I was recently asked, “Steve, what was your funnest ride?” After 33 years of cycling on the road, plus a pre-adolescence perched atop one of several BMX bikes, how does one pick out a single experience? Let’s just say that there are no clear favorites, yet there are MANY great memories.
So, how did I answer that question on that day? Well, let’s see. I had been working a bunch in the time period just before fielding that question. I’d been spending enough time at the shop that finding time to ride had been difficult. Like a lot of folks, I struggle to find balance in life. In addition to work, I am a father and a cyclist. For me, cycling is something I discovered early in life and it is fair to say that cycling is my raison d’etre. It is important to me. And when I am not riding enough, things aren’t balanced
As I quickly pondered the “funnest ride” question, I was reminded of another time, a few years prior when I was also working a lot, putting in long days working on the Matrix sequels. I rarely had the chance to ride during the day. One night, at about 1:30am, I “fell awake.” That’s what I call it when I’m in bed and I suddenly wake up and can’t go back to sleep.
There I was, laying in bed, listening to the rain falling outside and lamenting how I was generally working too much to ride. I am not usually the most motivated person at 1:30 in the morning, but this morning was somehow different. I am not sure where the inspiration came from, but I started having this rather comical internal dialogue.
Enter, stage left, “The Cyclist”, pure in his desire and motivation to ride. Enter, stage right, “The Voice of Reason”, seeking warmth and the solace of slumber. You can imagine these two characters, one perched on each of my shoulders, whispering the lines of their improvised skit directly into my aural canal.
The Cyclist began his rhetoric, something to the effect of, “What would you do if it were daytime and sunny?” His answer to that late night question was, “You’d be riding your bike, of course!” For a brief second, I actually considered getting out of bed and going for a bike ride. But then, a fatigued Voice of Reason, realizing that I might actually follow through on the impulse to ride, threw out a cautionary plea:”But, it IS dark. It is the MIDDLE of the NIGHT.” It took no time at all for The Cyclist’s quiet rebuttal, “Well, you’ve got a headlight and taillight.” It was again The Voice of Reason, this time in a more earnest tone who replied, “But, it’s not just dark. It’s also raining and COLD,” as if trying to convince me to just roll over and go back to sleep. But, in even less time than the previous rebuttal, The Cyclist silently exclaimed, “You’ve ridden in rain and cold before.” It was a short argument, to be sure, but The Cyclist had done enough to coax me out of the warm bed and into my cycling clothes.
By 2am, the lights were affixed to the bike and I was fully bedecked in minimally reflective wet weather cycling gear. A minute later, I was out the door and into the cold, damp darkness.
I have done a fair amount of night riding. But, most of those rides have been either of the riding home from work variety or riding after work variety. The point is, although I’ve logged a bunch of miles riding in the dark, I haven’t spent much time on the road, by myself, in the middle of the night. And I can tell you, things are very different. Can you imagine doing a 49 mile ride through Oakland and Castro Valley and only getting passed by one car? That alone could have been enough to make this ride memorable. Words alone will fail to describe just how quiet it was out there. Moments after my departure, the steady rain that had been falling slowed to a misty sprinkle. While the sound of the gentle precipitation was still faintly audible, it successfully suppressed the typically ubiquitous urban ambient noise. Once out on Skyline, there was near silence.
My night-rider headlight did an admiral job of illuminating the way. Initially, while winding through Alameda and the Fruitvale District of Oakland, the headlight was almost superfluous, as the street lamps provided more than enough light to guide my way. But, as Park Street gains elevation toward the Oakland Hills, the street lamps become more infrequent. I became aware of the range that my little light was projecting. The distance that the little light could throw was adequate to ride at a reasonable rate of speed. But, the beam was relatively narrow and, outside the projected cone of light, there was almost total darkness.
Since the light was mounted on the handlebars and pointed forward, I couldn’t actually see my own hands or anything except what was in front of the bike. While I could see the ground in front of me, I couldn’t see the ground directly below me or off to the side. And with the lightly falling rain, the light would scatter about, reflecting and refracting as it bounced about in the moisture.
Pedaling like this, in the rain, in the dark was awesome and surreal. Not being able to see myself on the bike and not being able to see the ground below me caused interesting shifts in perspective. Was I small or tall? Was I fat or skinny? I was more aware of other sensations, like the feelings of breathing and legs pedaling, the rhythm of climbing and the pull of gravity when descending.
I remember having several random thoughts: that I was a moth, chasing my own light, my rain cape fluttering like fragile wings in the breeze, or that perhaps Icarus should have flown at night, his wings of feathers and wax would never have melted.
Despite being wet and cold, I had a very fun ride. I had ridden 49 miles in the middle of the night. Less than three and a half hours and several thousand feet of climbing later, I was back at my apartment. I got into my warm shower with all my cycling clothes on and peeled them off, one dirty layer at a time.
By 6am, I had cleaned up, eaten a small snack and thrown on some sweats. Luckily, I didn’t have to be at work until 9:30 and it was about time for a little nap!
I think about that ride sometimes, how it was the only ride I got in that particular week. Perhaps it wasn’t the funnest ride I ever had. But still, by just letting myself get out there, in the middle of a cold, dark rainy night, I had a really fun ride. Things don’t have to be perfect to have a great ride, you just have to get out and pedal.