The shorter winter days are eating into our precious riding time but with a few lights and torches we can ride boldly into the darkness! To keep that winter stoke alive here is part 2 on night riding.
Dusk Til Dark
I breath cold white smoke that lingers thick in the chill night air. My headtorch glares against the cloud like the patch of sun breaking on a dark sea. Our ragged breathing seems exaggerated in the quiet of the forest. Usually birds and insects would create a wall of sound, in the dark even the wind doesn’t rustle the trees. We break the eerie silence with brash sniffles and echoing coughs. Our vision is minimal and it feels like the sound is muted as well, all of our senses are dimmed.
We slowly grind up the hill, instantly disorientated on familiar tracks. Trails I have ridden dozens of times in the last few months look alien and new. Going back to your childhood home to find it has been redecorated. Regular landmarks stick out like de ja vu. Similar but different in the sepia light of my torch. Our whole vision is funnelled into two bobbing cones of light. Dipping and bouncing through the trees. The shadows exaggerate and hide, shift and dance away even as we try to face them.
Its my first night ride of many and I have to be honest I am kind of glad I have my friend along for company. Its actually quite creepy riding through the forest at night time. The slow progress of the 500m ascent seems to take forever. Time is warped in the dark little bubble. Our focus holds steady, spotting the shine of a slick root or the inky blackness of a hidden hole. Anything outside the shere of light is a mystery, strategically ignored.
The frigid air was biting cold when we began but already I am starting to sweat. The gloves and Buff were a little unnecessary for the short climb. The sweat settles the wary hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I begin to get excited for the downhill. If its this different going up, its going to be a whole new ball game coming down.
We reach the clearing, usually it is a panorama over the Kaiteriteri Bay, the lagoon mirror flat lighting up clear blue under the sky. The small crescent of orange sand a slightly different shade to the sandstone walls of the cliffs. The scene framed by gentle pine covered hills.
Instead all is blackness, my headtorch feebly lights up the few immediate trees but nothing else. Tonight, is a starless sky too, a thick carpet of cloud lays low over the hills. The darkness is truly complete.
Morgan drops in first, he’s pedalling hard before the first corner and I instantly let him go. He is a far better rider than myself in the day or night. I wasn’t even going to contemplate chasing him. ‘Jaws’ is one of my favourites, full of fast bermed corners and elevation profile like a cardiac arrest. I have found my flow on these trails but seem to have misplaced it on this particular ride. Corners jump out at me from the darkness, the trail dropping suddenly away from beneath me and my bodyweight shifts clunkily and exaggerated. My bike is taking me for a ride like a bucking bronco, I hold tight and hope for the best.
Coming into a corner the sense of de ja vu hits me again. There is a high line or a low line. The high line wall rides around the clay cut into the hill side. It’s a wider faster line but needs a bit of confidence and speed. The inside line transects the corner, dipping steeply into a little pocket before springing out into the next corner. In the dark I fumble and hesitate, my front wheel taking the high line and my back wheel taking the low. I hit the brakes and skid parallel to the trail. My back leaning over the steep drop into the gloomy forest down below. I teeter erratically as I manage to get a foot down and rearrange my bike back into the correct direction. Adrenaline shoots through my veins and I can hear the thrum of my heartbeat. I’m certainly sweating now!
Morgan is waiting for me up ahead shaking his head and laughing in excited relief. We both burble frantically about how different and difficult the track is in the dark. This is only an ‘advanced’ track yet in the dark it has taken on a much more menacing persona. The night ride is breathing new life in to the trails. Everything seems fresh and new and challenging. Even Morgan is echoing my tales of close calls and near misses. Stoke and fear are riding high.
Fist Bumps and Sketchy Jumps
We set off again and I follow him more closely. Muscle memory seems to be propelling him along like the limited visibility isn’t even a problem. In just a few turns he is almost out of sight again. On the last corner I see him silhouetted against the glare of his head torch. An egg-shaped sphere with his dark shadow airbourne in the centre! Not only is he riding faster than me he’s even hitting jumps in the dark!
I follow at a much more sedate pace. A yelp echoes out from the darkness, almost drowned out by the quick skidding tyres on gravel. I am on high alert as I come around the corner. I see what almost caught Morgan out. A small part of the track had eroded and fallen away. Only a small sliver of the track had fallen but it was right on the run out from a steep fast corner. He would have been coming out of that pretty quick when he saw the track was no longer there. I could see the skid marks as he swerved at the last minute.
When we finally got to the bottom our panting excited breath filled the clearing with hazy pearlescent cloud. High fives from shaking hands and big smiles, side lit as we try not to look each other directly to not to blind each other.
Don’t Go Bump In The Night
Night riding is awesome, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a whole new ball game and adds so much to your favourite trails. Just a few things to remember though as it is definitely a bit more dangerous than normal. (especially if your riding downhill tracks like we were)
- Have two lights, one on the handlebars and one on your head. It makes all the difference when cornering as you can see where you coming out of the corner and also directly beneath you.
- Take spare batteries as well as making sure your fully charged. Your gonna have a long walk back or an extremely dangerous ride back if your lights fail.
- Its usually pretty cold at night so take gloves and a buff as well as a good jacket.
- If your riding back along the roads a tail light is a must and a hi vis jacket is advisable. If your lit up like a Xmas tree people will have to slow down just to laugh at you.
- Let people know where your riding and when your expected back. If a man falls in the woods at night and no one is around to hear him, did he even fall?
Well I hope that inspires more people to get out and ride even in the shorter winter days. Grab some friends and go and scare yourselves!