we decided to meet at 8:30pm in the town near the trail head. i am not going to give away any names on this post, because we were about to ride the trail illegally, and i don’t want to get busted. i will only say that the trail rhymes with “wall dance”, and the town name rhymes with “shmyons”. i got to shmyons about 7:30pm. i know it was pretty early, but i was coming directly from work, and frankly i didn’t want to spend another minute at work. so i just got some of my stuff ready and sat in the car for the next 50minutes, listening to my ipod with my new bose head phones. if you don’t have a pair of these bad boys i would strongly recommend it. especially if you are waiting for a friend in a dark parking lot overlooking the town. the song and artist of the night was iron wine‘s “wolf”. i sat there for a few moments and it wasn’t long before i was asleep. i was pretty lucky to wake up 5minutes before the ride. i was also pretty lucky to not have to have my friend wake me up.
shortly after my friend arrived, we packed up our camelbaks, put our bikes together, and we were off. we wound our way through the small side streets of town mostly without the aid of our headlights. we were both trying to conserve our batteries at this point and besides there were small hints of the road lines illuminated, from the diffused moon, and the distant light pollution from the random street lights.
i eventually turned on my super-mega-light-of-the-sun headlight as we rode along the highway. i think an oncoming car just gave me the light flicker to indicate that my “high” beams were on. “sorry, i only have one mode”, i said to myself, as the pissed off driver passed. light humor and catch up stories were yelled back and forth as we rode up to the trail head. the night had a really neat fall feel to it. it was probably mid to upper thirties, foggy, and kind of drizzling. from the headlight it almost looked like really light snow. except for our occasional conversations, the moist air dampened all the sounds and made for a very quiet and almost eery atmosphere.
mountain biking at night is a little different beast than regular mountain biking. one of the biggest challenges is having the light point in the correct direction. i usually use a handlebar mounted light, but this forces you to only see where the handlebars are pointing. as my fried point out to me, it is much more advantageous to have a helmet mounted headlight. that way you can see where you are looking. so simple! another problem with headlights no matter where they are mounted, is that they tend to remove depth from the scene. we both found ourselves riding up to some point in the trail…fairly slowly, only to realize that what was in front of us was actually very steep and needed some momentum. another weird phenomenon from headlights, is that they either add or remove shadows to or from objects on the ground, causing small unimportant pebbles look rather significant. conversely, big boulders without shadows almost seem flat…..huh, imagine that. i was lucky to have giant 29 inch wheels which got me through most of these but not all of them. i had a couple of falls related to this phenomenon, but riding at night is still by far, more enjoyable and exciting than a day ride, given the same trail.
i know that i have written about riding at night a few times, and how enjoyable it was. these past posts were all city and highway ride on my commute home. there is really something special about mountain biking at night and riding up to a trail with your lights only able to illuminate the bushes and trees guarding the entrance. the rest of the trail looks like an entrance into the abyss of the mountain. in fact, each corner looks that way momentarily, just before you turn into it. there is a brief instance in every turn where you have to rely on faith and experience to get you through without incident. this makes every moment exciting, and you never want to get out of the “ready” position. you know the position? … pedals level, weight off the seat slightly in back, arms and knees bent outward. if that isn’t enough for your entertainment, there is a whole slew of illusions that add to your senses. as you’re riding as fast as you can past the trees and brush, your headlight cast rather dynamic shadows upon the nearby objects that sometimes move in organic nonlinear directions, giving the appearance of a moving life form right next to you. i find myself constantly looking to the side thinking that i saw something move. i think my heart rate hovers pretty high whenever i ride at night.
we actually had some deer encounters as we were flying through the darkness in our tunnels of light. it was so cool to see them coming up to the trail…crossing in front of us in all their glory, and going off into the foggy dark emptiness. they couldn’t have been more than twenty feet in front of us. at first they looked like the dancing shadows from our lights, but then you could see their glowing eyes, and huge shiny antlers, as they came charging past us in full stride. this was a very cool diversion back to the augmented reality of night mountain biking.
almost as soon as we started heading back my battery became so weak that the small orange glow was no longer “like the sun”. at this point i could barely see the trail and the diffused moon was not much help. i have never used my light longer than the time it takes me to ride home from work…roughly an hour. it was really too bad that we had been out for an hour an 10 minutes. my friend had extra batteries with him, but their strength was as unknown as the universe itself. i tried one battery and it was only slightly brighter than my battery. i still able to ride with it for a few hundred yards before giving up on it. the next battery was a little better and i was able to use it for almost two miles. i still couldn’t see very well so i had to ride a little more cautiously. i found myself riding over these unbelievable boulders and ruts despite having a “light”. it was very scary a couple of times, when i found myself atop a big rock on the side of the trail…thinking, “how’d i get up here?” when this battery died, i had one more of my friend’s batteries to try. this one was very weak, i almost got no illumination from it at all. almost immediately after installing it i had a pretty good endo. this was probably one of my better endos. as i was going over, somehow i unclipped out of both pedals simultaneously ejecting myself from the bike and rock carnage. i must have been more than 5 feet from my bike when it was all said and done. after this fall, i then decided to really take it easy, since i was basically riding blind. i could barely see which direction the trail turned… let alone all the technical difficulties underneath my tires. it actually wasn’t too bad once my eyes got used to the night, my mind started to relax, and my cadence slowed.
we both made it out of the trail without any major injuries, and without fines from our illegal ride. despite the absence of the moon light, you couldn’t ask for a better night.