Friday, April 28, 2006

Spring Night

After a long day at work and then a great presentation by Jim Sayer of Adventure Cycling ("How Bicycling Can Help Save the World"), I was itching to get on the bike. I walked home as the sky colored and then quickly faded in the west. A quick change out of work clothes and into a couple of thin layers of wool; pistachios and fig bars in a cotton sack; wool beanie, gloves and a light jacket in the basket, and I was rolling through the neighborhood.

In waning light I headed north and west to climb my hill on the edge of town. The back streets were vacant, and I abandoned the shoulder for the center of the lane. As darkness filled in around me, I transitioned to night mode. Night riding for me is a completely different experience. As my vision switches to subsistence mode, other senses shoulder in. Smells, and, for me at least, sounds make up most of my night ride memory.

Past the railyard, which is bustling at this hour, I hear the clanking of railcars rolling through the yard. One group gets a shove and rolls to a stop down the tracks closest to the road. I'm overwhelmed with the smell of . . . telephone poles. Or, some treated wood very much like them.

Past the cemetary, which sits low and always gives off cool breezes. The air is still and rushes past with little resistance. Through the industrial yards and smells I can't quite identify. Clankings and whirrings. Then the gas stations, and finally the eerie quiet of late night by the interstate interchange.

Underneath, past the the gas stations and hotels, the bright lights are a quick breath that parts the smokey dark. And, now night folds around me again. A swollen creek rushes past on the left. On the right small scurrying things are busy in the brush on the bluff's edge. I turn left, over the bridge and into the hills.

The hill I push up is steep, but my legs have never been as timid as my eyes. Only the patch of my headlight is visible now. Cool drafts swirl down the gully that separates road from hill. I switchback, and again, and now make the final short climb to the old dirt path. Impressive homes snake up nearly to the top, but they've yet to conquer my little grassy knoll. The little track is badly rutted from spring, and I walk the bike up the last bit.

I sit in the thick grass, munch my snacks, and ruminate on the views. To the southeast, the Missoula Valley spirals out in a hundred ribbons of light. The sky is a faded orange. East, directly across the little drainage, only a few lights dot the immense black bluff. If I turn my back on them and the city, there is nothing but stars and layers of mountains.

Eventually, a chill creeps down the hill behind me and nudges me back onto the bike. I descend the rutted track carefully. Then, I'm back on the road, winding down. Descending a dark road at night is the closest I've felt to dreaming awake. The rush of air and the pull of the hill is surreal when my eyes can't detect a slope. The cold air starts to seep into my gloves and through my layers, but it's no longer a winter chill.

Night riding season is here. Find a quiet road, and give it a try. Don't fight for vision. Let it slip off to the wings and ride with your nose and ears for a change.


Blogger Yuri said...

funny. my sense of smell is strongest during my morning commute - i can smell all kinds of breakfast. and sometimes things i wish i couldn't smell...

9:42 PM  

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