Disclaimer: Riding at night can be dangerous and should only be attempted with caution, proper training and good equipment.
Recently, I decided to give night riding a try. Most of the reasons are fairly obvious; there’s almost no traffic, it’s much cooler and I found a really bright LED light on line for well under $100! To be honest, I started this nocturnal escapade to get in shape for this year’s RideIdaho in August and CycleOregon in September. I was having feelings similar to the proverbial January gym memberships; a bit of embarrassment for falling off the weekly exercise wagon, angst over the impending sweat and pain and the resolve to feel strong and healthy. But as it turns out, this night riding thing is actually kinda fun! Admittedly, I might not enjoy night riding as much if I didn’t live within easy access of a paved off street trail system. Here in Santa Clara County we’re very fortunate to have many miles of trails in multiple systems and jurisdictions, from the Palo Alto Baylands in the north to the Coyote Creek trail in the south. The route I’ve fashioned is only a gentle 13 miles. I start this nighttime outing around 10:00 pm and they’ve been averaging about 50 minute’s total riding time. My route begins with an initial pass through a portion of the Google campus on a their new ped/bike infrastructure, then on bike lanes on surface streets, then out into the Baylands in Mountain View and then finally a trail segment down towards Sunnyvale and back. To a true cyclist, riding a distance this short and wimpy would seem to be a silly waste of time and normally I would echo that sentiment. But I’ve discovered, or re-discovered, some tangible measures of cycling enthusiasm I thought I’d lost with adolescence. Now I have my own little track, a mini road encased in a tunnel of night sky and trees, punctuated with moments of wood plank bridge and smooth tunnel and light. The Baylands route segment does have a few unique risks, like coming across a startled possum, but my bright light does a great job illuminating the path ahead. I’ve always encountered other users while out on the paths. I usually see one or two late shift bike commuters and often the elderly couple strolling hand in hand, and sometimes I see a runner out training for an upcoming challenge, but nothing even remotely scary. I have been able to see some satisfying improvements to my times and average speeds over the last weeks, but those numbers are neither the reason nor the main reward. Feeling the body at work, alone but still connected, drinking in the cool night air, my legs set free from the usual burden of traffic and crowds, this is why this feels good to me. I probably won’t feel like doing this ride when the calendar turns wet and cold and the last century of the season has past. But I’ll cross that wood plank bridge when I come to it.