Experimental music, photography, and adventures

A Midnight Rider (almost)

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Until yesterday, I hadn’t ridden all week, except for commutes and a few errands. I normally do 2-3 recreational/training rides during the week, but the heat and humidity had pretty much killed my desire to ride. Sarah and I had some things to do around town yesterday, and we got back sometime a bit after 10:00 pm. I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to go for a ride. I gathered all my light sources and put them on my bike. This included a rear blinker (Blackburn Mars 3.0) and two headlights (Blackburn Quadrant, in blink mode, and a CygoLite Hi-Flux 100 steady-beam light).

In other words, I was lit up like a Christmas tree.

I could tell Sarah thought all this was a little nuts, and I reassured her that drivers would be able to see me. I planned on doing my Mount Gilead ride, which is part State Road 45, which sees a fair amount of traffic at times (although not too much at night) and part remote rural road (Mount Gilead Road itself). Even though I could tell Sarah was worried, she was trying to be as cool as possible about this, and she succeeded. I appreciated it.

As I started riding, I was pleased that I was able to see fairly well. I had done night rides before, but only on mountain bike trails or very brief neighborhood rides. The road directly in front of me was illuminated well, but I couldn’t see off to the sides. A light on my helmet would’ve helped.

It was still hot, and a lot more humid than it is during the day. Still, it felt great to get out and ride, and I’ve always loved the night. I was greeted with some fantastic rural earthy nighttime smells. The air was thick from the humidity, but I felt myself cut right through it. A glance to the right gave me a glimpse of a deer — the only one I’d see, due to the limited light, but definitely not the only one I passed. Occasional heat lightning punctuated the sky, an orange glow to the west indicated the way back to the city, and some backlit clouds attempted to hide the moon from my view. Insects chirped and squeaked all around me.

As I began the descent on Mount Gilead Road, I kept my speed down (although I’d later see that I still hit 34 mph) since I couldn’t see too far ahead of me, and I was worried something might run into the road in front of me. I love this descent because it’s always a few degrees cooler once you get down in the valley. At the bottom, it was flat for a few minutes, and I tried to look around a little more, hoping to see some wildlife. It was very dark, and my lights weren’t bright enough to see anything. Mount Gilead lacks street lights, which to me was welcome. There’s something great about finding true darkness.

I started the climb out of the valley. It was pretty weird to climb up a hill without being able to see more than a few feet in front of me. I’ve ridden this hill many times, so I knew how long the climb was, but not having much visual confirmation of my progress was a little disheartening. As I reached the top and rode into a clearing, heat lightning flashed above, seemingly congratulating me on my victory.

The rest of Mount Gilead Road is gently rolling and winding and goes by some farms. It doesn’t take long to reach State Road 45 once you finish the climb. By the time I got to 45, I was glad that it’s a little better lit than Mount Gilead. Being someplace that dark has its charms, but so does being able to see. The fact that there were more cars on 45 didn’t bother me because I knew I was visible, and their headlights provided some additional light. And they were all very courteous.

45 has some rolling hills and winds around a bit, and is a pretty fun ride. I especially enjoyed it then, at night, not having ridden in so long. As I rode, I could see sweat glistening on my arms. It actually looked pretty cool, in a way. I started to feel a few drops falling from above. It was starting to rain. At first, my gut reaction was disappointment, but it actually felt pretty good. It rained a little harder, and it felt cool on my face and my arms. I saw some lightning again and told myself it was just heat lightning, but now I’m not sure. If it wasn’t heat lightning, maybe it was dangerous, but it seemed distant and it was very beautiful. I really enjoyed the rain … if it had rained any harder, I might have had to do a no-hands, leaning back with arms spread open and letting rain fall on my face thing like that scene from Shawshank Redemption. I felt great.

The transition from rural area to town took me by surprise. It always used to do that when I moved back to Bloomington, but I got used to it. However, at night, there are fewer visual cues to remind me that I’m getting close to town, so suddenly, I was upon it. There’s a fun little descent and a banked turn. I hammered it and just flew through. A few minutes later, I was home (around 11:45), but the experience has stuck with me. I’ll have to do another night ride soon. They are more challenging rides, but they’re a unique experience that can’t be duplicated any other way. It may have only been about a 13-mile ride, but it had a lot of impact.

3 Responses to “A Midnight Rider (almost)”

  1. Dan Says:

    I used to ride a night quite a bit when I lived within the city of Lafayette, but out here in the country it’s a little unnerving. (Although, my morning rides have been pretty dark as of late.) I remember one ride where I could hear a dog barking pretty close to me, but I couldn’t see well enough to tell if he was tethered. I rode past his house pretty quickly just in case.

  2. Marty Says:

    Does that make you Night Rider? Or Night Ranger?

  3. John Says:

    All of my night rides are on pretty well lit town streets. I never venture onto the unlit country roads at night. Thats where all the pickup truck drivers live. Think long neck budwiser.

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