April 3, 2007

It's The Night Fever, Night Fevaaaah....

It's that time of year -- or at least with the above normal temps this last weekend, it felt like that time of year: the time where the night calls. Rather, where the days become a little oppressive, and the night is simply better.
A busy schedule kept me off the bike yesterday during the day, so I changed my plans and decided to take advantage of the fact that it was the first night this season with temperatures forecast in the 70's region-wide, with clear skies and a full moon -- literally PERFECT conditions! I came home from work, and packed up the Carradice, got out the reflective gear, and pumped up the tires on the brevet bike for the evening ahead... once the kids were down and the tasks of the evening complete, it would be time to train!

It was the same kinda of magic that the night always seems to bring, lower traffic, ghostly shadows from the bright moon, and the occasional nocturnal rustlings in the bushes alongside the roads. I left the house at the goofy hour of 9:15pm and started southbound, into a strong headwind - which was odd, as the wind is usually supposed to die down a little after dark. Quite the opposite, this wind was steady at about 15-18 MPH, with higher gusts, out of the south-southwest.

First, some impressions on the subject of night-time gear. I've been REALLY lucky in the past. Known for my ubiqutous reflective tape for years now, I've still noticed over time that my reflective routines either weren't quite up to snuff, or drivers simply were un-attentive or un-caring. In reality, it is the former - last night, I donned for the first time my new reflective sash/Sam Browne belt and reflective ankle strap from RUSA's website, actually marketed by Sayre Military Safety, and manufactured by Reflex, Inc. I swear, people saw me. Period. There were the audible clues of tires against pavement slowing down behind me on approach, and then a WIDE berth, complete with TURN SIGNALS indicating their return to the right-hand lane after overtaking me. That's happened occasionally in the past, but never as consistantly as it did last night. Everyone, EVERYone, that passed me did so with a huge margin and a slow speed. From behind, I'm nost sure if they thought I was a worker on the road, a flagman for something, a cop, a disabled motorcycle, who knows -- but even on Old KC Road, which is notorious for being not-exactly-friendly to cyclists, I got the same good treatment. This thing is BETTER than the usual orange and yellow reflective vests that I usually would wear on brevets for regulations. A few other notes, I am a safety NUT. My Carradice bag has the reflective diamond on it that comes from the factory in white Scotchlite material, and lashed to the top of the bag is my rain jacket, which is kept rolled with two more reflective ankle straps. Add to that are my own add-on amber reflective strips that are sewn to the outside pockets of the Carradice, facing the rear. The bike itself has three reflective stripes on the bottom edge of the rear fender, and a Spaninnga rear fender-mounted taillight, with built in DOT-compliant red reflector, for state regulation compliance (the cops will never be telling ME I can't be on the roads at night, baby.) Plus, I have two other backup taillights, one on the bike which is a high-powered red strobe for rain riding, and a smaller backup taillight on the bag. Yeah, I'm a nut - but I'm a nut that is still alive and doesn't have to deal with close calls. So there. Even with ALL THAT CRAP, however, AND ankle straps, it wasn't until I added this sash that my prescence on the road was evidently so apparent. So, I'll be modifying the "one-size-adjusts-to-everyone" to fit me better, to avoid flapping and such - but this thing is a keeper. A little needle and thread time tonite, and it'll be perfect.

Seriously - if you ride at night, get one. If you don't mind the RUSA lettering, get it here and support randonneuring: < http://www.rusa.org/rusaitems.html > Yeah, it's cheap - get two. Get the ankle bands, too. Use them.

Back to the ride --- did I say it was WINDY???? Holy gawd, yeah. The farther south I went, the more noise the wind was making. Trees were in full song, telephone wires were whistling in key, and the last of falls leftover leaves were skittering across the pavement in the dark. And, one of my favorite parts about the Lumotec lights, the moths that were emerging from the grasses to chase my beam were quickly blown downwind and off into the black again. He,he. Silly bugs.

Long story shot, this was only a 35 miler, as I decided to cut things short at Hillsdale to save my remaining sleep opportunity. My only beef with Hillsdale is the lack of 24-hour service, not that I needed any - but it would been nice. Instead, I pulled up a little sidewalk space on the lee side of the building to get out of the gale, which was increasing still. Fences, tarps, the gas station signs, roadsigns, all were waving and rattling in the stiff winds. This was gonna be a fun ride back. I checked the clock, and it was 11:19pm. I had left the house at about 9:35PM or so, so it had taken me (yuck) about and hour and forty to get down here, including the short break at Spring Hill's gas station after I realized I'd forgotten my Hammer Gel flask. Dang. The stinks... but, granted, I wasn't in TOO much of a hurry - but with the wind, it wouldn't have mattered what I WANTED to get, numbers-wise.

The trip home, however, it was much the same story, but in the opposite guise. No matter what I wanted to get, numbers-wise, this ride home was gonna be fast.
I turned north, pointed the bike, and without even pedalling beyond what was needed to keep me balanced on launch, I was off. Unable to see the speed display in the dark, I knew I was flying - but how fast, I can't tell ya. Before long, I was in the big ring and starting to run out of cogs in the back. Even the big, long uphill that leads out of the Hillsdale valley barely required a shift-down, as the gusting SSW gale was like a strong fist in the small of my back, tossing me down the road.
The tires sang, the bearings hissed smoothly, and I could finally hear my surroundings in the void of the tailwind, but the frogs and crickets were passing in doppler effect. Not being passed by a SINGLE car the entire 6-miles back up to 223rd Street, I took the center of the lane and just hummed along in top-gear. I got back to Spring Hill awfully fast.
Even with the cross-tailwind on the eastbound stretches of the return, it was all big-ring fun in the dark. Woodland Road, now freshly paved from 199th to 223rd, came up fast, too, and I swept quickly through the corner and then hit the brakes. Just for grins, I stopped on a little gravel turn-out and just took stock of the night-time. Frogs, flowing water in the roadide gulley leftover from last week's rain, bright moon, and no cars. Awesome. I slugged a little water, and clipped back in. Instantly, I was back up to speed, flying along between the treelines while Spring Hill slept to my left.

Just as quickly as everything else seemed to be coming up, I was zig-zagging along the detour route for 199th, and then I could see the flashing beacon of the water tower at 199th and Lackman over the trees. A blink later, and I was there, then past it, then past the firestation at 191st, then screaming down the hill at 183rd -- later my top speed would read 43 MPH! -- and all the while the wind was whipping up trash, madly flapping and biting at flags, and occasionally gusting so hard as to overtake me while I pedaled along, still in top gear. You know it's windy when you are clipping along at who-knows-how-fast, no gears left, and the tassles of your headcover flap FORWARD in the gust and dance against your neck. DANG.

Grumbling at the stop-sign at 175th, I haul down the bike, and then cross and start up the usually grunting hill on the other side. Tonite, instead, it was like being lifted over it by some unseen hand. Whooosh! And I'm on the downhill side, flying again at speed high enough to make the front fender shudder in the turbulence of the wheel passing underneath it. Still, NO CARS. It crosses my mind that they can't catch me. This night is AW-WWWWESOME!!!!

Soon, I'm in the driveway, and as I unclip and toss my leg over the top-tube I'm nearly blown sideways by the still-howling wind, which is making the garage doors creak and groan. Wow. It's 12:07AM. Averaging nearly 24 MPH on the return trip, even with the undulating hills of 207th St, I'm home in less than 1/3 the time it took to get to Hillsdale. Only minutes before, I crossed into Tuesday probably exceeding the legal speed limit on the sidestreet leading to my neighborhood. Sweet. The tires are warm to the touch. SWEEEEEEET.

I crashed and slept like a log, with visions of dashed white lines flying by in my head, and the smell of rubber and chain oil in my nose, and a grin across my face.

Have I mentioned that I love night rides???

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