I did my first early morning ride of the season today, heading out of the neighborhood while it was still pitch black. I got used to dark early morning rides last year, but that doesn’t mean I was really looking forward to picking up the practice again. Given the challenges of fitting two workouts a day into a fairly busy schedule (and adding in travel), there aren’t a lot of other options, though, so it’s back in black for me.
Thanks to “All Season Cyclist“, I am moderately prepared for the morning rides. I’ve got a decent headlight for the bike, and I have a flashing tail light as well. However, I was unable to figure out where I stashed it last year as I was packing up my cycling stuff for the winter, so I braved the road without it.
Riding in the dark in my area of the city, there are certain road hazard guarantees… things you are certain to encounter, and need to be prepared for. I was reintroduced to three of them this morning.
Pavement Obstacle Courses. There are no streetlights on the main road that leads from my neighborhood to the country roads where I spend most of my riding time. The only light is going to come from my headlight. Unfortunately, there are three different stretches of that road that never fare well over the winter. They are all on curves, and seem to be the darkest sections of the road, too. Those sections are constantly in one of two states; riddled with potholes, or patched by the same guy who globs the mayonnaise onto the sandwiches at subway… just pile it on, whatever you don’t want will squeeze out. I hit the first section this morning while I was still fiddling with the headlight and helmet, etc, and almost came off the bike. I’m not sure if the excessive rattling sound was from my water bottle cage or my fillings. Fortunately, the first one gave me enough warning to prepare for the next few. Slow down, adjust the headlight out farther, and pay attention.
High Beam Addicts. I know that I’m tough to pick out in my reflective jersey, silver bike with reflectors, and the headlight on the handlebars. Thankfully, many oncoming drivers, once they’ve spotted me, hit the high beams to make sure they keep me in sight (very important, since I’m on the opposite side of a four lane road). The effect is that I’m completely blinded while they’re approaching, and for about a minute after they’ve passed. Open question to said drivers… if your high beams blind oncoming drivers, and thus the law requires you to go to low beams, why do you think the result would be any different for cyclists? Please, for my sake at least, go to low beams.
The Dawn Patrol. There was a 1930s movie about British fighter pilots called “The Dawn Patrol”, about the hazards of combat flying in World War I. The dawn patrol I have to contend with is not enemy biplanes, but swarms of gnats and other bugs along the river roads and trails I ride. Especially dangerous if you tend to breathe through your mouth, as I do. Dawn rides are the most challenging, because it’s too dark for sunglasses to keep the bugs out of your eyes. I can close my mouth, but it’s hard to ride with your eyes closed.
Despite the hazards of morning rides, there are some great benefits. This morning was in the high 60s, and felt wonderful. I got to see the sun come up, and saw a few large herds of deer feeding in the park as I rode through. I could almost hear the new fawns telling their mothers, “Look, mother, a man in silly black shorts on a strange machine!” “Yeah, don’t worry about him,” the mothers reply. “He’s too slow to catch us, and he eats a lot of the bugs.”