I bombed down the trail with my vision blurring from the wind and my entire focus centered on the pools of light cast by my headlamp and bar light.
It's officially Fall. The days are shorter and the mornings and evenings are cooler. Last night's ride confirmed these facts in that I needed both a jacket and my lights for more than half the ride. Thankfully I had actually remembered both.
Night riding, for me, is a completely different animal than riding during the daylight hours. The darkness forces you to focus only on what you can see in the beam of light ahead of you. This is exciting on the downhill sections requiring your full attention and concentration. Looking for debris in the trail, ruts to avoid and trying to find the smoothest lines takes on a whole new challenge and lapses in concentration can have painful repercussions.
Climbing at night is considerably more enjoyable since I can focus on the small section of trail directly in front of me and tune out everything else around me. I'm able to go to that place where my brain checks out and my only focus is making circles, breathing and making forward progress. This often results in the additional reward of arriving at the top of a climb before you even realize you're there. (I'm sure anyone who has suffered a long climb on a single speed will agree this is a very nice emotional boost)
Our Thursday ride loop has two sustained climbs and although the Brandon climb was done in the light and I was forced to acknowledge my painfully slow progress the entire way, the climb up from the stone bridge was done in the dark and allowed me to check out, make circles and arrive at the top tired and huffing like a freight train, but sooner than I had anticipated.
Last night was also my first time back on the single speed having ridden the carbon fiber hardtail for the last couple of months. People tend to assume the SS is harder but to be honest, I really think its just a matter of what you're used to. When I first started riding the geared bike, my legs would be screaming on every climb from the sitting and spinning. And last night going back to the SS my legs felt good but my lungs were screaming from having to stand and pedal on every climb....basically, climbing is hard no matter what you ride. Sure the gears do allow you to back off a bit, but you're still pushing yourself and your bike up a hill. It's always hard.
The other interesting thing about riding in the dark is that your sense of speed and how fast you're going changes. I remember night skiing when I was younger and having the same issue. I'm not sure if it's a matter of, because it's dark I'm willing to go faster or just my inability to judge how fast I'm actually going. Either way, it made for a couple of exciting moments as I tried to slow for a couple of the corners.
Night riding is definitely a fun experience and if you've never done it, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. It has a way of making "the same old loop" into a new and exciting adventure. Plus, knowing there are things out there that may want to eat you keeps you motivated to keep the pace high and the rest stops few and brief. (yes, I think about mountain lions when I ride...wouldn't you?)