By Clif Read
Sometimes she is your best friend. Other times she is your worst enemy. At times she can be fickle, unfaithful or unpredictable. Occasionally she can be neutral, but rarely is she absent.
The first memorable encounter our group had with Maria (pronounced "Mariah") was the morning we departed Glacier National Park in St. Mary and headed north towards Babb. The strong and steady wind at our backs propelled us along as we glided at impressive speeds along the west shore of Lower St. Mary Lake. At our turnoff on the Duck Lake Road heading east we changed our compass bearing by 90 degrees, but the tailwind was still with us....until we came to a bend in the road which led us on a serpentine route south to Browning. Then we felt the force of Maria and the challenge of a stiff headwind. At times we battled the wind directly in front of us, other times it was a crosswind which buffeted us and made it hard to keep the bikes moving forward in a straight line. My advice of "This morning's headwind will be this afternoon's tailwind" was borne out as we finally reached Browning and turned east on Route 2. As we raced eastward on a slight downhill with Maria at our backs, we were able to easily maintain a 25 mph average speed in the stretch between Browning and Cut Bank. The challenges of the morning's side winds and headwinds were a distant memory at that point.
One reason we decided to ride west to east was the wind factor. With the predominant west to east wind patterns, the odds are in your favor that you won't be encountering headwinds for the entire trip. However as we watch the wind map and study the hourly weather forecast, it is apparent that the winds are ever shifting.
In addition to the recent 100+ degree temperatures we have encountered in Montana and North Dakota, the winds are the other most challenging factor in our rides. The most difficult day for all of us occurred on the stretch between Wolf Point and Circle, MT. The light morning breeze turned into a stiff headwind that felt like a blast furnace in our faces. In addition to being an extremely remote stretch of the route, the relentless rolling terrain added another challenge to an already difficult day. Reaching Circle that afternoon, we were all spent physically and mentally.
By contrast, yesterday's winds had shifted to the west/northwest and we flew eastward aided by the 15-18 mph breezes. Once again Maria was our BFF.
"And they call the wind Maria...."