Monday, December 26, 2016

Night Riding: Pros and Cons

Switching to nights was possibly the best thing I could've done on my way down to Asheville.  I was having a rough go of things, and my body was in no way being subtle with signs that it was more than willing to start shutting down internal organs in order to get me out of the sun.  I'm not about to play chicken with my guts, as they are exactly the thing that I would need to tackle that sort of showdown.  Being flexible is very important on the road, as expectations and realities can be very different.  Based on previous experience, I assumed I could handle that ride in the summer.  I quickly learned otherwise and knew that I needed to adapted my approach rather than stubbornly pedal on.

While riding at night was exactly what I needed then, it's not always the best approach for all summer rides.  So before you decide to forgo daylight rides for cool moonlight adventures, here are some pros and cons to a nocturnal schedule:

ProsThe night sky is one of the finest backdrops nature can provide.  Even the most boring stretch of Nebraskan farmland can be just as beautiful as the most picturesque National Park landscape with the lights turned off.  Constellations and shooting stars act as celestial equalizers, making the earthbound unimportant beneath upturned eyes.  The night sky is dim lighting on a bad date.

And if the stars aren't your bag (you've seen one, you've seen them all, right?), then consider their display the opening act for the headline performance of the sunrise.  What better way to wrap a long stretch of night riding than by watching the sky slowly pass through the pastel rainbow.


Cons - If you want to see something other than stars, you are out of luck.  Mountains?  You'll see some outlines, that's about it.  Trees?  Sure, they're there, but what shade of green exactly?  Rivers?  You'll hear the water flowing below and feel moisture in the air, but not much else.  And if you plan on riding through any sort of unique landscape (red rocks, badlands, sequoias, etc.), you're going to miss out big time.

Pros - Nothing kills the heat like avoiding the sun.  Summer riding can be a real test for your system, especially in extremely humid climates, and the only way to fix things may be to get out of the sun completely.  Since you'll be sweating less, you'll also get a reprieve from constant rehydration, lowering your riding weight and decreasing the amount of pee breaks you'll need to make (though pee breaks at night can happen almost anywhere).  Also, you'll save money and weight by not needing to carry sunblock.  Always use sunblock during the day!  Always!

Cons - Riding at night can be very cold.  That coldness can be drastically worsened by wind and precipitation.  Once you're soaking wet, you'll really wish the sun was out to dry off the night's rain.  If you have a rainy day in your forecast, maybe try to tackle that in the sun.

Pros - There is a lot less traffic, and any traffic that does come along will be announced well before they arrive by their high beams.

Cons - While there is far less traffic, there is far more of a chance of encountering both drunk and sleepy drivers, meaning that each encounter, while less frequent, can be potentially more dangerous.  The best thing you can do to combat this is stay visible.  Ride on well-lit roads, have bright lights on your bike, and wear bright, reflective clothing.  Aside from staying visible, try to give yourself space by picking roads with ample shoulder space.  If you're far over into the shoulder and realize there are headlights coming up from behind, you'll know you're dealing with someone that's hammered or asleep, and you'll have a little time to get out of the way.  If there's no shoulder, all headlights look the same coming up from behind.

Pros - Animals come out at night, and since you'll be on a nearly silent bicycle, they likely won't run away as you approach.  You'll be able to see deer, skunks, possums, and more from close up as you zip by.  If you're really quiet, you might be able to pet one as you pass (don't do that)!

Cons - If you're going to be eaten by a mountain lion or slam headfirst into a deer, it's more likely to happen at night.  Also, there are so many bugs at night, and they're all attracted to your lights.  Oh, and they are terrifying.  Have you seen a dobsonfly???

I'm a male dobsonfly.  I have pincers and a bitey jaw.  Why are you running away???

Pros - The quiet of the night provides respite from daytime distraction and allows the mind to wander in all directions without much interference.  Some of the deepest thoughts can come from the darkest nights, like, if money is the root of all evil, and money is made from trees, couldn't the ongoing deforestation of the Amazon be kind of a good thing?

Maybe being left to your own thoughts isn't a good idea.  In that case, the night is the absolute best time for meeting weird, bored people at 24-hour gas stations.  Do you ever feel like there's a shortage of conspiracy theorists in your life?  This doesn't have to be the case.  Pull into any any Kum & Go at 4am and if even one person is still awake, you could be in for quite the conversation.  One time during a late night Sheetz visit, some loon tried to convince me that giant corporations control the political landscape by buying votes using money they've saved from lobbying for major tax breaks they received after promising the saved money for future bribes.  Bonkers, right?  The crazies always come out at night!
Cons -  There are definitely more than a few drawbacks to night riding, some from the lateness, others from the darkness.  Riding at night kills visibility, as our eyes work best in light because we are not owls.  Aside from having less notice of upcoming potholes or other approaching obstacles, any roadside repair work becomes much more difficult, with zip ties becoming very skilled at hiding in plain sight.  As for the lateness, the big problem is that there are far fewer services available.  Most stores and restaurants are closed, and there are definitely no bike shops open.  You really need to be fully self-reliant to ride at night.

This reversed schedule can also be a problem for daytime reasons.  Sleeping during the day at a campground may not be an option if it's too hot out.  Staying at hotels also becomes a problem due to expensive early check-in fees.  And AirBnB, Warmshowers, or other cheap rentals usually assume an evening arrival and morning departure, so finagling a daytime stay can complicate your life a bit.  Just something to think about.

The biggest downside, though, is ghosts.  The night is full of evil spirits that will come out of the woods and steal your soul.  True story.

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