Night rider

During mid-week, I had a bicycle repair class after work. Since I would need to bring my bike, it seemed appropriate that I ought to just bike there. I was interested in testing the LED-based headlight (a Christmas present) and charged its batteries during the day. After work, I biked the 18 miles to northeast Seattle, getting a little lost along the Lake Washington trail and dead-ending in the hunk of expensive neighborhoods south of the Montlake Cut.

In my excitement for mapping out the populaire last weekend, I had inadvertently unloaded the local area maps. My GPS’ was only useful as a compass and to generally depict the locations of I-5 and 520. I backtracked, and rode uphill on Madison. The friendly green Bike Route sign caught my eye and I followed it through even narrower, busier streets.

I made it to Sandpoint about on-time, but was starving. Fortune smiled as I happened upon a Pagliacci’s Pizza. While they were heating my lasagna, I pounded back a couple of root beerskis and, like a nervous parent, kept peeking outside the window to ensure my bike was still there. I shoved the take-out container into my handlebar bag and rode a couple more blocks to Cascade Bicycle Club’s facility.

Class had already started. As has been the case with every other Cascade function, it was crowded. There were no chairs accessible, so I wedged myself in a corner. The instructor made some dubious statements on the costs of replacement drivetrain parts. Normally, I would have pounced on this, but I was happily munching my lasagna. Pagliacci’s had neglected to give me a fork, so I went neanderthal. It’s a privilege of sitting in the back.

The first hands-on exercise was to reset the rear derailleur. The nervousness of the class was proportionate to the price of the bicycle involved. The lady with the 15-year old Raleigh was aggressive with the tools while the guy with the unobtanium custom-made bike hand-signed by the Trek elves and tires inflated by swamp gas from (insert town name here), Itally, was rhythmically rocking back and forth, unsure what to do.

I was still finishing my lasagna. Priorities, man. Priorities.

Nearly everyone had gone through the exercise, successfully readjusting their gears back to normal… Except unobtanium guy. There was some kind of imperceptible glitch in his dilithium crystal matrix chain and he insisted the instructor help him make it perfect again. I took this opportunity to wash the greasy mess off my fingers. On the way back over, I availed myself of a couple of the sampler Clif Gel Shots. They’re like jello shots, only instead of jello and tequila, it’s mango and brown rice syrup. Okay, they’re nothing like jello shots.

CBC is the halfway point of the Three Trails Loop. In the daytime, it’s a two-hour ride. At night, I figured this would take me about 2 1/2 hours just because I’d have to use the sidewalk or alternate routes in a few places.

The obvious route, the Burke Gilman trail, has become notorious for the stop signs springing up in Lake Forest Park as prolifically as the dandelions in my back yard. I avoid this section, and the ensuing tickets, by biking up the hill to 35th Avenue, then down Lake City Way (aka SR 522) until I can re-join the BG trail near Kenmore, where I did my floatplane training back in 1997. As I was blazing down the hill, I saw the orange, conical minions indicating deconstruction was in progress. The road was grooved.

Grooved pavement is anything but groovy. Everything on my bike is vibrating frenetically, the two gel packs in the front mesh part of my bag are being flung in random directions for the trail bunnies to eat later. It takes almost full concentration to maintain control of my bike and not hit any of the protrusions normally covered by pavement. The rest is cussing. I should have walked my bike, but there was no obvious sidewalk, either. Just… hang… on… a hundred miles later, at least it felt that way, the pavement was back to normal and I joined the BG trail and checked if my balls were still attached.

For the next several miles, the ride was uneventful. There are homes abutting to, and in many cases, overlooking the (Sammamish?) river. Unfortunately, people have all sorts of shit in their backyards, ignorant to any ascetic virtues the area might otherwise offer. Add a broken satellite dish and a 1974, wheel-less Chevelle on cinder blocks and you’d instinctively tune the AM radio, waiting for the immiment toronado warning.

The Burke Gilman trail fizzles out, but if you keep going, you’ll end up on the Sammamish River Trail. This trail is great because there are stretches uninterrupted by cross-traffic, toilets with running water are available, and there is a lot interesting art as you meander by the Sammamish River.

Because it’s wetland, there are frequent clouds of little black gnats. During the daytime, I can see the swarms and either duck or put on my sunglasses. At night, the clouds are far thicker and permeate the entire trail. When initially going through one, it feels like raindrops are sprinkling on my arms and legs…. provided I try not to think about their little gnat bodies screaming in agony. The sunglasses don’t work at night for obvious reasons, but without them, the gnats are a hazard to the eyes for six miles.

There were a few people out and about along the trail. Some of the evening pedestrians have their iPods jacked up to a volume that my little dinger bell can’t penetrate. I wouldn’t mind so much if they were on the right- or left-side of the trail, but rhythmic desensitation drives them to the middle and weaving.
It finally dawned to me that I could fiddle with my light, extending the beam further ahead as a visual cue. (This wouldn’t work in the daytime, obviously.)

As the Sammamish River Trail ended, I took my customary turn towards Redmond Town Center, aka “Yuppieville, WA,” because Marymoor is closed at this time of night. This is unfortunate because Marymoor is a pleasant and quieter ride. Redmond is surprisingly busy this late. As the famous Steel Wheels song goes:

Cars to the left of me
Steel plates to the right
Here I am, stuck in the middle of doom

Another mile that seemed like it took forever finally ends, and I made the right turn onto sanity (East Lake Sammamish). Traffic was light and the shoulder adequate for biking.

I went up Thompson Hill Road, a dark and sinewy climb up the plateau. It turns into 212th Avenue, passing farmland. The silence is stunning, and for the first time all night, I can hear crickets chirping. And for those of you who’ve read this far, it’s true, you can tell how warm it is outside by counting the rate of cricket chirps.

After a mile down the rolling SE 20th St, I’m back to “civilization” and the bright lights on 228th Ave SE. I decide to take the blackest, most remote side road home and am treated to the sound of frogs croaking and an owl hooting. I’ve decided to try biking this road during the next full moon so I could see a little better, but still enjoy the sounds.

I got home after midnight and washed the bugs off my arms, legs and face before going to bed. In the morning, my spouse asked when I got home and, without letting me finish, told me I was crazy. After 16-years, she’s used to it.

I’m pretty sure this is the longest I’ve biked in the dark since the Midnight Moonlight Ramble sixteen years ago. That event is 20 miles and best described as a rolling party.

  • I was pleased with the CatEye Opticube 550 light. Its LED-based system is much lighter and less awkward than the Performance Dual Vista Light (NiMH) setup I’ve been using. The light pattern is “U”-shaped, but concentrated in a small area. Best of all, I can use the 15-minute AA “Renewal” batteries for ~10 hours, whereas the Vista’s battery pack usually took 14 hours to charge and would last only 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
  • My GPS is near useless without the map. At night, it’s totally.
  • The next time I go biking at night, I’m going to bring the clear or yellow inserts for my sunglasses. The gnats are gnasty when they flit into one’s eyes.
  • Finally, I’m pretty psyched that I managed to get a 50-mile ride in after work. I’d like to try another ride, but on a quieter route.

4 thoughts on “Night rider”

  1. Your spouse does seem to have the common sense in the relationshop… except maybe when it comes to picking spouses?

    And you are out of your mind. Totally.

  2. The Washington gnat thing is, um, interesting… On STP, I hit a gang of gnats that seemed to go on for half a mile. It was directly followed by two more similar occurances. I had forgotten my sunglasses and had no choice but to pull my lips tight and squint my eyes.

    I know I need more protein on my rides, but there must be a better way (enter Ron Popiel?). . .

  3. John Calnan

    I am regularly pelted with gnat-clouds on my evening rides along the Green River Trail. The problem is when the first one goes in your mouth, rather than pinging off your helmet shell.

    Once a week or so, I’ll get paced by a swallow (I’m speaking of the bird, not my reaction to a gnat in the mouth). The swallow will circle my moving bicycle for up to 30 seconds. I’m not sure if it makes for better gnat-hunting for the swallow, or it’s just daredevil bird-sport (Swallow [to Mrs. Swallow]: “Hey, watch me fly circles around lard-butt down there…”).

  4. Green River…. Y’know getting pelted with gnats is probably better than rolling over that place’s other nuisuances – dead bodies.

    (Obvious joke #14012? Check.)

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