Just recently, I started riding mountain bikes at night. Yes at night. The only time I would have ever biked at night before now, would have been if I was lost or if I went too far and was unexpectedly benighted. Why would you bike at night on purpose you might say? Well, it is actually quite an amazing experience. First of all, night biking is a very raw experience. It is you, your bike, your breath and your beam of light breaking the darkness. Your senses are grossly heightened and you feel the ride in different ways. You feel the terrain better(like if it is slippery or dry), you hear it more acutely(like when your tire hits a hidden rock really hard), and you even see it differently(in a tunnel vision sort of way). Sounds are amplified. Every rock bounced over, every skid, every crack of a stick or leaf is doubled in pitch and you hear the trail and how your bike is reacting to it. But a wonderful thing about what happens to sound at night as well, is how utterly quiet it is and how devoid of sound the woods really are.
If you stop on top of a hill and turn your light off for a minute, you only hear the sound of deafening silence. The silence at those times is eerie, and yet peaceful and sublime.
Night riding is also somewhat dangerous and appealing to the adventurous soul. You have to go a little slower than in the day-time, as hidden dangers have a way of popping up very unexpectedly and quickly. Watch out for that tree branch! I remember one of my first night rides and how I hit a jump before I knew it was there. My back tire almost went careening over my handlebars, but somehow I managed to keep it together with a thank God moment of precise braking and balance.
Night riding is fun with a group as well. Hang towards the back sometimes and watch the line of lights go down a trail. Rhododendron tunnels, which we have a lot of in North Carolina, are quite amazing with a line of riders. The white light reflects off the tunnel of leaves and branches above your head and makes for a sort of time-space continuum straight out of Star Wars. It is also easier with a group to not get lost. The darkness really plays tricks on your sense of direction. My first couple of night rides I felt completely lost on trails I had ridden many times before. It really is deceiving and you have to pay attention to where you are at all times. The darkness can be a friend or can really mess with your day.
Riding at night, I find myself thinking more as well. In the daytime, I am too distracted by my surroundings. At night, I get into my head. The silence combined with the small focus of your beam of light helps focus your mind as well. I have worked out many problems on night rides, and reflected on the unseen beauty all around. Your mind gets to fill in the details of your surroundings in new ways. A trail you have ridden hundreds of times becomes a new trail that takes you to new places not thought imagined before.
So if you are looking for a change of pace to your workout routine or just want to have an incredible new experience, try night riding on your local trails. It is an experience you will never forget too quickly. Get a good helmet light and handlebar light, dress in layers, and head out on an adventure of a lifetime. Just watch out for those hidden sticks and jumps and the occasional bear.