Who’s Afraid of the Dark? Not Me.

We’re stuck in a nasty pattern of rain followed by freeze/thaw conditions here in Atlanta, so I figured I’d write about an awesome ride I had recently.

The other month a group of friends decided to go for a night ride at Blankets Creek.  I have only been to Blankets with my current bike once and that was during the day.  So I was committing to ride unfamiliar trails at night with one small light source.  Great plan, wouldn’t you say?  My last experience with night riding ended after thirty minutes of frozen fingers and a leaky hydration pack (which turned to ice on my top tube in the 25 degree weather).  With images of frostbitten fingers dancing in my head, I purchased some winter gloves, wool socks and toe warmers.  Bikes loaded and batteries charged, we assembled in the parking lot, introduced those who didn’t know each other and set off toward the trailhead.

We headed out to the Dwelling Loop via Mosquito Loop, but my fingers were still getting cold.  Perhaps this was because I was wearing my old gloves since the new gloves were being used by one of the guys who had left his pair at home.  I had hoped that the slightly less cold weather would keep my fingers from feeling like they’d been beaten with an icy sledgehammer.  I quickly found that while I was fine on the uphill sections, working switchbacks and keeping my effort up, the faster flat and downhill sections allowed the night air to cut right through my gloves.  All the while, my buddy is telling me that he thinks his hands are starting to sweat because of my warm gloves.

But any riding is good riding, and there seriously isn’t a cooler sight than watching eight sets of lights snaking along a trail, blinking in between the trees.  It didn’t take long before my slightly over-squishy fork compressed fully on a hidden divot in the trail and I was riding an endo towards a tree.  As luck would have it, I slowly tumbled over into a soft hillside.  Everyone behind me got to enjoy the carnage as my light went from illuminating the trail in front of me to illuminating the trail directly beneath me.  Everyone in front of me caught the show too, since they’d stopped to let one guy puke and turned around at the sound of my rather surprised yelp.

Other than rolling down the hillside, all was going well until we were almost through with Dwelling, when I noticed that my light was getting dimmer.  As we entered the recently cut re-routed section, the brightness of my light had dwindled to that of a child’s night light.  I have never followed someone’s wheel so closely; not even in a crit race.  The constant elevation change and tight, densely wooded switchbacks meant that I took my memory and decision-making skills to their limit.  Every turn of the handlebars was accompanied by a momentary fear: was I turning at the right time, was there a tree just off the side of the singletrack waiting to snag my bike, was there a pothole in the trail that my buddy’s light didn’t quite illuminate while we were summiting the switchback I was about to ride from memory?

Soon we made our way back to the trailhead.  I swapped my bar-mounted light for a buddy’s helmet-mounted light and headed out to the Van Michael loop.  Wearing the helmet-mounted light, I paired up with one of the guys riding at my pace who was also using a handlebar-mounted light.  This turned out to work quite well because I was able to use his light to keep an eye on the trail in front of us while I pointed my light up the never-ending switchbacks of Van Michael.  Wouldn’t you know it, my light starts dying again.  I made it back to the mail trail, despite a last minute attempt on my life by the final obstacle on Van Michael, and again had to suck the wheel ahead of me to get back out to the car.  I’ll tell you one thing–it becomes much more difficult when you try to cross bridges you can’t see.

As we made our way back to our cars, I was pondering ways to convince my wife that a $200 light is a worthwhile investment so that I can continue to fling myself at barely visible objects in the middle of the night.

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