Monday, September 7, 2009

Night Moves

I ride with two bike clubs here in river city, and one is more about fun than hammering, so when they offered a night ride I jumped at the opportunity. I find the discipline to hammer solo easy, but I do like having an opportunity to have fun thrown my way.

I Velcro-ed an LED flashlight to my aerobars, put my red flashing light in it's mount on my seat post, stuck a red LED ribbon onto the back of my (new) red helmet, and headed out the door sans my Garmin. It's a fun ride, so no point in fretting stats. The ride was advertised as being a slo-poke ride for newbies and the adventurous at night.

I was a bit late getting out the door, grabbing a waterbottle at the last moment, but made quick work of the 5~6 mile transition to Jamba Juice off Sunrise and Gold Country. There were about 20 riders there, and everyone had a smile and a fun attitude as our ride leader Jeffrey went through his talking points - the important one being to stop after the William Pond Pk bridge and turn right, so as NOT to continue on the bike trail all the way to downtown Sacramento some 15 miles downstream on the American River.

We had a strong Delta Breeze, and the air was cool, but electric under a full moon. It was a simple course. We were headed for an upscale coffee shoppe 10 miles away - Bella Bru. I've begun rides just outside their doors many times, but never knew they had a beautiful shoppe with dark veined marble floors and counters with chocolates, coffee and fruit tarts to die for. Fortunately for us, they also had bike friendly parking and long tables to accommodate large groups.

After admitting it was her first ride on the bike trail, I "adpoted" one of the new riders - Christine. Steven King references kept running through my head as the sun set and a full moon rose to take its place. Not to fear, she sat down next to me at Bella Bru where the conversation was interesting and never touched on old cars with sinister intentions.

After a half hour of talking around the table we all headed back outside to suit up for the return leg home. It was fully dark by then, and all the lights came out and on until we collectively resembled a long, brightly colored dragon. Christine found a rider with a light to lend with dead batteries, and another rider with spare batteries. It worked quite well and I stuck close to her once we got back on the bike trail and the lights faded until only the full moon shone to light our way. (The light I borrowed for the ride wouldn't fit my handlebars)

Like most experienced riders, I tend to think of the American River Parkway Trail as flat, but it isn't flat at all. Unlike road beds, which are graded to remove all the small undulations before the paving begins, the bike trail embellishes these small grade changes. Riding a mountain bike with lots of knobs and bars to suck at the wind, we were going pretty slow up those small hills. It was a reminder to me how easy it is to overlook these watt-burning features when planning rides.

Near the middle of the ride we found ourselves riding alone, and I was struck by how different everything looks in the dark. The familiar was hard to even recognize without glancing around and getting my bearings. Somehow a small group of riders got separated at the back, but our ride leaders were out in force riding back to find them. I have to say, Fred's HID headlamp mounted on his helmet turned night into day. It was brighter than all of our lights put together. They're expensive, but necessary on the night mtn bike rides he often leads.

We stopped just before the Sunrise bridge, and waited for everyone to catch up. I spent a lot of time talking to newbies about shifting, gearing, tires and aerobars. Nobody seemed in any particular hurry to get back and end the ride. At some point I noticed how perfect and caressing the breeze was - about 70% humidity, about 68 degrees, and ~ 5-10 mph, it reminded me of the breeze at sunset in the Florida Keys. Lying in a hammock it seems to caress you.

The brilliant lights of our ride leaders, and their rescued lost, foretold a successful regrouping. After a few minutes of rest for the weary, we set a leisurely pace for Jamba Juice and rode together in a nicely spaced group. Once back we took another group photo, some candid shots, and said our good-byes. I gave Christine a hug, shook hands good-bye with Jeffrey and Fred, clipped in, and pushed off.

I headed home solo amazed at how many things there were moving around me as I rode cautiously through the night. Something big and black, perhaps a dog, coyotte, mtn lion or small deer (they were everywhere) flashed across my path on a lonely stretch of road. I vowed to get a better light. Arriving home just after 10:00 I was grinning ear to ear.

The next morning I awoke surprised I was a little sore. It was only then I remembered bridging up from the front of the pack to one of the stronger riders who wanted to hammer. I did the ride with only a bottle of water, as there was plenty of fuel at each end and at the pace there was more than enough glycogen on tap for the 30-some miles.

All in all it was a really fun ride. Hammering is great fun, but from time to time it's so refreshing to just go have fun, reconnect with the joy of our sport, and the great opportunities to ride with others and enjoy their company.


Anonymous said...

Love reading your recap! That's the best, when you make hard work also fun. I couldn't live without working out; it makes one so happy and fulfilled - I am reading that in your post.

Gotta Run..Gotta Ride said...

I love night riding... ON THE ROAD. Trails are beyond my comfort level at night. And you cheat on one bike club with the other.... how dare!!

You are moving and grooving on the bike these days. Great post.

Grey Beard said...

Heee, hee, cheating on one bike club with another.. lolol.. they are both so worthy of my support, but I do like having a choice.

Last year when I rode through the winter I realized that winter, with it's super-thick air, is a tremendous training resource. This year I am starting to realize what a huge missed opportunity riding at night is.

A top-notch light is expensive ($200-$500), but weighs less than a single bottle of water, and the difference between riding at night and in the heat of the day is far more than one water bottle. I'm starting to notice because I get very cranky when I can't ride. It keeps me balanced and sane. It makes the women more attractive too ;-)