It was the night before Halloween and dubbed the "Halloween ride". I was stoked, I had purchased a light for my bike a couple years ago after finding out the hard way, you can actually outrun light while riding not the best of roads, I would avoid that nightmare with a real bike light of 900 Lumins.
I simply could not wait to truly try this light out and since the Elite Athletes I would be riding with would be in costume, even better!
I would show up on time at dusk ready to hit the trail, the wind was blowing and carrying with it the usual late October fridgid air, I was early so I chatted with the other four people there and noticed a distinct lack of real costumes. WHy would I care you ask? well three standing there were Pro level riders, all having competed in some of the hardest Mountain bike races in the United States. Two I have ridden with a couple times and always had fun, the third a man with another 25 years on me I had only ridden with once but his Pedigree is as impressive as any athlete can have. I did not know the sole woman who was already in attendance and I counted on her being on the sucky level as myself to help facilitate my boat anchor reputation.
Two riders would show up in costume, one guy in a TU TU and his wife with a basket where ET Road, I was becoming more confident, this Ride would be as I expected. Then the next Legend of Montana showed up, known as one of the best technical riders in the state I was a bit afraid, but he again was fun to ride with, and he brought his wife and a Tandem bicycle, this would be wonderful!
We joked, laughed and headed off, our lights piercing the night and showing the single track trail in brilliant fashion, I knew my choice in lighting was good at this time, I was however less impressed with the choice of trail. It was one I would love to ride in the say light, well groomed but with rocks and stumps here and there to manuver around and over, and the occasional tight switch back which makes it fun in light, but near scary in the dark. I kept going but I felt the cold air tightening my Lungs, my Asthmatic conditions came to play and damn my lungs burned, I just had to complete the first climb. A half mile under my belt yay!
They pointed to the next single track and said "after this it is road" I assumed at this point we would hit the road, circle back to the cars and off I would happily drive home. I sucked up my shitty lungs, sucked on my inhaler like it was candy and off we went. This trail was a bit easier excpet more switch backs and some deadfall you really had to watch out for, but as promised we hit the road. I was however starting to wonder as I was already in the back having been passed by the Tandem bicycle, uhhgg.
I would have my vengeance on the climb up the fire road with the tandem bicycle having a flat, well at least I got to pass someone! Yea that lasted two minutes until I was passed again, lol how humiliating.
We made it to what I thought was the top and I was ready for the decent down, my lungs were burning and I sucked on some more candy to open them up and hopefully alleviate my cough. we laughed and I took a sole picture of the night which did not turn out nearly as well as I would have hoped.
They then started off not on the road down, but up a trail whose first obstacle was tightly between two boulders and over rocks! something I would do in the daylight despite the sharp drop off on the left, but no way at night.
I was again ahead of the tandem but I fought myself walking over some obstacles not confident enough in my night riding ability, I would again be passed by the tandem and for the next half hour or more I would be riding in darkness by myself with no light to be seen. I really do not have the fear of normal people, so that aspect did not bother me, I was growing concerned over the pain in my lungs and how long my light would last, I also wondered if I would be seen if I was to drop off the edge?
I kept going with my head down, listening to the wind talking and the trees creeking, I pushed out any thoughts of fury fang and clawed animals from my head, and I would not allow any visions of a hocky mask clad individual crashing thru the trees.
I would end up at the top by myself and nobody would be seen, where the hell to go now? I thought I saw some bicycle lights but as I rode to my left following the trail I realized it was merely part of the lights overlooking Butte Montana, where did they go?
I kept riding and ended up crawling over dead fall several times, wondering what did I miss? I would yell but only heard the echo of my voice, the trail was starting down and I realized there were only one other set of bicycle tracks on this trail, I could be in trouble.
I knew I did not have much time left before my bicycle light died, and I briefly was angry that I had not grabbed a LED headlamp from my glovebox, but it is what it and you cannot turn back time. I debated on building a fire as the temp was only in the high 30s, I was covered in sweat and no change of clothes, I just hope I packed some matches, now for decision time, do I use the reseto f my light ot find them, or to gather firewood and find a good place to hunker down for the night?
I decided on the first since I did have a couple of glow sticks in my pack for just this occasion, but I wondered, do they have an expiration date? I had bought them 9 years earlier!
I would pull my cell phone wishing it was fully charged, I did have reception which is a grace in the back country of Montana making it a rare event indeed. I called hoping members of my party would have reception as well, fortuantely Ray did and he answeed, asking "Where are you?"
Now If find this to be a silly question when you are riding at night, in a maze of trails in terrain with no real markings so my reply was calm, cool and exactly how I perceived my surroundings "ON the top of a fucking mountain with trees and rocks around where do you think?"
There was a bit of a silence then "Bry and such and such are looking for you, just tell me what direction you went" Now would have been a nice time for a compass, but I did not have one, he instructed me to go back the way I came and start yelling.
I did so but one thing happened that would not have happened on foot, the terrain looked different. When I hike or ride horses I always look over my shoulder every so often to see how terrain looks in the opposite direction as it always looks different, not a luxury I would have with my handlebar mounted light.
After crawling over the dead fall I would lose the trail and end up walking in the trees, I looked back but I could not see where I had came, holy shit this sucked! I walked forward yelling on occasion and then at the right moment, what little moonlight there was somehow glinted off the edge of the trail, making it clear as day, I was back on!
I rode down and shortly after I heard yelling, I kept going and soon I saw lights, I found the others and I could tell by their faces they were a bit worried realizing their mistake of not waiting at the branch in the trail.
MY light would go out.
Thankfully the woman carrying ET had an extra quality head lamp and we would decend down a trail called "The drunken Indian" yea that was encouraging, and it lived up to its name.
Switchbacks are not my thing and like bridges, I have trouble with them in the light as well, since the penalty for failure was pretty drastic in most of these switch backs in our steep decent I would end up walking the tightest, as the trail continued and my confidence grew I found myself riding most of them. I still opted to walk around a Switchback whom Mike on his Tandem would still manage to balance precariously with the front of his tire not having a inch to spare before the ten foot drop on the other side, insane!
Our ride would continue to another road, thru a old rail road tunnel which was absolutely Amazing and made the night complete.
We would hit another single track with more switchbacks and nothing eventful to report.
As always I am happy I went out, as a good day in the woods is better than a bad day on the couch and who can turn down adventure? Everything turned out alright in the end, which is always the most important thing.
If you are sitting here wondering if night riding is right for you, please give it a go, the world is a different place at night!