The local mountain bike club runs an event called “FNL” at one of the trails. Riders assemble around eight o’clock at night and ride the circuit assisted by helmet or bar-mounted lights. I’ve always found some reason not to attend and last night was no different. I thought the trail conditions might be a little too rugged so I went to another trail system by myself.
In my anxious rush to try nighttime trail riding, I did not fully plan my trip and, as such, learned a few lessons that I thought I’d share. First of all, start your ride before it is completely dark and have your lights assembled and ready to go before you leave home. I arrived at the trail head at 8:30 and it was already dark. I had to mount and wire my lights in darkness, aided only by my helmet light. Not a major problem but it would have been smarter to have done this earlier in the day. Gearing up in the dark presents the opportunity to forget something or make a mistake in haste. Assemble and test your gear in daylight.
The second thing I learned is that there are a helluva lot more flying insects at night then during the day. In the few minutes it took to mount my lights and put on my shoes, my entire car was covered with insects. A short time later, I was covered in insects. It might have been the location and humidity, but I had given it no thought whatsoever, so the bugs became an unpleasant feature of the ride, like riding through anti-aircraft fire in a war movie.
Your depth perception, and perception in general, is different at night. Although I have ridden this particular trail many times before, it looked completely different last night in the dark with tiny (but bright) lights illuminating the path. At some points it seemed the trail was enveloping me, that every bush and branch was two inches from my head. Here’s another reason to start your ride before complete darkness, so you can be familiar with the trail at dusk so it does not look foreign when the light is gone.
Mountain biking is messy. I’ve done very little mountain biking since spring, spending most of my time on the road. Until recently, I had been transporting my bikes on a hitch rack; however, this spring I decided I preferred keeping the road bike inside my car to eliminate the fuss of the rack. Road biking, after all, is a sterile activity. Last night, I put the bike into the back of the car without planning for the unavoidable dirt and mud that comes with riding on trails. And don’t you know I ran through every mud puddle on the trail. That sloppy mess was transferred to the inside of my car. Next time, the hitch rack will be employed to eliminate the need to clean the car the next morning. Mountain bikes belong outside the car.
Any time spent on a bike is quality time. Last night’s ride was not that enjoyable but it taught me important lessons about preparation so that my next FNL outing will be enjoyable.