Ride the Night

Natural Night Light Beams

Image by ViaMoi via Flickr

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.

Photo by Chris Neubert, rider Eli Day

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.

Photo by Chris Neubert, rider Eli 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.

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Best Powder Day of My Life

English: Powder in HKM

Image via Wikipedia

The best powder day I ever skied was almost the last day of my life.  The year was 1990, I was twenty years old and living the ski bum/semi-college student lifestyle in Gunnison, Colorado.  I say semi-student, because to tell the truth we never attended class very often, there was just too much other stuff to do.  Did you know they gave you a student ski pass to Crested Butte back then for like $120?  They were just asking you to skip and go ski.  Well ski we did.  It had been snowing for a week straight and there was so much snow that it was literally piled half way up my door in Gunnison.  What would it be like in Crested Butte?  The mountain was not open yet, because it was before Thanksgiving, but that did not deter a few die-hard powder junkies like myself.  We hiked the mountain to about the half way spot, trudging through the deep snow ever so slowly.  After walking for a few hours we finally decided it was time to ski.  I had never skied powder this deep before, it was waist to chest deep.  There was no base, so you would go even deeper down.  Floating in a dream of white fluff this deep is like swimming in a sea of clouds.  We were in powder heaven and since it was still snowing it just kept getting better and better, so we kept doing lap after lap, never seeming to tire.  At the end of the day we made our way to the bottom of the mountain.  They had recently cut a new run on the front side and we wanted to check it out.  Grass was starting to stick out of the snow, but it had been so good that we figured we were safe.  Well, apparently they had not cleared all the tree stumps off the new run yet.  I looked on the final slope and decided to go.  I made three turns, caught an edge and went down hard on my side, right into one of the previous mentioned stumps.  Wow, what just hit me?  The wind was knocked out of me and I could not breathe.  I finally got my breath back and realized I was hurt, really bad.  It felt like a knife was piercing my side with each breath.  I had to get out of there, it was getting dark.  My friend Dan Sidani and I slowly skied down the rest of the slope and I collapsed at the base of Crested Butte Village.  Dan went to get the car, and I laid there in agony.  I was feeling very weak and nauseous and felt like nodding off to sleep.  Luckily, in that moment, Dan appeared and said get up, you have to walk to the clinic.  He had old school Sorrel snowboard boots and luckily could not climb to where the car was located.  If he had I would have probably laid there and gone to sleep forever.  We walked to the on-mountain clinic.  Right as we knocked on the door, a man appeared who was the doctor.  He was literally going to the store in that same moment.  If we were a minute later, we would have missed him.  They took me in the clinic, and did x-rays.  I had two broken ribs, and I was getting paler and weaker by the minute.  A call to the ambulance was next, and they put me in for the thirty minute trip to the hospital in Gunnison.  It took ten minutes for them to get a saline line in me, and I have good veins.  This IV it turns out was what saved my life.  I got to the hospital in Gunnison and they put a catheter in me.  All blood.  This situation was not good.  The doctor there did an exploratory surgery the next morning and said the ribs punctured my kidney and I had a small tear.  He thought it would heal on its own, and so I sat in the hospital for a week as my kidney unfortunately was still leaking minute traces of blood.  I then went to have an MRI with contrast in Montrose, three hours away by ambulance.  I had to drink four bottles of the most foul-tasting liquid you can imagine on the way there, that was the contrast liquid.  Well, the doctor there said I needed emergency surgery.  I then drove eight hours by ambulance to Denver General and had surgery the next morning with a kidney specialist.  All good right?  Well, two days later, the stitches broke and they had to go in again.  The weeks passed and things were looking better.  I was finally healing, albeit very slowly.  I remember the first week having a morphine drip that I could control.  The first day I pushed the button twenty times, but then the nurse laughed at me and said I could only push it twice an hour.  It was still nice.  I remember reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that week, it was the only decent book in the hospital store.  It seemed to make sense that week, who knows?  They made me breath into this gauge that measured my breath.  The evil nurse would make me breath as hard as I could to keep my lungs from collapsing.  All I can say is broken ribs, coupled with surgery scars on your lower abdomen hurt worse than any pain you can imagine.  Every breath feels like a knife is tearing your insides out.  I also remember one of my walks around the ward with my dad, IV in tow, saying to him that God really seemed to be trying to tell me something with this one. I was lucky to be alive and I had more to do in my life.  Well, a few weeks later they let me out.  I grew a beard in the hospital, and so looked much older than my real age.  I just turned twenty-one and decided it was time to have a beer, legally.  When I went to the bar, I was so excited to show them a real ID.  I guess the beard threw them off, because needless to say, I was not carded.  Oh well.  I was now rehabing, and two months later I went skiing again.  It was a big powder day.  I was too afraid to go now if there was not soft snow to land on.  Later, I went to talk with the doctor in the clinic at Crested Butte.  He said I was the luckiest patient he had ever seen.  I should have bled to death on the mountain.  It was just not my time to go.  I had things to do with my life and people to help.  In the end, the entire experience humbled me and made me think of moderation in all things.  When you are young, you feel like nothing can ever happen to you.  But it can, believe me.  Remember the stats on 18-25 year old males?  Now I still ride hard, climb hard and ski hard, but with a newfound respect for nature and life.  Cherish each day you are here and remember to be thankful for the breath of life.  Take care.  Chris Coney

This Really Happened

Cougar / Puma / Mountain Lion / Panther (Puma ...

Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever stared down the face of a mountain lion, been so close you could literally pluck its whiskers out?  Well about ten years ago, outside Boulder, Colorado, I had just such a privilege.  I say privilege because it really was an honor, even though it scared the living crap out of me and my friend, Paul.  It was a beautiful evening, almost dark.  We were riding the ever classic Walker Ranch Trail up Boulder Canyon and were finishing the ten-mile loop going up the last steep fireroad to the car.   Paul was ten feet in front of me and we were cresting the top of the hill on a flatter section.  In an instant a flash of color and movement was seen flying towards Paul.  Mountain lion!  The cat literally jumped towards Paul and at the same moment Paul saw the flash in the corner of his eye.  He jumped off his bike, lifted his arms holding the bike in the air, and let out the most primal, animal-like roar/ scream I have ever heard come out of a person’s mouth.  “ArrgghhRRoAAR!!!”  He was two feet away from the mountain lion, which curiously stopped its leap just shy of pouncing him to death.  It was as if the cat realized something was different about this strange deer that roars unlike other prey.  I was back ten feet and it was like I was watching a National Geographic Special on big cats, “…the prey and foe are curiously watching each other, not knowing what to do next.”  This showdown went on for two minutes, the entire time both Paul and I were yelling at the cat at the top of our lungs to no avail.  The cat then backed away ten feet into the bushes.  At this point, both of us were thinking we would have to fight off the lion, and we started chucking rocks at it.  Some of the rather large rocks hit the cat directly in the face numerous times.  The full-grown lion would barely flinch as if to say, “Is that all you have, these pebbles are like flies on a hot summer day.”  It wasn’t working.  The lion was still there just watching.  After the eternal three or four minutes of this game, Paul says quietly, “What do I do?”  I said to him that he needed to slowly back away, not making any sudden movements, and look BIG in the process.  How do you look big to a full-grown mountain lion of pure muscle that would stand as tall as my truck’s hood?  Paul backed off slowly and we were needless to say freaking out, adrenaline surging through our veins and the ever-present Oh my God, Oh my God, coming out of our bedazzled mouths.  We couldn’t see the lion, so we debated what to do next.  Do we ride around the whole ten-mile loop backwards in the dark with no lights, or do we go the half-mile past the cat towards the car?  The half-mile won out.  But how do we skirt past the cat unnoticed?  We filled our pockets with rocks, took a deep breath and started peddling past the cat.  He or she was not there.  Oh shit, where is it?  We chucked rocks in the general area the cat was, and yelled at the top of our lungs as we rode faster than I have ever ridden a bike towards the car.  We nervously kept looking back over our shoulders, sure we would see the pounce of death right on our heels.  We made it to the car and hugged each other, thankful to be alive and no worse for wear.  We talked a mile a minute for the next three hours, and marveled at our close encounter.  We drove home and I wish I could have recorded our conversation to my wife.  “Oh my God Shannon, you wouldn’t believe what just happened…”  In the end, I was thankful that no one was hurt and that we had such an incredible experience.  I grew so much in that short moment and my friend Paul and I bonded in ways others would never understand.  The experience was definitely on my top five list of all time greatest moments to be alive.  Although when you are out at feeding time, which is what we call it now, make a little noise and keep an eye out behind your head.  You never know who might be watching.  Take care.  Chris Coney

Obsessed About Biking

Mountain biking in Arizona desert, USA

Image via Wikipedia

Me on Squirrel Gap in Pisgah National Forest, NC

About four months ago I decided to take up mountain biking again after a twelve-year hiatus from the sport.  I never had time to bike anymore because I was completely obsessed with rock climbing.  Obsession does not even do justice to what I was, it was more of a way of living.  I was not living anything other than climbing.  Reading about it, watching movies, traveling for climbing, everything climbing.  My wife likes climbing too, and we have had a wonderful seven-year marriage and fourteen year partnership that started with climbing.  But now I have a new mistress, and her name is mountain biking.  After being laid off from my second job teaching English, I had a lot of time on my hands.  Since climbing requires a partner, which is sometimes hard to come by, I thought what can I do with my time.  My answer came in the form of beautiful, endless, flowing single-track found in my back yard of Asheville, North Carolina.  Locals call the woods around here Pisgah, but I know it as pure, unadulterated, the most fun you can have on two wheels in the woods.  The trails around here are very different from anywhere else in the country.  It is raw out here, it is serene, and it is flat-out crazy at times.  Biking is fun here in so many different ways.  When I lived in Colorado and raced and biked there I had fun, but on my second go around at age forty-one, biking is more primal and spiritual for me now.  It clears my head, it helps me to dig deep, and it has helped me to see things never imagined, like the three bear sightings this fall, or the lone silver fox I saw one evening.  It has helped me to overcome my fear of competing and it has helped me develop new lifelong friends.  I am going places the past four months I never dreamed of going, like my first forty miler at age forty, my first win at a mountain bike race, and my level of fitness surging to places I never even went to when I was twenty.  In a real way, I am growing now, when before I was just drifting.  I feel a surge of emotions and raw energy that is propelling me forward.  I am once again obsessed.  Funny how it gradually creeps into your life again.  A few rides here and there, a race here and there, and now I read about it, I watch videos about it, I hang out with people who are all about biking, I talk about it, and I even write about it.  Well, I think it is all right to be obsessed.  I like it and it feels good to me.  What is your passion?  What do you think about constantly?  Grab hold of that thing and do your thing.  You will never regret it.  Take care.  Chris Coney