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Nighttime mountain bike ride

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Last night was a milestone: my first mountain bike ride since my accident back in June. My finger has been ready for a while, a few weeks at least, but my mountain bike had some problems and it took me a while to take it in to the shop (which was silly, they fixed my main problems in about 15 minutes, while I waited).

I met my mountain biking friend Dave at Brown County State Park, probably our favorite and definitely most-ridden mountain biking location, around 6:45. We were on the trails by about 7:00. With the days getting shorter, the sun sets around 8:00 now. This didn’t give us as much sunlight as it would have a month ago. But we brought lights, so we weren’t worried.

We started our ride with the climb up the parking lot connector toward the North Tower Loop. I expected to feel a bit awkward on the mountain bike after so long off it, and so much road riding, but it felt completely natural to be on the trails again. The bike didn’t feel sluggish, and I felt strong.

We rode the parking lot connector and the North Tower Loop without incident. We were moving at a good pace and really enjoying the fantastic flow of the trails. I won’t say it was effortless, there was definitely effort involved in riding, but everything just clicked and we glided through the woods, at times making conversation and at others simply riding quietly. We came around a bend and saw three deer mere feet from the trail, two adults and a young lady who still had her spots. We encountered them again a minute later after going through a couple of switchbacks and coming back in their direction. The trails were in fantastic shape, a little dry but some small rains in the past few days kept the dust under control.

We finished the North Tower and started riding the Aynes Loop. We were losing daylight quickly, but figured we could ride the hardest parts at least before needing our lights. We made the long climb, which never seems to get any easier, no matter what kind of shape you’re in, in pretty good time. I made it up all the rocks on the way up and through the rocky switchback at the very top. I just tackled them enthusiastically and handled them very well.

The sun was setting just as we reached the top of the hill and stopped at our usual resting place. We caught our breath and gazed at the sun setting behind the neighboring hills, its warm light filtering through the trees. It was quite a sight to see. I wished I had my camera.

We started down the other side of the hill while the sun was still in sight. All that climbing pays dividends when it comes time to descend, but we wanted to at least make it past the hardest part before dark. It’s a narrow, sketchy off-camber section with some sizable rocks in the trail, including some rather loose ones. Last time I rode here I choked and just narrowly avoided disaster in this section, but this time I rode over the rocks with confidence, stayed off the brakes and allowed momentum to carry me through. Sometimes, riding is 90% confidence.

Once past this tricky part, the rest of the trail is less technical, mostly downhill and full of switchbacks and a few short climbs. We were both riding very well and moving at a good clip. It got darker by the minute, but we made an unspoken decision to try to see if we could finish the Aynes Loop without our lights. It went well for the most part but as we approached the final descent, which is right on the edge of a steep ravine and fraught with rocks and roots, we couldn’t see much.

Fortunately we’ve ridden this enough times that we have a pretty good idea where the obstacles are, we went a little slower than usual and were able to navigate it safely. It was so dark I was tempted to close my eyes and just focus on riding. Obviously that would’ve been worse, but it didn’t seem like it’d make that much difference. I’m not a Star Wars fan, but I am pretty sure we used The Force to get down this hill safely.

Once at the bottom, we rode to a clearing and were surprised by how much more light there was there. We put our lights on our helmets, a process which took a while due to our jury rigged “system” of flashlights, velcro zip ties, and helmet vents. I have a handlebar-mounted light, but it’s not enough on its own.

By the time we started riding again, it was dark. The moon was big and bright and provided some light, but we were pretty much fully reliant on our lights at this time. As soon as we started riding, I was reminded of how much I enjoy riding at night. It’s not something I simply tolerate to allow me to get a few extra miles in, I truly do enjoy it. I wouldn’t want all my rides to be night rides, but it can be a lot of fun, and the trails seem completely different under these circumstances.

We had some climbing to do, and then a few minutes of descending. We were riding through a thick forest and when we weren’t on the edge of a ravine, the trees formed a tunnel through which we rode. Or at least it felt that way. It probably wasn’t a complete tunnel, but when all you can see is what’s illuminated by a couple of flashlights, it really feels like a tree tunnel. Ravines seemed bottomless, as we could not see very far down. Dave described it as “precipitous,” which I thought was apt. Falling down one of these ravines could have dire consequences, but it seems even more that way when they look like an abyss.

As we made our way back we passed a point where there is a root sticking out of the trail. You have to pay attenton and ride on either side of this root, known to us as Collin’s root,  you’ll be in a lot of trouble. (Collin didn’t heed our warnings about this route and ended up having an off-the-bike experience.) I always know to look for this root, but this time, it took me by surprise as I couldn’t even see it until it was about 6 feet in front of me, and we were careening downhill. I still managed to miss the root. Dave commented that it wouldn’t be a night ride without at least a couple of “oh shit moments.” I couldn’t agree more.

Just as we approached the parking lot, we saw three other riders just starting a ride. They told us to go ahead, and got off to the sides of the trail to let us pass. We were of course blinded by their lights. It was a little hard to figure out where to go, since we couldn’t see, but we made it past them safely. I hope they had a good ride.

It was fantastic to hit the mountain bike trails again, and I hope I can do so again soon. The Brown County Breakdown is just about a month away and I need some more practice (plus, it’s fun).

2 Responses to “Nighttime mountain bike ride”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Vishnu. Don’t close your eyes. I signed up to be your wife not your widow!

  2. furiousball Says:

    glad to hear you got back on your mtn bike again. i was contemplating taking my own first ride since my back injury this summer and this post cinches it, i’m on it.

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