Rob's Blog Archive

June 29, 2014

Riding at Night










I learned more about being outdoors at night from distance mushing than anything else I’ve done.  Learning was natural, I am a nighthawk.  Still, it took time to get used to the tunnel a headlamp creates and that, even with a good headlamp, there’s a big drop in depth perception. 

With my learned familiarity, I’ve sledded, x-c skied, and skijored at night.  In my previous life, I had hiked and even climbed a little at night, though the climbing was only on two of the bigger mountains in the Cascades, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker.

When I was young, I also ran at night, but between a combination of spraining my ankle on a regular basis and my loss of depth perception resulting in landing just enough harder to end up with a sore knee---right ankle, left knee---I stopped. 

The one thing I hadn’t done at night was ride my mountain bike. Changing that was inevitable. 

The fact is it was often well past sunset when I finally broke free to work out.  No doubt, the fact that I could work out at night influenced the timing.  I also knew mountain biking at night was quite doable.  The Great Divide Race just passed through town, and these guys rode trails totally unfamiliar and much tougher than I was considering, all during the night.  I’d be on dirt roads I knew.  Beyond that, because it wasn’t jarring and, in general, a small stone wasn’t going to make a difference, I could ride at night without sprains or strains, even if, like skiing and skijoring, the chance of a wipe out increased. 

The inevitable finally happened, and I set out on my first night ride.  Prior to taking off, I had to check one thing:  Could I wear my bike helmet with my headlamp.  Given that this was my first night ride and only fourth with cleats, the helmet seemed like a good idea.  I had to put the headlamp on before the helmet, but I could comfortably wear both. 

True to form, I started at midnight.  A couple of days after the new moon, the sliver had set hours earlier.  Headlamp on and adjusted, GPS cleared for the trip, I started.  I’m getting better at engaging the cleats, but it’s still far from a sure first time thing.  The right cleat snapped in immediately, I took 100 yards to get the left in.  This done, I headed up my driveway. 

Even with it being all good dirt road that I knew, I planned on riding conservatively.  I could work hard on uphills where the going would always be slow, but I’d take advantage of the bike’s disc brakes on the downhills and keep my speed down.

With this being my first night ride and in Montana on a clear night, I set a personal record right off the bat.  I was riding a bike in the coldest temperature I ever had---about 45 F.  The softshell jacket and bicycling shorts did fine throughout. 

The midnight start, the fact that the downhill sections would be slow, and my wanting to get back by something that approached a reasonable hour meant I didn’t have much time to stop.  With the additional fact that I am still not an ace with my cleats, I wasn’t going to stop unless I had to.  I will say that one nice thing about skiing and skijoring is I can stop and look around.  While sledding, I don’t even have to stop.  I can see the stars.  I did miss that during the ride.

The one error I made was I decided on using rechargeable batteries rather than alkaline or lithium batteries.  I had thought that with the ride being under an hour, it wouldn’t make a difference.  As I approached the turn-around, I realized that my headlamp was noticeably dimmer.  I could still see fine, but if it dimmed much more, life would become complicated. 

Making my way up the final hill, the headlamp not having dimmed much during the two miles between the turn-around point and it, I knew the light wasn’t going to be an issue. 

I turned down my driveway, the most complicated biking of the trip.  With a steep downhill, ruts and loose dirt everywhere, I dropped my speed by nearly a factor of two compared to what I’d do during daylight.  Getting to the side door to the garage, I twisted the cleats out of pedals and stepped off the bike.  I was home.  One down. 

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