10.7 mph.
I was pressing into the headwind from hell. Invisible and brutal. Pretentious and taunting. Unwilling to show herself, yet beating me down one yard at a time.
And my soul ached for a mountain. Something tangible to make this brutal pain make sense. Something everyone could see that would account for my slow and monotonous journey. Something that could explain why I was so pathetic.
A couple of summers ago, my husband and I biked about 300 miles of the California coast line. One of our toughest days was through Big Sur where there are back to back peaks to climb. Well, on paper that was one of our toughest days. But in reality, the toughest day was back in Marina where we encountered a head wind that impeded our progress and severely tested my mental toughness more than any climb. I found myself on the verge of tears, wanting to quit the whole adventure, ugly words coming out of my mouth. And I thought, “Give me a mountain! Please, give me a hill to climb.”
I wanted something that made sense. I always prefer something that makes sense. Mountains make sense. They may be painful to climb, they may cause you to hurt all over, but at least everyone can see it coming. At least you have support, empathy, understanding. At least you aren’t playing head games with yourself. Headwinds are those invisible trials that strike on even the most pleasant of journeys. The things you can’t explain, that are invisible to the naked eye. The merciless forces that exist even when photographic evidence is in denial.
That neighbor you hate who has the perfect husband and perfect house and perfect car. Who was physically and sexually abused as a child and who lives in silent fear.
That friend who moved across the country on a grand adventure and wondrous journey who bought a beautiful new home with beautiful views. Who misses home every single day in the deepest part of their soul.
That single person who has the coolest job and rocks the night life who watches yet another baby be put into the arms of her married friend.
That pastor who has a heart so right with God, whose sermons everyone loves, who prays with such passionate conviction. Who opens emails daily from discontented parishioners, who holds the hurt of dozens of shattered marriages and wounded children, who receives many phone calls from the weary, but few calls to check in on their own weariness.
Headwind. Headwind. Headwind.
We tend to be stirred and moved by people with mountains in their path. It’s tangible. We can taste and see the loss. Mountains are real and yes, mountains are hard. But let me tell you, I’d bike Big Sur again rather than take the headwind I encountered in Marina. A mountain makes sense. A headwind leaves you confused. “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get to where I want to go?”
So today, if you are in a season of great headwind, know that someone out there gets it. Your painful journey is real even if no one can see it. I encourage you to press on, to know that a headwind is as authentic as a mountain. And be compassionate with yourself when you are pedaling with all your might and seeing very little progress.
And remember that even when you can’t see what is in another’s path, and you wonder why they are progressing through life at a snail’s crawl, don’t be too quick to judge.
Instead, turn your face into the wind and cheer them on.