Friday, December 6

The Edge of Night

With apologies to Robert Frost:

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have biked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outbiked the furthest city light.

Six years ago I wouldn't have considered a night time ride from my house, past Jeef's house, and back home.  That's a 24 mile ride through the back woods of Powell County.  It has climbs, rollers, dogs, creepy woods.  And I didn’t know Feje six years ago.  But still.
Six years ago I had minimal experience riding at night.  One winter in the late ‘90s I lived and went to school in Dayton, Ohio. On school days I typically rode from the house where I was living to work around dawn.  Then after work I'd ride a few miles to school around dusk, and then after a two hour class I'd ride back to my place in the dark and often over snow and ice.  In the worst conditions I drove, but more often than not I rode my bike.  That was two days a week for four months; roughly 40 or so night rides max.
I had a pipsqueak little light.  I mostly relied on street lights and my inherently slow speed.  I can't remember if I used a rear light at the time.  I probably didn't.  Looking back it’s a wonder I didn’t die all tangled up in someone’s undercarriage, but I surveeved.  
Commuting to Golden for three solid years I learned a lot.  I became comfortable riding in pitch darkness, fog, snow, rain, smoke from wildfires…low visibility and high traffic were standard fare for me on a daily basis through the winter months.  It was also pretty common for both Mandy and I to ride around town, sometimes with kids in tow, after dark and frequently distances of more than a couple of miles.  We rode, in short, all the time.
For a few weeks I’ve been pondering the night ride.  I’ve been scheming to do some after dark mountain bike rides, and it seems as if things are finally coming together for that to be a reality.  There are some halfway decent places to ride, it’s just a matter of the mud either drying out or freezing solid.  And then there’s Jeff’s Mountain Bike Park, Hair Care Center and Flea Market.  Once I have a light that will withstand the rigors of trailriding (without catastrophically changing direction after each bump) the offroad possibilities will be limitless.  
Now that the leaves are off the trees and 5 o’clock dark is the rule of law it seemed a good time to test the night road riding waters.  Without the commuting background I have, good quality LED lights (Nite Rider MiNewt 250) and a stout sense of adventure I don’t think I could have pulled it off.  I realize that the increase in night riding these past few years is due primarily (seems to me anyway) to the increase in affordable, rechargeable, and insanely bright LED lights.
I’ve been using The Laser for about three years now.  While $120 seemed high when I priced the light (for Christmas) I have definitely gotten that and more out of the light.  In fact, after only a couple of rides both Mandy and I were true believers in the power of the Nite Rider light.  I know it saved my behind more than once from getting t-boned by inattentive motorists.
With the light all charged up and a bright blinky rear LED light I took off about 20 to 6 the other night.  I’d debated a ride around the valley looping in and out of town, but I just couldn’t get amped up to ride on the busy main roads as everyone was headed home from work even with my bright flashing lights.  So I opted for a ride out the lesser travelled roads of the county.
I’ve wanted to ride Furnace Mountain for a while.  I hadn’t made the big climb since around Leadville.  I’m fatter now, so the uncertainty whether I could climb it or not added to the excitement.  Of course I had more cars pass as I was climbing slowly up the 3/4 mile climb than I did on any other part of my ride.
Once on the ridge I could see the lights of the county spread out through the bare tree limbs.  In fact, the non-absence of light along the wooded road lessened the dread of the ride.  Unfortunately there wasn’t enough ambient light to illuminate the dogs along the way.  But I’m familiar enough with them (see my post entitled Dog Census) that there were no real surprises.
For the most part my mind was pretty attuned to the whole affair.  But then as I neared the county line and hit the first anti-momentum roller the forest came alive to me.  Without the sound of the white noise wind in my ears as I crawled up to the apex of the monster roller I could hear everything moving in the dark woods.  But I didn’t have time to imagine too many boogeymen before I was once again bombing down the other side with a roar of air around my head.
I cruised through Furnace, but my ego was getting the better of me.  I stopped at the next fork in the road to text Jeff:
Watch for my lights, like 10-15 minutes
In the time it took me to stow my phone in my jersey pocket and get my gloves back on I heard a grizzly bear, a puma, three charging rabid elephants, a king cobra, and a schizophrenic banshee in the woods five feet from my elbow.  I tried not to panic—because everyone knows rabid elephants can sense panic—and managed to almost drop my chain and fall over on my bike taking off before I hit the very next hill and crawled slowly up it listening to the night sounds around me.
If Jeff had offered to drive me home I would have gladly accepted on the grounds of a broken cleat or whatever I could break without drawing too much attention.
I continued on past two dog houses without being assaulted by the resident canines.  Then I was truly in the wilds of Powell County.  I could still see lights far off to the north, but there were long stretches of wooded road with no houses and out along the Powell-Estill County line there are no streetlights.
I was going to sprint on past the Mozhican compound but decided finally that I should at least stop and give them the opportunity to offer me a ride back to town.  So I crashed their dinner.  And true to form, the fact that I was out riding my bike in the middle of nowhere after dark didn’t seem to faze them.  It occurred to me that my wife was also less than fazed.  That was a satisfying feeling: knowing I hadn’t freaked out or traumatized my lovely companion with my silly night time cycling escapades.  We’ve been through a lot together and the one person that knows my abilities almost as good as me is her.
I visited for a little while.  I’d altered my intended route so I was going to return home earlier than I’d projected so I had a few minutes to kill.  Instead of a 33 mile ride I would end up with only 24 when I got back home.  As I left my cycling friends' well-lit refuge I was cognizant of the one burly little climb between me and home.  From the top of High Rock it would be pretty much downhill all the way home.

That last climb I forgot about the nightly noises.  I heeded them not.  I focused on trying to KOM that particular Strava segment.  I managed to only tie my own second place effort.
There were a few more dogs.  There really weren’t that many cars.  Only after I was back on highway 15 headed toward Stanton did I see much traffic.  And then it was sparse and considerate.
I got home about 5 minutes before Mandy returned herself.  It had been a good ride.  I felt good.  I was happy to have subdued my 5 o’clock dark demons.  I don’t know that I’ll be going out too often, alone, to ride in the dark on lonely back roads.  I wouldn’t recommend that kind of shenanigans to you unless you have the absolute best front and rear lights, you are comfortable and familiar with the roads, and you have a backup plan and someone knows where you’re going to be riding and can coming looking for you at a moment’s notice.
I will say that it was a fun experience, and I will definitely not let 5 o’clock dark get the best of me.

Last night was the Kentucky Century Challenge after-party...three months late.  I had planned on riding from the office to the get together downtown, but due to the December Rain-pocalypse that moved in it just didn't seem worth it.  When you don't ride every day it seems pointless to choose to ride on a rainy day.  And Minus isn't really set up for commuting in inclement weather.  That was the real crux.  If I had a fendered bike the choice would have been easy to make.  I've got the lights for it.

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